When he went to prison in November 2017, his youngest daughter Joana was two years old and the eldest, Lluc, four. Oriol Junqueras was imprisoned for four years, accused by the Spanish courts of crimes of sedition and rebellion after the independence referendum in Catalonia, which the State considered illegal. In June 2021, the socialist president Pedro Sánchez pardoned him along with eight other Catalan leaders, but Junqueras has not yet recovered his political rights. The president of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), the ruling party in that region, chooses to speak in the plural when asked about his own experience. “The loss of our individual freedom is part of our path towards collective freedom”maintains in an interview with PageI12.
Before arriving in Argentina, Junqueras was in Colombia. He will continue on his way to Chile, with the idea of communicating what was the process sovereignist Catalan, lawfare and, above all, to build bridges with Latin America. In Buenos Aires, and after this conversation, he planned a visit to Estela Carlotto. “Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo Show your support for our cause and our manifestly unfair situation when we were imprisoned for four years,” Junqueras would express after the meeting.
In Colombia, the former Catalan vice president had a one-on-one with the president Gustavo Petro. Junqueras would like to meet with Lula da Silvawith whom he shares having been imprisoned for his political ideas.
— How are you today, after the pivotal experience of spending four years in jail?
— We are aware that the loss of our individual freedom is part of our path towards collective freedom and the defense of fundamental rights, among which there is a very relevant one that is the right to vote for citizens. Therefore, we are very proud to have worked to allow citizens to vote and to have done it in democratic, civic and peaceful terms, and that is our commitment to the future.
Q: We are much stronger now than we were before we went to jail, because our imprisonment was profoundly unjust, and this has been said by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This unjust imprisonment has contributed to opening many doors internationally and therefore we are much stronger than before 2017.
-When he was imprisoned, his children were very young.
-Yes, a two-year-old girl, and a four-year-old boy, about to turn five. And when I got out of prison, one was already nine, and the other, six. It is a difficult experience, especially for families, but at the same time it was also the occasion and reason for immense solidarity within our society and also outside our borders. We feel solidarity in many European areas and we would like to have felt it more in Latin American areas. And that is also why we are here, to try to explain ourselves better, to establish more lasting and broader bridges through which we are capable of moving from Latin America to Europe and vice versa.
–At the dialogue table that you maintain with the government of Pedro Sánchez, the last thing that was agreed was to lower the crime of sedition to public disorder – the crime that you were charged with – which would go from a sentence of 15 to 5 years. So, did that dialogue table advance?
– There is a negotiating table between the Spanish government and the Catalan government that stems from the investiture agreement of President Pedro Sánchez. Therefore, one of our conditions to vote for his investiture was the establishment of this dialogue, which has resulted in favoring the freedom of political prisoners and working to repeal the crime of sedition that was introduced into the penal code in 1822. In Right now we are working to suppress this crime and to reduce the crime of public disorder in terms of penalties, cases, and above all to reduce it by making the existence of violence a requirement in any sentence. A much clearer description is now established of what the crime of public disorder is and, in that sense, it is progress. The repeal of the crime of sedition is also an advance. We have been defending this line of work for some time and international organizations have also done so. For example, the United Nations Human Rights Committee gave the Spanish state 180 days to adapt its penal code to the European penal codes and those of advanced democracies.
— You are still disqualified from holding public office.
– It is an absolute disqualification, until 2031, which is not only to hold public office, but also to teach at the university. I am a history teacher and the repression prohibits me from giving classes due to the fear, according to the court, that I could infect university students with a seditious spirit.
– How is the relationship with the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, from the center-right independence sector grouped in Junts per Catalunya?
– Well, it is the relationship of partners in the will to build a Catalan republic and independent with respect to the kingdom of Spain and within the framework of the European Union. We are pro-independence with respect to the kingdom of Spain, we are republicans in terms of political regime, and deeply federalists in European terms.
– Puigdemont went into exile in Belgium and his party left the Catalan government. To what extent can Esquerra govern alone?
– The government of Catalonia is a government of Esquerra Republicana, made up of party members and some independents. There are some aspects that unite us with the right in Catalonia and others that separate us. What unites us is the republican will, and what separates us are issues of an ideological nature and our commitment to the fight against corruption. We defend the economic growth of our country and also a very ambitious and firm welfare state. Sometimes in Latin America it seems that economic growth and the welfare state are mutually exclusive, while in Europe it is very clear that they are two intertwined elements, that one depends on the other. Sustainable economic growth is impossible if there is no welfare state that guarantees equal opportunities, education and public health. The example of Germany, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Sweden, there both elements go hand in hand.
–Is independence getting further and further away in Catalonia? Will there necessarily have to be a referendum agreed with the central government of Madrid?
Q: We are getting closer to a Catalan republic because our strategy consists of accumulating democratic strength and popular support. And at the same time, limit the anti-democratic tools that have been used by a part of the repressive apparatus of the State and the best way to limit it is precisely through international support such as the United Nations, also in the judicial field in a future sentence in the Court European Human Rights.
Bridges with Latin America
– What is the objective of this visit to Colombia, Argentina and Chile?
— We have the desire to understand each other better, to better explain the reality of Catalonia. In many Latin American and European countries there is a part of the judiciary that has used its tools to expel elected presidents or to prevent them from being candidates for elections. And this has happened in Brazil with President Dilma Rousseff and with Lula; It has happened with Rafael Correa and with Gustavo Petro when he was mayor of Bogotá, among others. This has also happened in Europe: we had won elections with an absolute majority in our parliament, and in application of the electoral program we called a referendum that we also won with massive participation and for this reason we were condemned.
— Do you think that what happens with Vice President Cristina Fernández is part of that enumeration of lawfare cases?
– It is up to us to be very respectful of each internal experience, but it also seems clear to us that those who have received significant support from their society cannot be removed from politics and that no one should try to win what they he could not win at the polls. We have a very firm commitment to the fight against corruption, which is why I am proud to preside over a party with 92 years of history and without any case of corruption and at the same time, a commitment to democracy.
–– EThere is a pejorative look from European political spaces on the Latin American progressive experiences. For example, the Spanish PP.
–There is a part of Spanish society and the Spanish media that views with great distrust and animosity that we can establish solid bridges with Latin American societies, including Argentina.