4 years after Catalonia’s candidacy for independence, Spain pardons 9 separatist leaders: NPR
Spain pardoned nine leaders of the Catalan independence movement, who were convicted of sedition in 2019. Catalonia’s failed attempt at independence in 2017 was the biggest political crisis in modern Spain.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In Spain now, where today, the country’s central government pardoned nine politicians and activists who had been jailed after demanding independence for the region of Catalonia. They led the 2017 referendum on Catalonia’s independence, which Spain called illegal. All were found guilty of sedition and sentenced to prison terms of up to 13 years. Journalist Alan Ruiz Terol covers the story for the English-language Catalan News and is now joining us from Barcelona.
ALAN RUIZ TEROL: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: Hi. So these pardons, I mean, they were announced by the Prime Minister’s office in Madrid. Do we know why the government is taking this step right now?
RUIZ TEROL: Yes. Today’s pardons are widely seen as one of the most important decisions Pedro Sanchez will face as Prime Minister. And there’s something he’s said a few times that I think really captures the message he’s trying to send. It is that the pardons will get nine people out of prison, but it will benefit millions more, especially independence supporters who believe their leaders should not be in prison for keeping their political promises. . Sanchez has talked a lot about reconciliation, about coexistence, about reclaiming a relationship that has been damaged after years of political disagreements.
CHANG: And who exactly are the people who were pardoned today?
RUIZ TEROL: So these nine people were basically among the most important leaders of the independence movement in 2017, when Catalonia held the unauthorized referendum. Most of them were politicians, former members of the regional government, the former president of the Catalan parliament. And there are also two activists who have been jailed for leading protests against Spain’s attempts to stop the vote. And some of these people continued to be extremely influential in Catalonia, for example, the former vice-president, Oriol Junqueras. And he recently expressed his support for the pardons and even suggested that Catalonia should not attempt to hold a new unilateral referendum like it did in 2017. And that was seen by some as a key concession to the Spanish government. .
CHANG: Well, Catalonia, I mean, has a very long history of seeking independence from Spain. Can you just tell us about what drove this movement?
RUIZ TEROL: Yes, of course. Catalonia has its own language, its own history and a distinct pride. There are even a lot of people in Catalonia who don’t feel Spanish at all. And although there have always been supporters of Catalan independence, the movement really became widespread a decade ago, more or less, when the financial crisis and austerity hit the country extremely hard. Spain and that people were fed up with politicians. There has been a tipping point. There was a ruling by Spain’s highest court against Catalonia’s so-called new autonomous statute, a kind of regional constitution, which had been supported by many Catalans. And for example, the judges of the Constitutional Court rejected the idea that Catalonia is a nation, and many Catalans didn’t like it. So people started to witness massive protests for independence. And the politicians in the region didn’t want to miss it, so they promised to guarantee independence.
CHANG: Right. Well, where does this latest announcement of pardon leave the independence movement now in Catalonia?
RUIZ TEROL: Yes. Some of these independence leaders will continue to play a key role, that’s for sure. But they cannot be as involved as they would like because the pardons are partial. This means that they can get out of prison, but are prohibited from holding public office. And they were also warned that if charged with new crimes, they would be returned to jail. But there are now other politicians leading the movement. And separatist parties are in fact continuing to strengthen, having recently passed 50% of the vote for the first time in an election.
RUIZ TEROL: And their two main goals at the moment are a general amnesty and a self-determination referendum.
RUIZ TEROL: And although the Spanish government is willing to speak up, it seems unlikely that it will make more concessions than these pardons because there are so many people in Spain …
RUIZ TEROL: … See them as too much already …
RUIZ TEROL: … Especially the right-wing parties.
CHANG: It’s journalist Alan Ruiz Terol in Barcelona.
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