Catalonia vote to split from Spain sets up clash
Carles Puigdemont intends to become leader of the world’s newest independent state next week. Instead, he may spark a violent confrontation with Spanish authorities and wind up in jail.
Puigdemont, 54, a former journalist and president of Spain’s semi-autonomous region of Catalonia in northeastern Spain, vowed Thursday to press ahead with an independence referendum on Sunday despite efforts by the national government to block it.
“It’s very clear to me that if I go to prison over this it’s only because of my political beliefs. That would leave Spanish democracy in a very weak position,” Puigdemont told USA TODAY in a phone interview Thursday. “As president, I have the right to call a referendum based on a law that the Catalan parliament has approved. The vote will go ahead.”
The central government in Madrid insists the vote is illegal and has taken steps to block it. It has seized millions of ballots, detained 14 senior officials organizing the vote, shut down election websites and deployed thousands of police to bar access to voting stations.
The vote is the most serious political crisis facing Spain since it returned to democracy following the death of longtime military dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
The independence drive is fueled by the belief that Catalonia and its tourist-mecca capital, Barcelona, give more than they get from Madrid and that the region’s unique culture and language are not respected by the Spanish state, according to Puigdemont.
The wealthy region, where 7.5 million of Spain’s 46 million people live, accounts for approximately one-fifth of the country’s economy. It is one of 17 semi-autonomous Spanish regions.