One of the Bush administration’s closest allies in Europe, Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, suffered a major defeat this weekend when his party was defeated at the polls by the Socialist Party. The vote came three days after 200 people died in bombing attacks in Madrid. [includes transcript]
Aznar had been one of the most vocal backers of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will soon become the country’s new prime minister and he has already announced plans to withdraw Spain’s 1,300 troops in Iraq.
Zapatero said after the vote: "The war in Iraq was a disaster, the occupation of Iraq is a disaster."
Many voters said they believe Aznar’s support for the invasion of Iraq led to Thursday’s bombings in Madrid which killed 200 people and wounded 1,500.
While Aznar’s government attempted to place the blame of the attacks on the Basque separatist group Eta, evidence has emerged linking Al Qaida to the attack.
Spanish police have detained three Moroccans and two men from India in connection to the attack. The Associated Press is reporting that one of the Moroccans was a follower of an Al Qaida member who was jailed in Spain for allegedly helping plan the Sept. 11 attacks.
- Ignacio Carrion, senior writer with the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re now joined on the phone by Ignacio Carrion, a Spanish writer for El Paiz. Welcome to Democracy Now!
IGNACIO CARRION: Hello.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you tell us, what has been the reaction now that the news is in that the government has been voted out of office?
IGNACIO CARRION: I think it was an enormous surprise, this result, the victory of the Socialist Party. But I think that the situation was so crazy. Mr. Aznar was trying to manipulate and his government was manipulating after this terrible terrorism attacking in Madrid because of 200 dead people and hundreds of injured people. And that was so ridiculous to try to blame someone who was denied to have been part of this attack. And trying to distract the attention to the main problem that 80% of the Spanish population must demonstrate against the war, the American war in Iraq, and the implication of Mr. Aznar into that particular illegal, unacceptable war against the indications of the United Nations and I think that what happened in 48 hours in Spain is that the people are not as stupid as Mr. Aznar thought it is. And it’s not stupid, it is clever enough just to send Mr. Aznar to the place he has to be now. He can go and stay with Mr. Bush, for example, in his ranch in Texas. But we wouldn’t like to have him anymore here in front of the government.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Ignacio Carrion, up until a week ago, all the polls were suggesting that Aznar was going to be victorious.
IGNACIO CARRION: Yes, obviously. And after the attack, probably even more. But I would say that always fear, fear benefits the Right, the Right Wing. But democracy has been very seriously damaged by Mr. Aznar and people had immediately switched this attack with the implication of our country into that illegal war. He is drawing more people in the wrong way. I mean, you have to do something. I think that the Socialist Party, the population in general, reacted very well to the kind of things. The only thing we can do in a democracy is go and vote and the arrogance and manipulation of Mr. Aznar was to think that the Spanish people would say, well, you follow the same way. You go, you know, try to aid once more Mr. Bush. No. To tell you in two words, I think this has been Mr. Bush defeat.
JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the things that struck me was the enormous crowds that came out to demonstrate immediately after the terrorist attacks. Quite unlike what happened in the United States. While the September 11 attacks here traumatized the American public, the public didn’t feel the need to come out into the streets in massive demonstrations the way they did in Spain. Could you talk a little bit about why that is or is that a tradition in terms of Spain, the people are much more likely to come out in mass street demonstrations?
IGNACIO CARRION: Well, I suppose the people in these countries, in particularly in a Mediterranean country, is a little bit more prone to go to the streets for anything than, for instance, probably, New York. I think we are used to these terrorist attacks by Eta and this has always been the frustration and immediately, there were thousands of people in Madrid ready to give blood and giving blood to the injured people. So, I think this is just — you have to look at the problem from this kind of culture and society, the street is a place where you can voice your feelings of the political parties. On the other hand, I think, immediately, people react and say, what can we do now? And it’s a normal reaction to go to the streets and to demonstrate and this is why it was so irresponsible for the government to try to distract the attention and mislead the people in the emphasizing that it was Eta and they knew it wasn’t Eta. If we’ve had, as you know, the terrible terrorist group in Spain for more than 30 years, now we might have more groups, unfortunately, because of that wrong decision of Mr. Aznar in supporting Mr. Bush’s awful war.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And finally, do you think there are any lessons here for Prime Minister Tony Blair in England since England and Spain were the two main countries that rallied together with the United States over the war in Iraq?
IGNACIO CARRION: Yes, well, probably Mr. Aznar thought that he was a good alliance and sort of ignoring the rest of Europe. And one of the main and first things that Mr. Zapatera, the new leader, the new President we are going to have, I hope, in a few weeks, then he sympathizing with the necessity of going back to Europe and reinforce the unity of Europe. You can’t play these sorts of tricky things. You can’t act as a leader, saying I don’t accept what the United Nations say. I will accept what Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are trying to give us as a important and urgent problem to be solved.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I have to cut you off there because we’re out of time now, Ignacio Carrion, Senior Correspondent for El Pais. Thank you very much for joining us from Spain.