How the Catalan Independence Movement Has Inspired Texan Secessionists

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David Ramos/ Getty Images

By Lucia Benavides

Originally published in Texas Monthly on Nov. 9, 2017.

At first glance, Catalonia, the northeast region of Spain, and the state of Texas don’t seem to have much in common.

Catalonia is a fairly liberal state. The region’s stance on immigration is more open than other parts of Spain: Catalonia prides itself as the “the land of welcoming,” and Catalans have publicly demanded that the central government take in more refugees. Feminist and socialist movements have gained considerable traction, holding seats in the Catalan government through left-leaning political parties like the Candidatura de Unidad Popular (more commonly known as the CUP party), which sees Catalan independence as a chance to create a feminist republic. Gun ownership among citizens is almost nonexistent: In Catalonia, there are two weapons for every 1,000 citizens.

And Texas is, well, Texas.

But despite geographical and political differences, Texas separatists have been following the Catalan independence movement for years. The two regions have some similarities: Both are economic hubs, pride themselves on a deep-rooted identity, and have some citizens frustrated with the way their tax dollars are spent at the federal level. Texas, however, proudly boasts that—unlike Catalonia—it was once its own country: The Republic of Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836, only to be annexed by the Union ten years later.

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Barcelona man, dog kayak Mediterranean to spread environmental message

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Zach Campbell/ Austin American-Statesman

By Lucia Benavides

Originally published in the Austin American-Statesman on Nov. 4, 2017

As the kayak made its way just 20 feet from the rocky beach of Syracuse, Sicily, beachgoers lifted their heads to catch a glimpse. The first thing that stood out was the small dog perched on the back of the long, yellow kayak, a blue cloth hanging over her for shade. She lied with her head between her paws, relaxed, as if kayaking was a normal thing for a dog to do.

The second thing to catch our eyes — or mine, at least, having lived in Barcelona for almost a year — was the thick black letters across the kayak that read “Barcelona.”

“Did you come all the way here in that?” yelled my boyfriend in Catalan, the language spoken in Barcelona and the rest of the Catalonia region.

At the sound of that familiar language — rare words so far from home — Sergi Basoli whipped around. He docked his kayak; his dog didn’t waste time before jumping into the water.

Basoli, 33, has been making his way along the Mediterranean coast on a kayak since 2013, raising awareness for the protection and preservation of the sea. He spends eight months at a time on the road — or rather, at sea — going as far as he can with no particular plan in mind. Every December, he leaves his kayak at the nearest port to where he stopped and flies back to Barcelona. Once April or May rolls around, he flies back to where he last left his kayak and starts again from there. As of 2017, he’s traveled (paddled?) more than 3,000 miles.

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In a new Catalonia, who would be Catalan?

By Lucia Benavides

Originally published in Open Canada on Nov. 1, 2017.

Luis Collazo and Roberto Cardozo stood outside the doors of the Institut Josep Serrat i Bonastre, a high school in Barcelona, shortly before 9 a.m., chatting nervously about what could happen next. The two had been there since 6 a.m.; they joined hundreds of others at the school to vote on the Catalan independence referendum that took place on Oct. 1.

In the weeks leading up to referendum day, Spanish police had confiscated ballot boxes, arrested local separatist officials and shut down official referendum websites. The sounds of Catalan, the regional language, filled the air as people outside the high school kept a lookout for Spanish police and wondered whether they’d be able to go ahead with the vote. But the words coming from Collazo and Cardozo were different from those around them: it was Spanish, but harsher-sounding than the Castilian of Spain, and with traces of an Italian accent.

“I’m Catalan,” said Collazo with a perfect Argentine accent.

Collazo is originally from Buenos Aires; he’s been living in Barcelona since 2001. Like many others, his Catalan grandmother fled to Argentina during the Spanish Civil War. Now in Catalonia, he says he has returned to his roots — his wife and children are Catalan too.

“When they ask me if I’m Argentine, I tell them that I’m Catalan and I’m a Barça fan,” said Collazo. “They laugh, it humors them. I’m one of them.”

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Conflict Continues In Spain Between Catalan Government And Madrid

Oct. 27, 2017.

NPR’s Robert Siegel speaks with journalist Lucia Benavides about the ongoing conflict between the Spanish government and the Catalan regional government. In the Catalan capital, Barcelona, the regional parliament voted to declare independence, prompting the national government in Madrid to approve a central takeover of the region.

Listen to the full interview on NPR.org.

An uncertain future for an independent Catalonia

By Lucia Benavides

Originally published in Open Canada on Oct. 6, 2017.

As Jose Gonzalez exited the polling station in downtown Barcelona, people clapped and looked on, smiling. His eyes swelled with tears, and he sniffled as he smiled back, pulling out his handkerchief.

Gonzalez, 72, was one of millions to vote “Yes” in Catalonia’s independence referendum on Oct. 1. For him, the moment was special: He lived through the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, when repression against Catalans was widespread. He said he experienced “all the repressions a person could have lived through” during that time, and thinks, despite a return to democracy in 1975, it’s still felt today.

“It’s more diplomatic, but it’s the same,” he added.

Much to the Spanish government’s disapproval, 2.4 million people turned out to vote in last Sunday’s referendum — 43 percent of eligible voters. According to Catalan officials the “Yes” won with an overwhelming 90 percent, despite attempts by Spanish police to shut down polling stations and block the vote.

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Catalonia Demands Independence from Spain

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NurPhoto

By Lucia Benavides

Originally published in Teen Vogue on Oct. 5, 2017.

The region of Catalonia is trying to claim its independence from Spain, and recent protests have turned violent.

In the weeks leading up to October 1, the central government in Spain tried almost everything to block the vote on independence, from confiscating ballot boxes to arresting Catalan government officials. Just three days before the planned vote, the United Nations warned Spanish authorities that these efforts “appear to violate fundamental individual rights.”

On referendum day, images of Spanish police in riot gear smashing windows, breaking into polling stations, and hitting Catalans with clubs and rubber bullets flooded the Internet — as did footage of a few cases of sexual assaultAlmost 900 people were injured as a result of the clashes.

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The big reason Catalonia wants to secede may be economic: it’s one of the richest regions in Spain

Merch in Clot

Lucia Benavides/ Marketplace

By Lucia Benavides

Originally aired on Marketplace on Sept. 29, 2017.

Catalonia, the northeast region of Spain, with Barcelona as its capital, is preparing to vote on an independence referendum on Oct. 1 – which Spain has declared illegal. The region has its own language, a proud identity and a history of repression by Spain. But culture and politics aside, many say the major reason Catalonia wants to secede is economic: Catalonia has the highest GDP out of all the regions in Spain, and at 266 billion euros, almost one-fifth of the country’s economic output.

On a weekday afternoon less than two weeks before the referendum, about 40,000 people gathered outside Catalan government offices in downtown Barcelona to protest raids and arrests of local officials by the Spanish police force, the Guardia Civil. The raids came days after police also raided printers, newspaper offices and private delivery companies in a search for campaign literature and ballot boxes. People of all ages chanted: “This also happened with Franco” – a reference to the dictatorship of Francisco Franco that ended in the late 1970s. The protestors wore the red-and-yellow-striped Catalan flag as capes, and banners that say “Sí” (for a “Yes” vote) hung over nearby balconies.

“At this moment, the people need change,” Josep Minguet said.

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Abortion in Italy Is Legal but Sometimes Difficult to Obtain

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Tiziana Fabi/ Teen Vogue

By Lucia Benavides

Originally published in Teen Vogue on September 12, 2017.

Valentina Milluzzo was five months pregnant when she died in a Sicilian hospital in October after her family claimed her doctor refused to perform an abortion that could have potentially saved her life.

Milluzzo, 32, was carrying twins and was first hospitalized in Catania after complications with her pregnancy. According to The Guardian, she gave birth to a stillborn baby and then became ill. Her family claims her doctor refused to remove the other fetus because he objected to abortions and the second fetus still had a “viable heartbeat.” Milluzzo died soon after of septic shock. (The hospital has disputed the family’s account, saying that though all of the doctors at the hospital were “conscientious objectors” to abortion, “other specialists could technically have been called in if required,” according to The Guardian.) Her case is one of many highlighting the struggle to access abortion in Italy.

Abortion has been legal in the Mediterranean country since 1978, when a law known as Law 194 gave women the right to terminate their pregnancies at public hospitals for free, as long as they fall within the first trimester or after 90 days if the woman’s health is at risk – as was the case with Milluzzo. But this law comes with a clause: Doctors can also deny abortion services based on religious, moral, or personal reasons. Today, about 70% of all gynecologists in Italy are “conscientious objectors,” a number that, according to the Italian Ministry of Health, has increased 12% in the last decade. In some areas, like Sicily, that number is even higher, at 89%.

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