President Quim Torra yesterday walked out of an official reception in Washington DC, calling a speech by the Spanish ambassador to the US “offensive.” Torra was at the reception with a delegation of Catalan artists taking part in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which this year has a special focus on Catalan and Armenian culture. However, tensions began to rise when the speech by Spanish ambassador Pedro Morenés drew jeers from the Catalan delegation, which began shouting for the release of “political prisoners” and which followed the president in abandoning the event.
Members of the Catalan delegation told the Catalan News Agency that at the reception Torra first made a speech along the lines of others he has given recently, saying Catalonia is experiencing “repression” and referring to the jailed leaders as “political prisoners” and those abroad as “exiles.” Torra’s speech was widely applauded by those present at the reception, while the Catalan delegation followed it up with a spontaneous rendition of Catalonia’s national anthem, Els Segadors.
Then the Spanish ambassador began his speech, to the sound of an occasional whistle or shout as the diplomat attempted to address the points from Torra’s speech. However, the situation became untenable when, according to the president himself, Morenés accused him of being “a liar” and denied that anyone was in prison in Spain for political reasons. At this point, members of the Catalan delegation began shouting “free the political prisoners” at the ambassador, before following the president out of the event.
Torra calls ambassador’s speech “insulting”
Outside, where members of the delegation shouted support for Torra and continued to call for the “political prisoners” to be freed, the president gave his version of events. After briefly returning inside to thank the hosts for their invitation, Torra explained why he considered the ambassador’s speech to be “insulting.” “It was offensive to me because he called me a liar, and it was offensive to the country because he cast doubt on the existence of political prisoners,” he said.
Calling the ambassador’s attitude “intolerable,” Torra issued a call to Spanish president Pedro Sánchez to say whether he, his foreign minister and his Socialist party shared the ambassador’s opinion on himself and what is happening in Catalonia. “I call for the immediate resignation of the ambassador, because the level of insult we have come to cannot be tolerated and I would like to see a public protest from the Spanish government,” Torra added.
Torra accused of “propaganda” in speech
Morenés accused Torra of spreading “propaganda” stating he would “correct” it. “In Spain there are no political prisoners (…), there are some politicians who, despite having been repeatedly warned by their own legal services, decided to bend parliament regulation and violate the Statute of Auronomy of Catalonia and the (Spanish) Constitution,” Spain’s ambassador said in the U.S. capital.
His words were later defended by the Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell. “No ambassador should remain passive to Torra’s attacks on Spain,” he said.
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