This is who we are

The news from Catalonia is so depressing that I have been looking for other topics to cover, but it’s not easy: the latest developments are still dominating the papers with very little evidence, at least on the surface, of the two sides coming any closer.

For a bit of relief I have been looking at the coverage of Latin America in El País, where I found an article on a recently released documentary about Bolivian rapper Abraham Bojórquez, who in his short life pioneered a unique style of Andean and Aymara hip hop and managed to make a successful musical career despite a childhood of terrible poverty  (“Ukamau y ké”, un retorno a la amistad, al cambio social y las raíces del hip hop andino). The documentary is a tribute by Ecuadorean film-maker Andrés Ramírez, a close friend of Bojórquez who wanted to lay some ghosts to rest; he was unable to attend the funeral after the singer died in a tragic accident aged only 27 in 2009. The film, which has taken five years to make, draws on recordings of performances and interviews with Bojórquez, whose work celebrated the language and music of his Aymara heritage and reflected his passionate commitment to social change.

Another story based abroad: the strange tale of the bundles of €500 notes stuffed down the toilets and bins of a string of up-market eateries and one of the most exclusive bank branches in Geneva, covered in the “Crónica” section of El Mundo (Los fajos de “bin laden” de las tres madrileñas arrojados en váteres de Ginebra). But there is a connection to Spain, as the title makes clear – the incidents have been traced to three well dressed, middle-aged Spanish women who flew in to Geneva from Madrid, emptied out their safe box at the bank and then headed for the loos. The article has fun describing the opulent venues involved and their well-heeled customers, especially the UBS branch where the story begins (it specialises in wealth management for clients worth €2 million and above, and boasts a Frank Gehry-designed glass cloud sculpture hanging from the ceiling).

The big question hanging over the article is unanswered, however. Although the Swiss financial police are investigating for a possible connection to money-laundering,  tax evasion or other criminal activity, nobody has yet worked out why such huge amounts of money were thrown away in such a spectacular way. The article speculates that some kind of family dispute or personal vendetta might be involved but so far the identity of the women involved has not been disclosed (it is known to the police, though, as the women have paid damages to the businesses whose toilets they blocked, via a lawyer who approached the police on their behalf). Readers who left comments on the story have their own theories.



Less testosterone, more talk

This week’s news in Spain has been dominated, of course, by the Catalan crisis and the fallout from the disputed referendum on Sunday, and I have been trying to get a feel for how opinions are shaping up inside and outside Catalonia.

In Wednesday’s El País, Manuel Jabois talks about the emotional disconnect between Catalonia and the rest of Spain. He argues that Catalonia has felt for a long time like a different country, from which the Spanish state has been tacitly withdrawing since the end of the Franco era (Lo empatado, lo perdido).  This conception of Catalonia has been disastrously underscored by the images beamed around the world of Spanish security forces arriving in Barcelona to enforce the Government’s prohibition on the referendum, looking, as he says, like an invasion force.  The result, for him, is a situation in which the pro-independence narrative has gained the day in Catalonia, drowning out the voices of the half of the population who want to stay part of Spain. He blames the failure of politics but offers no solutions.

On the same day Marius Carol, the editor of La Vanguardia in Barcelona, hit a more optimistic note, buoyed by relief that a day of protests and strikes against the central government’s actions had been largely peaceful despite the tense atmosphere and a toxic social media environment (La tolerancia como gimnasia). Arguing the need for tolerance and mutual respect, he concludes that Catalonia is divided but not irreversibly, and that sooner or later, people will have to start mending the breaks.

Not much of that in sight in an article in ABC which lays into the chief of the Catalan police, Josep Lluís Trapero, who is being investigated by Spanish prosecutors over his role in the run-up to the referendum (Un ególatro en su círculo vicioso). But today’s edition of El País covers demonstrations in Catalonia and elsewhere in Spain calling on the opposing sides to step back and start talking to each other. In the words of one placard, less testosterone and more talk  (“¿Hay alguien ahí?” Los mejores carteles de las manifestaciones por el diálogo entre España y Cataluña).