After five Catalan pro-independence leaders were arrested Saturday, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro slammed the Spanish authorities over persecution of the Catalan leaders and people simply for independence aspirations.
“What’s happening in Spain is shameful, Catalan politicians jailed only for their ideas… whether or not you agree with these elected lawmakers' ideas, their persecution is an embarrassment,” Maduro warned in a speech during an international meeting on African decendents rights in the region in Caracas Saturday.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has criticized Venezuela’s government on several occasions, calling it a “dictatorship” and played an important role in the European Union’s decision to levy economic sanctions on Venezuela over what Brussels calls Maduro’s “brutal decisions.”
In an interview this January Rajoy even talked about political prisoners in Venezuela, saying all he wants is for them to be able to go to the streets all while his government is cracking down on Catalan leaders and politicions for purely political reasons.
The Venezuelan leader stressed that unlike the U.S., Spain and the EU, his government was not meddling in the internal affairs of Spain but “outraged that they persecute people just for their ideas."
At least nine pro-independence politicians and members of Catalan’s civil society groups are currently in jail for rebellion, a crime punishable with up to 30 years in prison. In total 25 Catalans will be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobedience for their participation in the Oct.1, 2017 independence referendum.
Rebellion charges are controversial because the crime requires the use of violence; last year’s Catalan independence referendum was a peaceful civic action. The Spanish State Attorney’s office had argued violence was exercised by pro-independence activists and politicians on Sept. 20, 2017, when they surrounded several Catalan government buildings to prevent the Spanish Civil Guard from entering.
Pro-independence leaders like Jordi Turull, the new candidate for regional president, former ministers Josep Rull, Raul Romeva and Dolors Bassa and former parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, are the latest prisoners in Madrid’s crackdown against pro-independence forces in Catalonia since the referendum.
Pro-independence sentiments are widespread in Catalonia and have grown after Madrid brutally repressed Catalans who went to the polls to cast their vote last year. The election resulted in Catalonia’s declaration of independence. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responded by removing Puigdemont and calling for a snap election, which pro-independence parties and politicians won.
In this context the Venezuelan president called on social movements and humanity “to fight against political persecution and political prisoners in Spain, and to accompany the people of Catalonia in their right to democracy and freedom.”
Animosity between Catalonia and Madrid is rooted in Catalan republicanism and rejection of monarchic rule. The Spanish crown was restored by former dictator Francisco Franco (1936-1975) who banned Catalan language and led a brutal persecution against Catalan republicanism.