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World

Catalan Leader Fails To Clarify Stand On Independence

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to turn now to Spain and a political standoff that threatens to split the country. This morning, Catalonia's leader was supposed to clear things up. Did he or did he not declare independence from Spain earlier this month? He didn't clarify. And so now the Spanish government has set a new deadline of Thursday, or it's going to strip the autonomy that Catalan already has. Lucia Benavides is a reporter in Barcelona. She joins us now on the line. Lucia, what did transpire today? What exactly did the leader of Catalonia say?

LUCIA BENAVIDES: Yeah. So this morning, the leader of Catalonia published a letter addressed to Spain's prime minister, where he failed to clarify whether or not he had declared independence from Spain last week. And he asked that the two governments meet as soon as possible to open up a dialogue over the next two months. And this is also important that he didn't say yes or no explicitly because on Saturday, Spain's interior minister had said that the central government would suspend Catalonia's autonomy if it didn't get a clear response from the regional leader. So now, like you said, they've given a new deadline of Thursday for the Catalan government to back away from independence before they invoke this Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would temporarily suspend the autonomy of the region.

MARTIN: So presumably, that's something the leader of Catalonia does not want to have. He doesn't want want to to further erode Catalonia's sovereignty. So why is he doing this? Why is he keeping this ambiguity going?

BENAVIDES: Right. And I think he he wants to open up the dialogue and not have a very hardline yes independence or no to independence. The last thing people want here is for the Spanish government to take over more control because they're asking for more autonomy, not less. And, you know, the Spanish government has a bit of a history of not negotiating with Catalonia when they ask for more autonomy. That's actually how we got to this point. Back in 2010, the Catalan government had passed a statute of autonomy to have more control over their collection of taxes. And the Spanish court struck that down. So since then, in the last seven years or so, we've seen an increase of separatist sentiment in the Catalan region because of this, you know, lack of the Spanish government willing to negotiate. And so it's built up a little bit more than they were originally kind of looking for.

MARTIN: You've been talking with folks. How are residents in Catalonia? How's all this settling with them?

BENAVIDES: Yeah. So, you know, this has been going on for a couple of weeks now. So at first, it was very energetic. A lot of people were very excited that they were finally voting on whether or not they wanted independence from Spain. A lot of people thought this is finally the moment where Catalonia gets its own country, its own nation. But it's kind of simmered down in the last two weeks because last Tuesday, the Catalan president declared independence. And then eight seconds later, he said well we're suspending independence for now in order to open up dialogue. People are joking around that it's the shortest-lived declaration of independence in the history of the world. But, you know, there's - people are trying to figure out what's going to happen because this is unprecedented. This Article 155 has never been used before. So it's kind of unclear what exactly is going to happen. And it keeps kind of dragging on.

MARTIN: Lucia Benavides is a freelance journalist in Barcelona - she spoke to us on FaceTime this morning - where the government of Spain has now imposed a new deadline for the leader of Catalonia to clear up his independence push. Thanks so much.

BENAVIDES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.