As British bankers criminality under Libor is laid bare Douglas Wilson looks at endemic Spanish corruption.
There are so many corruption scandals going on in Spain at present it is difficult to keep abreast, from the allegations against the Duke of Parma, Ignacio Urdangarín, husband of the Spanish Infanta, to the long-standing Gurtel scandal, in which conservative Partido Popular (the PP) officials in different regions of the country are accused of taking illegal kickbacks in return for commissioning public works. That was the ongoing case which judge Baltasar Garzón was working on when controversially sidelined by the Spanish High Court back in 2010, for wire-tapping conversations between the accused and their lawyers, a decision which many felt had everything to do with Garzón opening legal proceedings connected to mass graves dating back to the Spanish Civil War.
But last week, the mother of all corruption scandals broke. Following earlier revelations that former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas had 22 million Euros in a Swiss bank account, El País published a parallel accounting system purportedly in Bárcenas’ own hand, detailing payments to leading PP party members from the illegal slush-fund dating back more than a decade. The documents suggest that Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, and other PP leaders like former IMF head Rodrigo Rato, had been taking backhanders from the slush-fund financed by illegal payments by private companies, especially in the construction sector. If the Bárcenas accounts are proved to be bona fida, Spanish Prime Minister Mr. Rajoy would have received more than 250,000 Euros over a ten year period.
The PP have denied these allegations and, true to their style, have promised to sue everybody who reproduces the leaked documents. But at least six PP officials have acknowledged payments which appear in the hand-written accounts allegedly kept by Bárcenas. One of these is Pío García Escudero, the current President of the Senate, who was given a loan by the PP following a bomb attack on his house in December 2001, a sum reflected in the controversial book-keeping. Furthermore, Jorge Trías, a former Partido Popular MP and a friend of Bárcenas has gone on the record, stating that such a parallell accounting system did in fact exist within the party, also affirming that the PSOE socialist party had a similar system in operation which Jose Luís Zapatero subsequently dismantled.
Whether the allegations are true or not, the fact remains that neither of the main ruling political parties in Spain, the PP and PSOE, ever made tax-dodging under the sum of 120,000 Euros a criminal offence during their time in office – even if fines are imposed on offenders who are caught. Yet these are the same two parties which have presided over the Spanish debt crisis, imposing brutal cuts on working people in the name of austerity. Why did neither party address the matter as a priority? And is it just a coincidence that one of the first things which the PP government did when it arrived in office in the middle of the Spanish debt crisis was in fact to establish a tax amnesty offering a 10% tax rate to those declaring black money to the tax authorities?
Whether the Bárcenas scandal is ever proved is doubtful and, for the moment, these are allegations under investigation by Spain’s Procurator Fiscal. But still, the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy ought to resign and call elections. His government is no longer credible – even if he and other around him are never proved guilty of wrong-doing – and if the PP is to carry on governing, it must re-establish its legitimacy at the ballot box. But Rajoy’s resignation seems unlikely; indeed he has refused even to answer questions on the scandal in the Spanish parliament, and shows all of the signs of the same bunker mentality of times gone by, as do the other members of the party he leads.
But besides these issues, a larger matter is at play here, one to do with the Spanish transition to democracy, a process which saw Left and Right strike a “pact of oblivion” in which an almost completely bloodless transition to democracy was ensured in return for a general amnesty for war crimes carried out during the Spanish Civil War and afterwards under the dictator Franco. The wisdom of that Pact was hard to dispute at the time, but it now looks in need of serious renewal.
Nobody in Spain has ever been tried in democracy for a Civil War crime – and nor will they ever be now, as most combatants are dead – despite numerous extra-judicial killings on both sides. But just as importantly, there is not a National Monument to the Civil War dead, if one discounts the monstrous Valley of the Fallen monument, built by Republican prisoners of war, where the dictator Franco is buried on the outskirts of Madrid, the upkeep of which is still paid for by the Spanish state.
Nor is there any kind of reconciliation or a shared narrative to build upon – except forgetting itself, which doesn’t seem to be working. The fact remains that the PP and large sections of society continue to refuse to condemn the 1936 coup which toppled the democratically elected Second Republic and imposed almost four decades of totalitarian rule on Spain.
This lack of consensus, coupled with the economic crisis, means that hatred between the Right and Left has never been greater under democracy than it is today. The Spanish transition to democracy, upheld for many years as a model to the world, is under severe stress. Indeed, there is good reason to wonder whether what took place was more a transition to prosperity than democracy; Spain grew faster than almost any other European country for almost a decade, and the booming economy eased tensions for both sides.
But with prosperity gone, Spanish democracy is being put to the test. It might well be argued that it is hard to see how democracy and sound public ethics – a difficult enough matter anywhere in the world at the best of times – can ever fully take root and flourish on the site of humanitarian crimes of such a scale as the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath: which is to say, on a site of total impunity. After all, if Franco used corruption as a policy instrument, would it come as such a surprise if some of his staunchest defenders today were found to have been pilfering a few hundred thousand Euros under democracy?
With more spending cuts and unemployment on the way, the old political two party system is unravelling. A new transition is required, offering an alternative to the two main political parties, a battered monarchy, and the chronic mismanagement of the Spanish economy. This process ought to include putting to rest the ghosts of the Spanish Civil War.
Some of the answers should come from Europe, placing the Civil War in a wider European narrative, perhaps with the date of the onset of the conflict commemorated across the continent, like Armistice Day and Holocaust Day. Wasn’t the Spanish Civil War, after all, a bloody rehearsal of World War II? Didn’t those who died in Spain come from all across the continent? And if the Spanish can’t agree to building a monument to all of the dead in the Civil War, might not the EU do something in this respect? By bringing pressure to bear on Spain’s elites that the Spanish Civil War needs to be addressed in some tangible way, the EU would be defending Europe’s core democratic and humanitarian values. That would be much preferable to paying the same principles lip-service while collecting the Nobel Prize, at the same as Europe’s leaders line up behind the bankers no matter the cost to society.
The Spanish pueblo deserves better than the political leaders of this Spain, and this Europe.