No self-entitled bureaucrat likes to be contested, questioned or responded to. Despite the existence of a constitutional right to publicly protest on the streets, there are people who think it is a good idea to limit or simply ban such action. In fact, there are people who support banning or limiting public protests while encouraging police violence against protestors.
This is the case of Cristina Cifuentes, a Madrid Delegate who last week praised the acts of police brutality against some of the thousands of protesters that arrived outside Congress to raise the heat against the deadly austerity measures imposed by the Mariano Rajoy administration. On Tuesday, Ms. Cifucentes went beyond its praise of violence to call for legal reform to limit and eventually ban public protesting.
It’s not me, it’s the law, said Cifuentes on Friday after a colleague of hers, Ana Botella, complained about “too many” demonstrations in the capital of Spain. On Tuesday, Cifuentes said that the law is “very permissive and wide” regarding the right of assembly and that the demonstration was out of control. She questioned whether it was necessary to debate and approve the imposition of limits to the right to protest.
Although Cifuentes commented on such limitations in a very spontaneous way, she rapidly proposed to put in place “modular” laws to “rationalize the use of public space.” The bureaucrat also attempted to clarify that it would not change the Constitution, but it would check out the Organic Law governing this right, not to “cut it” but to expand the room for maneuvering that the Administrations has to change routes and schedules.
Cifuentes’ speech is very well known in other parts of the world such as the United States, where the government called for ‘rational’ ways to limit free speech and protesting by designing a plan through which people could only protest in so-called ‘free speech zones’. These zones are designated by the government and are usually located far, far away from public offices or events such as G10 meetings or secretive encounters of world re-known philanthropists.
But what does the Spanish Constitution say about public protesting?
The right of expression and assembly, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, which reads: “The right of peaceful assembly, without arms. The exercise of this right shall not require prior authorization.” Add that to the “case of meetings in public places and events,” will need to inform “the authority,” which can only forbid it if there are “substantial grounds for disorderly conduct, endangering persons or property” .
This last sentence is very important, because it is from there where people like Cifuentes may seek the legal backing to impose limitation to both free speech and public protesting. As it has happened in many occasions, governments could use agent provocateurs to cause disorderly conduct, hurt police or protesters in order to limit the right of the peaceful mass to protest in front of Congress, for example.
In an interview with National Public Radio (RNE), Cifuentes reiterated that Madrid is “a complicated city because demonstrations are permanent and disproportionate”, a view based on one fact that people in Spain are sick and tired of government robbing them of their livelihoods and decided to take to the streets in numerous occasions. There have been almost 2,200 rallies and demonstrations in Madrid this year. Last Friday alone 2732 stood outside Congress and thousands more occupied the same place on Saturday and Sunday. Back in 2011 there were 1380 public demonstrations.
“The theme of the protests is a timely issue that is given by the political moment and encouraged because there are groups trying to get on the street that have failed at the ballot box,” she argued, blaming the Socialists without naming them, for the increase of street protests.
Cifuentes said that she knows there is a Constitutional right to protest in public, but that the rights of the rest of the people are also as important, which is the reason why she is proposing to limit or ban such activity. This is the traditional collectivist point of view that seeks to impose a particular way of thinking and is often excused by the ‘it is in the best interests of the majority’ argument.
Cifuentes is proposing a ‘compatible solution’ with the right of the rest of the population “to be in a livable city.” According to her, this means that people are “able to move with ease, without incidents, riots, or problems of public order.” In this sense, Cifuentes defends changes in legislation, but has not detailed how it would work. “What I want is to open a debate because any amendment must be adopted by a broad consensus.
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Contributed by Luis Miranda of The Real Agenda.
Luis R. Miranda is the Founder and Editor of The Real Agenda. His 16 years of experience in Journalism include television, radio, print and Internet news. Luis obtained his Journalism degree from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, where he graduated in Mass Media Communication in 1998. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting from Montclair State University in New Jersey. Among his most distinguished interviews are: Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres and James Hansen from NASA Space Goddard Institute.