What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Catalonia stuck in bitter divide as Spain targets independence leaders

Spain’s central government moved to take full control of Catalonia and sought to prosecute its leaders after the province declared independence. But it must now work to bridge the divide between those who took to the streets over the weekend in support of the constitution and the pro-independence Catalans with unabated secession dreams. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Spain, the central government moved to take full control of the government of Catalonia today. The province declared independence this past Friday after a referendum to leave Spain earlier this month.

    But the leader of that secessionist move was missing in action today amid tough charges leveled by Spain's top law enforcement official.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Barcelona.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The police guard at Catalan government headquarters was in a relaxed mood as Barcelona waited to see whether independence leader Carles Puigdemont would turn up for work on the day Madrid laid down the law on his province's divorce attempt.

    In the main square, independence supporters like student Joan Correa were trying to be defiant.

  • Joan Correa:

    I'm here with hope, with hope that we can become an independent state. I think we are.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But at the High Court in Madrid, Spain's attorney general, Jose Manuel Maza, triggered the start of a prosecution that could lead to long jail sentences for the leaders of Catalonia's independence movement.

  • Jose Manuel Maza:

    (Through interpreter) As state attorney general, I inform you that the state's attorney's office has filed charges for rebellion, sedition, and misuse of public funds and other related charges against the main members of the Catalan government that with their decisions and their actions over the last two years have caused an institutional crisis.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Forewarned of the prosecution, Carles Puigdemont, seen outside his headquarters earlier this month, flew to Belgium, where it's reported that he may seek political asylum or try to set up a government in exile.

    Unaware that the now deposed Catalan president had left the country, Francesc Munoz, a die-hard activist, struck up the movement's anthem that decries Spain's fascist past under General Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975.

  • Francesc Munoz:

    (Through interpreter) As long as there is a Catalan alive, the dream of independence will be alive. It's a desire for justice that we are able now to achieve.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Two Belgians with secession dreams of their own came to offer support.

    Kevin Delaed says what happened here is bad news for other independence movements across the continent.

  • Kevin Delaed:

    I think we have basically seen the limits of democracy in Europe here and the European Union. We have seen a crackdown on an elected parliament, on an elected government. We have seen people put in jail for expressing their opinions here, for organizing peaceful manifestations.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Only a handful of people in favor of union with Spain ventured into the square outside the government headquarters.

    But, yesterday, hundreds of thousands of Catalans opposed to independence occupied the streets, calling for the imprisonment of the province's leader.

    "Long live Spain," they chanted, and "Long live Catalonia."

  • Fernando Cirera:

    It's something that's destroying our lives. And Barcelona has always been a city of — open to the world. We don't want to be forced to live in a new country, bankrupt and destroyed and only thinking about the people who want to become independent. We want to be part of the world.

  • Valeria Perez:

    (Through interpreter) I'm Spanish, and I don't want anyone to tell me that I'm not. Because I was born in Catalonia, I shouldn't be Spanish any more? And, intellectually, it doesn't make sense. We're living in a world where we're destroying frontiers. We're becoming one. And now someone wants to build up barriers. It makes no sense.

  • Gabriel Bans:

    We are much better together. We are stronger. Spain is a country with more than 500 years of history. So, why? What is the issue? Why they should get independence after so many years together?

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    These protesters yelled their support of the constitution, which permits Spain's central government to take control of Catalonia.

    The mayor of Barcelona has criticized the unilateral declaration of independence. She says it has been conducted with what she calls kamikaze haste. And the reason she says that is she believes that the numbers just don't stack up. If you look at the referendum that was conducted on October the 1st, 90 percent of people may have voted in favor of independence, but only 43 percent of the population participated.

    And there are some political analysts who believe that the number of people in favor of independence in Catalonia is as low as 30 percent.

  • Jorge Cordoba:

    I wake up today and say, we are part of an independent country? I didn't vote for that. We didn't vote for that. This is unbelievable.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Today's legal moves have done nothing to bridge the gap between the two sides in Spain's worst political crisis in four decades.

    But political scientist Gabriel Colome believes that there is room for compromise. The only way, he says, is to reform Spain's constitution to allow for greater Catalonian self-rule.

  • Gabriel Colome:

    (Through interpreter) We have a constitution that is 40 years old. It is a constitution that was written when Spain was still under Franco's influence. If pro-independence Catalans could participate in these reforms, they would feel good, and consider that this constitution and country is theirs, which is not the case at the moment.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But with the European Union and the United States refusing to recognize Catalonia's independence, Madrid sees no reason to compromise.But it has to tread carefully to avoid violence from erupting.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Malcolm Brabant in Barcelona.

Listen to this Segment