Catalonia has a new secessionist leader

We haven’t heard from Catalonia’s Runaway President in a little while, but now there’s been a new development worth keeping an eye on. Back in March, exiled president Carles Puigdemont was briefly detained in Germany when he crossed over the border from Denmark. He was later released and returned to Belgium where Spain’s extradition orders for him remain bogged down.

Meanwhile, the people of Catalan had held a new round of elections and once again returned Puigdemont’s party and their secessionist allies to power in the regional government. But they still needed to select a president. First, Puigdemont offered to rule Catalonia from exile via Skype. (You seriously can’t make this stuff up.) Given the sketchy wifi situation in Belgium, that idea got a rather cool reception, so he next proposed one of his pro-independence colleagues, Jordi Sanchez, as the next president. Sadly, Sanchez is in prison in Spain on charges of sedition and would have been unlikely to be able to attend his own inauguration, so that idea was dropped also.

Finally, Puigdemont nominated someone else who is, if anything, even more wildly pro-secessionist than himself. That man is Quim Torra, and he was just sworn in as the Catalan president. (Boston Globe)

Fervent Catalan secessionist Quim Torra was sworn in Thursday as the restive Spanish region’s new leader, with his demands for an independent Catalonia set to prolong a standoff with Spain’s national government.

Torra took office at a ceremony in the Catalan capital, Barcelona. He was elected by the Catalan Parliament’s secessionist lawmakers on Monday.

In a sign of the simmering tension, Spain’s national government in Madrid, which usually sends a representative to regional government ceremonies, declined to attend the swearing-in. It said Catalan authorities had tried to dictate which central government officials could be present — a condition that Madrid rejected.

Since Madrid didn’t even bother sending any officials to attend the ceremony, their Catalan problem clearly isn’t solved. After last year’s independence vote, Spain dissolved the government of Catalonia, leading to protests and arrests. By calling new elections, Spanish President Mariano Rajoy clearly hoped that the people of Catalonia would come to their senses and put in new leadership which was less inclined to move toward independence. That hasn’t worked out and now they’re stuck with Torra who won’t represent much of a change at all.

But the real power still lies with Puigdemont. At his swearing-in ceremony, Torra is quoted as saying, “I see myself as a caretaker president.” He went on to say that his intention is to return Puigdemont to power, though how that would be accomplished remains unclear. He would still be arrested the moment he sets foot back in the country.

The bottom line seems to be that nothing much has changed in term’s of Spain’s position compared to last autumn. Catalonia is the country’s most wealthy province and the people there seem evenly divided on the question of independence. Even the ones who don’t want to formally secede have largely expressed resentment over their taxes being used to shore up the poorer regions of the country. If they vote for independence in a new referendum, Madrid may have to send in the troops to quell protests yet again, and this time it could turn into a civil war.