Spanish authorities moved aggressively Monday to quash Catalonia’s bid for independence, as separatist leaders appeared to retreat just days after declaring their region a free nation.
With Catalonia’s ousted president fleeing the country, Spain’s top law enforcement official pressing charges of rebellion and sedition, and local government employees bowing to direct rule by Madrid, the region showed signs of acquiescence, not autonomy.
The stark turnabout raised questions about a lack of preparations by Catalan leaders after the regional parliament voted to break from Madrid on Friday. Many ordinary Catalans who support independence said they were crestfallen that the former regional president, Carles Puigdemont, did not push more forcefully against Spanish authorities.
Instead, Catalan politicians largely appear to be accepting a Madrid plan to hold new regional elections on Dec. 21.
As Spanish authorities announced the charges, they said the former Catalan officials had abused their power by stoking the secessionist campaign.
“With their decisions and actions over these last two years, they have provoked an institutional crisis culminating with the unilateral declaration of independence, realized with total disregard for our constitution,” said Spanish Attorney General José Manuel Maza.
With rebellion carrying a maximum 30-year prison sentence, Puigdemont surfaced Monday in Belgium, a country where asylum claims are in the hands of Flemish nationalist politicians who harbor hopes of establishing their own independent nation. A Belgian lawyer who previously defended members of the Basque militant ETA group, Paul Bekaert, told Spanish news outlets that Puigdemont was in Belgium and had hired him as his lawyer. Catalan outlets said Puigdemont planned to speak publicly on Tuesday.
The criminal charges were the latest step by Spanish officials seeking to derail Catalonia’s drive for independence, which was set in motion earlier this month with a referendum in which voters backed a break from Spain.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Michael Birnbaum