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March 11-14 2004: Lessons from Spain

by Migeru Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 04:45:46 AM EST

This was originally written on March 17, 2004, six days after the Madrid train bombings and three days after Zapatero's election victory. I was a graduate student in Mathematics in California at the time, and I posted this on my personal webpage on the department's website. Months later I was contacted by an old friend from Norway I hadn't heard from for a couple of years, who said he'd seen the article referenced on some internet forum by someone who needed to shut up an apologist for the neo-cons. I submitted it as an op-ed to the LA Times and at least one more major publication, though it was rejected. I thought I had lost it, but I found several copies in my old math department e-mail folders. Here it is, exactly as it was written in an inspired bout of anger and with all the facts fresh in my mind.

Let this serve as a third anniversary commemoration of the victims, and a reminder of why many in Spain will feel let down by Zapatero if, through rookie mistakes, his government falls before the Aznarites lose their grip on Spain's right-wing.

From the diaries - afew


March 11-14: lessons from Spain.

By [Migeru]. Copyright 2004

The cat is out of the bag: the mainstream American press is beginning to report how the Spanish government of Prime Minister Aznar manipulated information for political gain in the aftermath of the March 11 attacks on Madrid's commuter train system. Nevertheless, pundits in American media seem intent on not letting the American people draw the right conclusions about what happened in Spain.

To summarize the facts of the case, by 11 am on Thursday, March 11, a van had been found parked outside the train station at Alcalá de Henares containing detonators and an audio tape of Koranic verses. As they continued to blame the Basque separatist organization ETA, The Spanish government instructed the police not to inform the public of these findings. The government sat on this information for up to nine hours, and Interior Minister Ángel Acebes was presumably forced to disclose them only because the King of Spain was about to address the nation without alluding to ETA, an omission that was sure to raise   suspicions among the Spanish people. Around 5 pm, Foreign Minister Ana Palacio instructed all Spanish ambassadors to "take advantage of any opportunity" to inform foreign governments "and the press if necessary" that ETA was to blame, "so as to dispel any doubts cast by interested parties". This was at 11 am in New York, and these instructions were instrumental in the success of Spain's UN ambassador Inocencio Arias in obtaining a Security Council resolution blaming ETA in the strongest terms over the objections of the German and Russian ambassadors that it is impossible to know with certainty who is to blame for a terrorist attack less than 12 hours after the fact. After it became known that a group associated to Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility in an e-mail to a London newspaper, the Spanish government said that they "len[t] no credence" to the statement.

On Friday, March 12, as 11.4 million people (out of a population of 40 million) demonstrated on the streets of Spain against terrorism and ETA denied any involvement in the attacks in an unprecedented communication also quickly dismissed by the Spanish government, the Prime Minister's office contacted foreign correspondents to let them "know" that ETA was still the prime suspect. Also on Friday night, Aznar's office contacted the directors of major Spanish newspapers to ensure that, on the day before the general election, front-page headlines would mention ETA and not Al Qaeda.

Late on Saturday, March 13, as thousands of people demonstrated around Spain banging on pots and pans (as in Argentina in 2001/2002), demanding "the truth before voting", a videotape was found in which Al Qaeda claimed responsibility once again. Radio Station Cadena Ser, which had come under attack from all quarters for reporting on all the previous government misinformation, claimed that they knew of the existence of the videotape since 11 am, but did not report on it because they had been unable to independently confirm the news. Interior Minister Acebes claimed, in his first mention of the tape already after midnight on election day, Sunday March 14, that the tape had been found around 8 pm. In another pathetic attempt at influencing public opinion Saturday afternoon, state-run television station TVE screened a film about ETA's murder of politician Fernando Buesa instead of the previously scheduled "Shakespeare in Love", to the outrage of Buesa's widow.

On Sunday Morning, Foreign Minister Ana Palacio still insisted on the BBC that ETA "might still be found" to have collaborated in the attack but, by the time the polls opened in Spain at 9 am, the Spanish government had lost all credibility and sealed its own fate.

So, what is the lesson in all of this? In Spain, an informed citizenry, which kept tabs on its government's foreign policy, rallied around the flag, but not around the Prime Minister, and did not stand for two-and-a-half days of lies, damned lies and misinformation after March 11. Unfortunately—and I will be deliberately blunt on this—after September 11 the US populace, uninterested in their government's foreign policy if not willfully ignorant, and kept in the dark about it by their media, rallied around their President as much as around   their flag, and have stood for two-and-a-half years of the White House's lies, misinformation, and stonewalling of congressional investigations. If Prime Minister Aznar had come out saying that Spain was attacked on March 11 because the terrorists hate our freedoms, forty million Spaniards would have died laughing.

A chorus of Bush's cronies in the USA and around Europe (mostly governments now fearing they will go the way of Aznar) now call Spain's vow to pull their troops out of Iraq "appeasement" of terrorism. Spain is not stepping down its own fight against terrorism, or the global fight for that matter: it is just that the war on Iraq has nothing to do with the fight against terrorism, fair-and-balanced FOX news notwithstanding. Besides, Spain has been fighting terrorism at home for around forty years with, in the 28 years since Franco's death, the understanding that, if an open and democratic society is to fight against terrorism without compromising its own freedom and democracy, it has to accept a degree of vulnerability and occasional setbacks but will ultimately prevail without compromising its essence. This is why all democratic Spanish governments (before Aznar came to power, that is) fought ETA with police action, with international   cooperation, and reaching out to moderate Basque nationalists, and saw  no place for military operations in the fight against terrorism. Independence-minded terrorist organizations in Galicia (Exercito Guerrilleiro do Pobo Galego Ceibe) and Catalonia (Terra Lliure) were essentially defeated in this way in the early 1980s, and before Aznar came along it was accepted across Spain that the same would eventually happen with ETA, which periodically suffers severe internal political crises in which significant numbers of militants abandon armed struggle and join political parties or social movements to advance the cause of Basque self-governance by peaceful means.

Aznar's government was deeply unpopular because of: its arrogance; its disregard for public opinion; its lack of respect for journalists asking uncomfortable questions; its unwillingness to engage in dialogue with political opponents; its belligerence on the Basque front; its use of the Constitution to attack legitimate proposals of reform of Spain's quasi-federal organization; its use of a comfortable majority in both houses of Parliament to pass a law allowing the   arrest of local and regional government officials who organize  non-binding referenda on self-government; its mishandling of the oil spill off the coast of Galicia in November, 2002; its use of military force in a petty dispute with Morocco over a deserted rock in the summer of 2002; its water policy, advocating a transfer of water from the Ebro basin in the north to the Mediterranean coast to water golf courses there; its granting of public works contracts to friends with embarrassing results, such as a high-speed train connection from Barcelona to France built on unstable soil and unable to run at high speeds as a result; its squandering of Spain's international reputation through bad diplomacy in Europe, Latin America and the United Nations; and, finally, in what was not the straw but the tree trunk that broke the camel's back, its disgusting manipulation of the worst terrorist attack on a Western country since September 11. And this is just a partial list of the most egregious reasons to vote Aznar's people out of office.

There are many parallels between the wrongdoings of Aznar and those of Bush but, as often happens for good or for evil, everything in America is on a grander scale than in the rest of the world. The American people owe it to themselves and to all peace-loving peoples around the world to remove Bush from office this coming November. Aznar went out with a bang and Bush should go too, but let us hope it is with a whimper.

March 17, 2004.

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...as I have wanted to quote from it several times on various ET threads, especially the list of grievances against Aznar's government that help debunk the idea that the PP lost the election solely because of the terrorist attacks.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 04:59:02 PM EST
you were already an unreconstructed lefty before joining ET? I am so disappointed. ;-)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:14:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You have no idea.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:15:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is to go back to what was written in the immediate aftermath of these big attacks (9/11 or 11M or others) - and most of the time, the future is already seen clearly then. There's nothing to add today to what you wrote then, and if you read papers form September 12 today, you'll be surprised to see how much of what actually happened being already discussed.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:16:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's nothing to add today to what you wrote then

This is the reason why I can post it here today, three years later.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:18:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An excellent piece of writing with just the right tone.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:20:08 PM EST
Too good for the LA Times's editorial pages, apparently.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:22:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tell me something new...

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:30:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, to paraphrase Rob Corddry from The Daily Show, "how do you report on facts in an unbiased way, when the facts themselves are biased?" And of course Stephen Colbert's "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:30:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It starts matter-of-factly, sucking you in with things you didn't know, with a just a pinch of supressed outrage,that slowly builds into the last crushing paragraphs.

There's nothing superfluous, the facts build logically and inarguably, the outrage is held in check till the very end.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:26:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you compare my account of "the facts of the case" here with the one I wrote last night in my previous diary, you'll see how much I've forgotten. Reading this I was actually appalled at the brazenness of the PP's manipulation. And yet, three years later the fact are faded, but the outrage remains. And hopefully the last paragraph will show Americans just how much of a disappointment, why, a betrayal, it was that Bush actually got reelected.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:37:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]

It starts matter-of-factly, sucking you in with things you didn't know, with a just a pinch of supressed outrage,that slowly builds into the last crushing paragraphs.

Couldn´t that be an entire Creative Writing course?

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 04:30:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I really don't know how you teach writing, even though I have several friends who do. I think you just have to read a lot and try to understand what it is, about some of the stuff you read, that inspires you. There are lots of rules that one can learn, but they mostly exist to be broken. I have nothing against learning the rules of writing, but passion and commitment is often a stronger voice.

For me it starts with a love of words,  and how people use or misuse them in different situations. Then it moves on to be about a love of ideas and how people use and misuse them. And finally about life and how people use and misuse that.

I write to put the reader or viewer into a 'space' of my own design. It's a space they come into and go out of freely. But I am always aware of the packaging/perceptions. How do you suck people into a space, so that you can play with their minds?

What many fail to understand is that people like to have their minds played with ;-)

To quote Jean-Luc Godard "There should be a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order"

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Mar 13th, 2007 at 02:21:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hmm, reminds me of the dalai lama's dictum: 'learn the rules. so to break them correctly!'

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Mar 13th, 2007 at 04:02:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now available in green and orange.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Mar 11th, 2007 at 05:48:19 PM EST
It sank like a lead balloon at Booman's and man, what an unedifying discussion at Daily Kos!

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 04:05:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
sank??

it is the first diary at booman...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 07:31:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No comments.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 07:34:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it is so well written that no comment is needed :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 09:49:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unless you're a neo-con, like the guys on DKos.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 10:08:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Migeru. This is a tight, well-argued reminder of the facts, when the "Spain chose Zapatero out of cowardice" story is almost exclusively heard. The Aznars, Bushes and their ilk never stop rewriting history.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 01:48:55 AM EST
Unfortunately, you can say Spain appeased Al Qaeda in 4 words, but you cannot argue against that in a soundbite.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 02:02:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Spaniards died, Aznar lied?
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 03:36:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL, thanks.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 04:04:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for posting this, I vaguely knew what happened in the aftermath of the bombings, but never in this detail. I've been lurking here for months but this diary finally got me to sign up and leave a comment.

I also followed your link to DK, which I haven't been to in months, and now I remember why I stopped going in the first place.

by dahuk (dahuk.x@riverofthedead.com) on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 03:31:52 PM EST
Welcome to the Trib!

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 04:32:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks! I am celebrating with my very first shandy.
by dahuk (dahuk.x@riverofthedead.com) on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 05:16:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this little time travel!

The opbligatory nitpick:

such as a high-speed train connection from Barcelona to France built on unstable soil and unable to run at high speeds as a result;

Said problems hit the Madrid to Barcelona section. There was unstable soil problem at two points: near Zaragoza and on the descent to the Mediterranean, the former caused local speed restrictions the second extra costs and delay of the second (Lleida-Barcelona) section. But not running at high speed on the entire line was caused by betting on an untested new signalling system. But all of these problems were caused by sloppy to corrupt project granting by the Aznar government, as you say.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 04:04:41 PM EST
IIRC, Aznar´s son-in-law Alejandro Agag (future diary) made a killing on buying and selling some of the property for the AVE line around Zaragoza.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 at 04:37:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very good essay, but I think at one point a bit of whitewashing - Spain's experience of fighting terrorism in the democratic era isn't squeaky clean, and the worst offender was not Aznar but the socialist government under Gonzales which put together death squads.
by MarekNYC on Tue Mar 13th, 2007 at 11:50:05 AM EST
True. See the second half of this diary of mine.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Mar 13th, 2007 at 11:54:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes.  Nobody should have to keep apologizing for the inquisition at this point, as the PP would like.  It's about the present situation, present causes, present consequences.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Tue Mar 13th, 2007 at 02:15:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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