El País covered the Spanish war tax resistance movement . Translation mine (and I’m very much an amateur):
Protest against the Army, but pay your taxes
The Treasury seizes the accounts of tax resisters who withheld from their tax returns the percentage of defense spending — The government does not recognize ideological objections as justifying a waiver
Under the rallying cry of “No more VAT,” on began the “rebellion” that was launched by [Madrid President] Esperanza Aguirre against the tax increase agreed on by the government. So far, the campaign has kept to the distribution of leaflets, the collection of signatures, and the holding of rallies. “It’s a rebellion in the sense of putting up resistance, not in a military sense,” explained Aguirre. And much less is it supposed to be an invitation to insubordination, as leaders rushed to announce when Aguirre called for rebellion.
Tax resistance is another thing, as Hugo Alcade and Jorge Güemes know, two Valencian antimilitarists whom the Treasury has prosecuted for having withheld from their tax returns a percentage equivalent to the defense budget, which is approximately 12%. In Spain, sources from the Conscientious Objection Movement (MOC) calculate that there are some thousand people each year who protest against military spending in this way and who redirect to humanitarian organizations the money deducted from the tax agency. “It’s a tool of civil disobedience, as was insubordination in the military in its time,” said Carlos Pérez, former resister and spokesperson for MOC from Valencia.
Beyond the moral arguments that may be behind this form of protest, it is a difficult matter to defend legally, for to the Treasury it is a fraud like any other. Also, it raises other problems when justifying this practice. What is the difference between this action and resisting taxes for health spending if you pay for your own health insurance? Or for education if you enroll your children in private schools? Where is the limit of this practice? Some professors of the philosophy of law believe that the answer is in the difference in defending something related to the common good from protecting an individual interest. The first approach, they argue, would have a moral justification. The second would not.
“Tax resistance is a nonviolent way to remove the shame in the system,” said Jorge Güemes, 32. The surveyor got in contact with the antimilitarist campaign during conflict resolution workshops he attended as a member of the Boy Scouts of Valencia. “They seemed to me to be just and easy claims to make.”
He started during the tax season. “In the tax return, I crossed out one of them and scribbled in ‘for objection to military spending’” he says. And the resulting share from the self-made deduction subtracted 12%, equivalent to the military spending in the Budget, which in this case showed a result of 210.43 euros that he redirected to Per L’Horta, an organization that defends the traditional rural landscape in the outskirts of Valencia.
A key part of the campaign consists in making the protest totally open. So the motive for this particular deduction is not only reflected in the way the tax return is formulated. In the documents sent to the tax agency, he also sent a letter in which he explained his reasons for objecting, and even sent a receipt for his payment to the NGOs to which the money was sent, “to make it clear that I don’t want to defraud.”
The probability that the Treasury notices the objection is very low. There are those who have spent years practicing tax resistance and have never met with the government. However, Jorge was caught immediately. “They sent me a letter saying that I was wrong, and I replied to them that there was no error, that I had done exactly as I intended.” There are some who receive notices from the Treasury refunding money. Jorge who currently works with youth, began a long bureaucratic battle that is still on-going. First in the arena of the tax administration, which ended with a defeat in the Regional Administrative Economic Tribunal of the Valencian Ministry of Economy and Finance, which dismissed his claims. After this defeat, the taxes, claims and judgments against, a seizure for 263 euros (the 210 original plus a fine of 53 euros), Jorge has not given up the fight. Now, he is finalizing an appeal to the High Court of Justice of Valencia. “I have been able to speak out,” he said. “I continue to object.”
Hugo Alcalde, 38, joined active antimilitarism after the war in Iraq. “I felt incredibly powerless to see how aggression was carried out so clearly in opposition to civil society,” and therefore came to the conclusion that, “it is more effective to fight against militarization than to stop an ongoing war.”
Hugo began to resist in his tax return, but got no notices from the tax agency until . Then he received a notice that demanded 450.98 euros from his return. As with Jorge, he decided to appeal and filed a claim. The response that the Treasury had was to demand the outstanding amounts corresponding to the taxes for . “It appears that with my claim they revisited all of my records and my returns that had not yet been audited.” But the problems don’t end there. Recently he received notice for the taxes from , “and I suppose that those from will not be far behind.”
From a professor from the institute of Valencia they have seized 276.73 euros by now, and between seizure orders and payments due, interest, and penalties, the Treasury has asks for another 1,713.99 euros. In total, the debt reaches 1,990.72 euros. And despite this, he has decided to stand firm until the end.
He has drawn on the five counter-arguments that he has sent to the Treasury: “More than anything I do it for the symbolic character of the protest,” he said. “Yet I hope to unify all of the processes into one, because otherwise it will be a mess.” “In the worst case, there will be no choice but to pay the money and charges. But, despite the fines or the inconvenience of the taxes it is much more comfortable than to spend two years, four months, and a day in jail, as did those condemned for insubordination who abandoned the barracks,” he explained.
Among the arguments put forward to reject the devices of the tax resisters, the Treasury refers to the military and tax obligations of the Spanish. Alongside conscientious objection, “is also a fundamental right to the defense of the state, which is not only a right but also a duty.” On the other hand, it points out that the tax obligations are drawn up by “principles of equality and progressivity, according to the economic capacity” of citizens, “not the state of the social conscience of an individual at some particular moment.”
For this reason, to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the attitude of Jorge, Hugo, and the rest of the war tax resisters is the same as that of any other person who engages in tax fraud. “There do not exist any mitigating factors in the law to argue for ideological or conscientious reasons that justify a waiver from the tax agency,” the department pointed out. In any case, it is not considered tax fraud. For this, it would be necessary that the money not declared would be more than 120,000 euros. Additionally, there must be bad intent, “for example, to create a structure designed to hide assets,” the same sources said.
Javier de Lucas, professor of the philosophy of law at the University of Valencia, warned a few years ago of the difficulty of justifying this behavior before the Treasury. De Lucas, who collaborated with the Conscientious Objection Movement, analyzed together with tax experts the possible mechanisms that could be used to support this form of defense, and did not find any. “Taxes are considered as a whole, and cannot be separated by personal criteria,” he insists. “It is not clear that a person has the power to decide in what way to make an exception and up to what point one can take this behavior, for example, to health or education.” Because of all of this, he came to the conclusion that the approach was “technically indefensible.”
“I think that the difference is the moral attitude,” suggested Francisco Fernández Buey, professor of ethics and political philosophy at the Pompeu Fabra University. Fernández Buey was one of the first tax resisters in Spain, back in the 1980s, and also then suffered persecution on the part of the Treasury. “I came to empty the account before they seized it. I kept the money at home, among the pages of the first volume of Karl Marx’s Kapital,” he recalled gleefully. The distinguishing feature, according to Fernández Buey, is that it is not comparable to defend approaches “considered acceptable for achieving a more just and beneficial society for the collective good, that would have a moral justification,” with others that only seek “personal interest.” For example, to stop paying for a public service with the excuse that one has no use for it.
Aside from this problem, Javier de Lucas does consider that there exists a safeguard that serves to differentiate the practice of the resisters from the tax evaders. “To demonstrate that the money is not withheld from the public interest, it was redirected to other general purposes. Therefore it is important to account for the percentage of income that is redirected to NGOs.” There is another, more fundamental question that consists of presenting an idea of defense that is separate from the military. It is that which Hugo Alcade defines as “human security,” one of the ideas promotes the UN focus on protection and the basic necessities of human beings, contrasted with the conventional meaning of military security. In the face of this, the Treasury refers to the basic concept of the “military obligations of the Spanish.”
For José Antonio Estévez Araujo, also a professor of the philosophy of law, the legal case against the Treasury is not a significant part of the conduct that is situated centrally in the context of civil disobedience and that, essentially, involves breaking the law. This type of “symbolic” protest is that which fundamentally intends to “generate controversy.” And here is, according to this professor at the University of Barcelona, the characteristic that distinguishes tax resistance from acts of crime or of mere convenience. In contrast with tax evasion, for example, in which the objective is to hide the fraud, tax resisters above all want to publicize their acts: “They seek publicity, controversy, and to open a public debate.”
Therefore, to Estévez Araújo, the behavior of these young antimilitarists is not a case of conscientious objection but of civil disobedience. “It is not intended to have the right not to comply with an obligation [in this case to entirely pay the taxes], but to debate the issues they raise.”
This professor of philosophy emphasizes the importance of civil disobedience as a means of vindication. “In Spain we would have the example of the squatters, who are considered civil disobedients, or the more recent Palestinian activist Aminetu Haidar, in the protest campaign she carried out in Lanzarote.” This formula, which has actively supported the World Social Forum, perhaps has its greatest exponent in the movement of landless workers in Brazil. “The Constitution of provides that for a land reform that has not been carried out,” he says. “There are groups of peasants who occupy land, which is an illegal activity,” although fundamentally they count on the approval of the constitutional spirit. “For this reason, there are even judges who have ruled in their favor.”
Tax resistance is not a method exploited only by left-leaning groups. The professor Francisco Fernández Buey notes the campaign that was carried out for decades in Sweeden as a form of protest against the country’s high tax burden. Or more recently, in Venezuela, by the opposition to Hugo Chávez. In Spain, the most clear example is the campaign that anti-abortion movements encourage. The proposal consists in withholding taxes equivalent to the percentage of public spending destined to the practice of abortion and to redirect this money to organizations that call themselves pro-life.
“This would have been very striking at other times,” reflected Fernández Buey. This professor of ethics and political philosophy stresses the paradox that supposes that these right wing positions have migrated from “defending law and order, to advocating behavior of this sort,” with, for example, the anti-abortion campaign. Some attitudes that could be defined, this time certainly, as a clear invitation to rebellion, in this case tax rebellion.
I get bent when I see the attitude of “tax resistance is conscientious and good when I do it, but when those uncouth people over there do it, there’s something wrong with it.” That said, it’s an interesting article, and shows that there are strong similarities between the war tax resistance movement (and its critics) in the United States and in Spain.