A split within a split: the Catalan valley sticking with Spain

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VIELHA, Spain– If Catalonia declares independence from Spain this week, one community in the region’s mountainous north might declare independence from Catalonia.

Most people in the picturesque Aran Valley – a semi-autonomous community nestled among the Pyrenees – want to stay with Spain, and the area has the right to self-determination under a law passed in 2015 by the Catalan parliament.

“We’re a little spot on the map and often we’re not taken into account,” said Maria Verges Perez, the deputy mayor of Aran’s capital, Vielha, a cluster of stone-and-slate houses on the valley floor ringed by autumnal forests.

“But we will exercise our right to decide our future.”

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is expected to declare independence on Tuesday in Spain’s worst constitutional crisis since the return of democracy in the 1970s.

The roughly 10,000 people of Aran, on the border with France, have a language and culture distinct from the rest of Catalonia, which itself differs from the rest of Spain. The valley’s economy is heavily dependent on winter sports tourists from Spain and the EU.

Their politicians say the 2015 law gives them the right to vote on whether they want to break away with Catalonia – something which Catalan officials do not dispute.

The Spanish government has vowed to prevent Catalonia seceding. Losing the region would deprive the country of 16 percent of its people and a fifth of its economic output.

But while Madrid insists Spain is indivisible under its constitution, the Aran Valley underlines the complex nature of nationhood in such a culturally diverse country.

Ever since Spain’s return to democracy in the 1970s, Madrid has struggled to balance the country’s patchwork of regional identities, including its decades-long fight to quell separatism in the northern Basque Country led by violent militants ETA.

Few in the medieval villages along the Aran Valley doubt the community would opt to stay with Spain if asked to vote.

“The people here feel very far away from what is going on in Barcelona,” said Carlos Barrera, head of the Aran government, at a rural festival in Salardu village where locals judged stocky Pyrenean horses and handed out racks of blood sausages.-REUTERS

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