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The truth about Catalonia

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Spain has recently undergone both a test and a reaffirmation of its democratic system of government, as our Supreme Court came to a verdict in the trial of Catalan secessionist leaders for their participation in the process that led to the illegal referendum of 2017. 

Adjudicated with fairness and transparency, the trial was live streamed and our independent judiciary thus brought closure to a divisive episode. Without regard to the facts of the legal rulings, a cadre of critics would like their audiences to believe that Catalonia has been denied its communal rights and freedoms. Yet the reality of Catalonia’s role in Spain and its recent history reflects a very different narrative.

First and foremost, the Spanish Constitution recognizes Catalonia and other Spanish regions as “autonomous communities” — with rights and authorities that few regional governments in any other nation enjoy.

The Spanish Constitution was approved in 1978 by a referendum of all Spanish people. Nearly 70 percent of Catalans took part in it, and more than 90 percent of these voters approved the new constitution. The Constitution both ensures Catalonia’s autonomy and protects the unity of our nation.

It states that “The constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible country of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed, and the solidarity among them all.”

While not all democracies organize themselves in a decentralized manner, it is common to democratic constitutions to include similar references to territorial unity. 

Secondly, supporters of the secessionist movement have claimed that their actions were grounded in the desire by a majority of Catalans for self — government. This is based on the unverifiable claim that 90 percent of Catalans supported independence in the illegal October 2017 referendum.

While the vote lacked minimal democratic guarantees, including the manner in which it was called, the voting process, and its outcome, only a minority of Catalans participated in this vote. Many more knew that it was held against the clear warning of our courts and did not want to participate. 

The truth is that only a minority — though a large one— of Catalans support secession, with such support steadily in decline. In Catalan regional elections in 2010, 48.7 percent voted in favor of candidates who supported secession.

In local elections in December 2017, only 47.5 percent of the 4.4 million citizens who voted supported secessionist parties. And in local elections in May 2019, only 38.8 percent of Catalans supported secession. It is really disturbing that a minority wants to impose its views on the whole of the population, claiming that they, and only they, represent the people of Catalonia. 

Thirdly, the image portrayed by Spain’s critics is contradicted by multiple respected international observers, which consistently report that Spain’s commitment to the rule of law and democratic values is unfailing. According to Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom in the World Report, Spain scored 94 out of 100 in its commitment to political rights and civil liberties — equal to Germany and the United Kingdom, for instance.

Further, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2018 Democracy Index placed Spain as one of only 20 “full democracies” in the world. I am glad that thousands of Americans travel every year to Spain, and especially to the beautiful city of Barcelona. They are perfectly aware of the real situation in our country. Disinformation will not affect them. 

With our recent Supreme Court decision, Spain has reaffirmed the strength of its democratic institutions, the rule of law and the separation of powers that our Constitution established more than 40 years ago. Our Supreme Court has shown, once again, that nobody is above the law, and that there is no democracy outside the rule of law.

We have now an important opportunity to support reconciliation among and with all Catalans. Our government welcomes this as a top priority, with confidence that good — faith dialogue within the framework of our Constitution can advance the shared aspirations of all our people.

Santiago Cabanas is the ambassador of Spain to the United States.

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