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Barcelona has become a hub of dialogue and protest over the referendum.

Jess McHugh
October 11, 2017

In an increasingly confusing diplomatic situation, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy asked the president of Catalonia to clarify whether or not the region had actually declared independence from Spain.

Catalonia is a region in eastern Spain with its own language and customs, that came under control of the Aragon kingdom in the 12th century and was later incorporated into the Spanish Crown. It has regained degrees of autonomy since the second half of the 20th century, with a parliament and president based in Barcelona that are separate from the Spanish government.

Rajoy's announcement comes after Catalonia President Carles Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence Tuesday following a referendum, but then asked Catalan parliament not to move forward with secession immediately.

Violent clashes with police led up to the referendum vote, in which 90 percent of residents voted for independence, according to Catalan authorities. That figure has been disputed, with anecdotal accounts reporting voter suppression at ballot boxes. Spain has declared the vote illegal and invalid, as has the European Union.

Historically, Catalans have supported holding a referendum, but less than half of them have called for secession, according to research from electoral studies expert Eric Gunterman at the University of Montreal. Support for independence grew after the worldwide economic recession, peaking in 2013 at 49 percent and dipping to 40 percent in 2016, Gunterman wrote for The Washington Post.

With the future uncertain for Catalonia and its capital and popular tourist spot, Barcelona, the effect on travelers in the long-term is difficult to predict.

As protests continue to unfold, visitors to the region can expect some disruptions in transit and other daily operations of Barcelona, but the city remains welcoming to tourists. Cruise ships rerouted several sailings, and American Airlines offered passengers the chance to rebook in the week immediately following the referendum, Travel Agent Central reported.

“Whatever the rights or wrongs of the Catalonia vote, it is clear that strikes and protests are going to form a part of everyday activity,” Frank Brehany, a travel consumer rights commentator, told the Independent.

“Most Catalonians are supportive of their tourist industry and so at this time I would advise that you should continue with your travel plans but maintain a continued assessment of the situation,” he said.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has previously stated that if Catalonia seceded from Spain, it would find itself outside of the EU, meaning that tourists would need to apply for separate visas until a waiver agreement was reached. The Commission called the vote “illegal” in a released earlier this month and reiterated its stance that Catalonia would not be part of the EU.

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