Catalonia struggles for independence following referendum and ensuing political crisis

Julia Lucas, Staff Writer

 

“Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?” This question was posed in the form of a referendum by Catalonia’s president, Carlés Puigdemunt. The referendum was meant to determine whether the citizenry wanted to secede from Spain, but has also sparked the worst political and constitutional crisis the country has seen in four decades.

Catalonia’s independence movement, headed by Puigdemunt, grew larger and stronger after Spain’s economic crisis from 2008 to 2012. The financial crisis left Catalonia with a 19 percent unemployment rate and with significantly less money due to increased taxes Catalans paid to Spain. The taxes were required to help rebuild Spain’s economy after the crisis, but left Catalans angry that their money was being taken away from improving Catalonia itself. Overall, the people of Catalonia believe that Spain takes more from their 7.5 million citizens than it gives back. The independence movement has been working towards a referendum ever since the crisis started in 2008.

Held on Oct. 1, the vote drew 2,286,217 voters with 90 percent of those voters backing independence. Under the laws of a referendum, independence must be declared 48 hours after a 50 percent or higher vote.

Finally, after several weeks, the Catalan parliament voted to declare independence from Spain. One reason for the delayed declaration stemmed from only 43 percent of all eligible voters participating in the referendum. Had turnout been higher, the numbers would have been significantly different Prior to the vote in July, the same question was asked in a public forum and only 41 percent of votes were in favor of seceding from Spain. Some chose not to vote for personal reasons, but many people who were against the independence movement boycotted the vote in support of the Spanish government and Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy.

Rajoy vowed to stop the vote, declaring it unconstitutional and illegal on the basis that Spain’s 1978 constitution does not give the right to hold referendums on self-determination. Because of Spain’s vow to cancel the vote, a portion of the people who attempted to vote were attacked and injured by the police force and military dispatched to Catalonia.

The Spanish government, led by Rajoy, brought in 4,000 officers to stop the voters, giving those officers permission to use force. The police and military tried to stop the vote by seizing ballot forms, shooting rubber bullets into crowds, and arresting pro-independence officials. This disruption caused 770,000 votes to be lost, 10 million ballot papers to be seized, and 900 people to be injured.

Rajoy continued with his aggressive stance on the matter by proposing that Catalan leaders, including Puigdemunt, be replaced by members of the Spanish government. He invoked Article 155 of Spain’s constitution that allowed the Spanish government to take over running the region. This has been viewed as an extreme attack on Catalonia’s self-government as Article 155 has not been invoked since the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in 1975. The intensity of the Spanish military to stop the vote along with Rajoy’s aggressive stance has sparked numerous protests in Catalonia’s four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. Most of the protests have taken place in Barcelona and have consisted of 450,000 people wearing their Catalan flags proudly and carrying signs that demand freedom. Freedom may or may not be won by Catalonians, but they will not be silent in the fight.

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