By James Badcock MADRID 28 April 2020
Catalan President Quim Torra wearing a face mask while his body temperature is measured in parliament
Catalonia is renewing its demands for independence from Spain as thecoronavirus crisis threatens to break apart the country’s fragile government.
Quim Torra, the president of Catalonia, has demanded the restart of a negotiation process over Catalonia’s future as he launched a scathing attack on Spain’s handling of the country’s outbreak, one of the worst in the world.
“This is the time to restart political dialogue. We still have political prisoners, and exiles, and we demand our right to self-determination,” Mr Torra said in reference to nine pro-independence leaders sentenced to prison last year for their part in an unlawful referendum in 2017.
“We wanted independence before coronavirus, not because we want to fly our flag, but because we can give our citizens better opportunities and public services,” Mr Torra told The Telegraph, insisting that, for now, his priority is “saving lives”.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Left-wing coalition government lacks a stable parliamentary majority and could be fatally weakened by internal divisions over social spending in response to the Covid-19 epidemic.
The chief spokeswoman for Catalonia’s government, Meritxell Budó, has said that fewer Catalans would have died from coronavirus if the region were run independently.
Mr Torra did not go so far, but accused Spain’s government of centralising power over the health system under state of emergency legislation, and then moving too slowly as the fatalities from Covid-19 began to spiral towards the current toll of more than 23,000.
The Catalan president points to his call for a lockdown and decision to close off an area outside Barcelona before Spain moved to shut the country down on March 15, as well as disputing the decision to lift restrictions on non-essential economic sectors after Easter and Madrid’s flip-flopping on whether to let children out to play or simply to accompany parents on errands.
“Where is the scientific advice that made the government decide one thing and then change to another eight hours later? When we demanded the economy be shut down completely, we did so based on expert advice and with the unanimous support of doctors in Catalonia.”
Mr Torra also questioned the Spanish government’s commitment to transparency on the death count, noting that Catalonia includes data from funerary services and suspected Covid-related fatalities but the health ministry has so far refused to collate this information nationwide.
The Catalan leader weighed into a freedom of expression row after it emerged that the Guardia Civil police force was investigating social media messages spreading disinformation could “create social strain and disaffection with government institutions”.
“I demand political responsibility from the Spanish state over a situation where the Guardia Civil is tracking people’s posts on Twitter and looking for opinions against the government,” Mr Torra said. “We cannot allow the slightest slip into authoritarianism.”