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April 2004 Issue -

Here is a special editorial by James Skinner who lives and works in Vigo, Spain

‘In November 2002, a rusty old oil tanker called the ‘Prestige’ sprang a leak off the coast of Galicia, Spain and after being towed around the sea for days, northwards and southwards broke in two and sank. It was carrying 70,000 tons of crude oil. Whilst this was going on, the President of the Regional government, Manuel Fraga and one of the government ministers, Alvarez Cascos were out shooting wild boar in Castille. The vice President of the ruling People’s Party, Mariano Rajoy was assuring the Spanish public on television that there was no reason for alarm. Meanwhile tons and tons of the fuel kept leaking from the sunken vessel eventually making its way to the Galician coastline and caused the worst ecological disaster in this country’s history. The opposition party’s leader, socialist Jose Maria Rodriguez Zapatero didn’t hesitate to hit the streets leading demonstrations together with the trade unions accusing the government of incompetence and other misdemeanours. This was the beginning of the government’s downfall.

Image: Prestige Oil Spill on ocean floor

As George Bush and Tony Blair prepared their sophisticated armies to invade and overthrow Sadam Hussein in Iraq based on the excuse of destroying the Middle East’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, the Spanish prime minister decided to jump on the band wagon and support the so called war on terror. After all, Spain had long been suffering from the bombings and murders of Basque terrorists also known as ETA and neither France, their neighbour nor the rest of the European Union seemed interested in offering a helping hand to stop the slaughter. Once again, his opposite number in the Socialist party was out in the street shouting slogans of ‘Stop the war. Peace on earth’, or words to that effect. The vast majority of Spaniards were in agreement. Ever since the Cuban war of the 1890’s whereby Uncle Sam kicked out Imperialist Spain, this country’s citizens have hated the USA.

When no WMD were found in Iraq coupled with Osama bin Laden’s threat of revenge on the aggressors categorically pointing out the USA, Britain and Spain, the political storm gathered momentum. Both these events caused a great deal of public resentment. The People’s Party was now at a disadvantage. The country would be going to the polls in a General Election within a year and the opposition was in a clear position to start a campaign of so-called ‘radical change based on peace’. The stage was set for a long battle. In the meantime, municipal elections throughout the country took place and the results were no surprise. A marked rise in left wing support hit town council level. The crunch came when Catalonia held its own regional elections. The right wing nationalist party CIU, who had governed the region since the fall of General Franco was suddenly out of a job. However, the Socialists won with a minority and had to join forces with the extreme left ERC. This latter lot have always been after independence similar to the Basque region run by Eberretxe of the PNV. Both present a headache to whoever governs eventually in Madrid as their political ambitions could threaten the foundations of Spain’s fragile democracy, which is based on a Constitutional Monarchy.

Putting to one side the horrors of sunken ships and bombs, Aznar’s Peoples Party has done a great deal of good for Spain. He has reduced unemployment dramatically creating thousands of new jobs, cleared up the horrendous debt of the Spanish Social Security system, increasing medical care and old age pensions, and stood up to the European Union superstars on their blind march towards a European Constitution. President Jose María Aznar started off eight years ago as a nobody with a large moustache and ended up being one of the most revered international political figures of our times. In eight years he has taken Spain into the twenty-first century and placed the country in the top ranking as one of the economical success stories of the developed world. Yet Spaniards are temperamental people and don’t’ like being pushed around. His style of government bordered on methods of the recent past. He came across as a bully and continually lambasted at the opposition with astute political rhetoric. In the last few months, as the build up to the elections took place, his opposite number began to hit even harder at the two main issues of discontent, the ‘Prestige’ disaster and the Iraq war. All the other, mainly left wing, minor political parties who make up the election package followed suit. Whilst the government continued on its firm course of current policies, the opposition insulted, manifested and promised and promised and promised – change.

This impasse of ‘sticking to the guns’ by the government versus ‘changing everything’ by the Socialists became a monotonous one-liner on everyone’s breakfast table, until one day an incredible bloomer was made by the newly elected vice President of Catalunia, Sr. Rovira of the ERC. He tried to strike a deal with the Basque terrorist group whereby he would support Basque independence in exchange for ETA laying off Catalonia with their bombs. The shit hit the fan. The opposition didn’t know where to put itself and Jose María Aznar’s government was once again back on track and up in the polls. Mariano Rajoy had been elected by the party as the running candidate. So far so good until three days before the elections, on 11th of March three commuter trains coming into Madrid were blown up by still ‘unknown’ terrorists (although ETA were initially blamed by the Government causing resentment in the Basque region) killing over 200 people and wounding over 1400. The election campaign was in tatters and the country thrown into turmoil and convulsion. It was anybody’s guess what would happen next.

On Sunday, 14th of March elections were held as planned. The Socialist Party headed by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero finally obtained the majority of votes although he will have to pact with certain minor left-wing parties and settle for a coalition government.

As I write these finishing lines I can’t help feeling numb and speechless. Whoever caused the massacre in Madrid with the inevitable confusion towards the end of an election campaign were thoroughbreds in the art of terror. Regardless of the tremendous grief and pain suffered by the whole country and the civilised world for that matter, the fact remains that a government has been voted into power through fear and hatred rather than common sense. Nobody won. The political and economic future of Spain is now at stake, but then so is the rest of the world!

Ever since the attack on the World Trade centre in New York in September of 2001, the world is no longer a safe place to live. Certain countries, rightly or wrongly declared a ‘war on terror’ and part of the plan was to destroy Iraq’s supposed arsenal of WMD and depose a tyrannical despot with a democratically elected government. The whole affair today is one bloody great mess. In the meantime and for over two years the stock markets have behaved irrationally causing the world economy to look like a floating balloon going nowhere. Oil is still in the hands of irresponsible nations whilst pacifism in Europe continues to give a blind eye to everything, the youth are too busy having a good time whilst it lasts. Nevertheless travel is beginning to suffer, tourism is going up the spout, jobs are being thrown out of the window and, wait, what about the developing world? Well, let’s quote from that old film classic ‘Casablanca’, ‘they wait and wait and wait’.
© James Skinner. March 14th 2004

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