Catalan Separatist Leader Ready to Go to Jail for the Cause

Updated on
  • Puigdemont’s staff interrogated as he plans illegal referendum
  • Regional president urges Rajoy not to threaten his officials

Carles Puigdemont.

Photographer: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg

Catalan Regional President Carles Puigdemont said he’s ready to go to prison rather than give up his push for independence and urged Spanish authorities to focus their legal attacks on him rather than his staff.

Puigdemont is planning to hold a referendum on independence on Oct. 1 in defiance of Spain’s constitutional court. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Friday vowed to ensure the Catalans respect the judges’ ruling.

“If I’m taking ultimate responsibility for a process that has all these difficulties, obviously I have to accept all the consequences,” Puigdemont, 54, said in an interview in Barcelona last week, the day one of his senior aides was interrogated for three hours by Spain’s Civil Guard.

The separatists’ attempt to hold a vote on independence caps a six-year campaign that has shredded relations between Spain’s largest economic region and the national government in Madrid. Rajoy has filed a barrage of lawsuits against the regional officials as they legislate for the referendum and a subsequent secession. He’s also tightened controls over Catalonia’s finances and issued personalized warnings to local officials about the legal consequences of getting involved.

Read more: How Catalonia’s history of grievance divides Spain - a QuickTake explainer

Puigdemont, a former journalist and provincial mayor, insisted that the Spanish government wouldn’t dare to see him jailed because of the backlash it would provoke, but he also urged Rajoy to focus on the region’s political leaders, rather than threaten the staff.

“The staff, mid-level officials, are just following the orders that the politicians give them,” he said.

Bond Spreads

While Puigdemont pledged to ensure the ballot boxes are in place as planned and then, if the separatists win, to negotiate a secession with Rajoy, investors are pricing in virtually no chance of that happening.

The extra yield investors demand to hold Spanish 10-year bonds instead of similar-duration securities issued by Germany was 99 basis points last week, compared with an average of 189 points over the past five years, as the country was buffeted by the euro crisis.

“They should watch out on Oct. 1,” Puigdemont said. “They can’t say that we didn’t warn them.”

One area which has shown signs of tension is the thinly-traded market in Catalan government debt. The yield on the region’s benchmark issue, 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) of bonds that mature in 2020, has risen more than half a percentage point in recent weeks.

The Catalan separatists already tried to hold one vote on independence in November 2014. Some 2.3 million people, about 40 percent of the electorate, participated in a non-binding vote that was largely ignored by the central government. More than 80 percent backed independence, though those who opposed the process urged people to stay home.

Puigdemont said that turnout will be crucial this time around to underpin the legitimacy of the result, though he insisted it’s difficult to use 2014 as a benchmark, because the conditions will be very different. He denied media reports that he plans to hold elections for the Catalan parliament simultaneously to provide institutional cover for the referendum ballot.

Speaking from his office in the regional assembly, Puigdemont said that he’d discussed the potential threats from the Spanish authorities with his team after taking office in 2015 and discussions intensified recently. An investigation by the national parliament in Madrid this month concluded that Rajoy’s government had set up a secret unit within the police force to dig up dirt on its opponents in Catalonia.

“It’s been all threats and not a single proposal from the first day,” he said. “For me, the best way to guarantee I won’t go to jail is for this to succeed.”

(Updates with Catalan government bonds in.)
    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE