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22.03.2004

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Spain: how not to win friends or elections

As Spain recovers from its second human catastrophe, the Madrid bombings of 11-M, in almost as many years, perhaps it is time to wonder at the behaviour of some Spanish politicians.

In November 2002, a fully laden oil tanker was damaged off Cap Finister near the Spanish province of Galicia. The Spanish local and central goverment officials and politicians ordered the broken ship out into the teeth of an almost hurricane-strength storm so as to minimise coastal pollution.

As a result, the ship broke into and sank spilling a good proportion of its poisonous cargoof residual fuel oil, to wash up on Spanish, French and other coasts, as well as contaminating the sea bed.

  • Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy first asserted that the oil would solidify at 3,500 metres, and later insisted that only “little streams” of oil were leaking out (engineers now estimate that the ship poured out more than half of its toxic cargo the day it sank)
  • Ana Palacio, Spanish External Affairs minister and EU Transport Commissioner, set the EU in irrelevant (though otherwise laudable) directions of controlling or banning single-hulled tankers and so-called dustbin ships;
  • Help, in the form of clean-up teams (including troops) and equipment was not provided by government until well after the Galician coast was submerged in a thick coating of residual fuel oil,
  • Aznar waited a month before coming to Galicia and admitting (merely) to organisational errors.

With the Madrid bombings,

  • Aznar personally telephoned heads of newspapers, radio and tv stations, ordering them to only publish ETA as culprit (despite even that some journalists already had evidence that clearly implicated an Islamic involvement)
  • On the ‘day of reflection’ before the Spanish general election, when politicians make no public statement in order to allow voters to choose uninfluenced, Mariano Rajoy pronounced that ETA was the culprit
  • Ana Palicio ordered all Spanish ambassadors to talk only of ETA as the culprit.

In due course, even the Spanish intelligence service protested at the clampdown of information about the possible bombers, after all it both reflected on their reputation and inhibited effective investigations.

Did the Spanish government media clampdown, attention diverting and minnimising of all possibilities except one - ETA - contribute to the defeat of Aznar and the Popular Party? It seems probable.


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