Puigdemont's dilemma

Puigdemont's dilemma

Spain's deputy prime minister says that Catalonia's leader didn't give an adequate response in his letter about the region's independence and has until Thursday to comply with the country's laws. Carles Puigdemont's letter, issued two hours before a Monday deadline, didn't clarify whether he in fact declared Catalonia's independence from Spain. He called for talks with Spain's government. Daily Mail reports that Spain's central government wanted a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer from Puigdemont, something that Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said that he didn't provide. Saenz de Santamaria said in an address to reporters that 'it wasn't very difficult to say yes or no. That was the question that was asked and the response shouldn't be complicated'. 

Puigdemont has until Thursday morning to fall in line, or faces the possibility of Spain activating Article 155 of the Constitution which would allow the central government to take over parts of Catalonia's self-governance. In Monday's letter, Puigdemont didn't answer 'yes' or 'no' to the question 'have you declared independence in Catalonia' as demanded by the Spanish government. He called for two months of dialogue and requested that Spanish authorities halt 'all repression' in Catalonia. The the Catalan leader sent Rajoy a two-page letter urging him to reverse the central government's 'repression' of the Catalan people and its leaders and organise a meeting to try to find a solution through peaceful dialogue. Puigdemont wrote in the letter: 'Let's not allow this situation to deteriorate anymore. With the right will, recognising the problem and dealing with it head on, I'm sure we can find the path to a solution.'

Puigdemont, who is consulting local parties to prepare his answer, faces a dilemma. If he says he did proclaim independence, the central government will step in. If he says he did not, the far-left Catalan party CUP would probably withdraw its support for his minority government.   

The Catalan government says 90 percent of Catalans voted for a breakaway in an October 1 referendum that central authorities in Madrid declared illegal and most opponents of independence boycotted, reducing turnout to around 43 percent. Under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, the central government can suspend the political autonomy of a region if it breaks the law.

This article, which enables Rajoy to sack the Catalan government and call a regional election, has not been activated since the constitution was adopted in 1978 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco. Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported on Sunday that if article 155 was invoked, the government would replace the Catalan government with a new set-up to manage the region autonomously, which could be run by politicians or technocrats. Within three months, elections would be held.

Puigdemont was expected to declare immediate Catalan independence in a keynote speech to Parliament last Tuesday, but ended up making conflicting announcements. He had a a dramatic eleventh-hour change of heart by saying he was putting independence on hold so he could open a period of dialogue. More than 500 firms have moved their HQs to other parts of Spain since the referendum vote. There have been isolated outbreaks of violence - in Barcelona as well as Valencia where far right-wing thugs used sticks and batons to attack pro-independence supporters taking part in a march last Monday.

Opposition Catalan leaders who are fighting Puigdemont's breakaway attempt are divided on how far Madrid should go in imposing direct rule. Some want Article 155 to be invoked solely for the purpose of calling regional elections to give those living in Catalonia a chance to express themselves in a legal ballot, while others say it should be extended to include the removal of autonomy in the areas of police and education. There was no immediate response from the Spanish government on Monday morning. 


Vestnik Kavkaza

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