July highlights: Catalan Government walking decidedly towards referendum

Things are going so fast that it’s hard to keep track but below you can find a timeline of what’s happened in the last month. The most important bit is the absolute determination of the Catalan Government to carry on with the referendum in spite of the threats coming from Spain.

If you want to be updated on the progress of what is going on regarding Catalonia’s independence process in english I recommend following my twitter account

July 1st: 500 Mayors from all over Catalonia gathered in Barcelona and showed their committment to support the referendum and its logistics

July 3rd: The President of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, attended the meeting of the APPG on Catalonia at the Westminster Parliament. This shows that the interest in the Catalan independence movement is gaining momentum internationally.

July 4th: The referendum law is unveiled. It hasn’t been passed yet in order to avoid activatin the repressive mechanisms of Spain but merely presenting it to the media was enough to create the expected results. The international media covered the event extensively. As a retaliation the Spanish Constitutional Court nullified Catalan laws that regulate the use of Catalan in media and consumer goods, amongst others.

July 6th: Catalan Home Office goes ahead and announced 500 new Catalan Police Officer vacancies even though Spain only authorised 50.

July 7th: President Puigdemont announced tax collection system update so the Catalan Tax Agency is ready to collect all taxes paid in Catalonia (currently it only collects about 10%, the rest are collected directly by Madrid)

July 9th: Unionist newspaper El Periódico contributing to the broad strategy of fear published an article detailing how Spain could seize Catalan Ministers assets as punishment for organising the referendum.

July 13th: Spanish police officers from militarised Guardia Civil showed up at the National Theatre of Catalonia looking for documentation from the presentation of the Referendum Law which had taken place a few days earlier to use it as evidence in future charges against the Catalan Government.

July 14th: President Puigdemont rearranged the Government by appointing 3 new Ministers (the previous Ministers had been appointed by President Mas before Puigdemont arrived) and reshuffling the referendum organisation responsibilities to the vicepresident Junqueras. It seemed that some of the Ministers were not entirely comfortable with the possible repressive actions that could be taken by Spain and this action dissipated any doubts over Puigdemont’s determination to go ahead with the referendum in spite of Spain’s repression.

July 16th: Catalonia’s prospects of independence seems to be having a positive impact in its economy with the latest data showing it is breaking previous foreign investment records and leading unemployment reduction and economic growth.

July 17th: Director of Catalan Police resigns following last weeks Government rearrangement. The previous director, Albert Batlle, was against independence and one concern was that Spain could try to use the Catalan Police to hinder the referendum organisation. With this change those doubts were dissipated.

July 19th: The video “The State’s secret Cesspit” is available with english subtitles here. This video denounces how the Spanish Minister of Home Office Fernández Díaz was part of a network to fabricate incriminating evidence about political enemies with the collaboration of the Spanish police and media. Amongst the targets of this network were several pro independence political leaders like former Barcelona Mayor Xavier Trias, who was falsely accused of having undeclared accounts in Switzerland. Even though this shows the degree of corruption within the Spanish State and Government, no charges have been pressed by the public prosecutors or further resignations have taken place.

July 20th: Spanish Police Guardia Civil show up without a court order at the Catalan Parliament and Government building requesting access to the building to look for information about a corruption case. Access was not allowed and instead they had to give up their weapons and showed to a waiting room and wait for the relevant information for several hours. The Guardia Civil was looking to humiliate the Catalan institutions by showing up as if they owned the place as part of their intimidation strategy  but instead they met with the new ways of the Catalan Government of not allowing further abuse.

July 21st: The periodical public poll published by the Catalan statistics department, the CEO, showed that the Selfdetermination Referendum of October the 1st would have a 67.5% turnout. The Yes would win with 62.4% of the vote and the No would get 37.6%. These results are in line with other recent polls published by different entities. One interesting fact is that most of the unionist voters have the intention of voting against the advice of their political leaders.

The Spanish Government announced later that day that from then onwards the Catalan Government will have to send a weekly report of all the expenses (it was ) to make sure no funds were spent on the referendum or else it would stop the transfers to some of the Catalan Government providers. I’m surprised the Spanish Government didn’t realise that this decision makes absolutely no sense since Spain stopping payments to providers could be interpreted as a default by the markets but we will let them figure it out. In the meantime the New York Times explained to them that those threats may not be the best idea.

July 24th: Yoko Ono amongst others supports the referendum. A Spanish Newspaper publishes the news with the following headline: “Yoko Ono split The Beatles, now is trying to split Spain” sounds like something a satirical newspaper would publish  but they were absolutely serious about it.

July 26th: Spanish Government President Mariano Rajoy declares as a witness in a corruption related case. Simultaneously, two high ranking Catalan Government officers were questioned at the Guardia Civil barracks regarding the referendum preparations.

July 27th: Guardia Civil continues with the questioning, now for expanding the targets to a non independentist, Joan Ignasi Elena, the director of the Pacte Nacional pel Referendum who gathered 400k signatures for the referendum but without positioning for either side. Later that day it would be known that the police were acting without a court order even though they claimed they did.

The Parliament approves the new regulations (which already exist in other Spanish Parliaments) to “fast-track” laws with the aim of using it to fast-track the Referendum Law in the second half of August. The Spanish Constitutional Court will likely suspend it but the Government has already said this will not interfere with the referendum organisation.

July 28th: Parliament passes the new Tax Code which sets the framework for the Catalan Tax Agency. This is one of the key laws that had to be passed before the independence.

Also last friday the Referendum Law was signed by all pro independence MPs, that includes all MPs from Junts pel Sí and CUP. The law has been registered at the Parliament today and will be passed during the second half of the month. (update: the english translation of the law is avaiable here)

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.