Profile: Spain’s Catalonia Region

Catalonia is one of 17 autonomous areas of Spain, but as home to the country’s second-largest city and 20 percent of its economic output, the region holds special prominence as its leaders seek independence.

History of separatism

— The history of separatism movements in Catalonia stretches back several centuries, including a decision in 1640 to align itself with neighboring France.

— More recently, in moves rejected by the Spanish government, voters in Catalonia approved independence referendums in 2014 and earlier this month, while in 2015 lawmakers approved a roadmap for secession.

— The independence movement gained momentum in the past decade as Spain went through an economic crisis, but polls in the region show support for self-rule declining as the economy rebounds. A vast majority of those who voted in the latest referendum chose for independence, though well under half of eligible voters cast a ballot and polls suggest more Catalans favor remaining in Spain.

Tourism key to region’s economy

— With its Mediterranean coast and the historic city of Barcelona, tourism is a key part of the region’s economy.

— An estimated 18 million foreign tourists visited there last year.

— One in every seven people in Spain live in Catalonia, which has been operating as an autonomous region in its current form since 1979.That structure includes its own president and parliament.

Rich cultural history

— The latest version of its official Statement of Autonomy, issued in 2006, highlights Catalonia as a community “based on respect for individual dignity.”

— “The civil and associative tradition of Catalonia has always underlined the importance of Catalan language and culture, of rights and duties, of knowledge, of education, of social cohesion, of sustainable development and equality of rights, and today, especially, of equality between men and women,” the preamble reads.

Economic powerhouse

— The region is one of the richest in Spain and accounted for about one-fourth of the country’s exports last year.

— There is a large agricultural sector, as well as an automotive industry that includes factories that make cars for Nissan and a division of Volkswagen.

— Catalonia is also home to a large portion of Spain’s pharmaceutical industry, housing major drug makers, biotech firms, medical device manufacturers and research institutions.

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