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Spain Charges Catalan Leaders with “Sedition, Rebellion & Embezzlement” & Implements Direct Rule

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Spanish prosecutors say they will seek charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement against ousted Catalan Cabinet officials. This comes after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced his Cabinet had fired Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and dissolved the region’s Parliament, just after Catalonia’s regional Parliament voted Friday for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10. On Sunday, tens of thousands of pro-unity demonstrators waved Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags on the streets of Barcelona. We are joined by John Carlin, a journalist and contributor to the Spanish newspaper El País until two weeks ago, when he was fired for writing an article in The Times of London headlined “Catalan independence: arrogance of Madrid explains this chaos.”

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Video squareStoryOct 23, 2017Will Catalonia Declare Independence After Spain Moves to Impose Direct Rule, Oust Catalan Leaders?
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show with the political crisis in Spain. The Spanish government has taken control of Catalonia, stripping the northeastern region of its autonomy in efforts to crush Catalonia’s independence movement. On Friday evening, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced his Cabinet had fired Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and dissolved Catalonia’s Parliament.

PRIME MINISTER MARIANO RAJOY: [translated] Today, I have dissolved the Parliament of Catalonia and have called for elections next December 21st in that region. Yesterday, the Generalitat president had a chance to return to legality and call elections. That is what the great majority of the people in Catalonia were asking for. He did not want to do this. So the government of Spain will take the measures to recover legality.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Prime Minister Rajoy’s announcement came just after Catalonia’s regional Parliament voted for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10. The Spanish Senate in Madrid swiftly responded by granting Rajoy unprecedented powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia under Article 155 of the Constitution, which has never before been invoked. Article 155 enabled Rajoy to fire Puigdemont and take control of Catalonia’s civil service, finances, police and media. Puigdemont denounced Rajoy’s actions, saying the Spanish leader was removing a democratically elected administration. He called for continued peaceful defiance.

CARLES PUIGDEMONT: [translated] The best way to defend the achievements reached to date is the democratic opposition to the application of Article 155. … We must do so by preserving ourselves from repression and threats, by doing so without ever abandoning, never, at any time, civic and peaceful conduct.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, on Sunday, tens of thousands of pro-unity demonstrators waved Spanish, Catalan and European Union flags on the streets of Barcelona. Then, this morning, Puigdemont posted a photo on Instagram of a courtyard at the seat of the regional presidency building, along with the words “good morning” in Catalan and a smiley face emoticon. Today, Spain’s central government is expected to accuse him of rebellion for pushing ahead with secession.

For more, we go to London, where we’re joined by John Carlin, a journalist who has contributed to the Spanish newspaper El País since 1998—that is, until two weeks ago, when he was fired for writing an article in The Times of London headlined “Catalan independence: arrogance of Madrid explains this chaos.”

John Carlin, welcome to Democracy Now!

JOHN CARLIN: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: First, can you respond to what took place on Friday, and then how it was you ended up being fired by the newspaper you worked for for more than—for about 20 years?

JOHN CARLIN: Well, let me answer the second part first, because that happened two weeks ago. I don’t really want to go into many details, but, essentially, it’s because of articles I wrote on this Catalan question, political question, that we’re discussing now.

In terms of what happened on Friday, well, it was a momentous day, an action-packed day, in the history of Spain—well, of any country, really, would have been—because in the morning you have elected president of Catalonia declaring independence unilaterally, and a matter of hours later, the Spanish Senate, with the backing of the Spanish government, as you mentioned before, passing into law this—or enabling, rather, Article 155 of the Constitution, which allows the Spanish government to dissolve the Catalan Parliament, to fire the man who, only hours earlier, had declared independence, and to take over direct rule of all the institutions of government in Catalonia. That’s where we’re at now. And it’s a very ugly and depressing and potentially dangerous situation.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: John Carlin, also, to go back to your article and the articles you’ve written, in general, on this situation, what you’ve suggested is that it was Madrid’s disproportionate response that’s led to what’s happening in Catalonia today. Can you explain why you think that’s the case?

JOHN CARLIN: Well, it wasn’t just a disproportionate response, which viewers may recall from the 1st of October, when the police went in with clubs to stop people from voting in this sort of symbolic referendum that took place. It’s actually been the response of the Spanish government in Madrid over the last seven years, consistently, to the clamor for independence from around roughly half of the Catalan population, although it’s been growing and growing every year.

The fundamental problem is that what the Catalans wanted wasn’t—they weren’t clamoring for independence to be given just like that. They wanted a referendum on independence in the same way there was a referendum in Scotland on independence three years ago. They wanted the right to decide. And the Spanish government not only rejected that, they rejected all attempts at dialogue on the matter of giving Catalonia greater autonomous powers, maybe more control over the taxes, the judiciary. And generally, the attitude of Madrid toward the Catalan independence supporters has been one that has been dismissive, not to say rude and lacking in respect. And this attitude, together with the refusal to countenance dialogue, the refusal to countenance a referendum, has increased the pro-independence vote in the last seven years or so from probably around 10, 15 percent to something close to 50 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back the Spanish deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, who was speaking on Friday.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SORAYA SÁENZ DE SANTAMARÍA: [translated] The president of the Generalitat will no longer be the president when this article is agreed on. He will no longer have the title of president of the Generalitat. He will not be able to make valid or obligatory decisions for others, nor for his own government, as a consequence of this secession. He will not be able to carry out his functions. He will stop being paid as the president of the Generalitat.

AMY GOODMAN: John Carlin, can you respond to what she said?

JOHN CARLIN: Well, look, I mean, unfortunately, she has something of a point. I don’t like conceding that to the Spanish government, because I think they’ve acted so badly, mismanaged things so badly, to get us to the present ugly situation we’re in. But when Carles Puigdemont, the apparently now-deposed president of Catalonia, declared independence unilaterally on Friday morning, he knew what he was getting himself in for. It was a red rag to a bull. He knew that this Article 155, which would depose him, was going to be enabled very soon thereafter. So, you know, he made his choice, and he must take the consequences.

Now, there’s one very important point, which, actually, there’s some breaking news here, which I don’t know if you’re aware of. But in the last hour or so, the chief prosecutor in Madrid has charged Puigdemont, the president of Catalonia, now apparently deposed, with sedition and rebellion—huge charges, which, in theory, if he were to be proved guilty, could lead to a jail sentence of 30 years. The question now is whether the Spanish government, or, rather, the Spanish judiciary system, will go ahead and call for his arrest and indeed jail him. Should they do that, things could escalate rather dramatically and possibly violently in Catalonia.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is major news. I’m also wondering how the Spanish news is covering this call to independence, the vote for independence, all that you’re describing. I mean, John Carlin, you yourself were fired from the Spanish newspaper, the leading Spanish paper, El País, after you wrote an article on Catalonian independence. Can you talk about the kind of coverage it’s getting and what people understand in Spain?

JOHN CARLIN: Well, look, in Spain, outside Catalonia, which is about 85 percent of the national territory, there is a very, very strong sentiment against Catalan independence. There’s actually a pretty strong prejudice against Catalans generally, which I think is part of the engine of all this rather noncompromising, hard-line action being taken from Madrid.

As far as the media are concerned, outside Catalonia it’s pretty unanimous. Certainly on public state Spanish television, it’s extraordinarily biased in favor of the government, so much so that when there were these images that went around the world of police clubbing people during the so-called referendum the 1st of October, very few of those images were shown on Spanish TV. But generally, the newspapers, too, in the rest of Spain are very much in favor of this imposition of direct rule in Catalonia, the dissolution of the government, the charging of the president, as we just recently heard.

And in Catalonia, you actually get a rather more balanced position. Now, I should say, the Catalan state television is also immensely biased in favor of independence. But in the newspapers and on the radio in Catalonia, you’re more likely to hear both sides of the argument.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, John Carlin, could you give us some context on why this is happening? I mean, Spain is a relatively decentralized country, with 17 autonomous regions and two autonomous cities. So these autonomous regions do have a certain degree of autonomy, but Spain is not a federation. So could you talk about what kind of autonomy these regions enjoy and why Catalonia is different from the others? I mean, you spoke now of there being prejudice against Catalonia, so could you explain?

JOHN CARLIN: Yeah. But just before I address that sort of technical question, let me just say that there’s—as a way maybe of explaining a bit to your viewers in the U.S., there is a clear similarity between that polarity of opinions and perceptions that you get in the U.S. between those who support Trump and those who are against him—there’s a similarity between that and, in Spain, between those in favor of Catalan independence and against. And also, I think, probably rather as in the United States and here in London, regarding the issue of Brexit, an awful lot of families have been divided, a lot of friends have fallen out, over these political issues, only perhaps even more intensely and bitterly in Catalonia.

In terms of your question, yes, the thing about the powers granted to the various autonomous regions, which would be the equivalent of states in the U.S., differ quite significantly from state to state. And that’s a problem. That was something that was agreed in the 1978 Constitution and barely changed since then. What you have is that Catalonians actually got quite a lot more autonomous power than most of these regions, regional governments, but less than they have in the Basque country. In the Basque country, you’ve got almost—which is in the north of Spain—you have an almost sort of de facto independent state, with the critical thing that the government there is allowed to collect taxes and spend the money on taxes more or less as it wills. In the case of Catalonia, there is much less control over how the region uses its money. That’s part of it. But there’s also—we’re talking here about sort of symbolic questions and more kind of human questions.

And just if you’ll bear with me a second, there was a government statute passed, approved by both the Catalan Parliament and the Spanish Parliament in 2006, which would have granted Catalonia significantly more autonomy and would have entrenched in the Constitution their right to call themselves a nation. Now, in 2010, after pressure from the political party now in power, the Popular Party, center-right Popular Party, this statute, agreed by all parliaments, including the national Parliament in Spain, was overthrown by the Constitutional Court. That was—if you’re going to find one moment where the Catalan independence wave began really to grow and grow and grow, it would be then, at what was perceived as this completely undemocratic action taken against Catalan’s desire to increase its autonomous powers. And from then, it’s grown and grown and grown, and we’re at where we’re at today.

AMY GOODMAN: John Carlin, we just have 30 seconds, but, again, the breaking news that you just announced, the Spanish prosecutors seeking charges of rebellion and sedition and embezzlement against the ousted Catalan Cabinet officials, including Puigdemont, where do you see this going?

JOHN CARLIN: Well, we’ll have to see. First of all, Puigdemont is supposed to present himself voluntarily in a court in Madrid. Will he do so? We don’t know. If he doesn’t, he will be a fugitive from the law. Will he present himself? And will he be—well, then he’d be formally charged? Will he then be arrested, and will he indeed be jailed? If that happens, all bets are off in Catalonia, and things could turn ugly and potentially violent.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, John Carlin, journalist, contributing writer at the Spanish newspaper El País since 1998—well, until two weeks ago, when he was fired for writing an article in The Times of London headlined “Catalan independence: arrogance of Madrid explains this chaos.”

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Puerto Rico, where Democracy Now! has just returned from, to get response to the governor saying that they will be canceling a $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy—Whitefish named for the Montana town where the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, comes from. This is Democracy Now! We’ll also talk about North Korea and the escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “The Song of the Birds” by the Catalonian cellist Pablo Casals.

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