International opinion urges Spain to negotiate with Catalonia

During the last few days a several international newspapers, like the New York Times and the Irish Times have published editorials and articles urging the Spanish Government to allow the referendum and to negotiate with Catalonia to find a solution. Both blame the Spanish Government for the current situation and warn that this course of action could bring unstability down the road. This has dealt a massive blow to the Spanish Government position and their assumption that nobody cared about Catalonia and that even if they did they’d always side with the Spanish Government no matter what.

It was not long ago that the internatinal opinion routinely portrayed Catalonia as an unreasonable and selfish region, etc. But years of peaceful protests, political momentum and an intense work of internationalisation have slowly changed that. This will be very positive when the inevitable Declaration of Independence takes place after the referendum.

But nothing has changed on the surface. The day before yesterday in Catalonia the Guardia Civil police brought in for questioning several civil servants who are working on the catalan expats census without even a court order, only to release them immediately. This is part of the fear and repression strategy that Spain has embarked upon. They believe the referendum can be stopped by coercing anyone involved in its organisation.

Later that day in Madrid the Spanish King gave an award to Rodolfo Martín Villa, a former Minister during Franco’s dictatorship who has an international warrant for arrest for crimes against humanity by the Argentinian justice, who are investigating some of Franco’s dictatorships crimes.

On the other hand, yesterday, the polar oposite image came from the Catalan Parliament. 63961 political court sentences from Franco’s dictatorship between 1938 and 1978 were nullified. Effectively abolishing any trace of legitimacy of Franco’s regime in Catalonia.

The final stretch

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The last couple of months have been intense from the inside of Catalonia, with:

  • compromising leaks threatening the political union of the pro independence parties
  • several members of the former Government found guilty and banned from office for organising the November 9th 2014 vote
  • the President of the Catalan Parliament testifying in Court for allowing the debate about independence at the Parliament
  • incompetence by the Spanish border control police at the Barcelona airport causing huge delays and the Spanish authorities failing to fix it
  • the prosecutor opening due diligence to prosecute a Catalan Minister for issuing a tender to purchase ballot boxes
  • the scandal of the existence of a network composed of intelligence agents, police units, politicians and the entire legal system plotting to target pro independence politicials by forging scandals and bending the interpretation of the law to serve their political purposes (check my twitter for more details, it would require several posts)

But the decisive event of the last two months took place this week. On monday Catalan President Puigdemont, Vice President Junqueras and Minister of Foreign Affairs Romeva, gave a joint conference in Madrid. This was the last attempt by the Catalan side to offer the Spanish Government to negotiate the terms of the self determination referendum. President Puigdemont warned Spanish Government President Rajoy that the referendum will take place in any case and either he could negotiate its terms now or in a few months he’d instead have to negotiate the terms of the secession.

In an unseen display of celerity Rajoy replied the following day in a press conference in which he said he would not accept “Puigdemonts’ blackmail and threat to the constitutional order”. Puigdemont replied that that was not the answer they were expecting and that it does not bring a solution any closer.

The last few days have registered an escalation of the language of the Spanish Government. Now they refer to the referendum as a Coup d’etat. It must be the first time in history that a Coup is made with ballot boxes instead of guns.

Catalonia will now proceed to call the referendum knowing Spain will use all means within their reach to repress the exercice of the vote in Catalonia. This will presumably lead to a full clash of legitimacies. On one hand the legitimacy of the Catalan people expressed through their vote, on the other the legitimacy of the post Franco Spanish regime now showing the cracks in its foundation lacking the flexibility to adapt to the changing political reality.

The key will be whether or not the Catalan people, who started this whole movement in the first place, will be able to withstand and overcome the repression long enough to defeat Spain or not. Rajoy hasn’t explained how exactly is the Spanish Government planning to stop people from voting. And there is not very much they can reasonably do without using disproportional measures that’d would effectively increase the legitimacy of Catalonia’s aspirations.

In a few months we will know.

Alea Jacta Est

Catalan Government 2017 budget passed. Countdown to referendum

Yesterday the Catalan Parliament passed the 2017 budget thanks to the votes of pro independence JuntsPelSí and CUP parties. This was the last obstacle, from the Catalan side at least, on the way for the referendum. This budget includes the funds for the binding referendum of independence.

The last month and a half has been very intense. Since the trial to former President Mas and in a display on previously unseen speed in the deliberations the court declared Mas and former Catalan Government Ministers Ortega, Rigau and Homs guilty of disobedience for doing what people voted them to do. To let people vote in November 2014. They were sentenced to a two year ban from public office for holding an unbinding referendum on the independence of Catalonia. A few decades ago they use to execute Catalan Presidents, by firing squad. An improvement after all.

As a consequence of this I’ve lost track already of how many MPs from different democratic parliaments have already raised their voice warning Spain (check my twitter). The UN Human Rights Commissioner in Switzerland, the EU Venice Commission several MEPs and even Canada. Just letting Spain know that this conflict should be dealt with politically, not legally. In the process, the damage done to the credibility of Spanish institutions has been irrecoverable.

Even the former President of the Spanish Constitutional Court, on the day he was leaving, said that using the judiciary to stop Catalonia’s independence is not working and that a political solution should be reached instead.

Today we woke up with the news that the former Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margallo admitted yesterday night live on TV that he personally made secret deals with many countries against Catalonia.

On a colorful note, a University Professor has been fined 601 euros for daring to speak in Catalan with the Spanish Police greeting us at the Barcelona Airport. How dare he speak in the language of the country he is flying from.

Looks like the Law of Transience, which will set the Catalan legal framework for the unilateral referendum, will likely be passed in September instead of June in order to give Spain as little time as possible to react against it. The Law of Transience will be the de facto Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Part of this law, the part that enables the referendum,  will become effective on the same day it is passed and the rest of it only in case the Yes wins the referendum.

The independence machinery is advancing slowly but steadily towards the unilateral referendum scheduled for September. What Madrid thought would never happen, for JuntsPelSí and CUP to agree on the 2017 budget has happened. International supports are growing and Catalan pro Independence parties have set their differences aside for a greater goal. The clock keeps ticking and people are starting to get nervous in Madrid.

Former Catalan President trial for organising independence vote begins

A huge crowd of more than 50 thousand people has gathered outside of the courthouse so support former President Mas on the day the trial begins.

Artur Mas and Ministers Ortega and Rigau, are accused of disobedience and face a ban for elected posts because they kept their electoral promise to organise a referendum about whether Catalonia should become an independent state.

The referendum could not be carried out as initially planned because of the threats from the Spanish Government. So the Catalan Government changed the format to a non binding consultation and used volunteers instead of civil servants in order to protect the people organising from retaliations from Spain.

The result was that in spite of the threats and the attempts to ridicule 2.3 million people voted, with 90% votes going for the yes and the Spanish Government feeling powerless thought someone had to be punished for this defiance and targetted Mas and Ministers Ortega and Rigau.

Today the trial begins only a few days after the Catalan Government had the go ahead from CUP to approve to budget for 2017 that will enable an official referendum to be organised by the current Catalan Government. 80% of Catalans agree as of today that a referendum must be held to solve this issue.

Even though the intent of the Spanish Government is to use the judiciary to attack and scare Catalans against going forward with the independence plans it is proving to be instead a phenomenal way of uniting everyone who believes in democracy against the illegitimate use of the State by the Spanish Government.

Catalan demands for independence are, at the end of the day, a struggle for democracy.

Spain to stop the referendum “by force” and smear campaign on pro indy politicians

Since last week’s news that CUP gave the go ahead to the Catalan Government’s budget for the year, which essentially was the last obstacle before the referendum could be organised, Spain has gone into panic mode.

Both El Mundo and El Pais heated up the opinion by publishing editorials urging the Spanish Government to take decisive action to stop the referendum and Rajoy and his ministers confirmed that they have plans to stop the referendum “by force” if it came to that. Sealing voting schools and such familiar threats (which didn’t happen in 2014 by the way)

This was received with  firm responses from the Catalan side. Noone is going to stop the democratic will of the Catalan people. The social networks were full of jokes about the Spanish Government’s threats.

Meanwhile, tomorrow starts the trial to former president Mas and two former Ministers, Ortega and Rigau, who are facing criminal charges which could lead to a 10 year ban on being eligible for political posts for organising the referendum on 2014. 40000 people, according the the Assemblea Nacional de Catalunya have already signed up to protest for what is this attempt of criminalising the political will of Catalonia.

On thursday the Spanish Police (Guardia Civil) arrested 8 high ranking members of former party CDC (now PDeCat) as part of a supposed investigation on corruption and were released the next day with no charges without even having appeared in front of the judge. It seems like the Spanish government is trying hard to create a link between pro independence and corruption and didn’t hesitate to use the police and courts as tools in part of this smear campaign.

Political agreement for budget paves way for Catalan referendum

CUP party finally agreed yesterday to approve the Catalan Government’s budget for 2017. This starts the countdown to the referendum of independence and sets the independence process in the final stage.

At some point during May the Parliament will approve the law of Judiciary Transience that will effectively be a declaration of independence and will enable a Catalan legal framework under which the Independence referendum will be organised. The approval dor the rest of the Catalan independence laws will be conditional to the result of the referendum being Yes.

Even though the original plan is for the referendum to take place in September the Government has hinted at the possibility of doing it earlier if Spain continues its legal attacks against Catalan politicians as they have so far.

The next milestone for the process is February the 6th when the trial to former President Mas starts and a protest is being organised by the main pro independence organisations. Mas is being charged with disobedience for organising the referendum of November 2014 and if found guilty would be banned from running for any political posts.

Irish MEP Matt Carthy: “the people of Catalonia should decide for themselves”

After tuesday’s conference of the Catalan President at the European Parliament Irish MEP Matt Carthy has said “all democrats should agree that the people of Catalonia should decide for themselves”

This is yet another international support for the Catalan referendum. These have increased substantially especially after last december the President of the Catalan Parliament Carme Forcadell appeared in court facing charges for disobedience for allowing a debate about Catalonia’s independence to take place at the Parliament.

 

Catalan President receives standing ovation at Europarliament by a room full to the brim

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Standing ovation at the European Parliament when Catalan President Carles Puigdemont finished speaking a few minutes ago. VicePresident Junqueras and Foreign Minister Romeva also participated.

The bigger event room (350 seats but about 150 more were standing) at the European Parliament was full in spite of the boycott attempts by the Spanish diplomatic services and Spanish representatives in Brussels. I have the feeling their clumsy attempts probably backfired and increased the interest in the conference.

Puigdemont said that above all this is about democracy and that Catalonia’s project is deeply pro european. But the main message he delivered was that this year Catalonia will organise a referendum of independence, whether it is agreed with Spain or not and Catalans will decide whether Catalonia becomes an independent State or not.

I have to say I am surprised by the warm welcome that the audience, which was composed of members MEPs and members of international diplomatic services has displayed. I expected skepticism and a touch of indifference but it seems that finally Europe is putting the Catalan referendum in their agenda and paying close attention. Maybe it was just the firm belief in the European project in the light of recent events like Brexit that has made the difference.

Carme Forcadell to declare in Court for allowing debate in Parliament

Today Carme Forcadell, President of the Catalan Parliament, will declare in Court for allowing a debate about Catalan independence to take place at the Chamber. People all over Catalonia have shown their support to Forcadell and against the judicialization of politics led by the Spanish Governement.

The strategy of the Spanish Government to criminalise pro independence politicians instead of dealing with this conflict within the political sphere has already taken to Court, amongst others, former President Mas and two former Ministers for allowing the November 9th, 2014 vote about independence to take place.

Alex Salmond in Scotland, Gerry Adams in Ireland and Bernhard von Grünberg in Germany, amongst other international politicials and intellectuals have already shown their support to Forcadell and against the Spanish Government’s attack to freedom of speech and lack of separation of powers of the Spanish State.

Now that the Catalan Republic is getting closer

It’s been more than two years since I last wrote on this blog. After the November 2012 elections the process was in the hands of the politicians, President Mas won the elections with the promise of holding a referendum and the international media increased interest on the subject. Mission accomplished. I limited my contribution through CataloniaDirect to the occasional tweet when anything worth mentioning happened (which was not very often).

Still, now that we are getting close to the birth of the Catalan Republic I feel like writing about it again. Even if just occasionally.

The last couple of years I often refrained from writing because it would have involved invariably criticising Catalan politicians, the very people who would have to eventually leave their differences aside if this was to suceed. They drove me insane at times, other times I lost hope. Glad that is mostly in the past now.

However, from the last 3 years three days are worth mentioning.

Day 1 – September 11th 2013, the 400km Via Catalana (Catalan Way). 2 million people holding hands across the country on . I was lucky enough to be there taking pictures. I will never forget that afternoon.

Day 2 – September 11th 2014 The Big V (for Vote) demonstration in Barcelona. Involving again about 2 million people. I had my doubts, it was so ambitious that I was afraid people would be tired of doing these mass demonstrations. I was mistaken.

Day 3 – The November 9th 2014 Referendum

We all knew Spain would never agree to a referendum. Rajoy kept saying everyone stay calm, no referendum would take place in Catalonia. That was my biggest hope, if Rajoy said it wouldn’t happen that had to mean one way or another it would. Mas astutely manouvered, challenged Spain and went ahead and hosted the promised referendum on November 9th 2014 anyway. Catalonia’s was to take place shortly after Scotland’s. The comparison between the UK and Spain was stark. Threats, insults, legal prosecution but nothing we weren’t used to. Mas also managed to irate the other Catalan parties who wanted a more confrontational attitude but I guess when you make decisions you can’t make everyone happy.

Using the Generalitat’s civil servants was not a possibility because Spain threatened them with losing their jobs. So the week before the referendum the Generalitat publicly requested for 20000 volunteers. I immediately registered. All positions were filled within a few hours. My job would be to check the amount of votes cast in each of the 8 tables and call the central at the end of the day with the final results.

So I flew back from Germany, were I live at the moment, and spent a lovely weekend in Barcelona. On the day of the voting I woke up at 6am and checked the news just in case the Spanish Government had carried out their threats to send the Guardia Civil to close down the voting points. I know this may sound ridiculous, but read the Spanish news that week if you don’t believe me. In the end everything was quiet, only threats. Pictures of the Spanish police taking away ballot boxes would have looked really bad on the international press.

I got to the voting school in a part of the city I don’t know well. There was a couple of Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, at the corner. They weren’t supposed to be inside the voting point because it was not a normal referendum but the Generalitat sent them anyway in case violent groups attempted to carry out the threats to disrupt the voting. I was relieved to see the Mossos there.

It was a glorious day. Thousands of people voting as if making a birthday wish, hoping for a better future with big smiles on their faces. At times it got hectic, crowds of people eager to vote and we had to make them wait in line for their turn to vote.

Since the referendum had not been agreed with Spain it was not legally binding. 2.3 million people voted in spite of the threats, the good weather and it not being binding. Almost two million voted Yes/Yes (yeah it was a double question, us Catalans are complicated like that). But nevertheless we know at least 2 million Catalans want independence, which out of about 5 million voters is a huge chunk. It also felt good to do a little disobedience against Spain.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the fact that every person in the organisation was a die hard pro independence activist, but also understandable since normally you’d think of better things to do on a sunny sunday than spend 14 hours at a voting point hosting a referendum under threat of a hostile State. But above being independentists we are democrats and the counting of the votes was meticulous and thorough.

In order to spare the volunteers from the wrath of Spain all names and records were deleted after the voting. In the end the only victims have been President Mas and Vicepresident Ortega and Education Minister Rigau who now face a criminal lawsuit for prevarication, disobedience and misuse of public funds. Yeah Spain was still Spain, someone had to be punished for voting.