Protests Rock Spain's Catalonia Region But Residents Are Divided Over Independence While many Catalans are outraged at the central government's crackdown on the independence movement, the huge demonstrations have obscured deep divisions in Catalan society.

Protests Rock Spain's Catalonia Region But Residents Are Divided Over Independence

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People in Spain's Catalonia region have been protesting ever since a group of Catalan leaders were sentenced to prison last week. Those leaders want Catalan to be an independent state, but that is not what the majority of Catalans actually want. Lucia Benavides reports from Barcelona.


LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: Some of the protests that followed the prison sentences turned violent, with protesters burning cars and police shooting back with rubber bullets. But not everybody has taken to the streets. In the working-class district of Nou Barris, there's no sign of the protests taking place in downtown Barcelona. Here, just a 20-minute metro ride away, I see no pro-independence flags, and only a few people are wearing the yellow ribbon that shows support for the jailed separatist leaders.

Sara Perez is sitting on a park bench, waiting for her grandson to finish his boxing class. She says her neighborhood is full of people like her who believe Catalonia belongs to Spain.

SARA PEREZ: (Foreign language spoken).

BENAVIDES: "I consider myself Catalan," she tells me. "But with the way things are going, each day a little less."

PEREZ: (Foreign language spoken).

BENAVIDES: Perez says she knows of many families that used to get along well but are now fighting about Catalonia's place in Spain. Polls show that Catalans are almost equally divided over the issue of independence. Some, like local resident Lola Garcia, are critical of both the Spanish and Catalan governments.

LOLA GARCIA: (Foreign language spoken).

BENAVIDES: She doesn't support the independence movement but says she is angry about the long prison sentences the separatist leaders received.

GARCIA: (Foreign language spoken).

BENAVIDES: "We have the right to demand a vote on independence," Garcia tells me.

Many Catalans are in favor of holding a referendum but only if the process can be agreed with Madrid. Sohail Jannessari is a political science researcher at Barcelona's Pompeu Fabra University. Rather than engaging in dialogue, he says Spain has historically suppressed independence movements. And that has only increased anger in the streets.

SOHAIL JANNESSARI: In essence, the whole process of Catalan independence movement has been a massive mobilization to do civil disobedience against Spanish state.

BENAVIDES: But despite her frustration with Spain, Garcia says the situation does not look good.

GARCIA: (Foreign language spoken).

BENAVIDES: "If this tug of war continues," she says, "the situation will be bad for everyone."

For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Barcelona.


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