Balance of Power: Spain’s Future May Hinge on a Few Hundred Police Officers

It’s starting to look as if Spain’s future could hinge on a few hundred policemen currently hanging out on a cruise ship in the port of Barcelona.

With the rebel government in the eastern region of Catalonia determined to plow forward with its independence campaign in defiance of Spanish authorities, those officers are the most concrete instrument of state power left to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Last time he deployed them it was a disaster. The Spanish forces were sent in Sunday after the Catalan police ignored orders to shut down an illegal referendum. Subsequent images of officers in riot gear beating would-be participants drove moderates into the separatist camp, damaging Rajoy’s support in the rest of Europe. And the poll went ahead anyway, albeit without the proper controls of the electoral register to prevent double voting.

On Monday, the separatist leadership is preparing to defy the Spanish Constitutional Court again, this time with a parliamentary debate on the next steps to independence. Any repeat of Sunday’s violence would make it hard for Rajoy to put his country back together again.

Spanish riot police in Barcelona during the referendum.
Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

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