Catalan independence gains ground

Barcelona is a city in Catalonia. It is the most popular tourist destination in this region due to its distinct culture, architecture and soccer team.

by Emely Navarro, Senior Staff Writer

Catalonia, the northeast region of Spain, has been in headlines in recent weeks after residents voted in a referendum Oct. 1 to secede from its parent country.

Rafael Catalá, Spain’s justice minister, said on Spanish public television that if a territory tries to secede, the country can use its emergency measures, like take full administrative control of Catalonia in order to stop a Catalan secession.

But San Diego State Department of Spanish and Portuguese Professor Juan M. Godoy-Marquet said there is nothing in the Spanish constitution preventing the secession of a territory.

“They say it’s in the constitution, the constitution says it’s illegal, that’s a lie,” Godoy-Marquet said. “There is nothing that says a referendum is illegal.”

The day of the referendum, Catalan voters encountered police officers on their way to the polls.

Videos posted by various news outlets showed officers using force to prevent the voting.

Elena Jaso, who lives in Zaragoza, Spain, in a region of Aragon bordering Catalonia, said she is not in favor of Catalonian independence but also does not support the use of force to prevent voting.

“I consider the measures the Spanish government took to prevent Catalan citizens from voting are illegitimate,” Jaso said. “In no case (do) I believe that violence is justifiable.”

Why leave?

Godoy-Marquet was born in Barcelona and said he left Spain 30 years ago because they did not have any resources for him. He said the United States gave him what Spain did not:education and a job.

The reason many Catalan citizens want to secede, Godoy-Marquet said, is because Spain does not have a plan for the country that benefits Catalonia.

Before the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile in 1469, Catalonia was its own kingdom with its own language and laws.

“Spain colonized Catalonia by force,” Godoy-Marquet said. “Catalonia (before the colonization) had a distinctive way of thinking, doing politics, how to do business and how to create a nation which is very different from the Spanish way.”

Catalonia has its own form of government and has more control over their regional finances than other parts of Spain, but Godoy-Marquet said the territory does not have any political freedom because all the decisions for the region are made by the national government.

He said the government in Catalonia wants to be able to make laws and decisions to benefit its people without authorities in Madrid vetoing them.

Godoy-Marquet said he understands why some Spaniards believe Catalonia is fairly independent already.

Diana Juárez, a Zaragoza native, said she does not want Catalonia to secede because she does not think it will be good for either the region or the nation as a whole.

“I do not understand why Catalonia wants to separate because they are one of the communities that has better infrastructure and more rights and self-financing,” Juárez said.

Jaso said Catalan secession has been an issue before, but Spaniards have never considered it seriously.

“Nobody imagined that we would arrive at this process of social rupture, nor were we aware of the importance of the subject,” Jaso said. “We simply thought that the referendum would never be celebrated and much less that Catalonia would someday be separated.”

What now?

On Oct. 10, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy asked the Catalan government on Spanish national television to clarify if they declared independence because he is considering taking a step in suspending the territory’s autonomy and instituting direct rule from Madrid.

In response to Rajoy’s comment, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said in a Parliament session that the region will not push ahead to become independent from Spain immediately. He said the referendum, in which 90 percent of the 2.6 million voters voted yes for independence, did nothing more than give Catalonia a mandate to create a sovereign republic.

Godoy-Marquet said he believes there is no turning back after the referendum.

“Independence will be declared, so then the international community in Europe will have to position itself,” he said. “They will have to take part and help the two presidents meet in a neutral place with international mediators and reach agreements with everything that is happening. There is no other solution.”

He said he  is very proud to be an American citizen after living in the country for many years.

“I feel very proud to be North American, and I feel ashamed to be Spanish,” Godoy-Marquet said. “Not because of the Spaniards, it is because of the government that we have had and we continue to have in Spain. Spain has no national project, they are lost.”