Catalonia has officially declared independence and Spain has now activated the never-before-used ‘Nuclear Option’ — voting 214 to 47 to approve implementation of Article 155 of the nation’s 1978 Constitution — allowing Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to oust the Catalan government and seize control of the semi-autonomous region.
“We declare the republic of Catalonia,” Carles Riera of the pro-independence Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP, or Popular Unity Candidacy) Party declared Friday morning. “This is a happy day.”
That celebratory sentiment in no way extended to Spain’s politicians, who activated Article 155 of the Constitution to impose national rule in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the split.
Or, the tinderbox could ignite the region into utter chaos — depending on Spain’s handling of its constitutional last resort to pull Catalonia back into its folds of governance.
Indeed, considering Spanish authorities now possesses the legal, constitutional impetus to depose the Catalan president, suspend its ministers, and seize control of the region’s finances, law enforcement, and news media, that debate over chaos seems more one over timing than potentiality.
This unprecedented move to quash aspirations for an independent Catalonia comes after a fraught month in which nearly 90 percent of Catalans — many enduring brutal and fascistic violence at the polls carried out by Spanish law enforcement — voted to cleave from Spain at the beginning of October.
Now, to prevent the lucrative and only partially autonomous region from breaking with Spain, the Spanish government will impose direct rule — stripping the region of its elected government and power, and removing President Carles Puigdemont.
Seventy members of Catalonia’s Parliament and nearly nine in ten civilians voted for nationhood; but, the referendum — the question of independence — remains far from unanimous. In fact, as the Guardian reports,
“Dozens of members of the Catalan Socialist party (PSC) walked out of the chamber before the vote, as did MPs from the centrist Ciutadans party and the conservative People’s party. Some left Spanish and Catalan flags on their empty seats.
“Opponents of independence accused Puigdemont and his allies of ignoring the views of the majority of Catalans who wish to remain part of Spain.”
It was the lack of majority unification over the referendum and parliamentary independence vote upon which Rajoy capitalized in further criticism, firmly adding,
“You’re like gods, above the law. How can you imagine you can impose independence like this without a majority in favour … and with this simulacrum of a referendum? Puigdemont will be remembered not for ruining Catalonia but for having divided the Catalans and Spain.”
Reports say thousands gathered outside Catalonia’s parliament in Barcelona to watch the vote for independence counted live on big screens, and erupted into thunderous celebration when the motion — which calls for negotiations “on equal footing” with Spanish authorities, according to the Independent — passed with 70 in favor, 10 opposed.
Rajoy delivered a fiery statement to the press on Friday, reiterating the feckless audacity of seeking to break from Spain and calling the referendum action “a clear violation of the laws, of democracy, of the rights of all — and that has consequences.”
Puigdemont had asserted the referendum vote provided the foundation to declare Catalonia a sovereign republic, but also suspended the results of the referendum for a period of weeks in hopes of opening diplomacy with Spanish officials — but the long-bristling relationship seemed only to unravel beyond mending Friday morning.
“He was given the opportunity to clarify whether there had been a unilateral declaration of independence,” Rajoy said of Catalan president’s hesitation. “This is not a trifling matter. An answer was required and it wasn’t a difficult one: yes or no.”
According to the Guardian, the prime minister also balked at Puidgemont’s refusal to accept an invitation of explanation before the Spanish senate, remarking,
“Dialogue has two enemies. The first is abusing the law, ignoring it and disobeying it. The second is when someone only wishes to listen to themselves and won’t understand or try to understand others.”
Many Catalans fear their leaders and Spanish authorities will forego talks and civilians will instead see a return to the strongarm methods used to bloody voters bold enough to go to the polls on October 1 — if not a worse manifestation of the nascent power crackdown.
A second vote had been proposed, but Puigdemont and other Catalan officials feared Spain would thwart that vote or find another means to effect full control of Catalonia.
Independence-seeking Catalans take issue with the lack of representation in their full governance, among a diverse array of other problems, while some also cite the language and culture unique to Catalonia as more than sufficient premise for sovereignty.
Catalonia’s independence — incidentally, unsupported by the European Union and United States — now hangs precariously in the balance as the region and Spain move full steam ahead into uncharted waters with the eyes of the world watching every development.