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CATALONIA

No regrets, says Catalan ex-minister on referendum anniversary

Five years after the failed secession push in Catalonia which landed him in jail, Oriol Junqueras remains convinced that defying Spain with a banned independence referendum was the right move.

Former deputy head of the Catalan government Oriol Junqueras
Former deputy head of the Catalan government Oriol Junqueras holds an interview with AFP at the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) separatist political party's headquarters in Barcelona on September 29, 2022. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

But the former deputy head of the region says the separatist camp needs to rally more support if its dream of an independent Catalan state is to one day become a reality.

“We did what we had to do,” the professor-turned-politician said during an interview with AFP when asked about the failed secession drive that came to a head in October 2017.

“I am deeply proud of all that we have done, of our commitment, of having been able to convene, organise and hold a referendum on self-determination,” the 53-year-old added.

Despite being banned by the Spanish courts, the October 1, 2017 referendum organised by Catalonia’s separatist government went ahead but descended into chaos as police moved in to stop it, sparking confrontations marred by violence.

Based on the results of this vote — which were never independently corroborated — the Catalan parliament declared independence on October 27.

Spanish authorities responded by sacking the Catalan government and pressed charges against the region’s leaders who either fled abroad or were jailed like Junqueras.

Declining support

Today the separatist movement is deeply divided over the path forward and Catalonia’s ruling pro-independence coalition is on the point of collapse.

While Junqueras’s ERC party favours dialogue with Madrid, its junior coalition partners, the JxC of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has taken a more confrontational approach.

Despite passions running high over independence, the region itself also remains divided, with only 41 percent in favour of separation while 52 percent want to remain in Spain, the latest survey suggested.

In an October 2017 poll, support for independence in the wealthy northeastern region of Spain stood at 49 percent.

“What we must do today, is be democratically stronger” in the face of the “repressive” Spanish state, said Junqueras, a lifelong supporter of independence and father-of-two who also served as Catalonia’s economy minister.

The “main mistake” of the separatist camp in 2017 was that it did not “talk more with people, convince more people” to back the cause, he added.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government last year pardoned Junqueras and eight other Catalan separatist leaders who were serving lengthy jail terms for their roles in the ill-fated independence bid.

Junqueras was in 2019 sentenced to 13 years behind bars, the longest term among the nine pardoned leaders. He spent over three years in prison before his pardon.

As Catalonia’s former vice president Junqueras was convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds after the unauthorised 2017 referendum which led to Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

‘Made us stronger’

Puigdemont, who was the head of Catalonia’s government at the time of the referendum, evaded arrest by fleeing to Belgium after Catalonia’s short-lived declaration of independence.

“I was convinced that my obligation was to be as close as possible to my citizens, at the same time I understand perfectly that other people opted for exile,” Junqueras said.

“The fact that we have been in jail has only made us stronger in every way,” he added.

“It has also opened many doors in the international community that were more difficult to open previously, so in this sense the time in prison has also been a very profitable investment.”

He cited as an example an August finding from the UN’s Human Rights Committee which concluded Spain had violated the political rights of Catalan politicians including Junqueras.

The committee found that Spain violated their rights when they were suspended from office before having been convicted.

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HEALTH

Thousands protest in Spain’s Andalusia in defence of public health services

Thousands of protestors took to the streets across Andalusia in defence of public health services on Saturday, demanding a stop to the deterioration of public services and slow privatisation of the region's healthcare system.

Thousands protest in Spain's Andalusia in defence of public health services

Thousands of people demonstrated in several cities across Andalusia in defence of public health services on Saturday.

The main demonstration was held in Seville, the southern region’s capital, where police say 4,000 people took part. Organisers of the protest put the figure at 20,000.

Up to 400 protesters took to the streets in Cádiz, and around a thousand in Granada, though police claim there were just 200.

Protestors demanded the regularisation of 12,000 “false contracts” given to doctors in the Andalusian Health Service (SAS) who arrived as reinforcements during the pandemic, as well as face-to-face care within 48 hours of requesting an appointment, 12 minutes of care per patient, and the boosting of rural emergency and preventive community care.

READ ALSO: Why Spain is running out of doctors

A spokesman for the event, retired doctor Sebastián Martín, highlighted the support “as never seen before” and pointed out that there are around 2.5 million private health policies in Andalusia, adding that “it is important that civil society stands up to them.”

Adelante Andalucía representative Maribel Mora stressed that “we have to defend public health care whoever governs,” criticising “the deterioration of health care over many years” and adding that “now much more money is going to private health care.”

Toni Valero, spokesmen for the leftist grouping of parties IULV-CA called on the Andalusian president Juanma Moreno to “take note” of the “success” of the demonstration and that Andalusian society had clearly “had enough.”

The protests come just weeks after thousands took to the streets in Madrid in defence of the capital’s public healthcare services.

READ ALSO: Thousands rally in defence of Madrid public healthcare

In Granada, the PSOE health spokesperson in the Andalusian parliament, María Ángeles Prieto, stated that public healthcare “can no longer cope” and that was why thousands of Andalusians have taken to the streets. Prieto demanded the regional government invest in public health and asked Moreno to stop the steady privatisation process and stop “transferring” money from the public to the private sector “so that some people can do business.”

However, Regional Minister of Health Catalina García has denied that there is a “progressive deterioration” in Andalusian healthcare.

She stressed improvements in the last four years, including a supposed 30,000 more professionals in the health sector. “The Andalusian health system, according to objective data, is better than it was four years ago. That is undeniable,” she claimed in a statement.

According to the García, the lack of medical professionals in a national problem affecting health systems in all regions of Spain.

READ ALSO: What is the average waiting time across Spain to see a doctor?

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