The left-wing disputes over rubber balls put the reform of the ‘gag law’ on the brink of failure | Spain | The USA Print

Police and civil guards from Jusapol march towards the Congress of Deputies during a demonstration against the reform of the ‘gag law’, on March 4.Alberto Ortega (Europa Press)

It was one of the great promises of the coalition government, a personal commitment by Pedro Sánchez himself that he ratified at the 40th PSOE congress, held in Valencia in October 2021. “We will move forward by putting an end to laws such as the gag law”, The President of the Government and General Secretary of the Socialists then proclaimed when advancing then what would be the next milestones of the Executive such as the euthanasia law, the increase in the minimum wage, the minimum vital income or the pension reform. If at first Sánchez and his party considered a repeal, which finally mutated into a reform, the disputes in recent months between the four left-wing parties -PSOE, Unidad Podemos, ERC and EH Bildu- over the scope of the reform have put on the brink of failure a process to which the PNV had joined. The main stumbling block has turned out to be some objects that weigh less than 100 grams and have a diameter of less than six centimeters: the rubber balls that the police use to deal with street riots.

Sources from the ERC parliamentary leadership explained this Thursday that they see many more possibilities for the housing law to go ahead ―in which there are also discrepancies between the parties of the left― than the reform of the gag law, and they have advanced that their only doubt is whether they will knock down the latter next Tuesday, during the parliamentary commission in which they will vote on whether to go to plenary session, or they will wait for the latter, which does not yet have a date. The Socialist Finance Minister, María Jesús Montero, has also conceded this Thursday that the Government gives more priority to the housing law than to the gag law, under the argument that it has more significance and importance for people and, in particular, for young people. The last working meeting between these six formations ―PSOE, Unidas Podemos, PNV, ERC, EH Bildu and Junts―, held this Tuesday and which lasted just over half an hour, ended with equally bitter positions, despite the fact that the three The first parties presented alternative texts for the four articles that have stalled the negotiation. The proposal was rejected by the other three, according to several sources familiar with the meeting.

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It was an announced failure in view of the great differences that, since the beginning of the negotiations, the six parties that defended changing the rule on various points and, above all, on the use of rubber balls. The PSOE started from the amendment that it presented in its day, together with Unidas Podemos, and that did not contemplate any cut in riot equipment. That text included as a novelty the obligation on the part of “the competent authorities” -in reference to the Ministry of the Interior and the autonomous governments that have transferred powers in matters of citizen security- to develop “specific protocols in accordance with international standards” on the use of force and the use of riot control material to “always use the least harmful means for people and avoiding those that cause irreparable injuries.”

For its part, ERC included in its amendments a point so that rubber balls were “expressly” prohibited. A position that he reaffirmed in April of last year, when he delivered to the other five parliamentary groups in favor of the reform a document with 11 modifications to the law that the nationalist formation considers essential for its deputies to vote in favor of a future reform. Among them was the end of this material. EH Bildu also showed a firm position from the beginning to put an end to them, as did Junts, who stressed that, in Catalonia, the Mossos d’Esquadra stopped using them in 2014 and were replaced by bullets foam, a viscoelastic material on the less damaging paper.

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For its part, the PNV proposed following the model adopted by the Basque Executive after the death, on April 5, 2012, of the Athletic Bilbao follower Íñigo Cabacas after being struck in the head by one of these projectiles during the incidents after a soccer game. That event ended in the judicial sphere with the sentencing of the Ertzaintza commander who directed the operation to two years in prison for reckless homicide, and in the police sphere, with severe restrictions on the use of rubber bullets. Since then, these have not been formally prohibited, but since that event, 10 years ago, the Basque regional police have not fired any and have only used ammunition projectiles. foamLike the mossos. The reason is that the protocol that was drawn up after then establishes that before firing rubber bullets, the commander of the Mobile Brigade (riot police) of the Ertzaintza in charge of the operation must justify their decision and request prior authorization from the Vice Minister of the Interior.

The positions of the parties remained unchanged until last November. United We Can, which at the time had aligned itself with the PSOE, proposed including an additional provision in the future citizen security law to create, “within six months” from the reform, a commission chaired by the Ombudsman of the People with the mandate to prepare “an opinion on the disappearance of riot control material that can cause irreparable injuries, including kinetic energy rubber projectiles”, in reference to rubber balls. This proposal added that the conclusions of the opinion will be implemented within an “adequate” period of time that would allow “the transition, substitution and training for the use of new (riot control) materials”. The proposal, however, was not supported by the rest of the forces.

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Finally, on February 1, coinciding with the last meeting of the paper that prepared the text, PSOE, Unidas Podemos and PNV presented a new proposal to the rest of the forces to overcome the obstacle. Specifically, for the first time, the Socialists were open to introducing an additional provision on “police management and riot equipment” into the regulation, which determined that the Ministry of the Interior should prepare “a study on the use of riot equipment”. At no time were projectile rubber balls expressly mentioned, nor was it pointed out that this would lead, far from it, to a future replacement of them by others made of a material. The text also did not convince ERC, EH Bildu and Junts, who maintained the need to prohibit it or, in the case of the leftist force of the Abertzale, that there would be a more explicit commitment, even if it was with a public demonstration by the Government, to remove in the near future.

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The last episode so far known of the negotiation to close the discrepancies over the rubber balls occurred last Tuesday, in a discreet meeting between the six parties in favor of modifying the rule. Once again, PSOE, Unidas Podemos and PNV put on the table a proposal that was basically similar to the previous one, although with some small modifications. Thus, he proposed introducing in the explanatory memorandum of the future law an allusion to riot gear together with an additional provision detailing that in the preparation of the protocols for its use, in addition to Interior, “experts” and security organizations would participate. what the text calls “civil society”, in reference to groups such as Amnesty International, which has held meetings with the parties to make contributions to the law. In addition, the proposal included the establishment of mechanisms to allow the identification of riot agents who use this material. Despite these changes, ERC, EH Bildu and Junts rejected the proposal. The stumbling block is still there just a few days before the Interior Commission votes whether to send the project to the plenary session of Congress or, definitively, bury it.

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