Nais Gambara, 19 January 2023
Bolsonaro’s followers tried to provoke a coup in Brazil
The shameful incidents at the Capitol in Washington and against the headquarters of Brazil’s main institutions, carried out by ultras, have a precedent in Catalonia.
The recent assault on Brazilian institutions to protest against President-elect Lula da Silva and the Bolsonaristas’ refusal to recognise the results of the elections brought another similar episode back to the table: the assault on the US Capitol, when a horde of ultras stormed the building, occupied the main offices, stole documents and smashed the building’s furnishings. Almost every country in the world has condemned the events in Brasilia. So have all the Spanish political parties, except Vox, which has well-known ideological connections with the supporters of the former Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro.
But the assault on institutions is not alien to the Catalan pro-independence parties. In fact, in the last decade there have been several attempts to storm the Catalan Parliament. One of them, which sparked Operation Judas in September 2019, led to the arrest of a dozen people, members of a guerrilla group of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR). Its members, some of whom were immediately released, were planning a surprise occupation of the Parliament and a week-long closure until the definitive proclamation of the Catalan Republic.
For this operation, they claimed over the phone, they had the consent of Quim Torra himself, at the time president of the Generalitat. The guerrillas even met with a sister of Carles Puigdemont, whom they informed of the plans for the assault.
The summary of the Judas operation leaves no room for doubt. On 8 October 2018, Ferran Jolis, one of those arrested, spoke on the phone with Xavier Buigas. In the conversation, it was clear that the tactical response team (ERT), as the reduced guerrilla group, separate from the CDR, had taken on the task of providing the logistical infrastructure necessary to occupy the Parliament of Catalonia and subsequently defend it. “This order highlights the technical and human capacity that the ERT is supposed to have, since in order to carry it out, important knowledge of illicit and clandestine secure telecommunications networks is necessary, as well as the capacity to mobilise,” says a judicial report attached to the indictment.
At the time, the most radicalised groups were testing new organisational formulas to evade police surveillance and were using a computer platform called TardorCalentaBOT, the precursor to the platform created exclusively for ‘Democratic Tsunami’.
At the beginning of 2018, Ferran Jolis had created ERT. “It’s quite a beast of a team”, he acknowledged in a telephone conversation with Mireia Bosa, another of those involved. Officially, Jolis disassociated himself from the official tasks of the CDR to dedicate himself to the programming of more forceful actions, so much so that in several telephone conversations he admitted that if he was caught with the material he had and with the telecommunications equipment, he would go straight to jail. “If they catch me they will charge me with terrorism and organised crime,” he said proudly. Jolis was one of those who met with Puigdemont’s sister, to whom he claims he handed over “super-confidential material”. The operation was carried out, as police reports state, “with truly exceptional security measures, typical of criminal or terrorist organisations: shuttle vehicles, rear counter-surveillance vehicles, secure telecommunications, transmitters, meeting inside a moving vehicle, etc.”.
How the assault was to be carried out
Also on 8 October 2018, Xavier Buigas informed Jolis that a group calling itself CNI Català had contacted him “to provide the necessary logistical infrastructure with the aim of carrying out an action in which they intended to occupy the Parliament of Catalonia and subsequently defend it”. The CNI Català had, according to the detainees, an organised infrastructure on a technical and tactical scale, ample economic resources “and the capacity to mobilise thousands of people”. The occupation was to be carried out through the front door of the Parliament, as entry would be facilitated from the inside. On the outside, and with the help of the Catalan CNI, Buigas would be in charge of renting buildings and premises “that would provide them with security and the establishment of supply bases. To do this, they would need the services of Ferran Jolis, due to his extensive knowledge of computers and telecommunications, to set up a secure and undetectable network that would allow communications between the inside and outside of the Parliament”. The intention was to usurp the wifi networks of nearby shops and restaurants to use for communications.
The plans were found in a notebook with black covers that Buigas hid in his Seat Alhambra, where it was noted that the CNI Català had already given the ERT 6,000 euros for expenses. On 18 October 2018, Jolis communicated to Xavier Duch and Clara Borrero, also members of the commando, the detailed plans in separate telephone conversations. On 18 October, in another conversation, Jolis informed Buigas of the identity of all the members of the commando who would participate in the organisation of the assault: in addition to him, there would be Serrallonga (Xavier Buigas), Katxi (Iris Camps), Clara (Clara Borrero), David (David Budria), Edu (Eduardo Garzón) and Julià (Julià Carboneras).
The day on which the assault on Parliament was to take place, once the 1-O ruling was known, was known as D-Day. Each member of the guerrilla had his or her own job: from buying chemicals to make explosives to renting flats, planning and actions on the ground and setting up communications networks. To carry out the action, however, it was necessary to mobilise thousands of activists around the Ciutadella Park chamber, not only to put pressure on public opinion, but also to intimidate the security forces and to defend the leaders of the assault. In other words, to create a clashing force with the police.
This would be done by the CNI Catalunya and the civic organisations that normally called for street demonstrations, together with the pro-independence parties. They would provide the muscle, and the guerrillas the brains.
The difference between these events and those in Brazil or the United States is that in Catalonia they were not strong enough to storm the Parliament. But, on the other hand, the organisation and intentions of the commando were perfectly planned, including the manufacture of thermite, an explosive similar to rubber-2, which was found in sealed containers in two laboratories used by the commando.
However, after the events in Brazil, Carles Puigdemont was one of the first to condemn the assault on the democratic institutions of the South American country. His attitude is a far cry from the one he had maintained in recent times. Because just four years ago, pro-independence leaders did not repudiate the assault on institutions. Their only fear was that the incidents would get out of hand and that they would not control the final outcome of the riots. A few months before Operation Judas, in the spring of 2019, a mistake allowed one of the members of the commando to talk too much on a Telegram forum. He commented that there was a plan to storm the Parliament, which brought him criticism from other comrades. “This should be discussed elsewhere and in person,” he was told.
The Catalan Bastille
In January 2019, preparations for an assault on the Parliament were on the table, and there was a lively debate to carry out an act of force. One group was proposing to besiege the Parliament on the day of Carles Puigdemont’s investiture, scheduled for the end of January that year, but which could not take place because the law does not allow for remote investiture and Puigdemont was on the run in Belgium. “I am aware that there are many people who do not believe in the possibilities offered by the ‘Consell per la República’, but unfortunately it is the only viable path if we do not mount a popular uprising and the people take control of the Parliament and establish a provisional government”, said Pep Aragó, who argued that the Consell should put itself at the service of the “Party” (with a capital ‘P’). He regretted, however, the absence of popular leadership, but making the Council for the Republic the tool of the operation was welcome. “What if we surround the parliament with 20,000 or 30,000 people when the Board is inside and demand the people’s mandate? But not 800, as in the two previous times, no. Let the colour of the grass in the Ciutadella not be seen from the helicopter…”, said a proposal accompanied by several bicep emoticons.
After a lively debate, the conclusion was that in the last demonstrations in front of the chamber “there were more firefighters than demonstrators, but there was no concrete reason to besiege politicians, only workers of health workers and firefighters, except for the previous one, which they mistakenly and self-servingly called ‘assault on the Parliament’, in which there were 300 Arran members and a few others. But what if there is a more real and concrete reason to go? Are we not capable of redirecting the energies that are spent to bring 8,000 or 10,000 people to Lledoners to the Parliament on the day of, for example, the Board meeting? One of the most exalted activists reached ecstasy: “The Ciutadella must be the Bastille here. Without that, little”. He was also disappointed by the lack of forcefulness of Quim Torra and the CDR. If you don’t want blood in the street, that’s the way to go,” said Pep Aragó, “If you have another, quicker and cheaper way, you can tell me and I’ll be happy to act as a bridge so that you can present it to Puigdemont himself. A few minutes later, Aragó stated that, nevertheless, “I assume that there will be some bloodshed… And I’ll tell you more, it will surely not be from the Spanish government, but from the same people we have at home…”.
It was Puigdemont himself, who cheered the mobilisations from Waterloo, who now says he wants nothing to do with an assault on institutions like Brazil. “President Lula was the victim of a foul lawfare campaign, and now he is facing an attack on Brazilian democracy. All support, and in the rest of Latin America’s democracies, in the face of those who have never accepted the sovereignty of their peoples”, is the former president’s message on the events in Brazil. Because, in short, the Bolsonaros in Brazil did not accept the results of the ballot boxes, just as the Catalan Bolsonaros have never accepted the results of the ballot boxes in Catalonia and have twisted the political interpretation of the successive elections to the point of unreality.