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Will the new government shake up Bush's occupation of Iraq?
Spain after the Madrid bombings

April 2, 2004 | Page 8

THE STUNNING electoral defeat of Spain's conservative Popular Party (PP) government March 14 after bombing attacks in Madrid that killed nearly 200 people has shaken up George W. Bush's plans for the occupation of Iraq. Will Spain's government, led by the moderate Socialist Party, pull troops out of Iraq?

GUSTAVO BUSTER is a member of the Spanish socialist group Espacio Alternativo and a supporter of the socialist Fourth International. He talked to Socialist Worker's LEE SUSTAR about Spanish politics today.

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MANY U.S. politicians and media commentators claim that the Spanish election results represent the "appeasement" of terrorism. What's the real story?

THERE WAS a lead given by the left in the last year, built on a high degree of mobilization around several issues. Workers in the unions organized a general strike in June 2002. There was an enormous mobilization in the secondary schools against education "reform," which was regressive, reactionary and pro-Catholic.

Then there was the enormous movement against the war, the biggest since the Franco era [of dictatorship from 1939-75], and then a mobilization against a hydroelectric project. In the 2002 municipal elections, the left was able to take the majority of votes.

In Catalonia, a coalition government took over, including the Socialists and other parties. This new left government in Catalonia has taken up the need to obtain more power for the regions. The main focus of the PP is the status quo of the constitution imposed after the fall of the Franco regime. They viewed the Catalonian government as allowing the space for the left to fight for a big wave of reforms that would threaten the central state.

The problem for the Socialists has been that they have not been able to mobilize their biggest sectors to vote. Workers say, "I don't trust the Socialist Party, but I don't vote for the conservatives."

The economy has been growing, but at the same time, there has been the imposition of tough neoliberal, free-market laws. We now have 33 percent of workers in temporary jobs. Also, the number of collective agreements negotiated by the unions during the last three to four years has decreased by 40 percent. The third factor to take into account is that 60 percent of income goes to mortgages--even in a family where three or four members work.

HOW DID these issues shape the climate after the Madrid bombings took place, and why were the conservatives defeated?

THERE WAS a big feeling that the government lied to the people for its own purposes. The interior minister, Angel Acebes, announced that the attack was carried out by ETA [Euskadi ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom, the armed group seeking independence for the Basque country].

The background is that the leader of the ERC [Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, or Catalan Republican Left] in Catalonia, Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, had met with ETA some time ago to try to negotiate. ETA then declared that there would be no armed operations in Catalonia.

Carod-Rovira was accused by the conservatives of being a traitor, and they asked the Socialists to break their alliance with the ERC. The government claimed that by meeting with the Basques and getting an agreement of no attacks in Catalonia, the Socialists appeased the terrorists, and thereby directed the main attack toward Madrid.

On Friday, the day after the bombings, the left was still totally shocked. The leadership of the Socialist Party believed that ETA was responsible. The United Left leadership produced a statement accusing ETA. Even the leader of the Basque regional government went on TV about this, because Aznar had called him personally.

So on Friday, the government felt strong enough to call for demonstrations for peace, the Constitution--the hard rock of the right--and liberty. But in the Basque country and Catalonia, people went into the streets with different slogans--mainly peace against terrorism, and no to war. In Madrid, by 7 p.m., the left was able to change the mood, arguing that it was not the ETA, but Islamist fundamentalists who were responsible.

IS THE Socialist Party's new Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero serious about pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq?

THE SOCIALISTS opposed the war and stated in parliament before the war that it was an illegal action, and that it would only accept Spanish troops in Iraq under the command of the UN. For Zapatero, the integrity and credibility of his whole program stands on his promise to withdraw the troops. If he doesn't--or if people don't believe conditions have changed in Iraq--he will lose credibility.

On the economic front, he is a neoliberal. The Socialist Party chief economist, Miguel Sebastián, has been head of the research department at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya. This guy went out and gave his word that the Socialists will not intervene in the economy and will respect the results of privatization done by the conservatives--and that they will stick to the neoliberal economic strategy of the European Union (EU).

The trade unions hope that they will be able to establish a social dialog--but you have to keep in mind that the heads of the unions long ago accepted neoliberal policy. Then there is the reform of the regional government statutes.

The head of the Basque government, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, has announced that he wants to establish new relations, so that the Basque country would have sovereignty but remain linked to Spain as an associated state. So the question of reform of the Spanish state will be open before summer. This will be a test for the Socialists, who have been for a centralist system.

WHAT ARE the politics of immigration and anti-Muslim racism?

IN THE last three years, Spain received the most immigrants of any country in Europe. In the last year and a half, there has been a campaign to try to strengthen control of immigration. But there is a big contradiction.

Spain needs to integrate 300,000 immigrants every year because it has, with Italy, one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. But at the same time, they need to control the labor market, so that immigrants will have low salaries [in agriculture].

WHAT IS Spain's role in imperialism?

WHEN IT entered the neoliberal 1990s, Spain was already in the EU, but Spanish capital couldn't compete in Europe. But at the same time, there was a lot of capital. The two big banks, Banco Santander and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya, were pushed toward Latin America when governments there were privatizing their public sectors.

More than 5 percent of Spanish gross domestic product comes from investment in Latin America, compared to 1 percent of GDP from subsidies from the EU. Thus, the basis for the Spanish conservatives' alliance with Bush had a material factor. Even if they withdraw from Iraq, unless they change Spain's relationship with Latin America, the Socialists will have to rely on the U.S. to defend their investments.

WHAT ARE the prospects for the left in Spain?

ON ONE side, in the Basque country and in Catalonia, the left is the majority. The biggest party to left of the Socialist Party, the United Left, was established after the big campaign against NATO in the beginning of the 1980s, as an alliance between the Communist Party and the far-left parties.

The question is: has the United Left lost electoral support because people don't see it as an alternative to the Socialists? On the far left, most believe that we still have to work inside the United Left.

There were 2 million new voters--many of them young people who voted for the Socialists. The United Left has to continue to work with them, but at the same time continue to build a strong left tendency to prepare for the second stage of this process, when the expectations of these new voters will start to be in conflict with the policies of the Socialists.

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