The prime minister of Spain has two requests for the leader of Catalonia.
First: Clarify whether the region is, indeed, declaring independence from Spain. And second: If that is the case, take it back.
Otherwise, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says, Spain will suspend Catalonia’s current autonomy, institute direct rule and possibly even jail the Catalan president.
The ultimatum comes with a deadline: Catalonia has five days for the first demand, and three additional days for the second, Reuters reports.
The semi-autonomous region of Catalonia, which has its own language and culture, held a referendum on independence on Oct. 1. The Spanish government regarded the vote as illegal and attempted to prevent it with a violent police crackdown.
Leaders of Catalonia say the referendum results were 90 percent in favor of secession, but with a turnout of about half of registered voters. Massive street protests in favor of unity came a week after the vote. Nevertheless, on Tuesday, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont gave a carefully worded speech in which he said that he had the “mandate” to declare independence but that he wanted to delay any repercussions to allow time for talks with Madrid.
It was a very intentional middle ground — not quite a declaration of independence, but something very close.
For some of his supporters, it was close enough to count. Others in Catalonia, both for and against independence, are not so sure.
Lauren Frayer, reporting for NPR from Barcelona, spoke to graduate student Eugenio Juliá, who “is paying close attention because he’s worried the terms of his grad school scholarship might change if Catalonia leaves Spain and the European Union,” Frayer says. “He was frustrated with what he heard last night.”
“It was not very straightforward. He’s just walking in circles,” Juliá told Frayer. “He was very ambiguous. I didn’t know what he was saying.”
Rajoy doesn’t know, either. He calls Puigdemont’s speech “confusing” and says it’s time for the Catalan government to say — in a simple yes or no — whether it is declaring independence or not.
If it is, he says he will invoke Article 155, a never-used clause of the Spanish Constitution that will allow him to suspend Catalonia’s autonomous government and institute direct rule by Spain.
“Puigdemont himself could face charges of rebellion,” Frayer explains. “The Catalan separatist leader was very clear about asking for dialogue. But Rajoy told parliament today he will not negotiate the breakup of Spain.”
Catalonia is relatively wealthy and the loss of the region would be a blow to the Spanish economy.
Rajoy gave Puigdemont until Monday to clarify whether the declaration of independence is real — and, if it is, until Oct. 19, eight days from now, to either back down or be deposed.