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Spain’s Catalonia Crisis Just Got a Lot Worse

Spain’s Catalonia Crisis Just Got a Lot Worse

Massive peaceful protests, along with days of violent clashes, demonstrate that the fight over this region’s independence movement affects the entire country and is far from over.

Catalan independence 2019
Catalan pro-independence protesters demonstrate outside the Catalan regional government building in Barcelona, October 21, 2019. (AP / Ben Curtis)

Now that the verdict’s out, it’s time to start getting along,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said at a press conference on October 18, repeating the rhyme—“después de la sentencia, convivencia”—as if it were a magic spell. Around the same time, half a million Catalans were converging on Barcelona, which for the previous four days had seen its airport occupied and highways blocked while violent clashes between protesters and riot police were increasing in intensity each night. Sánchez insisted on framing these clashes as an internal Catalan problem. “What’s at stake is not the territorial makeup of our country, but the Catalans’ ability to get along with each other,” he’d said a few days earlier. One week of major protests, it appears, did not shake his government’s unwillingness to face reality: The Catalan crisis is something that affects the entire country, and it is far from over.

On October 14, the Spanish Supreme Court announced its much-anticipated ruling on the case against 12 Catalan leaders for their role in the 2017 referendum on Catalan independence. Nine were sentenced to between 13 and 9 years in prison; three more were sentenced to 18 months. The charges included sedition, misappropriation of government funds, and civil disobedience. Oriol Junqueras, the former vice president of Catalonia, received the longest sentence, 13 years, while eight other former Catalan ministers received sentences of 10–12 years and two civil society leaders, known as “the Jordis,” received nine years—all close to the maximum permitted by law. (For perspective, earlier this year the Supreme Court sentenced each of five men found guilty of a violent gang-rape—the “wolf pack” case—to 15 years in prison.)

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