The Return

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A plan to forgive Catalan separatists in Spain might have seemed like a political masterstroke when it was first conceived, but the future for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his minority government in Madrid is still far from certain.

The exiled leader of the Catalan separatist movement, Carles Puigdemont, recently announced that he might return to Spain from Belgium, where he serves as a member of the European Parliament, to run for president of Catalonia, reported Reuters.

Sánchez could hardly welcome the news. As the Associated Press described, Sánchez offered Catalan separatists the amnesty after Catalan parties offered to support his bid to remain in power after a general election in July.

The amnesty forgave anyone who participated in Catalan independence activities between November 2011 and 2023, according to the Jurist. Puigdemont fled Spain in 2017 after organizing a referendum on Catalan succession that the Spanish central government did not recognize. The referendum prompted Spanish authorities to impose direct rule on the region, prompting protests and clashes.

Writing in the New York Times, author Omar Encarnación portrayed the amnesty as a bold, brave move that would advance “peace and reconciliation” in the Southern European kingdom.

But soon after the amnesty was announced, the current president of the autonomous region of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, called for a snap vote for local leaders after he failed to pass a regional budget by one vote. Now Sánchez might need to delay the adoption of a budget for the central government as the Catalan members of his ruling coalition campaign – potentially with Puigdemont – haggle for more power at home.

Sánchez pulled a rabbit out of his hat after the vote, deftly coming in second at the polls but outmaneuvering his opposition rivals, the conservative Popular Party, and far-right Vox political party, explained Word Politics Review. Popular Party leaders have characterized the amnesty move as a divisive example of Sánchez’s opportunistic style.

Aragonès, meanwhile, could not pass a budget in part because he could not convince separatists in the Catalan parliament that he was working hard enough to secure independence from officials in Madrid, Agence France-Presse noted.

The Catalan president is open about his hopes and dreams for his nation, however. “That new stage needs to be based on bringing about a jointly agreed referendum,” said Aragonès in a story in the Guardian. “And those best placed to stand up for an agreed referendum are those of us who’ve banked on dialogue and negotiation in an honest way.”

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