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Sister Teresa Forcades discusses Spanish debt, movements for independence, and Pope Francis

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MIKE MCGUIRE, PRODUCER: Hello, and welcome to The Real News Network. I am Mike McGuire in Baltimore.

Today we’re joined by Sister Teresa Forcades. She is a Benedictine nun, an M.D., a PhD in public health, as well as a theologian and an activist in the Catalonian independence movement. She has a great body of work, as evidenced by the number of titles that she has, including having written works on feminist theology and queer theology, some works on the thought of Simone Weil, as well as the current political and economic crises in Spain and Western Europe. So welcome today, Sister Teresa.


MCGUIRE: Let’s go into what for me is the most interesting since I heard you speak last night on this subject, which is the Catalonian independence movement. Let’s start by talking in general about the context in which this movement is happening, which is Spain, which is a member of the European Union. And this is happening at a time when the southern countries of Europe are in a relatively dependent condition on the northern countries of Europe.


MCGUIRE: And there are a lot of political dynamics going on there. So can you describe for me this context?

FORCADES: Sure. I mentioned yesterday in the talk here in Baltimore that we can, I think, with truth speak of a neocolonial type of relationship between the northern and the southern countries, certainly Spain, regarding countries that now Spain has to give back money, has an external debt that actually has been the most outrageous political development in the last few years and has been the greatest cause of indignation in Spain and has brought people to the street. And I think it has opened up the historical opportunity for a radical change in my country, Spain, and particularly in Catalonia.

To what that comes down to, maybe it’s well known by the audience, but very briefly, this country becomes a country with great social precariousness, people being evicted from the homes. I was mentioning 500 families being evicted every day from their homes. In Spain it’s almost half a million that have been already evicted. And that means people that had a salary, were engaged in a mortgage, and then they lost the job, they could not pay this mortgage anymore, and then they are evicted. But the irony is that they are evicted by banks that actually have themselves had the need to be rescued from the state.

And so what has happened is that the Central Bank of Europe has sent or has given or has decided to give money to the countries that were in trouble, like Greece or Spain, to help salvage their economy. But the mechanism through which that is happening and has happened is not the Central Bank of Europe directly gives the money and then the countries, right, receive it and use it. No. The thing is, this money goes from the Central Bank to intermediate banking institutions, and then from these intermediate institution to the government in trouble, let’s say Spain now, with a difference, which is, when the money moves from the central bank to the intermediate institution, that’s money being landed, and the interest rate is 1 percent, 1, 2 percent. And when it goes from the intermediate financial institution to the government, the interest rate is 6, 7 percent. That’s, I said, outrageous, because it builds into the very fabric of this supposedly solidarity move, it builds in a speculator aspect that will be draining the resources of the country years to come. And I think unless the people have the courage enough to say no and to stop this, this is a dependency mechanism being instituted. Some call it debt-ocracy. Right? It’s not anymore democracy. But here, the power, really it’s in the hands of those who are the creditors of debt.

MCGUIRE: So, essentially you’re saying that these banks are just acting as a /ˈpæstədɔr/ agent are making 5 or 6 percent of the principal.

FORCADES: Exactly, with nothing, right? And who decided that? Are we talking about democracy in Europe? Are we talking about institutions that are built and designed to help the people? So who had this idea that in the middle of this passage of money we would have a 6, 7 percent advantage for somebody that basically is a private enterprise that will be profiting from having these economies?

And the irony, as I said, is that some of these institutions that are being–because this money ends up in the hands of the government of Spain, but with a mission. And this money is to be given to whom? Not to these 500 families a day that are being evicted from their homes. The money is to be given to the banking institutions that are in trouble in Spain. So the money actually never benefits the families directly. It goes directly to these institutions. And these institutions now are evicting the families from the home because they were in trouble, they get the money, and then, according to the Spanish law and how it has functioned in Spain, we gave this money to the banks, and the banks don’t have to give it back, even if they start making profits now. They just benefit from the money, and they can go on with their business. And they don’t have to pay any counterpart to the government or to the people. Can you imagine a more absurd system?

So I think even people that never were political activists, that never thought they would be in the streets screaming against the system, that as the system doesn’t fulfill anymore their responsibilities, they are now in Spain in the street. So we should, as I said, or we could use this opportunity to structure change in the direction of a greater social justice. And that’s what we are trying with my movement in Spain, in Catalonia.

MCGUIRE: We’ll get to the streets in the second, but there are many things that are driving people, it seems, to the streets of Spain.


MCGUIRE: And it’s not just in Catalonia. It’s all over Spain. The context where this exchange of money is happening is also one of devastatingly high unemployment, especially among youth, correct?

FORCADES: Right. I can give you the numbers. It’s–like, general unemployment rate is greater than 25 percent–that’s one-fourth, one of every four people. But among young people it’s 50 percent, so one out of every two. And this is also in the context, as I said, of a situation that makes this social precariousness, right, go worse because of the political decisions that are being made. Yes, that’s right.

And also I wanted to add something, which is, when we speak of this crisis, right, we have to remember that in Spain the total debt at the beginning of the crisis, 2007, was–public debt was only 19 percent. That’s less than the U.S. debt, much less than that, and, actually, one of the lowest in the whole Europe. So this idea that Spain had not done the things right and that’s why the state itself had such a big debt, that’s not true. It had a 19 percent debt. The 81 percent was private debt, and that is, of course, not only banks–also private families, small businesses.. But that’s a very minor part of the private debt. So the greatest, more than 90 percent of the private debt, which is 81 percent of the total debt, that was big institutions, big corporations, and particularly banking institutions.

So the decision was made: like in the States, also here the banks were rescued, at a greater cost, or really great cost. So in Spain, the same thing, right? We cannot let these big institutions fall, because everybody would fall after them. So now we’re going to do this operation of giving money to them. We don’t have the money; we have to lend the money from the European bank. And then [in comes (?)] this mechanism that I explained. So that is what has happened, and many people, as I said, think this should be reversed.

And so we, in our movement, but also many other movements, are calling for something similar to what has happened in Ecuador with President Correa, which is they also were under the debt that actually precluded the evolution or the growth of the country, because such a great percentage of their total gain were needed to pay the interests of the debt, right? That’s a perverse mechanism. Actually, I think in truth we can call that a slavery mechanism. And that is what we now have agreed to, right, as a country. So many people are claiming–.

MCGUIRE: And not just agreed to it, but also there was a constitutional reform in 2011.

FORCADES: Yes, that I also mentioned. And that’s very outrageous, again, from the democratic point of view.

MCGUIRE: So that was the constitutional reform in 2011 that the elevated debt to constitutional issue,–

FORCADES: Exactly.

MCGUIRE: –in which the Spanish nation is required to pay principal and interest to this debt.

FORCADES: Exactly. That’s the first goal of our government is to comply with these European standards of financial stability, so-called so. And even if that comes to the cost of the basic needs of the people–because I’m talking about people without home in the middle of the winter or whenever, and we are talking about cuts, severe cuts in health. Spain was number seven in the ranking of the World Health Organization in 2000, number seven, as the best medical systems in the world, which number that year was–United States is number 34. And what number was Germany? Number 25. So that’s the ranking of the WHO organization in 2000.

Why am I quoting 2000 is because it has not done it again. And why it has not done it again: because the World Health Organization now, it’s a public authority, maximum authority in the world for the issues of health, but it is financed, its majority of funding, it comes from the private institution. That’s, of course, an regular development, because the WH Organization was founded in 1947, and it was founded to be–it was started to be financed by the countries that are part of it, right? But as the countries became in trouble economically, private capital has come into the WHO. And now it’s Bill Gates’ foundation, it’s Coca-Cola, it’s Nestlé, the ones that have the greatest part in it. So they have not published any more this ranking of systems that would show clearly that the public systems were the best and continue to be the best. If you want to have good health in your population, let the system be away from making profit with every part of it.

MCGUIRE: So I’ve got two more questions I want to address before we wrap this up. One is we haven’t talked about the Catalonian independence movement at all yet. So how do these independence movements, which aren’t just in Catalonia, how are these a resolution to these crisis that we’re talking about?

FORCADES: Right. You can very clear see in Catalonia that the establishment, the people and government right now, which–they have a great interest, of course, everywhere on handling this growing protest and this growing potential for a radical change. So it was wonderful in Catalonia to diverst that, to direct all this insatisfaction towards the nationalist aspect, so to make people believe that the problem is Madrid, the problem is the rest of Spain, because they are robbing us for money, because they are not treating us justly in the distribution of wealth, which might be true, because, right, they have issues with that too. But certainly that’s not the basic problem we have now. The basic problem is this debt-ocracy.

MCGUIRE: And when you mobilize one and a half million people in 2010 and again in 2012, what’s putting their feet on the street?

FORCADES: That’s a mixer thing, right? So I cannot be too simplistic in analyzing that, because there is certainly this momentum. And that’s a historical momentum. And I think its basis is the outrage of the people with all the social inequality. But if you are able to channel these hopes of a greater equality towards a very clear goal–and the clear goal is: let’s get independent from the rest of Spain–then you might join here people that are independentist regardless of the social economical moment and people that are hoping for a better future for their children. Right? And that, I think it’s a mixture that has made it possible, that in Catalonia now we have a majority of the people wanting that. And so that’s what I call the historical moment. And I think there is a place for a movement like ours that is not opposing, of course, this nationalist feeling, but it’s joining it in a clear, radical, unbreakable way with a change for greater social justice.

MCGUIRE: So it’s both a majority of people wanting it and one-fifth of the population that’s mobilizing for it.


MCGUIRE: But before we conclude the interview, just because you are a Benedictine sister, what do you think of the current pope? He’s getting a lot of praise from all kinds of sectors.

FORCADES: Yes. For the Church, as well as for the society, I am convinced that in history, if you look at changes for greater social justice, they have never come from the top down, not in society, but also not in the church. And maybe some Catholics or even non-Catholics that hear may now think, oh, come on, don’t you remember John XXIII, right? That’s the so-called “Good Pope”, and he was, of course, the one calling for the Vatican II, which was the moment where the Catholic Church updated its health. It’s called aggiornamento, with an Italian word that means update. So that is, of course, something that this this pope did. But the point is that he was able to do it and the Church was able to experience this renewal in the ’60s with Vatican II because from the beginning of the 20th century, many grassroots organizations were working for it. So things don’t come ever from the top down.

MCGUIRE: And Pope Francis?

FORCADES: With Pope Francis, I think, since Vatican II, up to now, many movements in the church, many people in the church, and many parishes in the church have felt and regretted the backlash, which is Vatican II opens great hopes and then we start getting, like, a backlash, right? So these movements, many of them have been outspoken and have been proactive in shaping the change that they wanted to see. So I do believe that now in the Catholic Church there is an opportunity for a renewal and for a change. And I think Pope Francis might be somebody that will use that, always an alliance with their grassroots. So for me the issue is not let’s wait and see what the new pope does, but let’s move even more proactively in the Church to see the change that we want to be happening, and then the pope will have no other option but to join. And I think he’ll be happy to do it.

MCGUIRE: Great. Thank you very much, Sister Teresa, for joining us here at The Real News.

FORCADES: Thanks for having me.

MCGUIRE: And thank you for joining us online.


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