Riots break out in Catalonia over independence leaders’ sentencing

Riots break out in Catalonia over independence leaders’ sentencing

On October 13, several Catalan separatist leaders were sentenced to 13, 12 and 9 years in prison for trying to declare independence from Spain via an illegal referendum in 2017. Immediately after the sentence was announced, radical independence groups went into the streets of Catalonia and began to institute chaos and violence.

The protesters attempted to take over the Barcelona Airport, an action organized by the CDR (Defense Committees of the Republic) and “Democratic Tsunami” (an app used by radical independence groups to coordinate protest actions). Thousands of independentistas are being mobilized to push for Catalonia to break with Spain, many of which have now declared a path of no return and called on protesters to commit acts of civil disobedience. The groups are also pushing for rebellion within state institutions, pressing workers from different government sectors to close their doors and join the protests.

The protests usually take place at night, cutting off streets and generating serious disturbances which have already resulted in more than 100 people being injured, 72 of them police officers. On top of the injuries, 33 people have been arrested. One person died after protesters blocked the roads, preventing an ambulance from reaching the hospital. The damage is estimated in the millions of euros, affecting the state, businesses and ordinary people whose cars were set on fire. Coinciding with the protests, hospitals have noted a steep increase in patients arriving with injuries sustained in the course of the demonstrations. Most of the actions are concentrated in Barcelona, ​​but other cities such as Lleida and Tarragona have also been affected.

The president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Joaquim Torra, who supports the demonstrations, says the violence and rioting is being initiated by provocateurs sent to criminalize the otherwise peaceful protests. This claim is demonstrably false, as calls for destruction have been promoted on “Democratic Tsunami” which is fully managed by independentistas and has sophisticated methods to avoid infiltrators.

The protests are supported by local leftist movements, both communist and anarchist, as the copious amount of graffiti promoting their ideologies around the city attests to. However, support for the protests is not limited to Spain, according to the Spanish Ministry of Interior which is claiming that “anti-system” activists from all over Europe are traveling to sow chaos in Spain. Security forces have been dispatched to protect critical infrastructure such as airports, roads, railway stations, ports, etc. There have been numerous cases of independence activists attempting to sabotage train tracks and other strategic points throughout the country. Protesters have been caught sharing videos and manuals on urban guerrilla warfare which contain information on how to avoid recognition, how to operate in front of police forces and how to make explosives like Molotov cocktails. Police forces have been on high alert after a helium gas bottle was found which was rigged to explode.

The “strategy” of the Spanish socialist government has been to hide and minimize information about the riots rather than actually stepping in and providing the necessary security measures. At the same time, the government is trying to direct the attention of Spanish society and the international press toward other political topics, such as efforts to remove the body of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco from the “Valle de los Caídos” .

The international media has for the most part echoed the convictions of the separatist politicians and supported the riots, particularly the British press. The Guardian described the sentencing of the independence-movement politicians as “tough”, despite that many in Spain see it as rather soft given that they were only charged with sedition rather than treason as the could have been. BBC journalist Jean Mackenzie strongly misrepresented the situation, holding the Spanish police responsible for the outbreak of violence, despite the fact that there is video evidence of hooded separatists initiating the conflict.

Gonzalo Collado De Giovannini
Argentinian Spanish-Italian Analyst, specialist in Geopolitics, International Security and Global Affairs. Twitter: @GonzaloCDG

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August 2022