Spain Moves to Seize Control Over Catalonia – New York Times
BARCELONA, Spain — In a major escalation of Spain’s territorial conflict, the Spanish Senate on Friday authorized the government to take direct control of the fractious region of Catalonia, just after Catalan lawmakers declared the region’s independence.
The dueling actions set up a potential showdown over the weekend, as Spain careened into its greatest constitutional crisis since it embraced democracy in 1978.
The Senate voted 214 to 47 to invoke Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution, granting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy a package of extraordinary powers to suppress Catalonia’s independence drive. The measure will go into effect after it is published in the government register, which is expected to happen Friday night.
In a speech on Friday before the vote, Mr. Rajoy had said he had “no alternative” because the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, and his separatist cabinet had pursued an illegal and unilateral path that was “contrary to the normal behavior in any democratic country like ours.”
Undeterred by the government’s threat, and after a bitter debate, separatists in the Catalan Parliament passed a resolution to “create a Catalan republic as an independent state.” Lawmakers opposed to independence walked out of the chamber in protest before the vote.
Mr. Puigdemont came close on Thursday to calling early regional elections, but dropped the idea and instead told Catalonia’s Parliament that it would make a decision on independence the next day. He leads a fragile separatist coalition that has 72 of the body’s 135 seats
During the debate that preceded the vote, Catalan lawmakers traded accusations and in turn described the occasion as “historic” and “happy,” or else “tragic” and a serious violation of Spain’s Constitution.
Addressing the Catalan Parliament in Spanish, Carlos Carrizo, a lawmaker from Ciudadanos, a party that opposes secession, told Mr. Puigdemont and separatist lawmakers that, far from creating a new Catalan republic, “you will go down in history for having fractured Catalonia and for sinking the institutions of Catalonia.”
In front of the assembly, he tore apart a copy of the independence resolution. “Your job is not to promise unrealizable dreams but to improve the daily lives of people,” he said.
Before the independence vote, Marta Rovira, a separatist lawmaker, told the assembly that “today we start on a new path” to build “a better country.” She added: “We are creating a country free of repression.”
Catalan lawmakers who voted for independence could face prosecution for sedition, or even rebellion.
Marta Ribas, a Catalan lawmaker, said that Madrid’s use of Article 155 was unjustified, but also argued that “it’s a mistake to respond to one outrageous act with another outrageous act.” She added: “A declaration of independence won’t protect us from the 155, quite the contrary.”
In the streets outside Parliament in Barcelona, not far from a boisterous pro-independence rally, a few Catalans quietly expressed similar frustrations.
The Oct. 1 referendum did not give the Catalan government the legitimacy to vote to secede, said Federico Escolar, 53, a cafe owner.
“Most of the people who would have voted no did not participate,” Mr. Escolar said while smoking a cigarette outside his cafe. “It was not a proper referendum. It was illegal.”
Walking into a nearby subway station, Christina Juana, a 38-year-old social worker, agreed.
“Neither Puigdemont nor the Catalan government knows exactly what the Catalan people’s opinion is,” Ms. Juana said.
Mr. Puigdemont’s government has been flouting Spain’s Constitution since early September, when separatist lawmakers voted to hold a binding referendum on independence on Oct. 1 as a key step toward statehood.
Catalans who went to the polls voted overwhelmingly to approve independence, but the referendum took place without legal guarantees and with most opponents of independence staying away.
The referendum was marred by clashes between the Spanish national police and Catalan citizens that left hundreds injured, including police officers.
Before the Catalan Parliament’s vote for independence on Friday, large crowds had gathered outside in anticipation of what they hoped would be a historic day for Catalonia.
Many were draped in flags as they watched the parliamentary debate on two large screens, cheering during speeches by pro-independence lawmakers and hissing those of their opponents. When proceedings hit a lull, the crowds cycled through a series of pro-independence chants.
“Spanish occupiers!” was one, a reference to the national police officers who tried to stop the Oct. 1 referendum by force. “Leave Catalonia!”
“I feel very, very happy,” said Emili Ara, a 79-year-old retired realtor, who said he had hoped for Catalan independence for most of his life, even in the days when the concept had little widespread appeal.
“The people living here, both those who voted yes and those who voted no, will be able to see their sons and grandsons enjoy a much better future,” he added.
The optimism of Mr. Ara and his family was not dented by the prospect of the Spanish government’s moving to take over administration of the region.
“We have to declare independence even if we end up with less autonomy than we have now,” said Eulalia Ara, Mr. Ara’s 39-year-old daughter. “We can’t continue in this situation because we are being repressed by the Spanish state.”
And even “if they steal our Parliament and our government,” said Jordi Ara, Mr. Ara’s 18-year-old grandson, “we will still have our beliefs!”
Elsewhere in the crowd, separatist protesters saw little problem with declaring independence even though less than 43 percent of voters participated in the referendum.
“Two months ago, I would have said that 43 percent was not enough,” said Ester Romero, 25, a sales manager who had come to the rally after picking up her degree certificate.
“But after all the oppression, after all the police hitting people during the referendum, it’s enough.”
David Meseguer contributed reporting.
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