Spain’s Right-Wing and Far-Right Launch a Massive Propaganda Campaign Against Pardons for Jailed Catalan Leaders

Spain’s right-wing and far-right are preparing a legal and propaganda battle against a decision by the Spanish government to grant pardons for jailed Catalan leaders over the 2017 push for independence. Such a pardon would serve the Spanish executive by improving the international image of Spain, as well as to help perpetuate it in power, but it would not resolve the ongoing crisis, which requires amnesty and self-determination.

The right-wing PP and the far-right Vox have announced that they will take the pardons to the Spanish Supreme Court when they are granted. In parallel, PP will also collect signatures and file motions in all town councils across the country to symbolically reject the pardons. Both measures were already used by the right-wing against the Statue of Autonomy of Catalonia in 2006. This statue was backed by most Catalans and Spain’s Congress, but was partially nullified after PP took it to the Constitutional Court. This began Catalonia’s latest push for independence.

This time, the Supreme Court has also aligned with the right-wing, ruling that there are no arguments for the public utility for the government to grant pardons, which have been described as “self-pardons,” given that the beneficiaries would be members of parties that currently support Spain’s coalition government (PSOE-UP), who in turn are the ones who have to decide on the pardons. Most judges of the Supreme Court were appointed by past conservative administrations.

The Government’s Stability

The pardons would threaten the stability of the government of Spain’s PM Sánchez. However, he doesn’t have any other option since he still needs the support of pro-independence forces to keep in power.

Sánchez’s position within his on party, PSOE, is also at stakes. A number of well-known leaders have aligned with the right-wing and far-right against the pardons. Former PM Felipe González and the territorial leaders Guillermo Fernández Vara, in Extremadura, and Emiliano García Paje, in Castilla-La Mancha, have publicly opposed the measure and threaten Sanchez’s stability. They have all often embraced far-right stances against Catalonia, which has often given them good results in past elections.

A group of members of the party has also submitted a letter to the Commission of Guarantees asking it to ensure compliance with the party’s statutes and try to prevent the Spanish government from pardoning political prisoners without first consulting the party members. They threaten to take legal action if their demands are not met.

With the help of the Supreme Court, the Spanish nationalists are repeating the same mistakes that led to the rise of the independence movement with the Statute, which is still ongoing. Pedro Sánchez will have to decide what answer he wants to give now to the Catalan issue and what alliances he wants to embrace in the coming years.

As for the right-wing and far-right, their strategy of misinformation, hatred, and confrontation is likely to bear results. According to recent polls, they could win the next Spanish election with the possibility of getting an absolute majority.

Who Are Catalonia’s New Ministers and President?

Catalonia’s Coalition Government

President and Ministries Led by ERC

President – Pere Aragonès is a law graduate with a masters in economic history. He joined the youth section of ERC in 1998 and was elected as Catalan MP in 2006 at the age of 24. He was vice president and economy and treasury minister in the former government of Quim Torra. He became acting President when Torra was disqualified from office in 2020.

Presidency – Laura Vilagrà has a degree in political science and administration from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), where she specialized in tourism and commercial promotion. She became a Catalan MP at the age of 30 and was Mayor of Sanpedor, in Bages county, for several years. Vilagrà was the second person on the ERC’s electoral list on February 14.

Education – Josep González Cambray is an industrial technical engineer with a marketing degree. He was one of the people in charge of bringing early childhood, primary and secondary school students back to the classroom for in-person learning during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Climate Action – Teresa Jordà has a degree in modern and contemporary history from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She was agriculture minister under former president Quim Torra. She will continue in the department that will now also focus on combatting climate change. Jordà was mayor of Ripoll from 2003 to 2011 before becoming an MP in Spain’s Congress.

Feminism – Tània Verge is a professor of political and social sciences at Pompeu Fabra University and was one of the 2017 independence referendum electoral board members. She was acquitted after being accused of disobedience by the Spanish justice system. She is also a professor of political and social sciences at UPF, where she is also director of the Equality Unit.

Interior – Joan Ignasi Elena was Mayor of Vilanova i la Geltrú and ex-coordinator of the National Pact for the referendum. Elena was a member of PSC until 2014, when he resigned over disagreements over the right to self-determination of Catalonia.

Culture – Natàlia Garriga has a law degree from the University of Barcelona and a master’s degree in management from the School of Public Administration of Catalonia. She has worked as a professor at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). In 2007, she became the manager of the Catalan Institute of Cultural Enterprises, a position she held until 2016. She is also a close confidant of the new president, having worked with Aragonès as director of vice-presidency services of the Catalan government.

Business and labour – Roger Torrent has a degree in political science from the University of Barcelona. He was Parliament Speaker during the past legislature. He will have the task of addressing the economic and social reconstruction needed as a result of the financial crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ministries led by Junts

Vice President and Minister for Digital Policies and Infrastructures – Jordi Puigneró is an engineer specializing in information and technology and is considered close to party leader Carles Puigdemont as well as the General Secretary and person overseeing the negotiations, Jordi Sànchez. He studied at the University of Surrey and worked in Frankfurt as an ICT engineer in the computer area of a German bank.

Economy – Jaume Giró is the former Caixabank CEO. He has also been in charge of the financial institution’s foundation, Fundació La Caixa. He was the only CaixaBank board member who opposed the transfer of the headquarters from Barcelona to Valencia in the aftermath of the 2017 independence referendum. In 2020, he launched a reputation and strategy consulting firm, Giró Consultants, and was also the editor for an online news outlet, The New Barcelona Post.

Foreign Affairs and Transparency – Victòria Alsina has a PhD in political and social sciences from Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, with a degree in management and public innovation from ESADE. She is a professor and the academic director of the Center for Science and Urban Progress at New York University and chief researcher of the Governance Laboratory (The GovLab) at the same university. Alsina is also the former delegate for the Catalan government in the United States and the current co-coordinator of the Catalonia 2022 working group.

Research and Universities – Gemma Geis is a doctor in law as well as being a professor at the University of Girona. She is a close confidant of former president Carles Puigdemont. She will lead a ministry that is being revived after 15 years. It was created in the remodeling of the current department of business, which now includes labor.

Health – Josep Maria Argimon has a degree in medicine and a doctorate from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), with a specialization in preventive medicine and public health from Barcelona’s Bellvitge Hospital, as well a diploma in epidemiology and statistics from Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, a master’s degree in evidence-based healthcare from Oxford University and a master’s in epidemiology and health planning from the University of Wales. He has held the post of General Secretary of Public Health in Catalonia’s health system and will now lead the health ministry.

Social Rights – Violant Cervera has a degree in Hispanic philology from the University of Lleida and a postgraduate degree in information technology for non-computer scientists from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). She served as an MP between 2012 and 2017 first with Convergència (CiU) and then with electoral alliance Junts pel Sí. She will be in charge of a new department that comes from the reorganization of the previous department of labor, social affairs, and families.

Justice – Lourdes Ciuró has a degree in law from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She was MP for CIU in the Spanish parliament. She has been the head of the Junts municipal group in the city of Sabadell since 2019.


Catalonia: ERC-Junts Agreement on a Pro-Independence Coalition Government

The deal between ERC and Junts on a pro-independence coalition government is now a reality after almost three months of disputes and a decisive six-way summit between the pro-independence forces ERC, Junts, CUP, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Òmnium Cultural, and the Council for the Republic, and a subsequent three-way meeting between the three pro-independence parties, pushing towards a deal. These are the new government structure and the key points of the coalition government deal:

Government Structure

Ministries led by ERC

Presidency

Interior

Education

Feminism

Culture

Business and labor 

Climate Action

Ministries led by Junts (will include vice-president)

Economy

Health

Foreign Affairs

Justice

Digital Policies

Research and Universities

Social Rights

Key Points of the Coalition Government Deal:

1- Dialogue and Peaceful Confrontation

The Catalan government will hold negotiations with Spain in an attempt to face and resolve the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain and to put an end to the repression and political persecution of the independence camp. In parallel, both parties call for working firmly to be able to lay out a democratic confrontation [with Spain] that will lead to independence as the Catalan Republic.

2- Referendum

“Only a self-determination referendum held with Spain’s approval can replace the democratic mandate of the October 1 [2017 independence vote] of working to make a Catalan Republic a reality.” Both parties are also committed to joining forces to achieve an amnesty for the political prisoners, exiles, and those activists who have been enduring judicial procedures for their pro-independence activities since the 2010s.

3- International Mediation

The Catalan government will seek “the possible intervention of European and international institutions to achieve an agreement for a referendum.” For that purpose, both parties are committed to “building a favorable public opinion abroad.” They will also coordinate the defense in the judicial cases affecting the 2017 referendum organizers, both in Spain and internationally.

4- Coordination, Leadership, and Roadmap for Independence

A collegiate leadership of the pro-independence movement in coordination with the Catalan Council for the Republic will be created. The three pro-independence parties ERC, Junts, CUP, and the two main pro-independence organizations, the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), and Òmnium Cultural will participate from this group. They will all have the task of creating a new roadmap for independence and to prepare and execute mass civil disobedience until the Catalan Republic is achieved. The leadership could be integrated into the Council for the Republic once it has been reformed to represent all the pro-independence forces.

5- Vote of Confidence and Confrontation with Spain in 2023

A vote of confidence on the Catalan government will take place in parliament in the mid-term in 2023. The pro-independence party CUP demanded a vote to make sure they are able to put an end to the legislature if ERC has not complied with agreements on social issues and confrontation with Spain by then. According to parties, there should be a confrontation on social issues starting with the beginning of the legislature and a confrontation for independence in 2023 if negotiations with the state fail. CUP also opens the door to joining the government if the agreements are fulfilled.

6- Mechanism to Prevent Infighting

Junts and ERC will establish a mechanism to restore and preserve the damaged trust between the two to anticipate possible flare-ups like those that took place during the past legislature. To this end, several coordination committees have been created at different levels that will meet periodically to monitor day-to-day issues, both in Parliament and in the government, as well as between the parties.

7- Monitoring of  Deal

A group will be created to monitor the fulfillment of the deal on a regular basis.

The Bureau of the Spanish Parliament Vetoes Debate of an Amnesty Law Bill

On Tuesday, the Bureau of the Spanish Parliament rejected a motion to debate an amnesty law for the Catalan pro-independence political prisoners, exiles, and those facing legal action. The bill, promoted by the pro-independence parties ERC, Junts, CUP, and PdeCAT, already received a blow in March, when the pseudo-socialist party PSOE closed ranks with the right-wing and far-right PP and Vox parties to block its admission.

The argument used to refuse the petition was a report from politicized lawyers of the Congress who recommended not accepting it because “the granting of a general pardon” to pro-independence prisoners would be in “obvious” contradiction with Article 62 i) of the Spanish constitution, which states that “general pardons” cannot be granted.

The unadmitted bill calls for amnesty for “all acts of political intent” linked to “the democratic struggle for the self-determination of Catalonia” that have been classified as “crimes.” The bill would pardon actions carried out from January 1st, 2013 until the entry into force of this law.

The Catalan cultural organization, Òmnium, announced that it will attempt to bring the law back to Congress by transforming the bill into a popular legislative initiative, a citizen’s right that is included in article 87.3 of the Spanish constitution and regulates organic law 3/1984. The presentation of the initiative requires a minimum of 500,000 signatures.

CUP spokesperson Mireia Vehí said that the pro-independence movement should serve “to respond to the problems of the people” and not “to give more air to constitutionalism.”

ERC spokesperson Rufián said that the decision of the Bureau “sets a very dangerous precedent in democracy” and lamented that PSOE “once again aligned” with PP and Vox “against dialogue and a political solution to the conflict with Catalonia. They know they’re playing it safe,” he said about the pseudo-socialists.

The acting spokesperson, Meritxell Budó, used irony to criticize the decision of the bureau. “PSOE never fails,” she said, calling for a “change of attitude” to show that they have the will to “resolve the political conflict” between Catalonia and the state.

Jordi Cuixart, president of Omnium, an entity that had promoted the amnesty law, received the news without surprise, as he assured on Twitter, the Congress “remains blind to a majority claim in Catalonia.”

What the Victory of the Spanish Trumpist, Ayuso (PP), in the Madrid Elections Means for Catalonia

The victory of the right-wing/far-right in the Madrid elections on Tuesday will push the Spanish government led by PSOE to show their true neoliberal and imperialist nature against the Catalan pro-independence movement in an attempt to win the next Spanish election in 2023, or a snap election before then. There are two immediate consequences for the pro-independence movement:

– Pardons for the Catalan Political Prisoners

The Spanish Supreme Court is expected to deliver its non-binding report on pardons to the Spanish government in the next few weeks. The government will have to make a final decision. Whether the Sánchez administration will be able to withstand the pressure from the Madrid right-wing and far-right still remains to be seen, but everything indicates that they will disregard it and keep the political prisoners in jail, a blow to part of the pro-independence movement, who supported his administration expecting some results in the resolution of the Catalan conflict. Sánchez would only be willing to grant the pardons if he could continue getting votes during the legislature and secure the support of pro-independence forces and other minor parties in the 2023 elections, which is unlikely.

Table for Dialogue

The so-called “Table for Dialogue” between the Catalan and Spanish governments to solve the Catalan issue has never existed. The results of the elections in Madrid are just a confirmation that it will never exist, at least not in the foreseeable future, since the Sánchez administration is expected to embrace right-wing policies in an attempt to win the 2023 election. This, however, is likely to open many people’s eyes in Catalonia, since many still believe an agreed solution is possible.

PM Pedro Sánchez (PSOE) and the conservative Pablo Casado (PP) have never really sought a solution for the Catalan conflict, and the position of Unidas Podemos, the only influential party in Spain supporting dialogue, has been weakened to the point that its leader, Pablo Iglesias, quit politics after the poor results of the left-wing in the Madrid elections.

Iglesias, former second deputy prime minister of the Spanish government, was one of the leaders more aware of the conflict. He positioned himself in favor of dialogue, visited the political prisoners, and kept sporadic communications with exiled former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.

With the masks off after the Madrid elections, Catalans can see that they have wasted much of the last three years in pursuit of something that was really just an intentional fantasy of a few: an agreed solution to the current conflict.

The Catalan Council for the Republic Makes the New Digital Identity System Available for the Next Government of Catalonia

The new digital identity system launched by the Council for the Republic last week aims to be a tool for the next Catalan government to disconnect from the Spanish state. This is considered a state structure out of the reach of Spain where the new Catalan state should start to be built. Over 15,000 people have already joined the initiative.

The new ID has an identifying QR code that allows people to “join and access the services of companies from all over the Catalan Countries.” NGO’s, companies, unions and associations are currently negotiating their integration in the system that also aims to create “social cohesion, collective awareness and sovereign spaces that empower citizens.”

The success of the new identification system will be determined by the number of people and organizations that join and operate this new structure, which could replace the Spanish National ID in the future if there is ever a new attempt to create the Catalan republic.

The new ID will cost six euros for the digital format with a QR code and twelve for the physical card, which is made of bamboo, a biodegradable material.

Council for the Republic

The Catalan Council for the Republic is an institution that aims to “promote political, social, cultural and economic activities aimed at the establishment of an independent state in Catalonia in the form of a republic.” It currently has around 96,000 members and is growing every day. The only requirement to join the Council is to be at least 16 years old, to prove your identity, and to make a contribution of a minimum of 10 euros.

The Council of Europe Denounces the “Retaliation and Intimidation” by Spain against Jordi Cuixart, a Catalan pro-Independence Human Rights Defender

The Council of Europe denounces the continued suffering of the Catalan political prisoner and President of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart. This was stated in a report written by the General Rapporteur of Human Rights Defenders of the Council of Europe, Alexandra Louis, after Jordi Cuixart’s situation was analyzed by the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Body, where his treatment was equated with that of other human rights defenders imprisoned in countries of dubious democratic quality such as Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The report states that “the trial against Cuixart was political in nature, and he should not have been tried by the Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction to try elected officials and not activists of civil society like him.” The rapporteur also pointed out that Cuixart is the president of “an association that promotes civil and cultural rights in Catalonia that was founded in 1961 under the Franco dictatorship.”

Louis also affirms that she will “continue to pay close attention to the work of the institutions of the Council of Europe.”

“I will also oversee the work of other international organizations on this issue and alert the committee and the Assembly to new cases of violations of the rights of human rights defenders and all new initiatives aimed at protecting them,” she stated.

Reprisals and intimidation

The rapporteur says that examples such as Cuixart’s show that “human rights defenders are still suffering reprisals and intimidation, and that their situation has not improved, but has even worsened in certain European member states,” comparing it with the situation in Turkey.

Arbitrary Judiciary

In 2018, the GRECO group (Group of State against Corruption of the Council of Europe) stated that Spain has a problem of judicial independence, and the human rights advisers of this body have also questioned the proportionality of the Judgment in Democracy.

International call for Cuixart’s release

Prestigious institutions and entities have called for the release of Jordi Cuixart. The list includes: Amnesty International, the World Organization Against Torture, Front Line Defenders, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Association of European Democratic Lawyers, the International Commission of Jurists, and the International PEN, among others. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also questioned the allegations against Cuixart and his imprisonment, while calling for his release and for the Spanish government to open an investigation into his imprisonment. Still within the framework of the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and three Special Rapporteurs, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on Minorities.

In addition, there have been many political, social, and cultural figures from around the world who have expressed support for Jordi Cuixart and called for his release. The manifesto made public at the beginning of the year stands out around fifty internationally known figures ask for amnesty for all those against whom the Spanish state retaliated. It was signed by Dilma Rousseff, Gerry Adams, Yoko Ono, Ai Wei Wei and five Nobel laureates: Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Jody Williams, Mairead Corrigan, and Elfriede Jelinek.

A Few Reasons Why Young Protesters Have Been Demonstrating in Catalonia Over the Last Week

Freedom of Expression

The arbitrary imprisonment of rapper Pablo Hasel for his song lyrics and tweets criticizing the monarchy and the police has motivated many youngsters to take to the streets. Where the international community and society see freedom of expression, the Spanish justice system sees “glorification of terrorism and slander.”

No Future Prospectsfor Young People

With 40% youth unemployment, the highest rate in the EU, young people see no future prospects. They don’t have access to the job market, and when they do the jobs are precarious, not letting them leave home and build a vital, independent life. This situation has been ongoing for a long time and the general sentiment is that the system has left them behind.

Cumulative Anger from Past Injustices

In the last few years, thousands of Catalans: rappers, activists, political leaders, etc., have been prosecuted, repressed, forced into exile or jailed, while reactionary forces and fascists have been able to spread hatred across society with absolute impunity.

Mistrust in Politics

The general perception of society is that their problems have never been solved through politics and that the current system is punishing them.

Police Brutality During the Protests

The way that the police dealt with the first few days of unrest was another motivation for protest. For example, one 19-year-old woman lost her eye to a police-fired foam bullet, and a group of peaceful protesters was kettled and were hit with batons. 

Catalan Political Prisoners Call on People to Vote for Amnesty and the Republic in Today’s Catalan Elections

The nine Catalan pro-independence political prisoners Oriol Junqueras, Carme Forcadell, Jordi Turull, Raül Romeva, Dolors Bassa, Josep Rull, Joaquim Forn, Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart call on the Catalans to vote en masse for “amnesty and the republic” in today’s Catalan elections.

They emphasize the importance of voting in order to challenge the Spanish state and to demand an end to repression “through amnesty and the return of exiles” to “face the democratic resolution” of the conflict between Catalonia and Spain.

The political prisoners also call for a future government that defends an inclusive project, in the service of social reconstruction and national liberation, emphasizing that to move towards this common goal they must build a shared strategy. “The repressive state powers always seeks to divide those who fight it. That is why it is more important than ever to maintain unity in diversity,” they state.

Some of the prisoners remind us that the elections in the current Covid-19 scenario force “citizens to choose between the protection of the right to life and the right to political participation,” which shows the “contempt” of the state for both institutions and Catalan society.

Jailed Catalan Leader Jordi Cuixart Calls on the Catalans to Vote en Masse in the February 14th Elections

The President of the Catalan cultural and civil organization Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, calls on the Catalans to “fill the ballot boxes” with pro-independence votes in the February 14th elections in response to the ongoing Spanish “state operation” against the pro-independence movement.

Jordi Cuixart affirms that the political prisoners are not “the visualization of any defeat but a further step towards victory” and also recalls that exiles continue fighting “to defend the ideals” that forced them to leave Catalonia.

“We will continue to defend the right to self-determination and the right to live in a Catalan republic of free citizens,” Cuixart says, adding that “enough is enough” in reference to political courts. “The solution to the repression will come neither from pardons nor from reforms of the penal code. We demand amnesty: there are more than 2,850 being repressed. We will not abandon anyone,” Cuixart insists.

Cuixart also calls for “a strong government” to defend amnesty and the right to self-determination, and assures that “we will do it again [exercise the right to self-determination like in 2017]. We will always obey our conscience in the face of unjust laws, in defense of the violated rights and freedoms of people,” he says, calling for them to be “united, standing and on the street.”