The Catalonia-Spain conflict: how to make it even worse
A Spanish National Court judge on Monday handed down pre-trial detention without bail for the leaders of the two main pro-independence civic platforms in Catalonia - ANC and Òmnium - for alleged sedition offenses.
Some begin to call it "the perfect storm." Since Catalunya celebrated the controversial referendum for independence on 1st October - considered illegal by the Spanish government - relations between Catalonia and Spain are cracked by the inability of the politicians on duty to find a solution to a political conflict that has sprouted nationalism on both sides and that has driven citizens to the streets.
On Monday, just hours after Catalan President Carles Puigdemont overruled the Spanish government's request to clarify whether or not he declared independence from Spain last week, a judge of the National Supreme Court sentenced the presidents of the two the main independent citizens' platforms in Catalonia, the National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium, to prison on remand without bail, for possible sedition charges.
The detention of the two popular leaders, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixar, has angered the Catalan citizens - mainly the separatists - who see it as a disproportionate judicial measure and an attempt to curb freedom of expression. The Catalan president himself, Carles Puigdemont, tweeted yesterday that once again Spain is witnessing "political prisoners", something that hadn’t happened since Franco’s regime.
The two detainees are accused of having mobilized thousands of people in front of the Catalan Ministry of Economy in Barcelona to prevent Spanish Civil Guard agents from leaving the building when they were complying with a search warrant related to the "illegal" referendum.
The events occurred on September 20, when several police records and arrests of Catalan officials were carried out, following instructions from the Prosecutor's Office to stop the referendum on October 1st. In those days Madrid also ordered the displacement of hundreds of national police and agents of the civil guard to Catalunya, an autonomous community that has its own regional police.
The prosecutors have since maintained the charges of sedition against the leaders of ANC and Omnium – both civil platforms with a huge capacity for mobilization in Catalonia.
These two organizations became especially strong in 2012, when the Catalan government saw frustrated by Madrid any attempt to adopt a new Statute of Autonomy - a new political pact with Spain to achieve greater fiscal autonomy. The Catalan Parliament and the congress of deputies in Madrid had approved the Statute, but the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. This was a trigger in the rise of Catalan separatism, which was spurred by the ANC, Omnium and also by the then party in power, CiU.
Since then, its main request to Madrid has been to obtain a legal referendum, something that the central government has rejected clinging to the idea that any referendum of self-determination is illegal.
The central government's war against ANC and Òmnium began a few days before the referendum. The websites and foreign mobile accounts of both entities have been blocked on several occasions. However, both the ANC and Omnium continue to be at the forefront of the massive mobilization of citizens. It was largely thanks to its power of convening and organizing that it was possible to hold the controversial #1O referendum. They managed to get thousands of citizens to "fill" election schools over the weekend to keep them from being sealed up by the police.
It’s true that many polling stations remained open during the referendum, but the plebiscite could not avoid various irregularities, such as the confiscation of ballot papers by the police or cyber attacks on the central government's vote-tallying system. Furthermore, the riot police violently attacked the voters in several schools, who were protecting them.
According to the Catalan government, the outcome was more than 700 people injured by the police’s slamming and pushing. The brutality scenes of the Spanish police charging against the voters – many of whom were elders - went around the world and became the front page of the international press.
These images were counterproductive for the Spanish democracy, and especially for the government of the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, who represents the conservative Popular Party.
The fact that a judge ordered yesterday the imprisonment of two leaders of separatist citizen associations without political power didn’t help either, since before the eyes of the world it can be interpreted as a clear repression of freedom of expression.
The demonstrations called in front of the Ministry of Economy on September 20, as well as all the demonstrations for independence called by the ANC and Omnium in recent years, have been peaceful.
The next step in the Catalan-Spanish soap opera is to see what will happen on Thursday, the deadline given by the Spanish government to President Puigdemont to clarify whether or not he declared independence last week.
Based on the results of the controversial referendum (in which 42% of the Catalan population - 2.2 million people – participated and the "yes" won by 90%), Puigdemont met the regional Parliament last week to announce the declaration of independence, but suggesting it would be delayed "a few weeks" to reach a dialogue with Madrid. The pressure upon him not to issue the declaration of independence is coming from the Catalan business community itself, which has seen dozens of companies move their headquarters outside Catalonia to protect their investors. Also the Catalan tourist sector has begun to show signs of falling hotel reservations.
For now the central government has rejected all kinds of dialogue until Puigdemont clarifies his response. On Monday, the Catalan president opted to send a letter to Rajoy, saying that what he wants is to negotiate with him to reach an agreement on Catalonia in the next two months. Rajoy replied with another letter, asking him to return to legality and to say before Thursday if he actually declared or not the independence. If so, the state government will apply Article 155 of the Constitution, which involves the suspension of the autonomous powers of Catalonia and the consequent call for regional elections.