Catalan President Puigdemont

Since the stunning victory of pro-independence parties in the Catalan general elections held on December 21st, the spotlights have been directed at President Puigdemont. His campaign promises to return to Catalonia if he was re-elected, after being in exile in Brussels since last October, opened the door to a historical moment, only comparable to the return of Catalan President Tarradellas to Barcelona on October 23rd, 1977 after being in exile for nearly 38 years, which served to restore the institutions of the Catalan self-government. However, though there are numerous parallels between Tarradellas and Puigdemont, the biggest difference is that Tarradellas made an agreement with Spain prior to his return.

Due to the fact that Puigdemont is coping a national arrest warrant issued by Spain, he is facing the biggest dilemma of his life: Return to Catalonia in order to attend his investiture to become the President of Catalonia and face a possible detention on his arrival, or renounce his investiture and stay in Brussels as the Honorary President instead. This option wouldn’t be risky in the short-term, but after some time the Spanish government may re-activate a European extradition against him, which may succeed.

Puigdemont’s lawyer said, “His only option to become the factual President of Catalonia is to return and face prison.” He added that “Puigdemont should be able to take up the presidency while in prison; yet, it will ultimately depend on the Spanish state which is willing to do everything to smash him. They may find a way to impede him from assuming office.”

Puigdemont’s final decision on his return to Catalonia will be announced over the next month and a half. Until then, all types of speculations will be on the table.

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Catalonia Faces its most Important Democratic Elections

Tomorrow, Catalonia will hold crucial general elections in the form of a binding referendum on independence. Two antagonistic blocks will face off; the unionists and the independentists. The unionists who sacked all the members of the prior Catalan governmentjailed some of them, and imposed a direct rule over Catalonia, expect to win an absolute majority in order to “eradicate” the Catalan pro-independence movement. This may be accomplished by changing the educational system and exerting an absolute control over the Catalan police and public media agencies. On the other hand, the independentists, who unilaterally proclaimed the independence of Catalonia in the aftermath of the independence referendum held last October, also expect to get an absolute majority to restore the prior legitimate government and immediately implement the independence of Catalonia.

Given that the two blocks are irreconcilable, the results of these elections will have an enormous impact on people’s lives. And whatever the results may be, the tension mounted over the past few years will heighten to levels never seen before in a “democracy.”

According to the latest polls, the key to these elections will be the turnout. A turnout higher than 80% would benefit unionists parties since their voters tend to be demobilized. And a lower turnout could give independentists a clear absolute majority which would allow them to unilaterally take further actions towards the factual independence of Catalonia.

Most polls suggest that the turnout will be historical, around 85%. However, they obviate the fact that these elections will be held on a working day (Thursday) for the first time in Catalonia’s history. While some pundits believe that holding elections on a working day will encourage people to vote, others contend that there are tens of thousands of workers who aren’t living in their hometowns. And that the 4 hours work-permission to vote could be insufficient for most of them, which may lower the final turnout. All the doubts will be allayed in only one day, when the final results of the elections will be announced.

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Sixena Art Piece Removed from Museum of Lleida, Catalonia

On Monday, Spain’s militarized police looted 44 art pieces from the Museum of Lleida, where the latest chapter of a long legal dispute over the works between Aragón and Catalonia has been playing out.

The operation, which was orchestrated by the Spanish government, began in the dead of the night and ended at 2 pm. Hundreds of Spanish and Catalan police officers cordoned off numerous streets to prevent large protests in the area. Officers and art specialists from Spain loaded the 44 pieces of art onto a moving van. The Director of the Museum said that the specialists could have damaged some of the pieces due to the speed of the packing. A crowd of hundreds of peaceful protesters unsuccessfully attempted to halt the operation on numerous occasions. A few incidents were reported in nearby streets when the protesters tried to break the police barrage. The Catalan police responded by hitting all of them indiscriminately with their batons.

Last week, Spanish Culture Minister, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, ordered the pieces to be moved from Catalonia to Aragón while Spain still controls the Catalan administration. A few days later, a Spanish judge, presumably one close to Spain’s Culture Minister, ruled that the art pieces could be removed beginning this Monday. He also authorized the use of force if it was necessary.

An official from the Catalan government, Àngels Solé, said: “This is pure-plundering. They have the brute force, there are a lot of police officers, the people are afraid. According to Solé, “These works were legally bought.”

 

 

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Over a Million Protesters March in Barcelona to Call for the Release of Catalan Political Prisoners

On Saturday, over a million Catalans marched in Barcelona to call for the release of the Catalan political prisoners recently imprisoned by Spain. The demonstration was given the name of “National Day for Liberty,” aiming for the same level of attendance and international impact as the yearly celebrations for Catalonia’s September 11th National Day. The demonstration filled more than three kilometers (almost 2 miles) of one of the Catalan capital’s main thoroughfares. Almost a thousand buses loaded with independentists from across the country headed to the protest in Barcelona.

At the front of the demonstration, a banner held by family members of the Catalan political prisoners and the organizers read, “Freedom for political prisoners, we are the Republic.” Attendance exceeded the expectations of the organizers, which delayed the beginning of the protest by an hour. The march lasted for 3 hours before arriving at the intersection with Avenida Icària, where a stage had been set up for speeches. That was where members of the families of the Catalan political prisoners climbed onto the stage and, one by one, read aloud letters written by the Catalan leaders in prison. The letters read:

Minister Joaquim Forn said, “Now it isn’t the time for differences,” but the moment for unity. Peace, democracy, and freedom are the values which give strength to the people of Catalonia,” he added. Ministers Meritxell Borràs and Dolors Bassa, in a joint letter, gave their thanks for the “hundreds” of letters received daily at their prison, Alcalá-Meco: “our physical distance doesn’t prevent us from feeling you near.” Minister Josep Rull said, “They’re wrong if they believe that they can imprison the will of the people”. He argued that “we’re the legitimate government because the Catalans decided so through a powerful tool: the ballot box”.

For his part, Minister Carles Mundó said, “People can be imprisoned, but nobody can imprison ideas.” “Political problems can never be solved in the court of the justice system,” he added. The Foreign Minister, Raül Romeva addressed the people, asking them “to keep their hand outstretched and the will to dialogue, without falling to provocations.” Government spokesperson Jordi Turull said, “Our bodies are in prison, but our hearts and our commitment are with you” He also called for unity: “It’s with unity that we’ve made great strides”.

Vice-president Oriol Junqueras denounced the “complicity of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) with the Spanish government in the imprisonments of democratically elected leaders like himself and their explicit support for Spain’s intervention in Catalonia’s government, which has removed any type of self-rule in Catalonia and has also installed the Spanish vice-president Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría as the Catalan president until the next elections are held.” He said that he and the other imprisoned ministers are the “scapegoats” of the Spanish state to frighten the independence movement.

The leaders of the two major Catalan grassroots organizations, Jordi Cuixart (ANC) and Jordi Sànchez (Òmnium), who were also imprisoned, sent messages to be read out by their family members to the million plus protesters gathered at Saturday’s demonstration.

Jordi Cuixart said, “great obstacles are for great spirits,” whilst Jordi Sànchez called on the Catalans to vote on the December 21st Catalan general elections. “Our strength is our unity, let nobody doubt that we will win.” The rally ended with messages sent by President Puigdemont and the members of his cabinet from Brussels.

 

Spain Jails 8 Democratically Elected Members of Catalonia’s Government for Peacefully Defending their Ideas

On Thursday, a judge from Spain’s National Court, Carmen Lamela, sent 8 members of the Catalan government to jail for rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds without any evidence. As expected, the attorney general had requested their immediate imprisonment without bail and the judge approved.

Carmen Lamela is the same judge who had already sent to prison the civil rights leaders, Cuixart and Sànchez, two weeks ago, for sedition.

In her order, Judge Lamela said that the imprisonment, pending trial of the 8 Catalan leaders was “appropriate, reasonable and proportional.” She based her decision on their flight risk, taking into account the “spending power of the accused which would allow them to abandon the territory”. She also mentioned that other ministers and Catalonia’s President Puigdemont had already abandoned the country to prevent a trial in Spain.

In fact, she describes the government of Catalonia as “an organized group of people, with the support of sovereigntist associations with the power and the ability to help them in their possible flight from justice”. Lamela also alleges there is a “high risk of reoffending and a high probability that the accused might alter or destroy evidence.”

In the meantime, Catalan President Puigdemont and four members of his government remain in Belgium. They say that they do not want to escape Spanish justice, but they repudiate that they would have a fair trial if they were to return to Spain. For that reason, their intention is to stay in Brussels until there are at minimum guarantees of a fair-trial or until Belgium extradites them.

Numerous lawyers and experts, including those who wrote the crimes of rebellion and sedition, said that none of the government officials could be accused of such crimes because there has not been any violence. Sedition and rebellion charges imply an insurrection that involves taking up arms in order to take control of a territory. The Catalan government has always called on the people to hold peaceful demonstrations. In seven years of mass protests, not a single incident has ever been registered.

Thousands of intellectuals from across the world have denounced the extreme politicization of the Spanish judicial system in which many judges are directly appointed by the political forces that win the elections, making it impossible to guarantee either neutrality or fair trials.

The Imprisonment of Two Catalonian pro-Independence Civil Rights Leaders and its Effects

On Monday of last week, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, the leaders of the two major Catalonian pro-independence civil organizations, were arbitrarily imprisoned by the Spanish National Court for sedition (punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment). The judge accused them of organizing violent demonstrations against the Spanish police on September 20th when numerous Catalonia’s high-ranking officials were detained after the police raided numerous Catalan government offices. Nonetheless, numerous videos contradict those claims, showing Cuixart and Sànchez calling on the peaceful protesters to dissolve the demonstrations of that day, while organizing a security cordon in order to allow the Spanish police to finish their tasks and leave the place in a safe manner.

Cuixart and Sànchez first learned of their arbitrary detention through the media a week before their testimony at the Spanish National Court. Numerous journalists reported Spanish high-ranking officials, prosecutors, and judges talking to each other about their imminent imprisonment during a unionist march in Barcelona downtown.

This manner of imposing “justice” on Catalonia’s civil rights leaders – similar to the one used by Erdogan in Turkey – demonstrates that the Spanish judicial system is politicized and controlled by the Spanish government, which uses it as a weapon to incarcerate its opponents in order to defend its own political interests.

Even though and in parallel, the Spanish government is fabricating an unrealistic story in an attempt to convince the international community that the Spanish judicial system is neutral – even though most members of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court are elected by the two major political parties in parliament – and that Spain has never used force against the Catalonians – despite the fact that Spanish police injured some 1,000 during the October 1st referendum.

By doing so, the Spanish government appears to be attempting to hide the real reason behind Cuixart and Sànchez’s imprisonments which is, of course, their astonishing capacity to mobilize more than 100,000 people through social media accounts, wherever they want, within two or three hours.

If the Spanish government ever thought that by detaining civil rights leaders such as Cuixart and Sànchez, Catalonia’s pro-independence movement would be brought to its knees, it deeply lacks knowledge about Catalan society, when it comes to the active defense of civil rights and the self-government achieved by the prior generation through diverse fights against Franco’s dictatorship.

On the contrary, Cuixart and Sànchez’s detentions have broadened pro-independence social support, which has grown to numbers never seen before. In the aftermath of their imprisonment, some 200,000 people took to the streets to protest against this decision, and some other thousands across Spain joined pro-Catalonian organizations Omnium Cultural and Assemblea Nacional Catalana, which may soon be declared illegal according to government sources.

In a few hours, the Spanish government will invoke Article 155 to suspend the Catalonian government, dismiss the Catalan President and ministers, who were democratically elected by the people, in an attempt to install high-ranking officials from Madrid who will take control of the Catalan government, public media agencies, and the police in order to restore “the Spanish constitutional order” and call for a snap general election without international standards and with most pro-independence forces suspended.

Far from being afraid of being in prison for up to 15 years for sedition, Sànchez and Cuixart have delivered the following message through their lawyers from prison to all Catalonians:

We feel good and strong!We are ready and prepare to be in prison for a long time! The fact that since our imprisonment, things have developed very much in favor of the independence of Catalonia make us feel stronger! Please, don’t step back: go all out and proclaim the independence, and defend it, until the very end, but always peacefully! Remember, we are well and strong!(A few weeks before of their imprisonment, they both said that there were not enough prisons to jail all Catalans, and they are certainly right.)

On the eve of the Spanish full intervention of Catalonia’s government, Catalan society appears to be more unified than ever; the government, political prisoners, federalists, teachers, firefighters, journalists from public media agencies, doctors, policemen / women, civil servants, etc. appear to be willing to disobey any type of Spanish intervention order in an attempt to halt it. They are willing to take this action -aware that they could be imprisoned by Madrid authorities- in defense of the new Catalonian Republic, civil-rights, and the self-government achieved by the prior generation.

If Article 155 is finally implemented by the Spanish government in a few hours, Catalonia’s government, ministers, and thousands of people are expected to be arrested, mistreated, tortured, discriminated against, etc. for the upcoming months. Nonetheless, if Catalonians are able to keep unified as one, disobey any type of Spanish intervention order, and hold continuous mass protests in the streets in defense of their civil-rights and self-determination, sooner or later the international community will be forced to intervene in order to prevent harm (to Catalonia and its people).

As aforementioned, Spain can jail thousands of Catalonians, from journalists, to civil-rights organizers, to students, but it will…” but it will never be able to jail all Catalonians!So the high level of unity, the loss of fear, and the perseverance of the people will determine the success of Catalonia’s process of independence.