ESTREMERA, Spain – Spanish journalists hoping for clarification on the political contingency plan in the affluent Catalonia region were left disappointed Thursday when the regional parliamentary speaker shunned the topic following his meeting with the ousted Catalan vice president in a Madrid prison where he was being held in pretrial detention for his alleged role in an independence bid branded illegal by Spain.
Roger Torrent arrived at the Estremera prison complex, 75-kilometers (46-miles) southeast of Madrid, to meet with Oriol Junqueras, a fellow member of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) who was imprisoned for his role in Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence on Oct. 27, for which he was facing an investigation into allegations of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.
“This jail cannot imprison ideas or their dignity,” Torrent said at the gates of the penitentiary, adding that Junqueras and Joaquim Forn, a former separatist politician also detained in Estremera, were victims of a political trial and that he would do all he could to secure their freedom.
He did not, however, put an end to the speculation as to who could replace the ousted and self-exiled former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, as a candidate to be re-appointed to the leadership of the Catalan local government.
Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid a Spanish arrest warrant in the wake of the independence declaration, has been at the center of a political spat between Catalan separatists parties, who agree that the ex-president could be voted in again from afar, and the Spanish government, which insists he must return to Spain to take up the post – an eventuality that would lead to his immediate arrest.
A recent proposal by pro-independence parties, who cobbled together a slim majority in the Dec. 21, snap elections in Catalonia, is to appoint Puigdemont symbolically but have another candidate carry out the day-to-day tasks in office, although this has yet to be broached publicly by Torrent, whose job it is to organize the plenary debate and vote on the matter.