Balthasar: Blacked Up or Locked Up

Tomorrow our kids will be going to the annual Cabalgata de Los Reyes Magos, a cavalcade through the city with various colourful floats celebrating local and global commercial enterprises geared towards selling things to children, and featuring the Three Wise Men, who, despite the growing importance of Santa Claus, are still the main night-time distributors of presents to children who have behaved in accordance with their parents' needs, desires and means.

There is great excitement round our way. I have managed to liberate myself from the obligation to go. One of the things I find hard to take about the Three Kings thing -it is not that I am a fan of Santa Claus either- is the ostentatious worship of earthly wealth and power it entails. If I were going to get theological about it, it is the antithesis of the Christmas message, which is that the real 'king' is the one denied shelter and born among the animals amid muck and shit. But it is not as if the Spanish Catholic Church is going to support my interpretation.

One of the things I have always been uncomfortable with at these processions is King Balthasar, who, in traditional representations of the Magi, is black. However, despite very many black men living in Spain, the person acting as Balthasar in the parade -which, depending on the parade, is often an opportunity for local business leaders to assert their importance and largesse to the wider community- is frequently a blacked-up white man. Like this:

When I saw the story below circulating yesterday, I thought it was a headline relating to a direct action taken to highlight conditions in Spain's internment centres. Not so. Note that my publishing this translated newswire article is not an endorsement of the police account contained in it. The police are an unreliable source.

Carabanchel's King Balthasar interned in an Immigration Internment Centre

More than ten neighbourhood associations organising the Carabanchel cavalcade demanded on Thursday the release of Senegalese man Gamou Dieng, the popular King Balthasar who is held prisoner in the Foreigner Internment Centre (CIE) in Aluche, where he will remain for the next 60 days until the order of expulsion to his country of origin is carried out, according to a joint communication by the associations.

Representatives of the associations organising the cavalcade have submitted a request for his release to the Government Delegation in Madrid via a letter. However, the Police have replied that it will not be possible because Dieng has an expulsion order, after being arrested for violent robbery, as ordered by Magistrate's Court No. 35 in Madrid. The associations and collectives of Carabanchel say that, whilst they are unaware of the circumstances surrounding his entering the CIE, "the fact of not having papers in order is not sufficient motive to hold a person in custody or to expel them from the country". According to the 15-M's People's Assembly of Leganés, he was arrested during a raid on the Leganés railway station.

However, police sources told Efe [the news agency] that Gamou Dieng is being held in the Aluche CIE on order of Magistrate's Court No. 35 of Madrid, where he was taken after being arrested for committing said violent robbery. That day an undercover policeman caught him snatching a bag from a woman in a Carabanchel park and detained him.

The Police then found out that he had an active expulsion order dating from 2009, laid down by the Government Delegation in Madrid and active until 2014. Moreover it was stated that he had three previous orders for six offences against intellectual property, on having been caught selling illegally in the street, and seven cautions for infringing the Foreigners Law. After being brought before the courts his detention in the Aluche CIE was ordered so that he would be expelled from the country.

Opposing this, associations of mothers and fathers from CEIP Antonio Machado, Colegio Amorós, CEIP Maestro Padilla and Colegio San Gabriel [schools in the area], among others, want their King Balthasar to come back and take part in the Cabalgata the day after tomorrow and insist that Gamou Dieng has always taken part in solidarity activities. "Always in a completely disinterested way", they add.

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