Four days that shook Spain
The background: National elections were due to be held throughout Spain on Sunday, March 14. The government of the Popular Party (PP), with Aznar as Prime Minister, is a neo- fascist government. It is not only a repressive government against the workers and the peoples of Spain, it is Bush's direct spokesperson in Europe. Aznar is one of the "faithful allies" in the war against Iraq. During the election campaign the Popular Party uses the "war on terrorism" as its main policy point, accusing all other parties, especially the PSOE [the Socialist Party], of joking about terrorism. On the eve of the bomb attack on March 11, unofficial polls consider the Popular Party to be the front-runner, though without an absolute majority. Does this explain something about Aznar's attitude in the hours following the attacks in Madrid? Day One: On Thursday, March 11 between 7 am and 7.45 am, 10 of 13 bombs explode on trains and stations in a number of working class suburbs of Madrid resulting in 201 deaths and about 1500 injured. Immediately, the Secretary of the Interior of the right-wing government declares that ETA, the military wing of the Basque separatist movement, is responsible. At 10.30 am the spokesman for the Basque organisation Batasuna (a pro-independence party outlawed by Spanish Government) declares that the bombs had not been placed by ETA. At 1 pm Prime Minister Aznar calls all newspaper editors to tell them it is the work of ETA. At 5.25 pm Spain's Minister of Foreign Affairs tables the subject again. The Europa Press Agency reports that the Minister "sent a circular to all of Spain's ambassadors asking them to support the theory of ETA's responsibility". The Minister says that ETA is guilty and she requires all ambassadors to stick to this point of view. "Her Excellency uses every occasion to confirm the responsibility of ETA in these attacks and remove all doubts on the subject." The UN Security Council votes on a resolution presented by Spain, condemning the bomb attack. Second Day Doubts set in: "Was it the work of ETA?" A Madrid correspondent writes: "The [trade] unions are calling for 15-minute strike at noon on Friday. Gatherings are to be held in front of factories and business federations to insist that the government discloses all the information." One of the trade union federations issues a declaration condemning terrorism but without reference to ETA. On Friday morning, the Madrid Government convenes a meeting of all parties and organisations. It wants to dictate to all that the banners for the demonstrations that evening should read: "Defence of the constitution!" But the trade union federations decide, despite all the threats, to organise a procession with their own banners. In the evening, at 7 pm, over 11 million workers and young people take over all the parks and avenues of Spain's cities. At 7 pm there are more than two million in the streets. Suddenly Jose Aznar arrives accompanied by Prince Felipe of Spain. The masses shout: "Who did it?" The demonstrators refuse to be taken in by those who triggered the war in Iraq. Mixed in with the demonstrators are organised fascist groups. They attempt to attack the procession of trade unions shouting: "Re-establish the death penalty! Death to Carod and Ibarretxe!" [Carod is Secretary of the Republican Left of Catalonia, which calls for political negotiation with ETA. Ibarretxe is the President of the Basque regional government and head of the Basque Nationalist Party.] The demonstrators repel the fascist groups. The doubts increase: If it wasn't ETA, why do Aznar and the government make these accusations? There are more cries: "No to war!" More and more groups shout at Aznar: "Liar! We want to know the truth!" Some demonstrators wonder: "Is this demonstration against the ETA or against the Popular Party?" Barcelona One million three hundred thousand citizens of Barcelona gather in the centre of the Catalan capital. They shout: "No to terrorism, No to war!" "Aznar is responsible!" The banners read: "Madrid, Baghdad victims of the same war!" and "New York, September 11, Madrid March 11, London 11?" The leaders of the Popular Party withdraw from the head of the demonstration under police protection, as the demonstrators boo and oust them from the gathering. The crowd screams accusations: "Assassins! Assassins!" Of all the demonstrations, the one in Barcelona is probably the one that most clearly expresses the rejection of the government, the war and the manipulation of the attack. Seven hundred thousand demonstrators in Valencia cry. "No to violence, no to terrorism, No to war!" There, too, they cry out: "The Popular Party-Aznar are guilty!" and "Aznar lies". Day Three An interview with political expert Francois Heisburg questions: "Has the government tried to deceive, to distort?" The answer: "I don't think the lies were intended to deceive public opinion — but in terms of political management, it is disastrous." However, it is not just a question of "management". It is the politics of "state lies" — the Big Lie. Like Blair and Bush with their famous weapons of mass destruction. Most people now understand that there were no such weapons. In Spain the newspaper El Pams is seriously worried: "The government is on the ETA track — it is to be hoped that there wasn't an attempt to hide or manipulate information." At 11 am on Saturday morning and at a cemetery in Madrid, two activists from the service industry (banks, insurance) who died in the attack are buried. Crowds accompany their coffins. The heads of the UGT trade union federation are there: "We must insist the government discloses all the information it is withholding. It is obvious that they won't say anything until after the elections. They must be accountable. They put us in this war. They made the war that has arrived in Madrid." On Saturday evening at around 8.15 pm there is a sudden turn of events. The Secretary of the Interior appears on television screens to announce five arrests in regard to the investigation into the most horrific terrorist act Spain has ever seen. The declaration is being issued, says one newspaper, in a climate of general doubt and suspicion of the information given out by the Spanish Government a few hours before the elections. In Madrid, hundreds of people gather late on Saturday opposite the headquarters of the Popular Party to demand the whole truth. Even at midnight, several thousands remain. "We want the truth before we vote", demand the demonstrators. In Washington, several hours before Aznar's electoral defeat, Colin Powell congratulates the Spanish PM, the "faithful friend". Why? The International Herald Tribune replies: "To defend the decision to invade Iraq, the first anniversary of which will take place this Saturday". Powell declares: "The Prime Minister of Spain didn't shirk his responsibilities and I hope other leaders will not back out of theirs." Day Four — the day of the elections On election day, Sunday March 14, the Paris Le Journal still believes in Aznar's victory: "The drama of March 11 probably won't deprive the Spanish right of its victory." In Madrid, Aznar votes in a charged atmosphere. The Spanish Prime Minister is booed by demonstrators accusing him of the massacre. As he left the polling station Aznar attempts to make a statement, which was inaudible due to the demonstrators' shouts, "Manipulators!" A journalist comments: "For once, Basques and Spaniards are in agreement." At midday, the rate of voter participation is five percent higher than at the election of 2000. "I've never seen this!" said a young electrician leaving the voting booth in Madrid. "This mobilisation favours the Socialist Party because this attack is the consequence of the Aznar/Bush alliance." At 7 pm, as the polls are getting ready to close, the radio announces a rate of participation in the election eight percent higher than in the 2000 elections. At 8 pm the first election results start coming in. "The Popular Party could carry the election, though without a majority." At 8.10 pm on the same TV networks a bell rings: "Small advance by the Socialist Party." At 11 pm comes the announcement: "The Popular Party is beaten!" Over the next few days: "Sudden turn of events!" — "Shock wave" — these are the headlines that appear in the newspapers. For them the voters are never more than numbers at the polls. The immense crowds that gathered in their millions on Thursday and Friday on the streets of Madrid, Barcelona, Pamplona and Bilbao have seized the Socialist Party vote to put down not only lies, but the war, the politics of privatisation, the destruction of jobs and the social regression implemented over eight years by Aznar under the baton of the European Union. The Guardian (London) editorial sees it as "more than a Spanish event." The International Herald Tribune: "Many voters expressed their anger at a government accused of support for the war in Iraq." "The Bush Government is going to fight against the perception, true or false, that attacks on US allies can make countries wonder if it is wise to maintain such close ties with Mr. Bush," notes The New York Times of March 15. The Washington Post states: "By voting against the party of Prime Minister Josi Marma Aznar, Spaniards apparently judged that the unconditional support of the Iraq war driven by the Americans caused the 200 deaths in Madrid on Thursday. The defeat of the Popular Party deprives the Bush administration of one of its strongest allies in Europe." On Monday, the future head of the Spanish Government, Josi Zapatero, declares: "The Spanish people voted for a government of change". He announces the recall of the 1300 Spanish soldiers stationed in Iraq: "The war in Iraq was a disaster. The occupation is a disaster."