Catalonia closes ranks against Spain in referendum row

Above, people take pictures of a poster showing Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy,left, and President of the Catalan Government Carles Puigdemont in Barcelona. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2017
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Catalonia closes ranks against Spain in referendum row

MADRID: Spain’s conservative government has dealt a serious blow to Catalonia’s plans to hold an independence referendum but it faces growing indignation in the region, which is closing ranks on Madrid.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said that after enforcing the law by blocking the referendum he is ready for dialogue with Catalonia, but his margin of maneuver is slim since party hard-liners and other Spanish regions are hostile to Catalan demands.
Following the arrest of 14 Catalan government officials and the seizure of nearly 10 million ballots, Catalonia’s vice president Oriol Junqueras acknowledged Thursday that the referendum slated for October 1 was compromised.
But the wealthy northeastern region of Spain, which is deeply divided on the question of secession, is more than ever united against Madrid. Thousands of people protested in Barcelona for the second day in a row against the referendum crackdown.
“Social indignation has spilled beyond the independence movement and spread to unions, university rectors, professional associations and emblematic institutions like FC Barcelona,” wrote Catalan daily El Periodico de Catalunya, which is opposed to independence, in an editorial.
Rival Catalan daily La Vanguardia agreed, writing that “many citizens without any ties to the sovereignty movement are deeply disgusted.”
“The logistics of the October 1 referendum are practically dismantled but the discontent of citizens is enormous,” it added.
The situation would be different if the measures taken to block the referendum had been “accompanied by a sincere proposal for political dialogue,” added La Vanguardia, which also opposes independence.
But since Rajoy came to power in December 2011 there has been no dialogue with Catalonia.
With an absolute majority in parliament he did not have to make concessions, unlike his predecessors, to Catalan lawmakers to get their votes.
He concentrated instead on measures to get Spain out of a deep economic crisis and was not willing to discuss Catalonia’s demands for greater fiscal autonomy.
Rajoy now says he is willing to discuss everything including a reform of how Spain’s regions are financed. But he has to take into account the position of the hard-liners in his Popular Party.
“I think there is a faction of the PP which would be willing to accept some reform but the hard-line faction is not willing to give an inch,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Rajoy and his party were mistaken about the nature of the independence movement, which has surged since Spain’s Constitutional Court in 2010 struck down part of a 2016 autonomy statute in response to an appeal by the PP, he added.
The autonomy statute, which granted more powers to Catalonia and recognized it as a nation, had been approved by the Spanish parliament.
The PP always compared the rise in separatism to a soufflé that could collapse, said Bartomeus.
“They believed that (the independence movement) was organized by a nationalist elite to remain in power but in fact 80 percent of the Catalan population felt ‘I can’t take it anymore’,” he said.
Catalans want a new constitution to replace the one adopted in 1978 following the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco and a statute like the one in place in the northern Basque Country which collects its own taxes and contributes little to Spain’s central coffers, Bartomeus said.
Juan Montades, a political scientist at the University of Granada, said that if the rules are changed, Andalusia, Spain’s most populous region which benefits from the redistribution of wealth from Catalonia, has warned that it would “be in the front line to defend its interests.”
Spain’s two main parties, the conservative PP and the Socialist Party (PSOE), “have always been acutely conscious of the fact that if they give a better deal to Catalonia they are going to lose voters in other parts of Spain,” said Caroline Gray, an expert on Spanish independence movements at Britain’s Aston University.
But “they can’t solve the Catalan crisis by playing to voters in other parts of Spain,” she added.


Recording of crying children at US border adds to outrage

Updated 3 min 8 sec ago
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Recording of crying children at US border adds to outrage

  • Human rights attorney Jennifer Harbury said she received the tape from a whistleblower and told ProPublica it was recorded in the last week.
  • Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she had not heard the audio but said children taken into custody by the government are being treated humanely.

BROWNSVILLE, Texas: An audio recording that appears to capture the heartbreaking voices of small Spanish-speaking children crying out for their parents at a US immigration facility took center stage Monday in the growing uproar over the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.
“Papa! Papa!” one child is heard weeping in the audio file that was first reported by the nonprofit ProPublica and later provide to The Associated Press.
Human rights attorney Jennifer Harbury said she received the tape from a whistleblower and told ProPublica it was recorded in the last week. She did not provide details about where exactly it was recorded.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she had not heard the audio but said children taken into custody by the government are being treated humanely. She said the government has high standards for detention centers and the children are well cared for, stressing that Congress needs to plug loopholes in the law so families can stay together.
The audio surfaced as politicians and advocates flocked to the US-Mexico border to visit US immigration detention centers and turn up the pressure on the Trump administration.
And the backlash over the policy widened. The Mormon church said it is “deeply troubled” by the separation of families at the border and urged national leaders to find compassionate solutions. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, reversed a decision to send a National Guard helicopter from his state to the Mexican border to assist in a deployment, citing the administration’s “cruel and inhumane” policy.
At the border, an estimated 80 people pleaded guilty Monday to immigration charges, including some who asked the judge questions such as “What’s going to happen to my daughter?” and “What will happen to my son?“
Attorneys at the hearings said the immigrants had brought two dozen boys and girls with them to the US, and the judge replied that he didn’t know what would happen to their children.

Several groups of lawmakers toured a nearby facility in Brownsville, Texas, that houses hundreds of immigrant children.
Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico said the location was a former hospital converted into living quarters for children, with rooms divided by age group. There was even a small room for infants, complete with two high chairs, where two baby boys wore matching rugby style shirts with orange and white stripes.

Another group of lawmakers on Sunday visited an old warehouse in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of children are being held in cages created by metal fencing. One cage held 20 youngsters.
More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility, which is divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children.
In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for people trying to enter the US, Border Patrol officials say they must crack down on migrants and separate adults from children as a deterrent to others trying to get into the US illegally.
“When you exempt a group of people from the law ... that creates a draw,” said Manuel Padilla, the Border Patrol’s chief agent there.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking to reporters during a tour of San Diego immigration detention facilities with Rep. Juan Vargas and other House Democrats, said family separation is a “heartbreaking, barbarian issue that could be changed in a moment by the president of the United States rescinding his action.”
“It so challenges the conscience of our country that it must be changed and must be changed immediately,” she said during a news conference at a San Diego terminal that is connected to the airport in Tijuana, Mexico by a bridge.  
US Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced late Monday that he was introducing emergency legislation intended to keep immigrant families together.
“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers,” Cruz said. “This must stop.”
President Donald Trump emphatically defended his administration’s policy Monday, again falsely blaming Democrats.
“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” he declared. “Not on my watch.”
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Snow reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Mike Melia in Boston contributed to this report.