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Spain Gives Catalonia's Separatist Leader An Ultimatum


Spain has given the leader of its Catalonia region an ultimatum - tell us if you really intend to declare independence, and if you do, the national Spanish government will revoke your region's autonomous status. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy issued this warning after Catalonia's leader gave a fairly confusing speech. First the Catalan leader said, based on this month's referendum, voters wanted him to start building an independent state. Then he immediately put that plan on hold. So how does this political crisis end? We're going to put that question to Spain's ambassador to the U.S., Pedro Morenes. Ambassador, welcome to the program.

PEDRO MORENES: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Your prime minister has given the leader of Catalonia five days to clarify whether or not he intends to secede. What will your government do if he insists on breaking away?

MORENES: Well, we will have the constitution provision in 155, which commands - it's not that it allows, it commands the government to take measures to control, impede that first, this secession takes place, and second, too, that the institutions, our (unintelligible) institutions are ruled, led and (unintelligible) by - by responsible politicians which are not purposely utilizing that - institutions in order to - to breach the constitutional law, which is the unity of Spain...

MARTIN: So the Spanish...

MORENES: ...The sovereignty of the people of Spain.

MARTIN: The Spanish government will - will make the Catalonia region even less autonomous if they choose to try to move forward.

MORENES: I mean, it has - it has nothing to do with the autonomy itself. It is that the rulers of autonomy will change in the sense that if they use that institutions to goals that are not to rule the autonomy for the sake of - of of the people and for the loyalty to the - the whole Spanish nation and to the constitution, they will simply be substituted - not the autonomy, the rulers of the autonomy - by - by all the people who will lead for the necessary time that in order to - to precisely protect the autonomy, protect the Catalonian (unintelligible) and - and - and to - to bring normality to a very beloved part of Spain, as it is Catalonia. This is more or less what - what happened here in - in the '63 when President Kennedy had to send the troops to the - to Alabama when Governor Wallace was not abiding to the federal law and he said that you can disagree with the law, but what (unintelligible) you cannot do is to dissipate. And this is exactly the same.

MARTIN: Let me - let me ask you. Your government has been accused of - of taking harsh tactics against the vote. The - the government refused to authorize the independence referendum that was held on the 1st. There were ugly scenes of police in riot gear trying to stop voters from getting to the polls. Hundreds of people were injured. Does your government intend to investigate what happened?

MORENES: Yeah, yeah. I mean, not only investigate. I think our - our legitimate force is under the law. And the situation is that we are here comparing the illegal attitudes of some people with the legal responsibilities of another people. And these are not can be - cannot be compared. What do - what do the - what the - the - the legal forces in Catalonia did was to restore the law, and...

MARTIN: You're saying the vote was illegal. The crackdown was a legal response to an illegal action.

MORENES: If somebody in the - in the - in the - in the forces utilized has overpassed the - the - the level of legality in what they have done, they are subject to law as anybody is. Also the Catalonian people breaching the law, asking for a - for a legitimate referendum outside the had to do with a lot of time being - having advised that this was not the - the Spanish law permits that everything can happen but within the law. This is - cannot be permitted. And that is all. It is really simple to understand.

MARTIN: Why should Catalans stay? If I could ask you, just in seconds remaining, why should Catalans stay?

MORENES: What is - sorry?

MARTIN: Why should Catalans stay?

MORENES: Stay in Spain?


MORENES: I mean, we are celebrating, this year, 525 years of being united. Catalonia has always been Spain. Catalonia is - they can - I mean, I come back to the constitution. In the constitution, which was voted by 90 percent of the Cat - 95...

MARTIN: Yeah. We're...

MORENES: ...Percent of the Catalonian people there are - there are...

MARTIN: I'm so sorry. We're going to have to end it there. The ambassador from Spain to Washington. The conversation will continue. Thank you so much.

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