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article imageBarcelona family swept up in Catalan crisis

By Diego URDANETA (AFP)     Oct 9, 2017 in World

Emotions are running high for the Sanz-Cortinas family as Catalonia threatens to declare independence from Spain.

The Barcelona family of four has felt sadness, anger and uncertainty as the political crisis deepened over the past several weeks.

They joined hundreds of thousands of flag-waving protesters on Sunday at a massive march in Barcelona against independence, which Catalan leaders have threatened unilaterally to declare this week.

Like many other Catalan families that oppose independence, they normally do not take part in political acts.

But the unease they have felt since the Catalan government went ahead with a banned independence referendum on October 1, which was marred by clashes between police and voters, pushed them to take to the streets.

"We are not ones to go to demonstrations, but when we saw what was happening, we said: 'We have to go to be heard'," said Mercedes Cortinas, a 51-year-old housewife.

"I am Catalan and I feel Spanish, and that does not mean that we are fascists. This makes you sick and that's why we went, because we are tired, outraged!"

With major companies moving their headquarters out of Catalonia and Spain's central government threatening to suspend the powers of the Catalan government, this anger is mixed with fear.

"We are frightened, tense, we see that this will ruin Catalonia and Spain," said Mercedes, whose mother is Catalan and father is from Cuenca in central Spain.

"Fear, I don't know, but complete uncertainty yes," added her husband Julio Sanz, who moved to Catalonia with his parents when he was seven from Segovia, a picturesque city near Madrid.

"You have built your life here, I have worked here for 30 years and suddenly what happens to all this?" asked Julio, who works at a warehouse of a supermarket chain.

- 'Squabbles' within the family -

Spanish riot police cracked down on voters during the October 1 independence referendum
Spanish riot police cracked down on voters during the October 1 independence referendum
Raymond ROIG, AFP/File

Cortinas said her neighbours in Nou Barris, a working class neighbourhoodwhere support for Catalan independence is lower than other areas of Barcelona, now discuss politics all the time.

"She gets really nervous and makes us nervous," said Olga, 21, Mercedes's daughter who studies art at the University of Barcelona.

Mercedes has had some "squabbles" with her 24-year-old son Alejandro, who did not join the family at the anti-independence rally, Julio said.

While Alejandro does not favour independence, he is suspicious of Madrid, he added.

"He thinks like me that Guardia Civil police should not have come here to beat people" on the day of the referendum, said Olga.

Mercedes surprised her family when she joined a "cacerolada" -- the noisy banging of pots and pans -- on Wednesday in protest as Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont delivered a televised address.

- 'It would be sad if we fought' -

Protesters were pleading for Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to heed calls fo...
Protesters were pleading for Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to heed calls for peaceful dialogue

The debate has deeply divided Catalonia and the family said it did not discuss its opinions with everyone.

"At university I only talk with my friends who share the same opinion," said Olga, adding that her classes have been mostly empty recently.

Mercedes said she also avoids the topic with a group of friends who get together every morning to go for a walk because one of them is a separatist.

We have decided "not to talk because we are stubborn" and "it would be sad if we fought", she said.

Julio has also been affected.

He was not able to get to work last Tuesday because public transportation was not running due to a general strike to protest police violence.

He still does not know if he will be paid for that missed day of work.

The family were given more reasons to worry on Friday when CaixaBank announced it was moving its headquarters outside of Catalonia because of the political uncertainty.

The family's savings are with the lender, which is Spain's third largest bank.

After repeatedly calling their local branch, they decided to leave their money at the bank.

"The reassured us that clients come first," said Julio.

In the face of uncertainty, the family hopes the tensions will ease and violence will be avoided.

"(I hope) that everything is resolved for the good of the public, because it is they who will have to pay the price," Julio said.

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