Saturday, February 2, 2013

White House responds to request for support of Catalan referendum on independence from Spain

The White House responded on Saturday to a petition that asked Washington to support the right of the people of Catalonia to decide on what future “is best for them through a fair and democratic referendum.”

Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for President Barack Obama's National Security Council, said the issue was an internal matter for Spain, while acknowledging the distinctiveness of Catalan culture and tradition.

“The United States recognizes the unique culture and traditions of the Catalan region, but considers the status of Catalonia to be an internal Spanish matter. We are confident that the Government and the people of Spain will resolve this issue in accordance with their laws and Constitution,” Ms. Hayden said.

Catalonia is one of the 17 Autonomous Communities that makeup the Kingdom of Spain. The Community has a population of over 7.5 million. Barcelona, the second largest city in Spain, is the capital of Catalonia, a bilingual region with Catalan and Spanish serving as 'co-official' languages.

The petition, which was submitted to the White House's “We the people” website last November 24th, read:

“The People of Catalonia, the Northeastern region of Spain, would like to hold a referendum on whether or not they would like to become independent from the Spain. The Catalan people have their own distinct language, culture and traditions that are not being respected by the Spanish government; many Catalans do not feel Spanish, but rather a Catalan citizen without their own State. In 2012 during their national holiday, 1.5 million people took to the streets of Barcelona to demand independence, yet the Spanish government simply ignored them. In adherence to the guiding principles of our own Declaration of Independence, we ask the United States government to stand with the Catalan people's right to decide a future that is best for them through a fair and democratic referendum.”

More than 33,000 people signed onto the appeal.

Interestingly, the day after the petition's submission happened to be election day in Catalonia. Artur Mas, the president of the Autonomous Community's government, had called a snap election in the hope that his Catalan nationalist party could ride the rising tide of independence fervor to an absolute majority in the regional parliament. His side ended up losing seats, but managed to hold on to control of the assembly. Meanwhile, several smaller separatist groups increased their numbers, as did a couple of the parties that favor remaining part of Spain.

This week Mr. Mas met with Spain's King Juan Carlos to 'explain' his push for self-determination. No official comments were made afterward. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose government has indicated it will go to the constitutional court to fight any attempt to hold a referendum, has said that independence for Catalonia “makes no sense.”

While talk of independence dates back at least as far as the 1600s, the idea of secession has gained popularity recently as the Spanish economy has faltered. Until 2011, polls routinely showed from around 20 to 30 percent of the local population in favor of independence, with about 40 to 50 percent opposed. Since then those numbers have been reversing.

All of these developments seem to assure only one thing: the heated debate over what future “is best” for Catalonia will surely continue.

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