SCOTLAND'S PAPERS

Spain's Gov has "under surveillance" several unoficial consuls' appointed in Barcelona

Spain's Foreign Office has asked for the cessation of "half a dozen" honorary consuls for supporting the Catalan independence movement. Mr. Borrell's Chief of Staff now reveals that they also used to monitor the activities of regular consuls, as well as the honorary ones

Los papeles de Escocia. Torra y Borrell.
Los papeles de Escocia. Torra y Borrell.

"You must tread carefully". This is how one the several e-mails Mr. Camilo Villarino, Spain's Foreign Minister Chief of Staff, sent the Spanish Consul in Edinburgh, Mr. Miguel Angel Vecino, in which he reveals that the Spanish Government has "under surveillance" several unofficial consuls appointed in Barcelona who had made gestures in favour of the Catalan independence movement.

Mr. Villarino's email is dated the 22nd of April. It answered a previous message sent by Mr. Vecino regarding the project of Ms. Nicola Sturgeon's Government of creating a "consular body" in Scotland. The idea was to gather all the diplomatic representatives appointed in the region.

Mr. Josep Borrell's advisor warned the Spanish Consul that Ms. Sturgeon intended to emulate the strategy of the Catalan Government's president, Mr. Quim Torra. "The establishment of a similar consular body in Barcelona has been one of the key instruments used by the Catalan Government to win over foreign consuls and honorary consuls in Catalonia," Mr, Villarino noted.

Correo del jefe de Gabinete de Borrell sobre los cónsules en Barcelona.
Correo del jefe de Gabinete de Borrell sobre los cónsules en Barcelona.

The main difference between a regular consul and an honorary consul is that the former is a diplomat appointed by its Government and is in charge of all the consular functions established under International Law, while the latter is only responsible for exercising a limited number of activities, usually regarding mere representation. Also, they are usually not from the country they represent, but from the territory they are assigned to.

Barcelona is the third-largest city in the world in terms of consular representation, taking into account that it is not a capital city. Nowadays, it has 41 consuls and 54 honorary consuls. Of the latter, the vast majority are Catalan and linked to the business world.

Spain's Foreign Office's Chef de Cabinet insisted that the Spanish Government had had to push for the dismissal of "half a dozen consuls" accredited in Barcelona. All of them were honorary consuls. However, according to Mr. Villarino's e-mail, several regular consuls "were also under surveillance".

This last detail represents an enormous leap forward regarding the international support of the Catalan independence movement. If an appointed consul in Barcelona shows sympathy for Catalan secessionism, it means that either he does so with the express support of his country -which could trigger a diplomatic crisis with Spain-; or he has been 'captured' by the Catalan Generalitat for the "common cause" mentioned by Mr. Villarino.

Borrell se reunió en abril con los cónsules de carrera acreditados en Barcelona.
Borrell se reunió en abril con los cónsules de carrera acreditados en Barcelona. Twitter de Borrell

The fact that Madrid had demanded the cessation of five honorary consuls in Barcelona was already known, so Mr. Borrell's advisor might be referring to those cases. In particular, four of them were 'expelled' under Mariano Rajoy's mandate -the consuls of Latvia, the Philippines, Bulgaria (the ex-footballer Hristo Stoichkov) and Finland-. But the last one, the honorary Consul of Greece, was pressured to go under Pedro Sanchez's Government.

Actually, when the dismissal of the honorary representative of Greece in Barcelona took place, Spain's Foreign Minister -Mr. Josep Borell- explained that a consul cannot "vilify the flag of the Spanish State on the streets". The person indicated was the businessman and architect Fernando Turró, who was seen in acts that were not regarded as "fitting" of his diplomatic condition.

Specifically, he participated, in December 2017, in an act outside Spain's borders with the Catalan ex-president Carles Puigdemont. Also, in September 2018, he participated in a demonstration wearing ¡a T-shirt with the Catalan independence flag, which the Spanish Government considered an intromission in Spain's national affairs from Greece.

Mr. Villarino's words came precisely one week after Mr. Borrell travelled to Barcelona in order to meet with the appointed consuls in that city. The head of the Spanish diplomacy avoided addressing the topic of Catalonia's independence movement but reminded them that their "main interlocutor" is still in Madrid. 

Belgium and Venezuela, in the spotlight

Last April, Vozpópuli reported that the consuls from Venezuela and Belgium were being targeted by the Spanish authorities. This information was published almost on the same dates as Mr. Villarino's e-mails were sent. The Venezuelan Consul is called Ricardo Capella and is known for showing solidarity with the radical pro-independence sectors of Catalan politics, who in return support the Bolivarian cause in Venezuela. This has led him to attend or participate in events organized by the CUP and similar ideological groups.

On the other hand, the Belgian Consul is called Jan Vandeput. From the very beginning of his stay in Barcelona, he drew attention because of the close relationship developed between the Belgian government and the former president of the Generalitat, Carles Puigdemont, who ended fleeing Catalonia to Belgium.  At the end of last year, the Belgian Government incorporated as Minister of Defence Mr. Sander Loones, author of comments in favour of the Catalan independence movement. He also declares himself a fervent admirer of Mr. Puigdemont.

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