On Monday, the visit of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia to Catalonia, the northeastern region of Spain, as a part of the nationwide royal tour to boost morale during the coronavirus pandemic, was met with the protest of hundreds of Catalan independence supporters.
What had initially been planned for the previous week, covering several towns and Barcelona, was postponed, and curbed to a short visit to the Royal Monastery of Poblet due to recent surges in Covid-19 cases in the region.
Allegations of money laundering
This visit also comes after the recent shocking allegations of money laundering having been carried out by the Felipe’s father, former King Juan Carlos I, who abdicated himself in 2014.
The media have accused the former King, of hiding millions of euros untaxed in offshore accounts in Switzerland. These reports of corruption and money laundering are currently being investigated by the Spanish Supreme Court and Swiss courts are also considering legal inquiries.
Furthermore, an investigation has been launched into allegations of illegal commissions from Saudi Arabia in connection to a high-speed rail project. Juan Carlos and his lawyers are yet to comment on these allegations. In his efforts to distance himself from the scandals surrounding his father, Felipe has renounced any inheritance that he could receive from his father in mid-March, depriving him of his annual stipend.
Catalonian independence protests
Catalonia, home to 7.5 million, has long been divided between those in support of Spanish unity and separatists. The tensions came to a crisis in late 2017 when 90% of Catalan voters supported independence in a referendum held by the autonomous Catalan government. The referendum was declared illegal by the Spanish constitutional court, resulting in police violence against voters and prosecution of top elected officials and activists.
Protesters carried inverted photos of the King captioned “Catalonia doesn’t have a king” during a march organised by ANC, the region’s largest pro-independence civil society group. Police blocked activists from the main road to Monastery however some attempted to access via nearby vineyards.
Train services in northern Catalonia were also delayed or cancelled due to “acts of vandalism” according to the Spanish operator, ADIF’s twitter. Photos of burning tires and signs depicting a crossed-out crown on railways circulated on messaging apps.
“We want democracy, simply democracy,” said protesting schoolteacher Marcel Barbosa, adding that the king had shown disrespect for Catalans’ demands for independence. “They know they are going to lose and that they will need to leave, that’s why we are not allowed to vote.”