The recent imposition of direct rule by the Spanish government on the autonomous region of Catalonia is having a ripple effect across Europe and around the world. Spain’s neo-fascist prime minister, Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party – the ideological heirs of Caudillo Francisco Franco’s Falangist Movement – plunged a dagger into the cause of democracy in Catalonia by suspending the region’s pro-independence government and imprisoning eight members of the Catalonian “Generalitat” government.
The imposition of direct rule on Catalonia was a longtime goal of the Madrid regime for years. Catalonia sought the same autonomous powers afforded to Spain’s Basque region, most notably, the power of taxation. However, Castilians of Madrid and other “taker” regions that rely on Spain’s national budget for their benefits, have grown comfortable with the fact that Catalonia provides much of Spain’s budget. Catalonia’s wish to keep more of its tax money in the region and not have it distributed to “taker” regions of Spain, led the Rajoy regime and Spain’s Supreme Court to reject expanded autonomy powers for Catalonia. Catalonia’s independence referendum grew directly out of Madrid’s rejection of a negotiated agreement with the Barcelona government.
As the Madrid regime was hauling members of the Catalonian government before kangaroo courts in Madrid, the British government was moving to impose direct rule on autonomous Northern Ireland. The reason for London’s actions was officially stated as providing Northern Ireland with a Westminster-dictated budget. However, the move by London essentially stripped the Stormont Assembly in Belfast of all financial powers, a move that reversed the devolution of powers to Northern Ireland’s coalition government of the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the mainly Catholic Sinn Fein party.
The reversal of devolution of powers in Northern Ireland and the de facto imposition of direct rule by London served as a backdrop to calls for more Northern Ireland sovereignty with Britain’s exit from the European Union. Most Northern Irish favor maintaining the open border with EU member Ireland. London’s direct rule over Northern Ireland complicates Northern Ireland-Ireland relations as the United Kingdom establishes a Fortress Britain regime over the British Isles. The British move against autonomy and devolved powers in Northern Ireland also serves as a warning to the Scottish National Party government in Scotland that it, too, might face a rollback of its powers as Edinburgh clamors again for independence or increased autonomy with a special status within the EU.
Labor-ruled Wales, which also desires a special relationship with the EU post-Brexit, may also face the Tory whip in an imposition of increased power by London over the autonomous government in Cardiff. In addition, moves by the semi-independent Isle of Man and Channel Islands to strike their own post-Brexit deals with the EU have resulted in calls for the islands to be brought under the umbrella of the Westminster parliament. This has only fueled Manx nationalism in the Isle of Man and Norman resistance in the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, the latter lying closer to France than to Britain.
The government of Iraq moved against the Kurdistan Regional Government, likely encouraged by the actions of Madrid and London toward their own restive regions seeking independence. Overwhelming support for independence in a Kurdistan referendum was met with instant opposition from not only Baghdad, but Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, three countries that rarely agree on anything.
The Iraqi Constitution of 2005 provided for the Kurdistan Autonomous Region to have more autonomy than any Iraqi province. However, Baghdad never actually recognized Kurdistan’s full autonomous rights and the Iraqis have failed to implement 67 out of 144 articles in the Iraqi Constitution, including those that deal with Kurdish autonomy. After fighting a bloody conflict with the Islamic State and seeing its longtime president, Masoud Barzani, resign as president in the wake of the failed independence bid, Kurdistan is now no more autonomous in the eyes of Baghdad than are the provinces of Anbar or Basra.
Catalonia, Northern Ireland, and Kurdistan were not the first to feel the pain of direct rule from their colonial masters. In 2016, the United States forced the self-governing Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to follow orders from a seven-member Federal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) established in the wake of the island territory’s financial crisis. The crisis had been caused by greedy Wall Street vulture investment firms and ratings houses that trashed Puerto Rico’s financial prognosis. Essentially, the Obama administration and the Republican-led Congress imposed direct rule on Puerto Rico. After the territory was devastated by Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration treated the territory like a foreign backwater nation, even though Puerto Ricans are full U.S. citizens. The U.S. Virgin Islands, devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, has also seen its ability to make its own decisions constrained by Washington. The fate of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands has American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas also worried about their ability to decide their own policies free of interference from Washington.
Australia kicked of the penchant for countries to impose direct rule with its decision in 2015 to abolish Norfolk Island’s self-government by abrogating the 1979 agreement between Canberra and the island. Australia closed the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly and dismissed the island’s government. The island was unilaterally made a part of the Australian state of New South Wales and a right-wing talk radio host was dispatched to the island to serve as administrator. Norfolk Island’s residents appealed to the United Nations for help as a non-self-governing territory denied its rights under the UN Charter. Norfolk Island also requested New Zealand to make it a self-governing territory in the fashion of other such territories of New Zealand, namely, the Cook Islands and Niue.
New Zealand was not exactly the type of country with which Norfolk Island would want to hammer out an associated self-government agreement. New Zealand out its colonial foot down when the Cook Islands, a developed associated state of New Zealand, expressed an interest in applying for full membership in the UN. The word from Wellington was a resounding “no deal.”
Perhaps, totalitarian-inclined governments are taking their cues from an American administration that has done nothing but show its disdain for international treaties and domestic arrangements. The Trump administration has not only trashed the self-government of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but has also ignored tribal sovereignty agreements between Washington and native American governments. These conflicts with tribal governments have arisen over the desire by Trump and his cronies to turn over native lands to exploitative oil, natural gas, timber, and mining companies. Trump also recently wanted Alaska to rename the mountain of Denali to its previous colonial name of “Mount McKinley.” Trump’s desire was rejected by Alaska’s two Republican senators.
Bullying leaders everywhere are rolling back on constitutional and other agreements granting self-governance and autonomy to regions and territories. The Netherlands shows no desire to return the autonomy to the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Saba, and Saint Eustatius that was seized by Amsterdam following the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles. Denmark is fighting tooth and nail against any moves by Greenland and the Faroe Islands to achieve independence, options permitted in their agreements with Copenhagen. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are militarily opposing the attempt by South Yemen to have its independence, lost as the result of an unpopular union with Yemen in 1990, fully restored.
Rather than letting “freedom ring,” the bullies in Madrid, London, Baghdad, Washington, Canberra, and other capitals are relishing in the sound of actual and virtual jackboots on the streets of Barcelona, Belfast, Kirkuk, San Juan, Charlotte Amalie, and Aden.