[Marxism] Spain: AlQaeda AAttacks Awaken Old Feuds (Wall Street Journal)
walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Mar 26 15:07:21 MST 2004
The Spanish electorate's decision to give Aznar the boot
represents, as this Wall Street Journal story explains,
a continuation of the Spanish civil war in modern terms,
certainly on the cultural-political level. Each year in
Los Angeles we have a festival of Spanish cinema and it
is very clear that the legacy of the Civil War remains
not too far beneath the surface in Spanish life. This
helps likewise to explain Aznar's defeat.
It also helps explain the bitterness reflected in the
director Pedro Almodovar's accusation that Aznar might
have been trying to engineer a coup. It's true Almodovar
apologized after Aznar's party threatened to sue, but his
feelings obviously reflected what a large majority of the
Spanish people must feel. An additional reason Spain's
people voted Aznar out was to get Spanish troops out of
Iraq. The overwhelming majority of Spain's people were
against their country's participation with Washington in
the Iraq war. Spain's people voted Aznar out in part to
accomplish what their anti-war demonstrations had not.
Zapatero campaigned along these lines, formulating his
goal in terms of withdrawal if the UN doesn't take the
management of Iraq over. That's not at all the immediate
and unconditional withdrawal which would really solve
Spain's Iraq problem. It's a great deal of wiggle room,
to put it mildly. The Cuban approach, as is quite clear,
takes as its standpoint the wishes, hopes, dreams or the
illusions [take your pick which] of the Spanish public,
and then invites Zapatero to not only keep his promises,
but to do what the Spanish majority really wanted of him.
Let's look once again at Fidel Castro's opening lines:
Distinguished Mr. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero:
"The Spanish people, decidedly opposed to the cruel and
unjust war of conquest in Iraq, likewise opposed by
yourself, and outraged by the crude electoral
manipulation of the unjustifiable terrorist aggression
suffered on March 11, has decided to entrust you with
the leadership of the Spanish government. On the occasion
of this important event, which will have repercussions in
the international sphere, we express to you our recognition."
Just as Washington decided to overthrow the democratically-
elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, by encouraging
a gang of thugs to move against him, so in Spain, a band of
rightist thugs organized the overthrow of Spain's similarly
democratically-elected Republican government not really so
long ago. Henry Ford famously said "history is bunk", but,
in fact, history continues to be with us. The Spanish have
the idea that they could use their democratic franchise to
achieve what their mass demonstrations wouldn't. The first
step they took, electing the Socialist Workers Party of
Spain to the presidency, was a step in the right direction.
Naturally, there will be those types who will militantly
try to discourage Spaniards from keeping up the struggle.
They'll say "beware"! Zapatero's a no-good reformistical
social democratic faker just fronting for imperialism!
But then, there are always people who say that nothing
can be done, isn't that true?
The question now is how to turn this step into withdrawal
of the Spanish contingent from Iraq. People often sneer at
illusions, as if illusions cannot be the fulcrum for mass
education, organization and mobilization. The Spanish had
the idea that they could change government policy through
a change in government. That is something to build on in
my opinion. Spaniards will have to figure out the details.
How this will play out between now and Zapatero's arrival
in office, and the June 30th date which he spoke of, will
remain to be seen. Zapatero didn't need a weatherman to
know which way the wind blew. Now activists in Spain will
have to find a way to keep the momentum which elected him
going if Spanish troop withdrawal is to be accomplished.
The points raised in Fidel Castro's letter to Zapatero in
congratulation are ones which likely would evoke a very
favorable response if they could get a wide circulation.
March 26, 2004
Al Qaeda Attacks
Awaken Old Feuds
In Anger, Voters Linked
With Franco's Regime
A Fight Among Cousins
By CARLTA VITZTHUM and JOHN CARREYROU
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
March 26, 2004; Page A1
MADRID -- At 8:00 a.m. on March 11, nurse Rocio Belinchon
was coming off the night shift at Virgen de la Torre
Hospital when she encountered a man covered in blood being
helped up the entrance stairs. A young woman in tattered
clothes limped behind, staring blankly ahead.
As sirens wailed and smoke rose across the street,
Ms. Belinchon went back to work. For hours she and her
colleagues treated more than 40 people wounded by bombings
at a train station three blocks away, part of a terrorist
attack that claimed 190 lives and is being called Europe's
The camaraderie that bound the hospital staff after the
carnage quickly gave way to feuding, as deeply ingrained
political tensions colored by Spain's troubled history came
back to the fore.
Doctors and co-workers blasted conservative Prime Minister
José María Aznar, who supported the war in Iraq, for
exposing Spain to Islamist terrorism. Gabriela, a friend
and fellow nurse, defended Mr. Aznar, saying it was Spain's
duty to join the U.S. in the global fight against terror.
In a rally Saturday to protest Spain's presence in Iraq,
one banner read: "For all the victims, out with the
Ms. Belinchon disagreed. "We should never have gone to
Iraq," she now says. "It brought the war to Spain."
The argument at the hospital mirrors a debate that has
polarized Spain over the past two weeks. After a brief
moment of national solidarity, the March 11 attacks
reignited a wave of antiwar sentiment that gripped Spain
last year and brought about the surprising fall of Mr.
Aznar's government. More troubling, the bombings reopened
older divisions in Spanish society that had lain dormant
since the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco ended more
than a quarter-century ago.
Spain's troubles suggest the war on Islamist terrorism
could divide Western societies much as the Cold War once
did. Elections in the U.S., Poland and Italy over the next
two years will put to their own test the "coalition of the
willing" and its aggressive stance against terror: waging
pre-emptive war on rogue states that harbor terrorists or
might become fertile grounds for them.
The divide in Spain pits the nation's right, a democratic
descendant of the Franco movement that ruled for nearly 40
years, against its left, which sees itself as heir to the
Spanish Republic that Franco overthrew. Their modern
incarnations disagree most sharply on foreign policy. The
right, repudiating Franco's isolationism, wants Spain to
play a big role on the world stage and take the country's
fight against home-grown terrorism beyond its borders. The
left wants to be part of a larger Europe instead of an
individual player in world affairs.
These visions have been clashing since the bombings. The
Socialist Party accused Mr. Aznar's government of covering
up evidence that pointed early on to Islamist terrorists to
prevent voter backlash against Spain's participation in
Iraq. Those charges helped the Socialists, who had vowed to
withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, win the election. Mr.
Aznar's government denied any cover-up and said that
Socialists cynically played on Spaniards' emotions to win
The quarrel is shaping up to be the biggest test of Spain's
27-year-old democracy. Two decades of political calm have
blessed Spain, long an economic laggard, as the country
buried its old feuds and blossomed into one of the most
prosperous nations in Europe.
One of the rekindled feuds is with the U.S. Many Spaniards
blame the March 11 attack on Spain's alliance with the U.S.
in Iraq. That, in turn, has awoken anti-American feelings
latent since the 1898 Spanish-American War, in which the
U.S. helped the last remnants of Spain's empire -- Cuba,
Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam -- gain their
Spain plunged into decline and chaos. In 1931, the nation
voted in a left-wing government that instituted a host of
social reforms. Spain's vested interests, such as
landowners, the army and religious leaders, were alarmed by
what they saw as an attack on the nation's traditional
values, and feared a revolution similar to Russia's. In
1936, Gen. Franco led the army in a rebellion that
escalated into civil war. After three years of bloodshed
that claimed between 300,000 and one million lives and saw
Russia enter the fray to back the government, Franco seized
power. He held it until he died in 1975.
Like millions of Spaniards, Rocio Belinchon says her
political beliefs were shaped by her family's experience of
the Civil War. Her 71-year-old father's earliest memory is
of two of Franco's Civil Guards bursting into the family
home one night in 1937. They shot one of his seven brothers
dead on the spot. Another was taken away and jailed for 40
years. A third slipped across the border and disappeared
into France. Their crime: remaining faithful to the
When she arrived home on March 11 after the exhausting
double shift, Ms. Belinchon says, her father blamed Mr.
Aznar's Popular Party. "I knew this would happen," he told
her. "I knew this right wing would get us into trouble."
"My father would never vote anything but Socialist. Neither
would I," says the nurse. "It has to do with family and the
way I was brought up."
The Belinchons' experiences echo those of José Luis
Rodriguez Zapatero, the incoming Socialist prime minister.
In August 1936, his Republican grandfather was killed by a
Franco firing squad. On the eve of his death, the prisoner
wrote down his last thoughts for his family: "I die
innocent and I forgive."
But many Spaniards have never forgiven the U.S. for backing
the Franco regime. Viewing Franco as a bulwark against
communism, the U.S. lent the dictatorship international
legitimacy. Today that policy leaves many Spaniards
skeptical of the U.S.'s stated goal of bringing democracy
to the Middle East.
When he cast his lot with George W. Bush in the Iraq war,
Mr. Aznar knew he ran a risk by bucking Spanish popular
sentiment. His decision, too, had roots in personal
experience. Mr. Aznar's father, Manuel, fought for the
Francoists in the war and later headed state-owned radio.
Mr. Aznar himself embraced Spain's new democracy and led a
successful drive to cleanse and modernize the right.
In 1995, as Spain's opposition leader, he narrowly escaped
death in a car-bombing attack by Basque separatists. He
staked his career on wiping out ETA, a home-grown terrorist
group that has killed some 850 people in a 36-year
campaign. The organization, whose name, Euzkadi Ta
Askatasuna, means "Basque Homeland and Freedom" in the
Basque language, was founded partly in response to Franco's
After the al Qaeda attacks on America, Mr. Aznar saw a
chance to hitch his fight against Basque terrorism to an
international movement. "For us, terrorism is terrorism. We
don't make the difference between one or another," says his
foreign minister, Ana Palacio.
Joining the coalition also gave Mr. Aznar a chance to
validate one of his long-held positions: that Spain could
be an equal partner on the world stage with the likes of
the U.S. and Britain. The Spanish left argues that the
nation's best bet is within a united Europe led by France
Mr. Aznar's decision to back the Iraq war provoked street
protests that rallied millions. Polls showed that up to 90%
opposed involvement in the conflict. Youths pelted the
conservative-party headquarters with rotten eggs and
manure. Yet, with their economy growing fast and ETA
weakened by a police crackdown, Spaniards felt prosperous
and safe, and feelings about Iraq soon receded. The prime
minister was planning to retire, and his party led narrowly
in opinion polls for the March 14 elections.
That calm ended on March 11, when 10 backpack bombs blew up
four commuter trains in Madrid. Spaniards initially rallied
together, administering first aid, donating blood and
helping families find relatives amid the rubble. But the
solidarity quickly vanished. With the general election just
days away, the Spanish press and leading political figures
launched a crossfire of accusations.
The nature of the bombings was so confusing -- with signs
of both ETA and Islamist activity -- that two days after
the attack, international experts and domestic
investigators said it was too early to say who did it. But
during most of that Thursday and Friday, Mr. Aznar's
government pushed the ETA thesis hard.
Within hours of the blasts, Arnaldo Otegi, the leader of
ETA's outlawed political wing, said ETA was innocent and
blamed an "Arab resistance group," raising the first doubts
among the press and the public. Spanish Interior Minister
Angel Acebes angrily refuted Mr. Otegi, calling him "vile."
Mr. Aznar personally called the editors of Spain's top
dailies, telling them the government had strong reason to
believe ETA was behind the attack. His press officer phoned
foreign journalists to relay the same message.
Even as Mr. Acebes continued to insist on ETA's guilt,
contrary evidence mounted. Police translated an audio tape
containing Quranic verses found earlier that morning along
with detonators in an abandoned van. By Thursday evening,
television announcers began to suggest Islamists might be
behind the attacks.
On Friday night, 11 million Spaniards marched through
Spain's main cities to protest the attack. Some took aim at
the government, waving placards that read "Aznar, Asesino"
("Aznar, Killer"). Economy Minister Rodrigo Rato and
another prominent member of Mr. Aznar's party had to be
escorted by police away from the march as protestors hurled
On the night of Saturday, March 13, Alfredo Pérez
Rubalcaba, the Socialist spokesman in Parliament, appeared
in a televised press conference and said, "Spaniards
deserve a government that doesn't lie." Under Spanish law,
no rallies or demonstrations are permitted on the eve of an
election, yet thousands of Spaniards took to the streets in
antigovernment protests, banging pots.
By then, a loud press chorus was accusing the government of
manipulation. Many Spaniards now suspected the Aznar
government of lying about who was behind Spain's worst-ever
terrorist attack. For some, the alleged cover-up evoked
memories of the censorship practiced by the Franco regime.
On Sunday, when Mr. Aznar went to vote, he was greeted by
chants of "Asesino! Asesino!" ("Murderer! Murderer!") His
wife, Ana Botella, burst into tears as she cast her vote.
By 9:30 that evening, members of the Popular Party gathered
at party headquarters knew they had lost the elections.
'On a Warpath'
But the war between left and right remained in full swing.
Commentators, politicians and ordinary Spaniards exchanged
insults. Cristina Alberdi, a former Socialist minister who
left the party last year, went on one radio show the day
after the vote to accuse the left of stealing the election.
"We have just gone through three days of an incredible
manipulation of information that put young people on a
warpath," she said.
Then, Spain's best-known movie director, Pedro Almodovar,
used a press conference for his latest film to make a
damning allegation: The Popular Party, he charged, had
nearly asked King Juan Carlos, the constitutional monarch
who had led Spain to democracy, to delay the elections.
That, Mr. Almodovar said, would have been tantamount to a
"coup d'état." After the government threatened to sue Mr.
Almodovar for slander, the director apologized, admitting
he was only "echoing a sea of rumors." The next day, some
4,000 government sympathizers gathered in front of Popular
Party headquarters and chanted obscenities about Mr.
In a counterattack last week, Mr. Aznar released classified
intelligence documents that he hoped would dispel doubts
about his handling of the aftermath of the bombings. In a
2,100-word essay published in this newspaper1 Wednesday, he
denied lying and accused his opponents of having "invented
a parallel reality."
Though a solid minority of Spaniards has backed Mr. Aznar,
a poll published this week showed that 65% of Spaniards
believe his government covered up information about the
terrorist attack. At a state funeral held Wednesday for
victims of the bombings, a man in the crowd screamed in
front of dozens of foreign dignitaries: "Señor Aznar, I
hold you responsible for the death of my daughter."
Ms. Belinchon, the nurse, says Mr. Aznar never should have
supported the war. "That isn't democratic," she says. "If
he hadn't been so arrogant, [his party] still might have
won the elections."
The attacks also have opened up old wounds in her family.
At the end of the civil war, Franco's troops seized the
Belinchon's lands and the family went hungry. In 1940, the
Civil Guard caught her father, age 7, robbing a head of
lettuce from a neighbor's garden to feed his family. The
officers hauled the boy into the police station and beat
him unconscious, he says.
The Belinchons have cousins in the northern town of Logroño
who wound up on the other side of the Spanish divide. She
says the cousins are conservatives, like many rural
landowners. The day after the vote she drove up to Logroño
to see them.
"We fought so much over the elections that we finally
decided not to talk politics," she says. Shrugging her
shoulders, she says she feels disillusioned by the venom
washing over Spain. "It seems like everybody everywhere
Write to Carlta Vitzthum at carlta.vitzthum at wsj.com2 and
John Carreyrou at john.carreyrou at wsj.com3
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