Catalan premier Quim Torra last night walked out of a private event in Washington to protest a speech made by Spain’s ambassador to the United States, Pedro Morenés. The incident took place during an act ahead of the inauguration of Festival Folk, a festival organized by the Smithsonian Institution and featuring Catalan performers.
Torra accused the ambassador of “falsifying the history of what is happening in Catalonia”
Torra, who is in the United States for the festival, has used the official visit to promote his hard-line campaign for Catalan independence.
At Wednesday’s event, which was closed to the press, Torra spoke before Morenés, giving a speech in English about the political situation in Catalonia following the October 1 illegal referendum and ensuing unilateral declaration of independence. According to one of the guests, Torra spoke about “political prisoners,” in reference to the Catalan separatists who are in pre-trial detention for their involvement in the independence drive.
The Catalan premier also used terms such as “repression” and “exile” to describe Catalan fugitives of justice such as former premier Carles Puigdemont, who is in Berlin awaiting possible extradition to Spain for charges of rebellion and misuse of funds in connection with the unilateral independence drive last year.
Torra’s speech at the National Museum of African American History and Culture was applauded by the 50 or so members of the Catalan delegation. The Catalan cultural organizations invited to take part in Festival Folk also cheered Torra and began singing Els Segadors, the official anthem of the Catalonia region. Once Torra returned to his table, he sang the anthem again together with the Catalan Culture Minister Laura Borràs. People cried out “Viva Cataluña” to which Torra replied “freedom,” according to a video recorded at the event.
The ambassador did not insult Catalonia or Catalans
Sources from Spanish delegation
After the cheers died down, Morenés took to the stage and accused Torra of lying. Speaking in English, the ambassador said that “there are no political prisoners in Spain” and argued that international indicators show that Spain has a healthy democracy, according to guests. Morenés, the former defense minister, and who was named ambassador by the former government of Mariano Rajoy, also added that Catalans against the independence push were being harassed.
According to witnesses, it was at that moment when Torra decided to get up from his table and exit the room. Between 80 and 100 people from the Catalan delegation followed suit. Others stayed, yelling “freedom” and booing while Morenés continued to speak. Outside, a group of Catalans including Torra and Borràs chanted: “Free political prisoners.”
Neither the Catalan regional government nor the Spanish Embassy in Washington agreed to supply a copy of Torra’s or Morenés’ speech. “The ambassador did not insult Catalonia or Catalans,” said sources from the Spanish delegation, who were disappointed the press were not allowed to attend the event.
There is concern now about whether there will be another public spat at the opening of Festival Folk on Thursday, at which both Morenés and Torra are expected to attend. The Catalan premier said he would be there because he wanted to make sure “the festival is a success.” He justified his abrupt walkout by saying he “could not tolerate” the ambassador’s speech.
Speaking to the Catalan News Agency outside the museum, the Catalan premier called on Morenés to resign and for Spain’s new Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to take a stand against the speech. “I ask whether the Socialist party, the Spanish prime minister and the foreign affairs minister share this discourse,” he said. Torra accused the ambassador of “falsifying the history of what is happening in Catalonia.”
“The level of insult reached today is unacceptable,” he added.
English version by Melissa Kitson.