Protest in Madrid in solidarity with puppeteers accused of support for terrorism. Photo: Francisco Seco

The ‘terrorism’ of puppets: Spain’s crackdown on dissent

  • February 11, 2016

Protest & Policing

The arrest of two Spanish puppeteers accused of “promoting terrorism” in a play reveals the violence of the state in a way that satire never could.

Farce and satire have been tools for criticizing authority figures since time immemorial, eroding their inflated social status, and bringing them back down to earth. But when the ruling class is limited only by their own courts and their own laws, they can surpass the cruelest farcical caricatures of unreasonable authority to make sure that when the curtain falls, no one is laughing.

The two puppeteers imprisoned for promoting terrorism in Spain last weekend might see the irony in their situation, but they are probably not smiling.

Raúl García and Alfonso Lázaro were performing a theater piece about government frame-ups during the Carnival celebrations in Madrid last Friday, February 5. In a sort of Punch and Judy routine, a witch puppet battled it out with a landlord, a judge, a nun, and the police.

At one point, after knocking her to the ground, a cop puppet places a banner on her and takes a picture, basically framing her for a terrorist offense. The banner reads: “Long Live AlkaETA.” AlkaETA is not a real group. The name is a combination of al Qaeda, the current terrorist bogeyman, and ETA, the armed Basque independence group against which Spain’s anti-terrorism politics were founded.

This element of the puppet show displays two characteristics that are worth emphasizing:

  1. The support for the terrorist group was fabricated by the police and not the protagonist (in other words, no one was sincerely promoting a terrorist group, not even in the imaginary plot of the theater piece; rather the police were framing the witch for promoting terrorism).
  2. The terrorist group is a crude invention, a non-existent combination of two different organizations with completely different politics (or are we supposed to take Marxist Islamic fundamentalism seriously?). This is a reference to the Spanish state’s dirty habit of crassly inventing non-existent terrorist groups in order to punish its political enemies.

Fact became stranger than fiction when the real anti-terrorist police arrived, arresting the two puppeteers. They might have been hired actors in a work of meta-theater, but their actions were unscripted and official.

In another painfully ironic detail, the puppet show being performed was an adaptation of a piece by Federico García Lorca, one of Spain’s most famous writers, who was put to death after the fascist coup in 1936. The two detainees were brought before the Audiencia Nacional, one of Spain’s highest courts, where the shameless Ismael Moreno had them sent to prison to await trial (a delay that in Spain usually takes two years or more). They are accused of “promoting terrorism,” and the prosecutor is seeking a four year prison sentence. The progressive party Ahora Madrid, now in power in the city government, quickly joined in the denunciation of the puppeteers after receiving pressure from the right.

It doesn’t end there. In a full search, the police found—hold your breaths—an image of the cover of a terrorist book in the possession of these dangerous puppeteers. This book, Contra la democracia (“Against Democracy”) was untruthfully labeled a terrorist manual by another unscrupulous judge of of the Audiencia Nacional, Javier Gómez Bermúdez, a completely unethical hack willing to condone torture and kidnapping in order to build his career (which, it should be noted, would come to a quick end if there were no more terrorists to prosecute). Anyone in doubt can read the book (it’s on the internet here and translated to English here) and see that in fact it is a rather dry historical and structural analysis of democratic government.

The book is authored by the Grupos Anarquistas Coordinados, the Coordinated Anarchist Groups, or GAC. The GAC, now defunct, were a public anarchist organization that engaged in debates and published the aforementioned book. The GAC did not organize any actions, not even of property destruction, though it is clear from their texts that they do not think that sabotage is a bad thing (neither do I, nor does anyone else who doesn’t believe that property is sacred).

In 2013, the Spanish state arbitrarily declared the GAC to be a terrorist organization. Since then, dozens of anarchist organizers have been arrested under the anti-terrorism law in multiple waves of arrests that have been accompanied by the smashing down of doors at five in the morning, the seizure of all electronic devices and the disappearance of any cash on hand, destructive raids on social centers, and total demonization in the media.

Just for possession of an image of the book, the recently arrested puppeteers now have a possible connection with the GAC mentioned in their case files.

None of the arrested anarchists have gone to court yet, though the first trial is scheduled for March 8. Monica and Francisco, two anarchists from Chile, who were already acquitted for the so-called “Bombs Case” there, a mediatic frenzy that resulted in a whopping total of zero convictions, have been held in prison for more than two years awaiting trial. They are accused of an action in which no one was hurt, and the prosecutor is seeking 44 years imprisonment.

Not only are their lives on the line, so too is the liberty of the dozens of other people who have been arrested, because the trial of Monica and Francisco could result in an official decision that the GAC indeed constitute a terrorist group. Subsequently, anyone who ever participated in it, any one who speaks in favor of it, or anyone who possesses the book they published can also be charged with support for terrorism.

This sad story follows a common trajectory. First, the state targeted foreigners who could xenophobically be portrayed as dangerous radicals. Then they targeted anarchists critical of democracy and supportive of the confrontational social movements that have interrupted elite plans across Spain in recent years. And now they are targeting artists who speak out against the methods of repression and in support of those who have been repressed.

People with a liberal sensibility will understandably feel more outrage over the arrest of artists than over the persecution of anarchists who are, admittedly, in favor of illegal tactics. But these two moments of repression are inseparable. The law is not a neutral instrument that protects society from crime. It is an exercise of power connected to all the other inequalities and injustices in a society. People who do not support social rebels and revolutionaries against persecution will soon see the weight of the law used against other sectors of society.

To change this situation, we need to spread critical skepticism around official discourses of “terrorism” and focus attention on the much-greater harm caused by capitalism and the state. Anti-terrorism is now a form of international politics, and it can be challenged everywhere.

Those who want to support the arrested anarchists and puppeteers can direct their protests to Spanish embassies and companies, spread the opinion that lower class sabotage does not terrorize us, perform their own street theater satirizing the authorities, and download and distribute the supposedly terrorist book, Contra la democracia.

Update: On Wednesday afternoon, February 10, the two puppeteers were released pending trial, following a barrage of public outcry. Nonetheless, they are still threatened with prison time, they have to report in at court every day, and they are prohibited to leave the country. With a total absence of self-criticism and evidently still taking the absurd accusations seriously, judge Ismael Moreno justified the release of the puppeteers by saying they do not represent a “flight risk”.

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Peter Gelderloos

Peter Gelderloos is an anarchist and author of several books, including Anarchy Works and The Failure of Nonviolence. He has lived in Barcelona for the last eight years, squatting and alternating between unemployment and precarious labor.

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