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U.S. National Security Strategy Must Refocus on Americas / Estrategia de Seguridad EE.UU. Debe Reenfocarse en las Americas

Posted by Fernando Celaya on November 14, 2010

For the past nine years U.S. National Security Strategy has focused on Afghanistan and Irak—while keeping a close eye on a rising China—in the context of the endless “War on Terror”.  Whether the internal debate centered on Counterterrorism or CounterInsurgency (COIN) as a means to defeat or mitigate enemy threats, the focus appeared to be clear.  Notable efforts have also projected U.S. security interests in the Sahel through the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership.  Yet as U.S. military forces disengage gradually from these conflicts—Afghanistan and Irak—by the end of 2011, the U.S. security establishment awakens to a crude reality unfolding right at its doorsteps in the U.S.-Mexico border, highlighting the need for a serious review of U.S. National Security Strategy 2010 at midterm and a more vigorous Hemispheric Security Policy for the next decade.

Enter the Narcos

It has been widely publicized now that in 2006 the government of Felipe Calderon in Mexico launched an all out war on the different Mexican Drug Cartels (MDC) that are challenging the state in vast swaths of territory and tearing apart Mexico’s social fabric, instilling fear and spreading corruption under the oft mentioned rule of plata o plomo (silver or lead). Traditionally, terrorism purists insist on the existence of a political connotation to qualify an act as such, but more recently the degree of violence MDC, gangs and criminal organizations are displaying in Mexico clearly qualifies as terrorism; and more emphatically narcoterrorism.

The challenge mounts a death toll since then approaching over 25,000 lives, fueled by a combination of (1) heightened internal demand for drugs; (2) control over internal and foreign routes—mainly to the U.S. market; (3) illicit cross-border arms trade; (4) militarization of policing functions; (5) insufficient money laundering controls; (6) illicit human smuggling and trafficking; (7) insufficient financing of education and public health; and a (8) deficient U.S. immigration policy.  All these factors compound the problem.

The Mexican war on drugs reached its acme between 2009-2010; while it had become public knowledge MDC, gangs and criminal organizations’ modus operandi included summary beheadings, varied torture and terrorist techniques, in March gang members associated with narcos targeted employees and employees’ families associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juarez; and in October the narcos’ operations expanded to cities like Monterrey—an elitist enclave—daring to attack a military patrol directly using force-on-force with total impunity.[1]  Critics of the Mexican war on drugs, like former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda argue the Calderon administration imposed an irrational objective knowing the limited capabilities at the government’s disposal.[2]  Perhaps Mr. Castaneda raises a valid point considering the inimical challenge of reforming Mexican state and federal law enforcement systems; but shouldn’t that day have come long ago too?  And what of the survival of democracy without the freedom of the press considering it has been nearly muzzled out of fear in Mexico?

The deaths of U.S. citizens in October and the fear of a spill over effect clearly got Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano and Dept. of State Secretary, Hillary Clinton’s attention.  Several talks on cross-border security and cooperation ensued, though so far—and inspite of—some notable law-enforcement successes in capturing or killing relevant figures from some MDC ranks and interdicting drug supplies and access tunnels into the U.S., an inconvenient cloud of uncertainty hangs over the U.S. [and Mexican] national security establishment.  In this regard, former Party of National Action (PAN) politician, Germán Martínez Cázares raises the following questions: “What if one day a group of narcoterrorists lays claim over the kidnapping of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos [a former Presidential candidate]? What will happen when some low-lives use a bomb threat to extort the liberation of an imprisoned narco?  What will happen on the hypothetical date where a U.S. ambassador publicly acknowledges a terrorist operation across the Rio Bravo?”[3]  It could be added: how would the security establishment feel if a 12 year old murdered a U.S. ambassador or even a U.S. state politician?[5]

Immigration & Prison Reform

The U.S. has traditionally been an immigrant friendly country; today we live under a different set of realities.  The national debate spurred by the controversial law SB1070 in Arizona—which will likely be striken by the Supreme Court—enlightens the need for sound U.S. immigration reform that stops in one stroke the legal suppression of immigrants, often exploited by both the business and hampa worlds alike.[4]  Latinos have already become the largest minority group in the U.S., but “[t]he possibility of having a permanently alienated Latino community in the United States represents a serious strategic vulnerability that should be addressed by system reform and assimilation as rapidly as possible.”[6] As U.S. officials eye the evolving menace the growth of the security establishment increases.  According to Robert Bunker, “the levels of corruption of US public agents appear not to have significantly increased and although the active investigation of corruption is increasing so too are the number of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers now deployed. Regions of Arizona and Texas have armed cartel operatives positioned throughout the countryside with local police chiefs recently publicly stating that violence has officially crossed into the United States. Further violence and corruption potentials must be considered in the context of Mexican drug cartel and narco gang penetration into the US.”[7]

Immigration fluctuations are often not factored by many security strategists and in a globalized interconnected world those security strategies that lack this consideration are doomed to fail. In many respects the fluctuation of Mexican immigrants into the U.S. may be qualified as internal, yet they are still trans-national, with a different set of legal implications.  The Obama administration has made a righteous point in deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records to alleviate the burden on the immigration and prison systems.  But what of the impact of these deported criminals on the weaker prison and law-enforcement systems in the home countries?  Clearly, although some states like California or New Jersey can count on gang prevention programs, a comprehensive strategy needs implementation to mitigage gang activity at the national level across school and prison systems to protect Latino and other youth from falling prey to criminal activity.

Homeland Security

The U.S. National Security Strategy 2010 outlined the need to strengthen national [intelligence] capacities: “Our intelligence capabilities must continuously evolve to identify and characterize conventional and asymmetric threats and provide timely insight.  And we must integrate our approach to homeland security with our broader national security approach ….  We are improving the integration of skills and capabilities within our military and civilian institutions, so they complement each other and operate seamlessly. We are also improving coordinated planning and policymaking and must build our capacity in key areas where we fall short.”[8]

Military and civilian intelligence agencies must complement not only with each other, but also with private sector contractors carrying out relevant national security functions. This has prompted the expansion of law-enforcement intelligence fusion centers—led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Dept. of the Treasury—to mitigate transnational and national threats improving human intelligence (HUMINT).  It is a positive effort considering transnational drug trafficking organizations (DTO) and their local subsidiaries are often involved in racketeering (i.e., money laundering, extortion, robbery, prostitution, theft, gambling and murder).  

Indeed U.S. security agencies are rehashing their recruiting efforts to attract better equipped candidates for the needs identified to mitigate transnational threats.  Since 2001 the focus was—and still is in great measure—on the need to grow the ranks of arabic and south Asian language speakers, today the need is placed on Spanish speakers, particularly.  Surprisingly, the pool of fully bilingual English/Spanish educated candidates would be vast, but this is not so clear, as many educated Latinos are second, third and even fourth generation immigrants, having lost at times the most important bond to Latino heritage—the Spanish language—to an extent that renders their presumed multiculturalism insufficient for national security purposes unless educated in institutions of higher learning.  On the other hand, since crime penetrates, blends, and mutates with cultural mores—irrespective of national origin—this claim may be disputed.

State & Non-State Criminals & the need for a Comprehensive U.S. Hemispheric Security Strategy

The rise of Hugo Chavez to the presidency in Venezuela in 1998 marked the ante in U.S. bilateral relations with some Latin American countries.  Twelve years after, some critics’ suspicions on the flamboyant leader have come to the fore revealing Venezuela’s connections with international pariahs, including non-state criminals.  A verbal tug-of-war with Colombia led to a brief break in bilateral relations.  Notwithstanding, the government of Colombia was able to prove through its military intelligence successes that Chavez finances and harbors in Venezuelan territory, camps and members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  Colombian military intelligence purportedly revealed similar evidence regarding Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.  In March of 2010 Chavez suffered another hard accusation coming from Spanish investigative judge Eloy Velasco on account of harboring Eskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA) terrorist Arturo Cubillas and facilitating ETA-FARC ties; Cubillas was purportedly on government payroll performing special services.  U.S. SouthCom chief Gen. Douglas Fraser verified “financial and logistical ties between the two groups were longstanding,” as Dept. of State Assistant Secretary for Hemispheric Affairs raised concerns over the allegations as did the government of Sweden.[9]

Recently, Walid Makleb, a drug lord captured by Colombian authorities, revealed Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, a high-ranking General in Venezuela’s armed forces (FAV) possesses links to the FARC.  Makleb’s material information and rvelations converge with Gen. Rangel Silva’s blistering public rejection for any democratically elected government in Venezuela other than that of Hugo Chavez.  Indeed the infomation has sent schockwaves across Latin America, but the information is not new.  In fact, the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had listed Gen. Rangel Silva and other  Venezuelan government officials for “materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the … [FARC], a narco-terrorist organization.”[10]  Clearly, Venezuela has been identified as a focal point for the projection of transnational criminal activities, not only across the southern cone, but also across Central America.  Its recent agreemens with Iran and Russia in the development of nuclear plants have raised many eyebrows in Washington, D.C..

Moreover, regional cohesion became risk prone following the forced eviction of president Zelaya by the Honduran military as ordered by this country’s Supreme Court.  The removal of Zelaya was politicized by other regional leaders seeking to tailor legilative processes in their own coutries in order to perpetuate in power (i.e., Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Evo Morales in Bolivia, or Rafel Correa in Ecuador), though admittedly Honduras may have opted for a different set of protocols in such approach.  The course of action also caused a crisi at the Organization of American States (OAS), which has also been accused of not reaching a consensus for enhanced hemispheric security cooperation.

According to Steven Metz, “[o]ne of the dominant characteristics of the contemporary global security environment is that it continues to give nation states responsibility for systemic maintenance and stability at the very time that they are increasingly incapable of providing acceptable levels of security, prosperity, and political identity.  A variety of sub- and supra-state organizations are filling the vacuum.”[11]

Transnational criminal activities fueled by infinate financial resources afforded by drug revenues allow DTOs to go nearly unchallenged.  The current U.S. National Security Strategy indicates that: “Combating transnational criminal and trafficking networks requires a multidimensional strategy that safeguards citizens, breaks the financial strength of criminal and terrorist networks, disrupts illicit traffick­ing networks, defeats transnational criminal organizations, fights government corruption, strengthens the rule of law, bolsters judicial systems, and improves transparency.”[12]  These are major challenges but the U.S. has not been successful thus far in devising and executing a collective strategy with other nations facing the same threats.  In fact, while the U.S. supports the Central American Integration System (SICA), many bilateral agreements have been reached with Colombia, Mexico and Peru, for example, but only with a limited dimension. 

The region has seen the creation of a Security Council and Latin American militaries have surely come a long way in the past decade, but they still have a long way to go when factoring the threat they face from DTO and in terms of the balance between civil military relations.  According to a Latin American Social Sciences Faculty Report on the defense sector, “one of the greatest challenges for democratic authorities in Latin America and the Caribbean is for the defense sector to be recognized as an object of state policy.  This is, as a sector that demands resources and requries the administration of political and strategic definitions and decision-making, while its processes and impacts are monitored and assessed.”[13]  A sound U.S. Hemispheric strategy would concentrate its efforts on beefing up Latin American democracies through the “institutionalization of effective systems of democratic control,”  In other words, increased professionalization  through cooperation and training.[14]

Unfortunately, the pursuit of comprehensive engagement sought by the current U.S. National Security Strategy falls short of projecting american power in Latin America at different levels—diplomatic; development and defense/law enforcement—to the extent that criminal activities fueled by drug trafficking have increased across the region.   Thus, a serious review of the current strategy; the roles and responsibilities of its planners and officers; as well as its implementation is needed at midterm.


[1] “atacan a soldados en Monterrey; muere uno”, El Universal (October 22, 2010), (last accessed November 13, 2010)

[2] Jorge Castaneda, El Narco: La Guerra Fallida (Mexico, D.F.: Punto de Lectura, 2009)

[3] German Martinez Cazares, “Terrorism?”, Reforma (July 26, 2010)

[4] Senate Bill 1070, State of Arizona Senate, Fortyninth Legislature – Second Regular Session 2010, (last accessed November 13, 2010)

[5] The heirs to the Beltran Leyva Cartel aka Cartel del Pacifico Sur count in its ranks murderous youth gangs—inclusing women—that easily approach their unsuspecting victims. One member is currently on the run after being identified by Mexican military intelligence: “Militares buscan a sicario de 12 anos”, El Universal (November 6, 2010), (last accessed November 13, 2010)

[6] Bob Killebrew & Jennifer Bernal, Crime Wars: Gangs Cartels & U.S. National Security, Center for a New American Security (September 2010), p. 59, (last accessed November 14, 2010)

[7] “The U.S. Strategic Imperative Must Shift from Irak/Afghanistan to Mexico/the Americas & the Stabilization of Europe”, Small Wars Journal (October 7, 2010), (last accessed November 13, 2010)

[8] U.S. Government, “U.S. National Security Strategy 2010”, (last accessed November 13, 2010), p. 14

[9] “Eloy Velasco acusa al gobierno de  Chavez de Colaborar con ETA”, Libertad Digital ( March 1, 2010), (last accessed November 13, 2o10);  “Venezuela still aids Colombian rebels new material shows”, The New York Times (August 2, 2009), (last accessed November 13, 2010);  “Where the FARC goes to fatten up”, The Wall Street Journal (July 26, 2010), (last accessed November 13, 2010)

[10] “Venezuela has advantages to Makled’s extradition”, El Universal (November 8, 2010), (last accessed N0vember 15, 2010); “Treasury targets Venezuelan government officials supporting the FARC”, U.S. Dept of the Treasury Press Room (September 12, 2008), (last accessed November 15, 2010); see also “Foreign Narcotics KingPin Designation Act & Executive Order 1297 (1995), U.S. Dept of the Treasury (OFAC), (last accessed November 15, 2010)

[11] Steven Metz, “Rethinking Insuregency”, Strategic Studies Institute (June 2007), (last accessed November 13, 2010)

[12] U.S. National Security Strategy, p. 49

[13] “Reporte delsector de seguridad en America Latina y el Caribe”, FLACSO Chile (August 2007), p. 19, (last accessed November 13, 2010)

[14] John Samuel Fitch, The Armed Forces & Democracy in Latin America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press), p. 41


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Un informe del CNI advierte sobre las intenciones de ETA / CNI intelligence report alerts on ETA intentions

Posted by Fernando Celaya on November 2, 2010


Un informe elaborado por el Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) asegura que ETA está aprovechando el alto el fuego actual para reorganizarse en Francia y continúa con el robo de coches en el país vecino y con la campaña de extorsión a empresarios vascos para obtener financiación. Según informa Radio Nacional, el Gobierno tiene encima de la mesa dicho informe, según el cual la banda continúa con su actividad normal en el país vecino aunque está robando menos coches que los que sustrajo durante el primer semestre del año pasado. Los documentos indican que ETA sigue haciéndose con vehículos que emplea luego para moverse y entrenarse. Muchos de estos coches han aparecido con impactos de bala y quemados para borrar las pistas de sus entrenamientos.

 Fuentes de la lucha antiterrorista citadas por Radio Nacional afirman que la denominada izquierda abertzale espera en los próximos días un nuevo comunicado de ETA -el tercero desde que anunció el cese de sus acciones ofensivas-, aseguran que la banda ya no se puede echar para atrás y que a lo sumo se quedaría como hasta ahora. Batasuna exigió recientemente a ETA el abandono unilateral y sin condiciones de las armas, lo que desató las especulaciones.

Urkullu: “Es más que probable” que ETA pretenda continuar

No obstante, el presidente del PNV, Iñigo Urkullu, afirmó este lunes que su partido “sospecha” y “trabaja” con la hipótesis, a su juicio “más que probable”, de que ETA no esté dispuesta a cesar en su actividad terrorista. Urkullu dijo que “no es fácil cerrar la persiana después de 51 años de historia, creando sufrimiento, muerte y dolor y no consiguiendo nada, ni siquiera en sus supuestos fines políticos”. Asimismo, manifestó que, sin embargo, en la actual situación política él no pone la “pelota” en el “tejado de ETA”, a la que “solamente” pide el “cese definitivo de su práctica de la violencia”, sino que, en su opinión, “la pelota está en el tejado de la autodenominada izquierda abertzale, que sabe cuáles son los pasos que tiene que dar” si quiere hacer política.

El presidente del PNV consideró que la voluntad expresada por el sector político de Batasuna de querer actuar únicamente por vías pacíficas y democráticas quizás esté basada en la “necesidad”, ante la reflexión de que ahora puede pasar su “último tren” para seguir en la actividad política. En todo caso, a juicio del dirigente nacionalista vasco, aun cuando la izquierda abertzale actúe por necesidad, este sector “tiene ante sí el reto de disociarse” de ETA.

Urkullu afirmó que en sus entrevistas con el presidente del Gobierno percibió que José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero “es muy consciente de que en Euskadi hay un problema político en lo que es la relación con el Estado español”, no sólo un problema derivado de la existencia de una organización terrorista. “También es consciente -señaló- de que hay un tiempo que le corresponde trabajar a la denominada izquierda abertzale, y él estará analizando qué fiabilidad tiene en relación a que se den los pasos oportunos”.

Hablar pero “con mucha prudencia”

Mientras, el ministro de Educación, Ángel Gabilondo, opinó este lunes que no hay que dejar de hablar de ETA, aunque sí hacerlo con “mucha responsabilidad, prudencia, mesura y claridad”, como se está haciendo, y ha manifestado que lo que no se debe es “hablar de fechas, generar estados de ánimo o abrir espectativas”. En una entrevista en RNE, Gabilondo resumió que hay dos mensajes contundentes: que ETA abandone definitivamente las armas y que el mundo de su entorno, “o el mundo de aquellos que han sido por sentencia judicial determinados próximos” a la banda terrorista, abandonen “absolutamente” a ETA.

“A partir de ahí -esos son los mensajes que se dicen- nosotros podemos hablar, lo que no podemos es quizás andar hablando de fechas, generando estados de ánimo, abriendo espectativas”, indicó el ministro de Educación, quien apostó por la “prudencia, mesura y el trabajo”. Que “resuelvan ese problema”, ha añadido, que “es bien grave y a partir de ahí los ciudadanos, entre todos, tomaremos las medidas que haya que tomar”. “ETA no sólo debe denunciar la violencia sino que debe dejar también sus acciones terroristas y la lucha armada”, insistió.

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Judge Garzon: A human rights angel on earth or the devil’s advocate?

Posted by Fernando Celaya on April 23, 2010

Judge Baltasar Garzon

I don’t think most commentators get the point regarding the Garzon indictments claiming a great injustice is being committed with the investigative judge. What is most striking is their lacking display and/or knowledge of Spanish history and that regarding Garzon’s experience in the Spanish judiciary. 

First, the authority vested upon Garzon by the principal of universal jurisdiction “in Spain” did allow the prosecution of almost anyone who had committed crimes against humanity, though the aspiring ideal was judges would work on cases where “Spaniards”, wherever, had been victims as in Chile or Argentina. Thus, at the time Garzon attempted Pichochet’s extradition, I too was thrilled with the judge’s opinion. It made legal and moral sense. 

Second, the key question is not so much that Garzon declared himself “competent” to unveil the wounds of Spain’s civil war in breach of the 1977 amnesty, but rather his insistence on prosecuting individuals on Franco’s side and not on the Republican/Communist side… who in the early stages of the civil war actually committed the most sanguine massacre (“Paracuellos”) of the entire conflict, which polarized one side versus the other even further. 

Thus, judge Garzon, failed to appear to present a balanced cause, clearly abusing his authority. Furthermore, Spain is a deeply politicized country. The Attorney General’s Office of one party, especially the PSOE party has acted throughout Spain’s democratic history as a tool for GOVs objectives and thus, other organizations need (and have the right) to defend their dignity, regardless of their political coloring. Indeed there is an interest in Spanish politics and media to fuel and maintain old and tired discourses of left-right… while youth just wants to be able to work, live the present and look forward to a better future; not something happening currently with this terribly incompetent get-rich-fast-while-you-can government.  

A significant number of Judge Garzon’s opinions in domestic cases are lacking. Summary instructions in these cases are deficient in form and content and have resulted in criminals just “walking” away from justice; from the Polanco case’s fiscal fraud (which triggered the rise of the liberal political media machine “masking the PSOE government’s dirty laundry”) to the GAL; and most recently the Gurtel case, where it has been evidenced Garzon authorized illegal eavesdropping on opposition party leaders and business associates, resulting, in some instances, in the breach of attorney-client privileges. This has only been authorized in Spain once/twice and is allowed exclusively on terrorism cases, not on other types of investigations, especially those with political coloring.

One of the latest indictments against judge Garzon involves monies alledgedly received from Banco Santander CEO, financier mogul Emilio Botin, purportedly for a seminar at New York University. Interestingly, the judge, upon his return to Spain, dismissed an investigation against Mr. Botin. Yet in what may be one of the most damaging prosecutiorial performances for the rule of law in Spain history, judge Garzon alledgedly took part in the cover up of the tip-off to ETA members in a pending police investigation against the terrorist group.

Indeed, whether commentators like it or not, Garzon is a tainted judge who enjoys self-indulgence, following his failed stint at politics with the PSOE party over a decade ago. Independence cannot follow if you light a candle for God and another for the Devil. It was about time the board of judges and the Supreme Court acted expediently, for no citizen should be above the rule of law and Mr. Garzon holds in his basket not one, but three serious indictments for abuse of power.

Posted in Rule of Law | 1 Comment »

Are political elites in Cataluña subverting the Spanish constitutional order?

Posted by Fernando Celaya on November 30, 2009

Drawing by Fernando Vicente (El Pais)

While pursuing postgraduate education in London I was lucky to land an interview for an internship at the prestigious Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). My interviewer, John, noted I was a Spaniard and thus asked ‘do you think Cataluña will ever seek independence from Spain?’. I reflected briefly considering socio-political developments at the time, including a proposal in 2006 for greater autonomy–El Estatut–the left-wing ruling regional alliance in Cataluña espoused. The Estatut was approved in referendum in Cataluña in a vote accounting for nearly 50% of Catalans [2 million], 73% of which voted favorably. While significant, this figure also suggests a 50% of political absenteeism or nonconformity with the proposal in addition to the remaining negative or absentee votes within the total ballot; a hard figure difficult to brush aside when considering Catalans’ real willingness to break from Spain. Additionally, the Estatut’s results were a far 30% below what Catalans elected when voting to approve the Spanish Constitution by nearly 70% of the regional vote.[1]

I answered John ‘despite these developments a significant segment of Catalans do no want to secede from Spain and other reasons, mainly financial and fiscal benefits with/to the region, would inhibit such idea’. Simultaneously, I also weighed the relevance the Constitutional Tribunal Tribunal Constitucional (TC) bears in such cases, believing the proposal, also approved before national Congress by a slight margin aided by the ruling PSOE government’s votes, would be ruled unconstitutional by the TC. Furthermore, A.8 of the Spanish magna carta calls upon the Spanish military to defend the territorial integrity of Spain, although only at the government’s order.

Yet, if I was asked the same question today I would ponder my response further, not because I see an overwhelming percentage of Catalans (which are Spaniards too) seeking independence, but rather because a political agenda anchored on some regional elites’ claim that Cataluña possesses a sovereignty distinct from Spain exists. This is a fallacy; one which has ballooned following an editorial endorsed by 12 leading newspapers in Cataluña, and reproduced by the journal El Pais, in what seems an outright coercion before the final TC decision stretching now for nearly three years. The editorial has caused a national uproar as well as some national newspaper’s response. Even the Federated Association of Spanish Press Federación de Asociaciones de la Prensa de España (FAPE) severely criticized the editorial considering ‘it transformed Catalan media into a tool of policy’.[2]

That Cataluña possesses a sovereignty distinct from Spain is a fallacy allowed to settle into the present national reality by centrifugal forces in Cataluña, by those inside the Zapatero government and those inside the TC itself. Political strategists argue the Zapatero government has pivoted and bent to the interests of Catalan nationalists to keep his government alive at the cost of breaking Spain at a time the PP party is offering the worse opposition possible within the EU, for no government in Europe could emulate Zapatero’s and expect to continue in office. Recent data from Spain’s own Center for Sociology Research Centro de Investigaciones Sociologicas (CIS) evidences no President in Spanish history ever experienced such poor ratings.[3]  

As The Economist rightly pointed out, ‘the hardest problem for the authors of Spain’s democratic constitution [of 1978] was to strike a balance between the central government and the claims of Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia for home rule. The formula they came up with was known as café para todos, or coffee for all: Spain was divided into 17 “autonomous communities” (plus the enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast), each with its own elected parliament and government…’.[4] The Constitution recognizes the existence of these nationalities and provides status for these regions’ languages as co-official languages of Spain (Spanish remaining the language of the land). A key problem the Estatut presents, besides its questionable constitutionality, is that the TC, in its exaggerated dilation over a decision (one for which TC Chair Maria Emilia Casas should be removed),[5] has allowed an unconstitutional legislation proposal to be applied de facto, without the necessary de iure conditions for its implementation, causing a barrage of confusion the Catalan nationalist regional government, seated in the Generalitat, has used to implement linguistic legislation that treats Spanish, not just as a second class language, but nearly as a foreign language, in primary and secondary schools as well as at the institutional level.

Therefore, while Salvador Giner, Chairman of the Catalan Studies Institute Institut d’Estudis Catalans, feels proud when a Castillian-speaking workman responds in broken Catalan, it can be infered he would be even prouder if more Catalans spoke Catalan by law, even at the cost of barring parental choice regarding children’s education. Thus, the question is not that bilinguism is not encouraged but rather that Spanish is discouraged and discriminated against. In some instances (i.e., children custody battles) parents undergoing separation have used the bilingual card against their spouses to gain favorable treatment before Catalan courts. In other instances, some businesses were forced to change their name for a Catalan one. The quagmire affecting hundreds of thousands of citizens has compelled five education associations (1) Asociación por la Tolerancia (Cataluña); (2) Círculo Balear (Baleares); (3) Galicia Bilingüe (Galicia); (4) Plataforma por la Libertad de Elección Lingüística (Euskadi); and (5) Plataforma Valenciana por la Libertad Lingüística (Comunidad Valenciana) favoring bilingual education freedom, to demand a response by the Education Ministry against linguistic measures adopeted at the regional level in Spain that systematically exlcude Spanish as ‘our common’ language.[6] With such demand in place, Justice Minister Francisco Caamaño’s statement that nothing exceptional has occurred throughout two years of Estatut implemantation is astonishing.[7] Clearly, he who controls the language through which a society is governed decides the parameters of such society, exactly Generalitat President Jose Montilla and VicePresident Llosep Luis Carod-Rovira’s intention.

Throughout the years of democratic transition and in recent years, nationalist regional governments have come to enjoy great legislative and fiscal independence from the central government. Yet Spain’s Constitutional model has often presented governance problems as the increasingly nationalistic policies of both the Basque region and Cataluña, more recently, put a stranglehold on affairs of state that need solid political consensus. The stranglehold has been more visible throughout the Zapatero administration’s troubled second mandate, when approval of the National Budget could only be negotiated following a dubiously ethical ‘pay-off’ to certain nationalist parties in exchange for support before national parliament of the government’s proposal. To Rosa Diez, leader of Union Pueblo y Democracia party (UPyD), only formed in recent years rising considerably before the electorate’s eye, ‘both the PP as well as the PSOE are subdued to nationalists’ interests, and are not real national parties’. Thus, UPyD, who also denounces political and financial corruption, is pushing to reform and democratize the election law Ley Organica de Regimen Electoral General (LOREG).[8]

Devolution is not singular to Spain, it has been a contentious subject in Brittany, Northern Ireland, Greenland, Flanders as well as in Northern and Southern Italy. As Jonathan Bradbury recognizes, a ‘European trend towards the re-valorisation of sub-state territorial units in contemporary state development’ exists.[9] It may be admitted then that greater devolution conforming to a specific agenda in matters pertaining trade within the EU, or even at the judicial level, where perhaps more independence in civil, penal, and other subjects or matters may suffice. In Spain’s case, the Spanish judiciary, nonetheless, should still have a last word regarding such cases by the power conferred upon it by the Constitution. Whatever the TC decides these and past brush-strokes of Spanish history explain why Spain is experiencing currently a socio-political, economic and judicial malaise of epic proportions that also threaten its territorial integrity.

[1] ‘La consulta por la Constitucion movilizo a casi un 30% mas de catalanes que el Estatut’, ABC (November 27, 2009), (last accesed November 29, 2009)

[2] ‘La dignidad de los espanoles (incluidos al menso 2.7 millones de catgalanes)’, El Mundo (November 27, 2009), (last accessed November 29, 2009); ‘La dignidad de la Constitucion’, ABC (November 27, 2009), (last accessed November 29, 2009); ‘La FAPE critica el editorial por “convertir a los medios en agentes de la politica”‘, El Mundo (November 28, 2009), (last accessed November 29, 2009)

[3] ‘Zapatero bate todos los registros de desconfianza entre los espanoles segun el CIS’, ABC (November 29, 2009), (last accessed November 29, 2009); see also, Victor Mallet, ‘High-flyer must come down to earth’, Financial Times Special Report, Spain (June 2009), (last accessed November 29, 2009)

[4] ‘Spanish Devolution’, The Economist (November 6, 2008)

[5] ‘1934, Rumasa y el Estatuto Catalan’, El Confidencial (November 28, 2009), (last accessed November 29, 2009)

[6] ‘Asociaciones por la libertad linguistica solicitan una reunion con Gabilondo’, Libertad Digital (August 9, 2009), (last accessed November 29, 2009)

[7] ‘Caamano dice que no ha pasado “nada excepcional” en dos anos de Estatut’, Libertad Digital (August 16, 2009), (last accessed August 16, 2009)

[8] ‘UPyD es necesario porque PSOE y PP estan sometidos a los nacionalistas’, ABC (November 22, 2009), (last accessed November 29, 2009); see also, ‘el estado autonomico crea despilfarro, fragmenta las instituciones y debilita Espana’, El Confidencial (May 22, 2009), (last accessed November 29, 2009)

[9] Jonathan Bradbury, ‘Territorial politics in the United Kingdom after devolution & regional reform: whiter relative tranquility and the suspended revolution?’, Draft paper ‘Britain after Blair’ Conference of the British Politics Group, American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Chicago, Illinois (August 29, 2007), p. 2

Posted in Rule of Law | Leave a Comment »

Interamerican Court for Human Rights’ ruling against Mexico imminent

Posted by Fernando Celaya on November 28, 2009

Women gather in Juarez against Gender Violence

Last November 20 the Interamerican Court for Human Rights Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) gathered to deliberate on a final decision in the case of three Mexican women, Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, Laura Berenice Ramos Monárrez and Claudia Ivette González, brutally murdered in Juarez; the Mexican government is accused of lack of prevention and as a result criminal negligence. These are the only cases brought forth against the Mexican government representing a larger segment of cases where over 1000 women have been victimized since 1993 as SSW discussed in the past.[1]

The CIDH has not, to date, made public its final ruling even when a decision against the Mexican government is expected. The review for the ruling , composed of 200 pages, will finally reach a consensus on November 28, but CIDH speaker Arturo Monge confirmed a final indictment or absolution would be communicated to both parties simultaneously, first, and thereafter to the press no later than December 5. The CIDH issued the statement following an erroneous and misleading piece in the journal El Mundo assuring the CIDH had ruled against the Mexican government in the case of eight murdered women.[2] 

Whatever the ruling may be, the case has, throughout time, raised awareness of the magnitude and degree of physical and emotional violence women are exposed to without the protection of their respective states, both in Mexico and in Latin America as a whole. In fact, according to activist Rocio Gaytan from the Institute for Mexican Women Inmujeres, at least five Mexican states (Jalisco; Mexico, D.F.; Puebla; Oaxaca and Mexico State) match Chihuahua in their percentage and degree of murderous violence against women. Gaytan notes that 67% of Mexican women admit they have suffered gender violence[3]

At the regional level, the Iberoamerican Organization for Youth Organizacion Iberoamericana de Juventud (OIJ) estimates that one in three women under 35 has been a victim of gender violence. The OIJ is advancing a campaign Maltrato Zero, that may be implemented soon across Latin America. Findings following a presentation in Madrid on November 25 by OIJ Secretary Carlos Ravinet, indicated that gender violence against women is generally cloaked under a ‘proof of love’ challenge where the woman is forced to engage in sexual relations with a partner. Amongst youngsters, Ravinet suggests, the normalization of the violent behavior pattern is assimilated and accepted, thus normalizing and socializing such behavior which results in impunity as fewer and fewer cases are reported or denounced. Yet, a growing trend is evident and no matter how much legislation is in place, a culture that builds on creating healthy ‘partnerships’ needs to be assessed by our youth.[4]

[1] ‘The shame of a nation, an opportunity for regional accountability?’, Spanish Security World (July 12 2009), (last accessed November 27, 2009)

[2] ‘CIDH desmiente el fallo contra mexico’, El Universal (November 20, 2009), (last accessed November 27, 2009)

[3] ‘Varios estados superan a Ciudad Juarez en violencia contra las mujeres’, El Mundo (November 24, 2009), (last accessed November 27, 2009)

[4] ‘dia Internacional contra la violencia de genero’, OIJ (November 25, 2009), (last accessed November 27, 2009); ‘una de cada tres jovenes en latinoamerica es victima de la vilencia’, El Pais (November 26, 2009), (November 27, 2009)

Posted in Human Rights | Leave a Comment »

US, Costa Rica to recognize outcome of Honduran elections

Posted by Fernando Celaya on November 27, 2009

It has taken some time for the Obama administration to track back on its ill foreign policy vis-a-vis Honduras in the presidential stand-off involving former president Manuel Zelaya, but finally the Dept. of State acknowledged it would accept the outcome of the electoral results of Sunday November 29 with or without Zelaya’s return to the presidency. SSW had joined the numerous voices calling for a decisive US position on Honduran policy following the breach of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country that Venezuela pursued and that Brazil, uncharacteristically, supported.[1]

The US position was first confirmed by Senator Jim DeMint (GOP), who had initially blocked the nominations of Arturo Valenzuela to become Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs and Thomas Shannon to be US Ambassador to Brazil for several months.[2] The Obama administration contends it is now following the OAS agreed framework, but it is clearly not the case. Furthermore the initial points developed under mediation by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias are not taken into account either, though helped to assuage critics on both sides of the stand-off.

What is most important is that on November 25 the Honduran Supreme Court (HSC) ratified its August 21 decision of removing Zelaya from office because of his involvement in an attempt to subvert the Constitutional order in Honduras along with several pending criminal cases brought against him by the Prosecution’s office. In its latest decision, HSC 14 out of 15 judges voted Zelaya could not be reinstated because he needed to face criminal charges first. Thus, Zelaya’s attempt to perpetuate himself in power with Venezuela’s support are diluted notwithstanding Chavez’s involvement in financing political and social disruption in Honduras.

Although Spain has refused to send election observers (officially), Latin American heavy weights such as former Mexican President Fox and Jorge Quiroga of Bolivia, include the roster supervising the electoral process, even when the UN and the OAS still refuse sending observers of their own. Nonetheless, even President Arias voiced he would accept results if the elections are fair and transparent. On the other hand Javier Melendez, from the Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy in Managua contends that ‘the acknowledgment of elections derived from a coup d’etat can be counterproductive for a democracy, as the wrong message implying political rules may be violated is being sent’.[3] Certainly, Mr Melendez, but only if such is considered a coup, not a constitutional removal, which is what the case was, albeit imperfect, in Honduras.

From Mr. Melendez’s arguments it follows then that it is also acceptable for President Daniel Ortega to subvert the constitutional order in Nicaragua with similar political maneuvering Zelaya and Chavez attempted in Honduras against not only Congress, but also the Supreme Court? Is it not, Mr. Melendez, a given that the basic principle of democratic rule is the establishment of checks and balances for separation of powers to be effective?

A 50% turnout is expected, as is also a high percentage of foreign votes from those Hondurans residing in the US, in elections where the favorite candidates are Porfirio Lobo Sosa from the opposition Partido Nacional and Elvin Santos from the Partido Liberal. Hondurans realize much is at stake this time around. Hondurans are a peaceful people and what security against future disruptions as well as social and financial improvements.

[1] ‘Time to take sides in the Honduran crisis for the US?’, Spanish Security World (September 27, 2009), (last accessed November 27, 2009)

[2] ‘US will recognize Honduran election with or without Zelaya reinstated’, MercoPress (November 27, 2009), (last accessed November 27, 2009)

[3] ‘Magistrados: Zelaya debe someterse a la justicia’, El Heraldo (November 26, 2009), (last accessed November 27, 2009); ‘El Supremo de Honduras falla contra la restitucion de Zelaya’, El Pais (November 26, 2009), (last accessed November 27, 2009)

Posted in Rule of Law | Leave a Comment »

A calamitous intelligence operation proves Defense Minister lied to press

Posted by Fernando Celaya on November 25, 2009

VicePresident de la Vega & Defense Minister Chacon

A shocking revelation in the journal El Mundo suggests that three CNI intelligence operatives attempted the rescue of the three Spanish sailors from the ship ‘Alakrana’, hostage for 47 days, that were allegedly taken off the ship and brought somewhere into Somalia. What is more astonishing is that El Mundo’s Op Ed piece states the CNI operatives handed a $1 million ransom to an alledged Somali Defense Ministry officer who instructed them to wait for the sailors, who in turn, were never released.[1] Following the controversial rescue, crewmen and patron revealed the three sailors were never removed from the ship, and thus never reached the Somali coast.

The idiosyncrasy of the story is that Defense Minister Chacon, standing side by side with  Joint Chief of Staff Jefe del Estado Mayor de la Defensa (JEMAD), General Jose Julio Rodriguez, stated twice before the press that the Defense Ministry ‘always knew the whereabouts of the three sailors’. This is clear evidence the Defense Ministry outright lied to the press and the public in order to cover its embarrassing crisis management. Simultaneously, this evidence would also prove, VicePresident Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega also lied, before Congress, when stating, ‘the Spanish government has not paid any amount for the ransom of ship and crew’. 

Very serious accusations can be inferred in El Mundo’s piece, which if the government fails to disprove would indicate that, undoubtedly, this government has lost any and all credibility, not only by negotiating with, but also paying monies, to criminals who have exposed and ridiculed a nation and a government about to preside over the EU. This embarrassment would compel many politicians to think about political ostracism, but surely not in Spain. 

[1] ‘Timo de 1 millon al CNI por los tres marineros no desembarcados’, El Mundo (November 25, 2009), (last accessed November 25, 2009)

Posted in Intelligence | Leave a Comment »

A Royal Navy patrol off Gibraltar… really?

Posted by Fernando Celaya on November 21, 2009

Spanish Flag, British sailors

A diplomatic row between Spain and the UK is renewing criticism at the Zapatero government for its perceived weak positioning on issues where Spain’s sovereignty is at stake.

According to the British Foreign Office’s account, a Patrol ‘off Gibraltar’ fired upon a buoy reflecting Spanish flag colors. However, the Guardia Civil’s report and recorded image of the event shows Royal Navy sailors in possession of a Spanish flag. Politicians in Spain confront each other while the British media does not report accurately the real reasons behind the criticism for the patrol’s behavior.

The hard truth, even if in fact, what was fired turned to be a buoy and not a Spanish flag, is that a foreign ship was well inside Spain’s 12 miles territorial waters… and firing its weapons. So, for Dominique Searle, editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle, to suggest that only the setting in which the incident took place makes the issue sensitive is absurd. Equally absurd results The Times’ claim suggesting British troops captured the colony. Excuse my English, but Gibraltar was a territory under Spanish sovereignty well before it ‘became’ a colony… a British one, after 1704.[2]

With the Zapatero government in power, UK, Spain and Gibraltar relations have improved substantially even when Gibraltar plans to expand territorially by building a macro-urban and tourism complex branded ‘Sovereign Bay’ designed by reputed architect Norman Foster as well as a projected new port at the cost of €2 million in 2014. Ironically, this is being conducted with sand extracted from the Peninsula. The lack of consideration and impunity on Gibraltar and British parts for the environmental impact caused by the numerous nuclear stoppages, most known of these that of the nuclear submarine ‘Tireless’, as well as the contamination following the sinking of the ‘New Flame’ should naturally be a logical source for criticism on Spain’s behalf.[3] Additionally, the way in which Spanish patrols are intimidated by Royal Navy vessels should not be forgotten.

Yet, there are other reasons, fiscal ones particularly, besides traditional sovereign claims, that should lead Spain to review its approach to Gibraltar policy. Nonetheless, Spain Foreign Minister Moratinos has accepted British ambassador Paxman’s explanations closing the debate despite the national uproar. Surely a source for continued disputes.

[1] ‘La armada britanica dispara contra una bandera rojigualda’, El Pais (November 20, 2009), (last accessed November 20, 2009)

[2] ‘Royal Navy patrol off Gibraltar accussed of firing at Spanish flag’, The Times (November 21, 2009), (last accessed November 20, 2009)

[3] ‘Gibraltar gana terreno al mar y contruye complejos en territorio espanol’, Libertad Digital (January 18, 2009), (last accessed November 20, 2009); ‘Gibraltar continua su invasion de aguas espanolas ante la pasividad del gobierno’, ABC (August 9, 2009), (last accessed November 20, 2009)

Posted in Diplomacy | Leave a Comment »

Spanish government stumbles with incompetence once more in piracy case

Posted by Fernando Celaya on November 16, 2009


Fishing Ship 'Alakrana'

It has now been 45 days since the Spanish fishing ship ‘Alakrana’, carrying 36 crewmen and built in 2006 at the cost of €30 million, was impressed by 13 heavily armed pirates nearly 415 miles off the coast of Somalia on October 2. It has been the second such hi-profile piracy case since another Spanish fishing ship, the ‘Playa de Bakio’, carrying 26 crewmen suffered a similar experience on April 2008. However there are notable differences in the manner in which the government handled the crisis to recover both crewmen and ship.

While the Spanish government paid a ransom in the range of €700.000 in the Playa de Bakio case to end the hostage situation, the ‘Alakrana’ case is riddled not only with poor decision-making, but also with spectacular poor judgment and coordination, compounded by an inability or unwillingness to assume political responsibilities. According to the journal El Pais, which describes the government’s decision-making process since the ‘Alakarana’ was taken hostage, the government considered two options during the first 48 hours after the ship was taken over; the first option’s premise was based on the idea that the frigate Canarias from the Spanish Navy could run to the ‘Alakrana’s’ aid; then specially trained military would force a breakdown in the ship’s mechanics in order to compel a negotiated solution upon the pirates. This option was soon discarded as impracticable due to time constraints, as the ‘Canarias’ was 800 miles away from the ‘Alakrana’ and its 22 nots at peak speed were not enough. At the same time, the pirates commanding the ‘Alakrana’ had liberated the ship from a small boat it carried, which allowed the ship to cruise at 14 nots back to the Somali coast. Yet the Navy found an odd prize to its attempted aid when it apprehended two pirates in command of the small boat that was fleeced off the ‘Alakrana’. And here is where the government’s chaotic crisis-management really begins.

Soon after the situation unfolded, a crisis management ministerial cabinet team is created, surprisingly not including the Interior Ministry, with all its known terrorism and hostage expertise and technical resources. The cabinet decided the two pirates should be transferred to Spain, a decision that contradicted an opinion by the Armed Forces’ Intelligence Center Centro de Inteligencia de las Fuerzas Armadas (CIFAS) suggesting this may endanger the Alakrana and its crewmen and undercut the government’s bargaining power. Similutaneously, this action could violate plain national and international law; the basis for these contradictions result from effecting a detention without having received prior hijacking notice. Secondly, Vice-President Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega advised the Attorney General’s Prosecution Office Fiscalia del Estado to denounce the case. But against whom exactly; and with what implications? Seeing no solid ground to build a case against the pirates in Spanish territory, the Fiscalia refused to handle the case, after which Vice-President de la Vega had the State’s Attorneys Office Abogacia del Estado, through Justice Minister Caamano, denounce the case before the Special Court Audiencia Nacional. Finally, judge Garzon had the pirates moved to Spain.[1]

As El Pais’ Op Ed piece suggests, there was no meaningful debate indicating other options were considered or outside legal opinions sought by the crisis-management cabinet team, including taking the two pirates into a third country, such as Kenya, as had been done in the past. By the time the ship’s patron and crewmen families got involved in the ransom operation with an offer of €3 million the pirates refused claiming they wanted their colleagues released or else. In the aftermath of the pirates’ response the Vice-President has clashed with Defense Minister Chacon over who decided what only to finally have Foreign Minister Moratinos apply embarrassing diplomatic maneuvers ordering the Somali government, which cannot lord its own safety inside the city from which it rules, to ensure the lives of the Spanish hijacked crewmen. Ministers had been trying to pass on the hot potato to each other without assuming their responsibilities until Vice-President de la Vega claimed she was in charge.

Furthermore, to illustrate the level at which Spanish ministers are, Defense Minister Chacon, lacking necessary prudence, has entered into a public dialectic dispute with reputed London-based international law firm Ince & Co. suggesting these firms (alluding to Ince & Co.) maintain shady relations with pirates. Ince & Co. maritime counterterrorism expert, former Royal Marine, and head of the firm’s Emergency Hijacking Unit, Stephen Askins responded that Ince & Co. merely act as mediators and hand information to the Spanish embassy in London based on their sources of information. These indicated that pirates’ intentions and claims in ransom cases had augmented in recent times suggesting the Spanish government’s decision to extradite the two captured pirates to face prosecution in Spain was hasty.[2]

On another note, as the Strategic Studies Group Grupo de Estudios Estrategicos suggests, the government’s perceived shyness to use force across missions where the Spanish armed forces Fuerzas Armadas (FAS) are involved, including piracy prevention, are deteriorating private’s moral, particularly, as these missions are increasingly outsourced to security firms, at yes, perhaps a lower cost. Considering that often times perception determines reality, this is the reality under which the FAS as well as the Spanish government, are assessed by pirates and other like-minded criminals in their calculations. So what are FAS military leaders doing then as this dynamic eats up part of their market share? And what about fulfilling their Constitutional mandate to defend Spaniards?[3] Yet the questions that underlies the problem remains under which conditions should governments negotiate with criminals, including terrorists and pirates; and how?

Professor Rogelio Alonso, from the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, suggests the government’s awful management in this case highlights this dilemma, with the added importance of the media, whose excessive implication often endangers a hostage operation. [4] The spectacularization of news in media outlets, its speed dissemination, as well as the emphasis today on terrorism, crime or acts of violence, complicate a government’s ability to enforce its will upon criminals and apply a strategy ensuring a positive outcome. According to Dean Pruit, from George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, who questioned negotiations with terrorists sampling the Northern Ireland case, Hamas and al-Qaida, ‘[t]here are many arguments against negotiation with terrorists, but most of them do not apply to secret backchannel talks, which are usually the method of choice in first approaching these groups. The success of negotiation depends on the development of flexibility by both the terrorists and the authorities’. Here, isolating terrorists from the ‘outside’ is critical.[5] As professor Alonso had done previously, Pruit’s arguments may also be extrapolated to piracy cases. It suffice to acknowledge then that in the Alakrana case Spanish authorities failed to listen to the pirates’ demands, thus impairing their own rescue mission. For the safety of the crewmen, SSW hopes this impairment may still end in a successful conflict resolution.

Unfortunately, the Zapatero government is now cornered into breaking judicial independence and taking the pirates away from the arms of Spanish law or facing the public’s retribution for not doing enough should the Alakrana and its crewmen be harmed.[6] It is paying an already high price in terms of public image, but the cold hard truth is that Spain deserves real leadership who lays it down for Spaniards, not that which is more worried over its own turf or standing according to what polls may indicate. Considering the embarrassing spectacle, the international community is seeing at the doorstep of Spain’s EU presidency in January 2010, it is bewildering that no minister has offered a resignation yet.

[1] ‘A la caza del Alakrana’, El Pais (November 15, 2009), (last accessed November 15, 2009)

[2] ‘El Gobierno enfurece tambien a mediadores de londres’, ABC (November 15, 2009), (last accessed November 15, 2009)

[3] ‘Alakrana, fuerzas armadas en entredicho’, Grupo de Estudios Estrategicos (November 15, 2009), (last accessed November 15, 2009)

[4] ‘Como se gestiona un secuestro?’, ABC (November 15, 2009), (last accessed November 15, 2009)

[5] Dean Pruit, ‘Negotiation with Terrorists’, International Negotiation, No. 11, pp. 371-394 (2006)

[6] ‘la crisis salpica a Zapatero’, El Pais (November 15, 2009), (last accessed November 15, 2009)

Posted in Military Affairs, Terrorism | 1 Comment »

Illegal ‘Big Brother’ communications interception system revealed in Spain

Posted by Fernando Celaya on November 10, 2009

Spain Interior Minister Perez-Rubalcaba (Efe)

On August 9 SSW produced a piece where the PP opposition to the PSOE government in Spain denounced what amounted to political persecution by the state in the so-called ‘Gurtel’ investigation with the use of illegal eavesdropping technology tools. Well, since that day in August, the Spanish citizen has woken up to learn that a spy technology system called Sistema de Intercepcion de Telecomunicaciones (SITEL), completely unregulated by the Spanish judiciary and any legal framework, exists at the disposal of the state security forces Fuerzas y Cuerpos de Seguridad del Estado (FCSE) under the direction of the Interior Ministry, headed by Alfredo Perez-Rubalcaba.[1]

Spain’s FCSE have undergone a significant transformation in their policing practices and methods, particularly between the years 2001-2006, with reforms in both the Intelligence service Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) as well as in the FCSE. The creation of the Counterterrorisn Coordination Center Centro Nacional de Coordinacion Antiterrorista (CNCA) created in 2004 and modeled after the British Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) is illustrating. The transformation has not only been structural, but also practical. Spain’s FCSE have followed the US stead as well as that of other EU member countries regarding the securitization or technologization/digitization of policing practices to meet the challenge of hyperterrorism in an attempt to be proactive rather than reactive. As this author argued in an article providing account of this new dynamic in policing practices,  

[i]n 2006, the Antiterrorist Operations Coordination System Sistema de Coordinacion de Operaciones Antiterroristas (SICOA) is created. SICOA is used by the General Intelligence Commissariat of the national Police Comisaría General de Información del Cuerpo Nacional de Policia (CGI) and by the Guardia Civil Intelligence Service Servicio de Información de la (SIGC) to introduce data related to actual terrorism investigations as well as those related to it for the sake of the state security bodies’ efficiency. At the same time parameters for clear guidance under which government officials in the different diplomatic sites, foreign missions and international organizations are to coordinate between themselves and the Interior Ministry and the CNCA with regard to terrorism related issues are well-defined, though commensurate legal oversight does not necessarily follow under this scheme since CNI attaches within the CNCA may consider classifying information subject to democratic oversight.[2]

While SICOA was developed and implemented under political as well as legal frameworks to improve the coordination of the FCSE, SITEL, which was also developed under the auspices of the Aznar government, was discarded precisely because no legal framework was in place to regulate appropriately its usage. As investigative journalist Luis del Pino explains, SITEL resulted from an adaptation of Ericsson’s Interception Management System. SITEL basically obtains from other electronic databases all data from a particular telephone number, including copies of all incoming and outgoing conversations.[3] The Aznar government was provided with up to 22 reviews indicating no legal framework existed to implement SITEL and that doing so would be not only unconstitutional, but an attack upon judicial oversight and thus the rule of law in Spain.

Yet despite of this experience the PSOE government and its Interior Minister began using SITEL soon after rising to power. In 2005, upon the telecom industry’s refusal to ‘cooperate’ with the FCSE, a legal dispute reached the regional prosecution office in Madrid, where its lieutenant prosecutor, Pedro Martinez admitted that SITEL may be an effective tool to combat criminality, but it needs to be implemented under appropriate legality and proportionality afforded by parliamentary as well as judicial oversight guaranteed by the Supreme and Constitutional Courts. Unfortunately, as Martinez’s report contended, SITEL flagrantly violates the Constitution’s A. 18 and A. 24 and affects fundamental civil liberties.[4]

Two issues are most astonishing to citizens as well as interested observers; first the secrecy that has surrounded the controversy itself and the fact that SITEL resides ‘completely’ outside political and judicial review in a country where PSOE-led governments hold an unspectacularly shameful historical pattern of turning the state security apparatus into a mafia to score political or personal vendetta’s while billing the tax-payer. No matter the political color commentators subscribe to, this remains an undeniable fact. Therefore, for Interior Minister Perez-Rubalcaba to publicly state the PP party is aiding the ETA terrorist organization by denouncing the use of SITEL is not petty, no; it is a statement for which he should be compelled to resign, for few of his counterparts within the EU could post such an embarrassing statement in their record and still hold such office. But Spain ranks amongst few democratic countries where this shrewd politician would still have a career, for during his watch as Minister for the Presidency in the early 90s he refused to admit the government was running an extrajudicial antiterrorist killing squad [i.e, the GAL case].

Secondly, the hypocrisy surrounding the controversy, for Spaniards and most Europeans heavily criticized the US when it implemented the Patriot Act, yet either they are ignorant about their own laws or turn their backs on the fact that the EU applies similar invasive ones. The difference lies in that while others’ are regulated by appropriate parliamentary and judicial review, those in Spain [regarding SITEL] are not.[5] As an illustrating point, for the head of the CNI, General Felix Sanz Roldan, to issue the rare public suggestion advising citizens to scrutinize more carefully content sent over cell phones via text messages [a task more in line with the Agency for Data Protection Agencia de Proteccion de Datos] boarders on the surreal in the Western World.[6]  

Yet the opposition is not united over how to handle the controversy or is not handling it appropriately. In fact, Francisco Granados, the PP party’s head for Presidential, Justice and Interior matters issued a stark rebuttal to party members issuing public accusatory statements on this subject without producing any proof.[7] While an opinion by magistrates in Spain at different levels has yet to be produced, the Collegiate Board of Lawyers from the Professional College of Lawyers Colegio de Abogados is already up in arms, particularly after receiving proof that fame-seeking counter-terrorism and corruption, special judge, Baltasar Garzon, authorized the illegal use of wiretaps, violating attorney-client priviledge during the already infamous ‘Gurtel’ investigation case currently under review. Such a decision has only been taken twice (this the third) in the Spanish Judiciary’s history.

As SSW has argued in past news letters, at a time of serious overload of the Spanish Justice System, exacerbated by the financial and economic meltdown, a timeless window of opportunity to extract advantages from this weakness exists for criminals, as well as for security managers with agendas that part from the state’s interests regarding the rule of law. Will this be yet another stain the EU will have to observe on Spain’s record?


[1] ‘A political bomb falls on government in Spain amid claims of eavesdropping on opposition party’, Spanish Security World (August 9, 2009), (last accessed November 9, 2009)

[2] Fernando Celaya, ‘The terrorist threat is being materially and normatively shaped by national and global institutions of law and order: Spain & beyond’, Athena Intelligence Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1 (January-March 2009), p. 27, (last accessed November 9, 2009)

[3] ‘SITEL: todos los datos al alcance de la mano’, Libertad Digital (October 16, 2009), (last accessed November 9, 2009)

[4] ‘La Fiscalia de Madrid aviso en 2006 de que SITEL ataca la Constitucion’, Libertad Digital (November 11, 2005), (las accessed November 9, 2009)

[5] ‘Rubalcaba Act’, Grupo de Estudios Estrategicos in Libertad Digital (November 9, 2009), (last accessed November 9, 2009)

[6] ‘Roldan pide reflexionar sobre legislar para proteger la información sensible’, Europa Press (October 21, 2009), (last accessed November 9, 2009)

[7] ‘Un dirigente del PP vuelve a criticar a otro fuera de los órganos del partido, El Mundo (November 6, 2009), (last accessed November 9, 2009)

Posted in Intelligence, Rule of Law | Leave a Comment »