Thursday, March 31, 2011


February 23 1981 marked a significant day in Spanish history. It was the day the fledgling democracy of Spain was almost brought to its knees by the attempted coup in which the Guardia Civil Lieutenant Coronel Antonio Tejero marched in to the Spanish parliament, confronted the MPs and fired shots in the chamber.

In the event apart from holding the MPs in Madrid at gunpoint with support from an uprising in Valencia the coup fell flat on its face with a significant role in its downfall being played by King Juan Carlos I. However it is clear from statements made on the 30 th anniversary that those on the left and the unions feared for their very lives.

One of those, Antonio Herrera, now in charge of the health section of the CC.OO union told how shortly after Tejero had stormed Congress and the coup was underway he left one of Málaga’s hospitals. He saw youths wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the Spanish flag. He went with union colleagues to the Nadiuska restaurant in Gibralfaro and then to the Cádiz road. It was there that the Communist MP, Paco Vázquez, offered to take him to Gibraltar. He declined and says that later friends in the police told him at the time they knew exactly where to find each and every one of them.

Whilst the coup would have been largely a blow against those on the left the current level of political corruption in Spain strikes at democracy itself. This May there are the elections for the country’s town halls and next March it is the Spanish general election as well as those for many of the regional governments. So the question is begged: what is the biggest threat to democracy – the coup of thirty years ago or the present high level of political corruption.

The esteemed Spanish journalist, Francisco Rubiales, who was an Efe correspondent in Cuba, Central America and Italy, pointed me in the direction of the fascinating website ‘Corruptódromo’. It is published by the “No les votes” action group and details many of the major political corruption cases that are assaulting Spain. I say many because the list is not updated daily so for example, the false ERE lay off claims and the misappropriation of European funds to combat the unemployment in Andalucía involving at least 1,600 companies have not been fully included.

To quote Francisco’s words: “After a visit to the Corruptódromo, a decent citizen experiences disgust, indignation, and the firm intention of not voting for the parties that are tainted with this horrendous scourge.” Francisco has his own website “Voto en Blanco” and argues the Corruptódromo is the best possible motivation for making a “blank vote” or abstaining.

Francisco goes on to say a glance at the Corruptódromo shows that Spain is infected by the worst political, social, cultural and human cancer – deep and rampant corruption which closes off the country’s road to the future and snatches away the dignity of the Spanish people.

Indeed there is a serious quandary facing the Spanish – a quandary that actually threatens democracy in Spain. For it is not just one party or a group of people that are mired in corruption it engulfs the ruling socialist PSOE, the main centre-right Partido Popular opposition, various regional parties –indeed the only party that largely escapes is the far-left Izquierda Unida.

The Corruptódromo lists 154 major corruption cases but of course there are far more. For instance just one of those cases involves 1,700 PSOE town halls alone that are under investigation for town planning offences; the Gürtel case involves numerous PP mayors and ex-mayors in Madrid plus construction and other companies in a massive fraud; Francisco Camps has been convicted of bribery yet is the PP’s candidate for president in the Valencia regional elections next year; the Unió Mallorquina now the Convergencia per Illes Balears is accused of misappropriating public funds on a massive scale; the CIU in Cataluña of diverting 35.1 million euros destined for the Palau de la Música, and the Coalición Canaria in various frauds which could total 100,000,000 euros. These are just a few examples I have picked from the tip of a very smelly dung heap.

The problem for voters is that many of the politicians involved in these corruption cases like Camps will again be seeking re-election at the coming polls. Even in those cases where they have been removed from office many are still the power behind the throne or the same corrupt party structure remains in place. Not only are the political parties mired in corruption they show a total contempt for the people who vote them in to power and who they are supposed to represent.

I asked Francisco how he saw the situation now compared with 1981. He told me: “Spanish democracy cannot be in danger because it doesn’t exist. The corruption is the great problem of Spain, but not only the corruption of the persons, that allows them to abuse power, to rob and to enrich themselves illegally, but the corruption of the system, that is more serious. I do not see the risk of some State coup similar to 1981. The major risk is that the country goes on sleeping, and that the politicians, that are the great problem of Spain, they carry on degrading it. There is a principal that says the worst of society comes to power every two or three centuries. Some countries manage to avoid it because there are filters and cautions. Spain has failed and we have the worst in power.”

As Izquierda Unida – a far left coalition including the Partido Comunista - is relatively untouched by the corruption scandal I also asked Gaspar Llamazares, its spokesperson in Spain’s lower house of parliament Congress, how he saw 1981 and today. He told me: “At the time it was the military threat. Today the threat to democracy comes from the markets - and corruption is one of its effects.”

I agree – Spain has moved on; the army or Guardia Civil will not rise again and even if they did who would they propel to power as the centre right is as corrupt as the centre left? Spaniards feel betrayed as it is they who battle the economic crisis, face massive unemployment, the slashing of their pensions whilst the political cast are protected as they have their collective hands in the corruption barrel.

The day of reckoning will surely come for Spain when protests and marching are not enough – but what then?

(The above article appeared in Panorama on March 21 and 22 and a version in The Morning Star on March 31 2011)

Corruptódromo website:

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