News & Politics

Catalans Set to Defy Spanish Authorities and Hold Independence Vote

(AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

The Spanish government has worked feverishly to prevent a vote for independence in the northeast province of Catalonia the last few weeks, but it appears that their efforts have failed.

Madrid has confiscated ballots, sent a massive police presence to the major cities, and has occupied thousands of schools where many Catalans would ordinarily vote.

But with independence activists vowing that the vote will go forward, it is feared that there will be violence in the streets as authorities seek to prevent people from voting.

Reuters:

“We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. We are going to try to vote in the only way we know, which is peacefully.”

It is still unclear whether the referendum will go ahead despite the regional government’s assertions that it will proceed and Madrid’s insistence that it will block the move.

The ballot will have no legal status as it has been blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court and Madrid for being at odds with the 1978 constitution.

A minority of around 40 percent of Catalans support independence, polls show, although a majority want to hold a referendum on the issue. The region of 7.5 million people has an economy larger than that of Portugal.

However much voting takes place, a “yes” result is likely, given that most of those who support independence are expected to cast ballots while most of those against it are not.

Police monitored schools earmarked as polling stations and occupied the Catalan government’s communications hub on Saturday in an effort to prevent the referendum from going ahead.

The Catalan police, or Mossos d‘Esquadra, who are monitoring the schools, are held in great affection by the Catalan people, especially after Islamist attacks in the region in August that killed 16.

But thousands of extra police have been sent to the region in order to enforce a court order banning the referendum, many of whom are billeted in two ships in the port.

A Spanish government source said it would be up to police how they carried out orders to remove people from polling stations on Sunday. The head of the Catalan police on Friday urged officers to avoid the use of force.

Organizers urged voters to arrive at 5 a.m. (0300 GMT) at polling stations and to wait in line until the schools opened. Voters must show peaceful resistance to police action, organizers said.

“We must be sure there are lots of people present of all ages,” they said in instructions disseminated on social media.

Spanish efforts to squelch the vote are legal, but is it a good political strategy not to allow a meaningless vote for independence to go forward?

Perhaps Madrid thought it more important to buttress the pro-unity majority by showing the flag. Amid the pro-independence fervor, no doubt pro-unity Catalans felt a little lost. At least they know Madrid hasn’t forgotten who they are.

Catalonia was independent until the early part of the 18th century, when Spain occupied it. Since then, the Catalans have become some of the most prosperous people in Spain. But the region complains that the national government takes too much in taxes and does not return enough money to the province in benefits.

Whether that’s true or not is not important. It’s a perception held by the Catalans and needs to be addressed by the Spanish government to smooth over what is bound to be a contentious vote on Sunday.