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.