Friday, October 20, 2017

Catalonia Indecision

Among the many brewing flares of discontent around the world today, I bring your attention to the Northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia. This region has been fighting to be recognized as an independent sovereign state for 300 years. Catalonia is beautiful and wealthy with an abundant array of historical, artistic, and popular culture highlights. In fact, I found it to be enchanting and very friendly on my visit to the region last year.

But it is also restless in its desire to break away from the rest of Spain. Throughout Barcelona I have seen the Pro-Independence red and blue striped flags with a white star on blue triangle hanging from windows and balconies that signify the desire of the Catalan people. Some people believe that Catalonia is often taken advantage of by the Madrid government, with its cash flow often used to make up the financial shortcomings found across the rest of the nation. Others believe that Catalonia is an important compliment to the rest of Spain that should remain as one. So we see a split in Catalonia between Unionists and Pro-Independence supporters. We also see animosity by the Spanish government toward a region that already has a healthy degree of autonomy thanks to the Spanish Constitution.

As Democratically as it can appear to be, the Catalan government headed by Carles Puigdemont held a referendum on the will of the people for Catalonia to secede from Spain. On the heels of the previous referendum held in 2014, it appeared to have a wide-ranging support among the public. After all, that three year old vote produced an 80% support for Catalonia's independence from a 41% voter turnout. The Unionists said that people who did not want to so secede did not take part in the vote. While the Pro-Independence supporters said that usual voter turnout is in the same percentage range anyway. This time, it wasn't enough for Madrid's Constitutional Court to rule the referendum illegal.

For Spain, losing Catalonia would mean a complete economic and political disaster. It would forever change the Spanish national budget, put its obligations to the European Union at risk, and could result in a default on its outstanding Sovereign debts. This is why the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who still remembers the vote three years ago, mobilized the Spanish Civil Guard and additional law enforcement bodies to intervene and prevent the public from voting.

Catalonia responded with fierce defiance. A convoy of tractors dubbed the "Tractorada" drove into the Catalan capital Barcelona to block Central Government's law enforcement from preventing the vote taking place. School teachers and elected officials set up social media communication centers to distribute information on how the voting process will evade Madrid's efforts to curtail the vote. Local police, Mossos d'Esquadra, chose to defy Madrid's orders and instead protected their own Catalan people. Despite Madrid's law enforcement violence in its suppression of the vote on October 1st, more than 43% of Catalonia voted on the referendum with 90% voting in favor of independence from Spain.

Now comes the hard part. According to the Spanish Constitution, Madrid has article 155 at its disposal in the event the autonomous region of Catalonia attempts to secede from Spain. However, its measures are limited and could backfire in cementing Catalonia's opposition to Madrid even further. The article grants Spain the ability to temporarily suspend autonomy in the region, dissolve existing local governing body, and impose new elections. However, with such a widespread support for Catalonia's independence, it is highly unlikely that the elections will yield a new governing body that won't be dead set on the region's independence.

The Central Government in Madrid hasn't been doing itself any favors either. By imprisoning two of the secessionist activists, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, prominent in this independence movement, prime minister Mariano Rajoy has only cemented Catalonia's resolve. Tensions are running high, and nobody wants to make the first move. In fact, Mr. Puigdemont is cognizant what the declaration of independence would mean for Catalonia with respect to Spain. So he has suspended the implementation of independence in order to seek dialogue for a smoother transition. To decode that last sentence - Mr. Puigdemont does not want to seem like the guy who began civil unrest here, so he has thrown the hot potato into Madrid's hands.

For Mariano Rajoy's part, he has remained resolute on this matter. He has thrown this dialogue right back into Mr. Puigdemont's court, issuing an ultimatum on whether or not independence has been declared. After not getting the clarification from Catalonia's governing body and Mr. Puigdemont, the Spanish Prime Minister has invoked article 155 and will impose elections in January that will first see Catalonia's governing body dissolved.

With so many Catalan people rallying for independence and so close to realizing their vision, I doubt that any election will stop them. We have seen that both diplomatic and coercive measures have failed. In my view, in the highly unlikely event that the January elections do yield a Unionist governing body, it will be widely rejected in Catalonia by the people and create an even more fierce opposition to Madrid's rule.

What are your views on this matter? Will the Catalan people realize their vision? Will Madrid subdue opposition? Will Catalonia remain a part of Spain in any capacity? Drop me a line in comments below to share your thoughts.

Follow by Email