On Monday, October 30, Spanish Chief Prosecutor José Manuel Maza charged at least 20 Catalan separatist leaders - including Regional President Carles Puigdemont as well Speaker of Catalan Parliament Carme Forcadell – with sedition, rebellion, and misuse of public funds. Spanish officials have confirmed that Puigdemont, along with several members of his government, are currently in Brussels.
The charges coincide with the first day of direct central rule over Catalonia. On Friday, October 27, the Spanish government officially suspended the region’s autonomy, just moments after the Catalan Parliament unilaterally declared independence. The central government proceeded to dismiss 150 regional ministers as well as the chief of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the region’s police force. Ministers who attempt to return to their office on Monday will face criminal charges for trespassing. According to local reports, Mossos d’Esquadra forces have been deployed to Barcelona’s Sant Jaume Square, near the government palace, in the event of potential protests and to block ministers attempting to reach their offices.
Pro-secessionist groups have called upon Catalonia’s 200,000 civil servants to wage a campaign of civil disobedience. However, according to media sources, little to no civil resistance has been reported thus far.
As a result of the current sociopolitical turmoil, protests are likely throughout the region, especially in Barcelona. Mass protests and heightened security are to be anticipated in the event of the arrest of Puigdemont and/or other Catalan secessionist leaders.
Following the imposition of direct central rule, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria was appointed by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to be the interim leader of Catalonia until new elections are held on December 21. At least 300,000 people demonstrated in Barcelona on October 29 against Catalan independence and in favor of Spanish unity.
Spain was thrown into a constitutional and political crisis after Catalonia held an independence referendum, deemed illegal by the Spanish government, on October 1. Despite the series of logistical and judicial obstacles enacted by the central government to prevent the vote, 42 percent of the Catalan population participated in the referendum, 90 percent of whom voted in favor of independence. At least 893 people were injured in clashes in Catalonia between pro-independence protesters and police on October 1.
Individuals present in Catalonia, and Spain more generally, are advised to avoid all demonstrations and to keep abreast of the situation. Travelers should anticipate heightened security across Catalonia and carry proper identification documents (passport, visa if applicable, etc.) at all times.