Spain Government Takes First Steps to Suspend Catalonia Autonomy
The Spanish government announced Thursday that it is to hold an emergency cabinet meeting to approve the measures which will instruct the Senate to trigger constitutional mechanisms to strip Catalonia of its regional autonomy.
(Barcelona) And the opportunities for dialogue ended. The Spanish government announced Thursday that it will apply Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution - a law that has never been applied before - to suspend Catalonia's autonomy and "re-establish legality" in the autonomous community following the "illegal actions" taken by the secessionist catalan government, the Generalitat.
The decision to apply article 155 comes after the deadline granted by Madrid to the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, to clarify whether or not he had made a unilateral declaration of independence (DUI) last week.
On 10 October, ten days after holding a controversial referendum on independence - which the Constitution has declared illegal - President Puigdemont declared in front of the Catalan Parliament that "the Catalan people had won the right to be an independent State in the form of a Republic" but asked the parliament to "suspend" the declaration of independence for a few weeks to seek dialogue with the Spanish government through a mediator.
The Spanish government has since denied any option to dialogue with Puigdemont, calling the Catalan government a "blackmailer" and gave the president a five-day ultimatum to clarify whether or not he had declared independence. Last Monday, Puigdemont avoided giving a concrete response and wrote a letter to Rajoy, asking him to sit down and negotiate in the next two months.
Rajoy did not approve the answer and said he would wait until Thursday. However, this Thursday, Puigdemont has remained in the same line, responding that "the Catalan Parliament would vote a DUI in the event that the Spanish government applied article 155."
On Wednesday, in a final attempt to avoid triggering this drastic law, the Spanish government insisted that Puigdemont called regional elections. By not doing it himself, the regional elections would be called once applied article 155, when the autonomy is suspended. It would be a measure aimed at withdrawing from power the separatist forces that govern in Catalonia, which in the eyes of the Spanish government have been acting outside the law. However, far from calming the situation, it will take thousands of separatists protesters into the streets today and tomorrow.
The spokesman of the Spanish government has not hesitated to blame the Catalan government for the current situation, which has triggered the social divide between the Catalans and threatens to endanger the economy.
In the last week, more than 700 Catalan companies and financial institutions have moved their headquarters outside Catalonia to calm investors and ensure the liquidity of the European Central Bank. The tourism sector has also been damaged, with a 20% drop in hotel bookings in Catalonia for the coming months.
And in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, mass demonstrations have become the protagonists of the streets. The last one was last Tuesday afternoon, when about 200,000 people -according to the Urban police- took the center of Barcelona to protest the imprisonment of the leaders of the two main grassroots organizations in favor of independence, ANC and Omnium.
The two leaders, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, were charged by the Public Prosecutor's Office with sedition offenses (an exaggerated crime, political analysts agree) for calling a pacific mass demonstration in front of the Generalitat's Ministry of Economy in Barcelona. Civil Guard was carrying out a search warrant ordered by the central government, and the crowds prevented agents from leaving the building.
The events occurred on September 20, ten days before the controversial referendum. The objective of the searches, registers and detentions ordered by Madrid within the Catalan government, as well as the deployment of hundreds of national police and agents of the civil guard in the region, had a concrete objective: to stop at all costs the holding of the referendum of self-determination, that the Court Supreme considers unconstitutional.
The imprisonment of the two Jordis has pushed various activist organizations to classify them as "political prisoners" in 21st century Spain. Amnesty International has said in a statement that the charges of sedition against Sánchez and Cuixart are excessive and provisional detention must be suspended.
For the last five years, the Catalan government has been calling for a referendum for self-determination similar to Scotland's, but the central government insists that a plebiscite of this kind is not allowed under the Spanish Constitution. Faced with the impossibility of a "legal" referendum, the Catalan government, led by a coalition of pro-independence parties since 2015, decided to take up the crusade on its own and got the regional parliament to pass two controversial laws: the so-called Referendum Act, which approved the convocation of the referendum of 1 October and the Law of Transiency, which dictated that the parliament should declare lndependence 48hours after announcing the results of the referendum.
The referendum was carried out in irregular conditions, with constant cyber attacks against the voting system by Madrid, and anti-disturb patrols of the Spanish national police using violence to prevent citizens to vote in various polling stations (more than 800 people were injured under brutality of national police, according to the Catalan government).
Despite the irregularities in which the referendum was carried out (including the confiscation of ballot papers), President Puigdemont insists that the result is legitimate for a DUI that would split the society in two. In the referendum 42% of the Catalan population participated - some 2.2 million people - and the "Yes" won by 90%.