'If we've come so far, this can't go wrong' -- Interview with CUP deputy in Catalan parliament

Antonio Baños (pictured) was the lead candidate for the left-nationalist People's Unity Candidacies—Constituent Call (CUP) in the September 27 Catalan elections. Read more about the Catalan struggle here.

Antonio Baños, journalist and author of The Catalan Rebellion, was the lead candidate for the anti-capitalist left nationalist People's Unity Candidacies—Constituent Call (CUP) in the September 27 Catalan elections. The CUP scored a major success at the poll, increasing it presence from three seats to ten in the 135-seat Catalan parliament (for further analysis, see here).

Presently involved in negotiations with the the winning pro-independence ticket Together For Yes, Baños outlines the CUP's view of the present stage of the Catalan independence process.  For Baños, the new road to independence is too complex to be reduced to the debate over whether Catalan premier Artur Mas should continue in that role—opposed by the CUP--and therefore prefers that negotiations with Together For Yes and other organisations and groups focus on how to start disobeying the laws of the Spanish state and the decisions of its Constitutional Court, and on how to shield Catalan institutions from attacks from Spain.

Baños insists: "If we've come this far, this can't go wrong.”

Below is the text of an October 2 interview on the Catalan web site Vilaweb.1 It has been translated for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal by Dick Nichols. 

* * *

Vilaweb: “This will end well." How can you convince people that's true?

Baños: We have a majority of seats for independence, with 48% of votes and 11% of people who want to break with the status quo. And with all of that the next day we get nervous! A pure sample of Catalonia tribunera[ii]! We started this some years ago in Arenys de Munt[iii]. There was nothing, a charge by the prosecutor's office, a couple of Falangists[iv]... And now there are 48% of us in favour of the country's independence. Votes counted! These years have shown us that this is an historic process, which can't be aborted or stopped by trivia. It's a process that's bigger than Artur Mas, bigger than me and bigger than the parties involved. It demands a response about a lot more than independence: let's talk about sovereignty, about social rights, about how to structure states and societies. These processes begin in a certain way but definitely won't end in nonsense. This will be fine. This can't go wrong.

A perspective that instils optimism. But now you have to think about how to do it. What to do first?

We have to start by talking to everyone, not just Together for Yes and not just about the investiture of Mas. I mean trade unions, social movements, organisations, parties. We are now in a second phase. These first five years have been those of seeking out the democratic mandate. And now we finally have it. Now we do politics, now we have to build the republic. We have to talk about how we build structures of state, how we relate to each other, what pace we give the process, what strength can be got from disobeying the law--of Spain, of the Troika[v] and of austerity.

You also insist on an emergency social program...

Yes, because can we start a political process with four hundred thousand citizens left out? Not left out of the political process, but left out of society itself, in a situation of extreme poverty. We want to take the time to have a more wide-ranging, more solid reflection before the political calendar obliges us to form a parliament and vote for a government. This is not just about an arithmetic sum of seats, but about how to make the process unstoppable and how we have to begin to build a new country, given that we have the democratic mandate.

How will disobedience be exercised?

There has to be declaration in parliament that the process is unstoppable, and at the same time the things that tie us to the Spanish state have to be disobeyed, such as the sentences of the Constitutional Court and decisions that put on hold any decision of the Catalan parliament. If the Catalan parliament is sovereign it can't accept interference from any court that has nothing to do with our sovereignty. Examples are the Wert law[vi] and the decree on energy poverty.[vii]

The CUP wouldn't enter a coalition government in any circumstances?

No. We don't want to get into government because our political culture is not that of institutional politics, even less that of government. We are municipalists and even though we take part in parliament, that politics isn't ours and we're not comfortable with it. Nor do we want our message and our involvement in the process to be tied to a sharing of ministries. We don't want to get into that game. We don't want anything for ourselves, no share in power. We do want, however, to support a government that carries out an emergency people's social program, institutional disobedience and the building of republican state structures. And so that it's clear that our message is straight, we say from the outset that we won't be getting into the power-sharing game.

Even now, at an exceptional moment?

It's just as valid to support the government from outside as from within. We already did that during the last parliamentary term, with the laws on popular consultations and against homophobia, which we supported. But for us to enter the government there would have be a situation so absolutely exceptional and so unusual that right now I can't imagine it.

What are your bottom-line preconditions for supporting the inauguration of the new government?

First, that the government that's set up contains not one corrupt person nor anyone who has taken part in the cuts policies of recent years. If we have to start a Catalan state which sets up these state structures, we can't apply previous policy, which was passive in the face of the pressures of  Madrid and the business lobbies. And then we want to implement the emergency social program, which is the first guideline we lay down.

An emergency social program to do what?

To stop evictions and stop the privatisation processes and the outsourcing of basic health and education services. And, if possible, to begin to reverse them. And zero corruption. I know that this can't be done in a day, but what we do ask for is a very serious commitment to “lift the lid” before starting.  A new phase in the construction of the republican state is beginning, and there's no sense doing it with all the old cronyism and corruption.   And the emergency plan includes measures to guarantee citizens three meals a day. That's just a common sense requirement.

[Outgoing CUP MP] Quim Arrufat spoke yesterday of an extreme situation which would force the CUP  to decide between making Mas president and derailing the process. What do you think of the statements he made?

We are here to be the spring, the elastic, that makes the process go faster and not get derailed. We are the pro-independence left and we fought for decades to reach this point. It is obvious, when 48% of Catalans are  pro-independence and we have a pro-independence majority in government and the parliament, that we will not  hamstring everything and stop it.

We will never do that. That's why I said that this will turn out fine. It will turn out fine because we will give it our all , because we will do whatever is needed for it to turn out well, so that the construction of the republican state advances in an open way, not restricted to a single name or single party.

I understand, from what you say, that you will avoid by whatever means necessary the calling of early elections in March.

The only person who has spoken about early elections is [Citizens' leader] Inés Arrimadas.

But if there were no agreement over issue of the premiers, there would have to be elections.

But who exactly said that there would inevitably have to be new elections? Citizens. If this option is good for Citizens then it is very bad for us. For us there is still a lot of time to negotiate many things, not just the name of the president: the emergency social program, the forms of disobedience, the self-defense of this government and the Catalan institutions against the attacks from Spain. The charging of Mas[viii] is the beginning of a series of very harsh attacks that all Catalan institutions will experience. The only person who finds the scenario of early elections enticing is Inés Arrimadas. And for the same reason they find it good for them, we find it very dangerous.

How would the proposal for a “collective presidency” made by [CUP MP] Anna Gabriel work?[ix]

In the time left for negotiation you will hear our ideas, because we work in a spirit of positive proposals. Including proposals that will definitely involve sacrifices on our part. In negotiations, as over the November 9 consultation and the laws that have been passed with our support, we did that. From us you will only hear proposals, and not complaints. Both what Quim Arrufat said and what Anna Gabriel said go in this direction, to start negotiating and to start to construct something apparently contradictory to our position, to offer solutions.

So you're not saying no to Mas, but let's negotiate what role he should have?

You're getting ahead of yourself a bit there...

But the collective presidency proposal means that, doesn't it? Explain it a little more. Anna Gabriel speaks of three or four people and vindicates the role of women. Could the formula be, for example, Mas, [former Omnium Cultural president] Muriel Casals and a couple of other people, from the CUP or independents?

We're under a  lot of pressure at the moment. We are told that it can't be that the process is  derailed by the CUP. I say: it can't be that the process gets stopped by a single person, no matter how great an asset. For the million and a half people who voted Together For Yes Mas is an asset, he is the leader. But not for us. That's a respectable position.


We don't want Mas's head on a platter, like the reactionary Madrid cavern[x] does. We don't want to sacrifice any asset. And for many people, Mas and [ERC leader] Junqueras are assets. For a lot of people the CUP is an asset. And all this has to be kept in mind. Everyone is needed, but no-one is indispensable. We propose, for example, a neutral, consensus, non-political presidency. You could also have a rotating presidency, done in a shared way. I insist: this can be done  to create a  sense of strength against the attacks of the Spanish state, which is indicting and prosecuting president Mas; a collective defense can be carried out. We want to open up the game and the range of possibilities. A clash between the figure of Artur Mas and the CUP doesn't allow for that. But we don't want to have a clash with Mas. We don't like him as president and we won't vote for him as president, but this is not a clash between Mas and CUP. We all have to get involved, in an open way and at many levels.

What about the Renzi option of which [Vilaweb] editor Vicent Partal spoke? That is, that Mas has a more symbolic presidency, with specific responsibilities, but that there is a chief minister or prime minister to manage the government on a day-to-day basis?

Okay, let's look at it. Among the very many proposals that will emerge, we can look at. And let Mr. Mas also look at it if he is interested. We will find the way. We''ll have to speak about these things, I don't deny it. But there are more things to talk about: the attack of the Spanish state  and the indictment of leading figures for having put out ballot boxes; disobedience; international recognition...

You were talking about building an institutional defense against the attacks that will come from the Spanish state. What do you mean?

An attack like indicting Mas, education minister Irene] Rigau and [former vice-president Joana] Ortega deserves to meet a protective shield and a defense from the Catalan institutions. These kind of attacks will keep coming. Now there are three defendants, but they will begin to prosecute middle-level public servants and will go on undermining aspects of the Catalan administration so that it will collapse. So let's get focussed. The institutions we have, which are inheritors of the regional government, are the seeds of the Catalan republican institutions. What we have now is formally a regional government, but we have to think that it is already not that. We have to protect it so these institutions acquire the character that can build the republic.

That is why you should all reach an agreement. And also appeal to the people of Catalonia Yes We Can.

Yes, everyone.
But they don't agree with this process of building the Catalan Republic. How will you get them on board?

Twenty years ago only 15% were for independence. The people who are still not pro-independence or working actively for the republic are working for a constituent process. All the people of Catalonia Yes We Can  want a constituent process, and that means making a unilateral constitution for Catalonia. They are just one step away from us. But there are things,  like the Convergence[xi] leadership of the process, which cause them distrust.  But if twenty years ago you had asked me how Castilian-speaking people would come to pro-independence positions it would have seemed impossible to answer. And now is a reality. Well it is infinitely easier now for the people of Catalonia Yes We Can to join when the process isbeginning to work and they see that it makes sense. Especially when they also see that the Spanish state will not make any offer and there will be no possibility of referendum. Those people who want to change the status quo will say “yes, that's true”.

You say the a Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI) cannot be done now, because there has not been a 50% or more vote for independence. But a validation of the process by plebiscite will have to be done at some point?

Yes, of course.

How? As a referendum on independence?

Or on the constitution. For us September 27  was plebiscitary and constituent. We just missed out on getting the democratic mandate for a UDI. This prevents us from doing the quickest things or with absolute support in the eyes of the international community. However, 48% for Yes and the parliamentary majority allows us to start the political process. Later, to legitimise the Catalan constitution a referendum could be held.

The period of eighteen months before  the proclamation of independence, as proposed by Together For Yes, do you think that plausible?

For some things it seems too long. And for others it is perhaps too short. The construction of a republic is the  work of a lifetime. There are some things, such as disobeying Spanish laws and rulings, that could have done from day one.

But there are more complex things such as the creation of the Catalan treasury....

That is why there are things for which eighteen months will maybe be too short. We won't be imposing deadlines.

[i]See http://www.vilaweb.cat/noticies/antonio-banos-som-aqui-perque-aixo-vagi-rapid-i-no-descarrili/

[ii]An untranslatable term that refers to a supposed tendency of Catalonia's political leaders to overreact to and fall out over minor setbacks. Baños used the term in an Octpber 15, 2014 article analysing the negative reactions of the leaders of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Initiative for Catalonia Greens—United and Alternative Left (ICV-EuiA) to an  October 13, 2014 decision of Catalan premier Artur Mas to abandon a non-binding referendum on Catalan independence. The referendum, which would have asked the double-barreled question (1) «Should Catalonia be a state?  and (2) If yes, should that state be independent?» had been found unconstitutional by the Spanish Constitutional Court.

        Mas replaced the referendum with a «participatory process» with the same questions. It was in this process that 2.2 million Catalans participated  on November 9, 2014, with 80% voting «Yes» to both questions. Mas and two ministers have been charged by the Supreme Court for going ahead with the «participatory process».

[iii]The September 13, 2009 municipal referendum on independence at Arenys de Munt was the first in a series across Catalonia, and marks the beginning of the new rise in Catalan independence sentiment. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arenys_de_Munt

[iv]The Spanish Phalanx (Falange) was a fascist organisation set up in 1933 by José Antonio Primo de Rivera, son of dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930). Falangists are extreme Spanish centralists, to the point of advocating the reincorporation of Portugal into Spain.

[v]The «Troika» of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Funds has been responsible for implementing draconian «bail-outs» in Ireland, Portugal and Greece. In the case of the Spanish state there was no formal bail-out agreement, but a series of requirements covering budget deficits and conditions for rescuing the bankrupt banking sector. These added up to a de facto bail-out.

[vi]The Organic Law for Improving Educational Quality (LOMCE) of former PP education minister  José Ignacio Wert  has stirred widespread opposition across the Spanish state, including a May 2013 general strike of the education sector. Its two most controversial aspects are the upgrading of religious instruction and of Castilian (Spanish) as language of instruction.

[vii]The Catalan parliament's decree on energy poverty, making it illegal for private energy companies to cut off electricity and gas supplies to households unable to pay their bills because of poverty, was found to be unconstitutional by the Spanish Constitutional Court on October 7.

[viii]See footnote ii.

[ix]Gabriel's proposal was for a three- or four-person shared presidency, reflecting the main tendencies within the pro-independence camp.

[x]The Madrid “cavern” is a popular expression across the Spanish state, but especially in Catalonia, for the complex of media, business and political interests that support the most reactionary positions in Spanish politics. Typified by the newspapers El Mundo, ABC and La Razón and the TV station Intereconomia.

[xi]Shorthand for Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), the main party of right-nationalist Catalan politics.

The first constituent act will take place on Monday (and as the Spanish Constitutional Court did not consider correct to pre-ban it, it will take place unimpeded almost certainly). The Parliament will approve a 9-points declaration that is clearly a declaration of independence and of disobedience against Spanish institutions. And what can Madrid do? Nothing but to launch repression... and expect to find massive nonviolent resistance.

It's Kosovo times four (judging on population) or Kosovo times 12 (judging on GDP). Things will never be the same regardless of exact developments.