04/04/2013 by Don Quijones
It seems that nary a day goes by without some new seismic political scandal breaking in Spain. In just the first few days of April, King Juan Carlos’ daughter, La Infanta Cristina, was charged with aiding and abetting her husband, Iñaki Urgangarin, in his myriad scams to embezzle money from the public purse.
Never one to be outdone in the corruption department, Spain’s governing party, the Partido Popular (PP), was also engulfed in yet another scandal, this time revolving around the president of the Galician regional parliament Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s past ties to a known smuggler and drug trafficker.
The uproar followed El Pais’s publication of a series of photos from 1995 showing Feijóo, then deputy health secretary of the region, enjoying both a luxury yacht cruise and a mountain road trip with Marciel Dorado, a known smuggler and widely suspected capo of the Galician drug-smuggling mafia.
A Smuggler’s Haven
Perched on Spain’s rugged North-Western coast and boasting a wealth of hidden bays and isolated beaches, Galicia has long been one of Europe’s most important entry points for contraband merchandise.
“It’s a historic tradition here that really took off in the late 1960s, early 1970s, with American tobacco,” Susana Luana, a journalist for the regional daily Voice of Galicia, told the BBC. “A number of local fishermen used their fishing infrastructure, including boats, to transport the goods and used their knowledge of the thousands of tiny coves and beaches here to bring them safely ashore.
“Later they increased their earnings considerably by smuggling drugs instead of tobacco. These former fishermen established a name for themselves as professional smugglers and so were able to make lucrative deals with the Colombian cocaine mafia.”
Much like Mexico, Galicia has become an indispensable link in the 21st century narco-traffickers’ distribution chain. And like their Mexican counterparts, Galician drug smugglers seem to have furnished cosy ties with key figures in the local and regional government.
Not that the revelation of said relations seems to faze Nuñez Feijóo, who in a recent press conference resorted to the Partido Popular’s now-standard defence against corruption charges: namely, to play dumb and deny all possible wrong doing, even as evidence mounts to the contrary.
“The photos are what they are: photos. There is nothing behind them,” said Feijóo. “No connection whatsoever to contracts with the Xunta [Galicia’s regional government] or the health department, or party funding.”
Stretching the Limits of Credulity
As El País reports, Feijóo began his defence in confident manner, promising greater political transparency in the future. Which sounds all well and good, but could be a tough sell given the PP’s dismal track record of “open” governance, not to mention the fact Feijóo is yet to declare who it was who actually funded the trips he made with Dorado.
As the press conference progressed, Feijóos’ defence took on an increasingly desperate edge as he struggled to explain his relationship with Dorado, claiming that when he accepted the smuggler’s kind invitation to join him on a pleasure cruise and mountain trip, he had no inkling whatsoever of his host’s criminal past – Dorado had already been arrested twice on smuggling charges – or his current line of work.
Even in these times of political decadence, debauchery and ineptitude in Spain, Feijóo’s assertion that he was completely in the dark about Dorado’s line of business beggars belief. After all, when most normal people meet a new acquaintance, the conversation inevitably turns to the matter of one’s vocational calling. “How do you do?” quickly morphs into “What do you do?”
Such basic formalities should hold even greater weight for a junior government minister whose actions are, or are at least supposed to be, subject to official codes of conduct and public scrutiny. As such, Feijóo is guilty, at best, of woeful political judgement and incompetence and, at worst, of knowingly consorting with criminal elements. Either way, in any self-respecting democracy – which obviously excludes present-day Spain – Feijóo would have walked, or been pushed, as soon as the allegations were made public.
Indeed, so turgid is the state of democracy in Spain that, rather than penalise Feijóo, Rajoy’s government has given him its full backing, training its sights instead on the “irresponsible role” of the country’s press.
In a recent interview with esRadio, the president of the Madrid Community, Ignacio González, even floated the idea of setting strict limits on press freedom so as to avoid further harm being done to individual or institutional reputations, proving once again just how divorced Spain’s government ministers are from reality. It is as if they had all undergone a collective lobotomy of the parts of the brain responsible for general and self-awareness.
What Will It Take for A Spanish Government Minister to Resign?
The adjacent collage, featuring rather unflattering photos of some of the protagonists in Spain’s recent corruption scandals, swept like wildfire across the country’s social media some months ago. Its one-sentence tagline speaks a thousand words: “A former British minister resigns for lying about a speeding fine,” in allusion to British cabinet minister Chris Huhne’s resignation after allegations that he had blamed a speeding offence on his ex-wife.
Granted, the U.K. is hardly a haven of political honesty and integrity. The country ranks 17th in Transparency International’s Corruption Index and, lest we forget, has been home to some of the worst banking scandals of recent years. That said, at least there still exists in the U.K. a veneer of political decorum and accountability.
In Spain, by contrast, one can but wonder what sordid specie of criminal charge or allegation will suffice to put paid to a minister’s career – especially given that political bribery, tax evasion and consorting with known criminals are now viewed as mere social faux pas by Rajoy’s raggedy team of government ministers and aides?
Would, say, bestiality be considered a sackable offence? How about wife-beating or child abuse? Or, while we’re it, arson, manslaughter or murder?
At what point will the line be drawn and, no less importantly – given the highly politicised nature of the Spanish judicial system – by whom? Because, put simply, if Rajoy’s government isn’t consigned to the history books soon, Spain’s descent into full-fledged banana republicanism, albeit King & family in tow, is all but guaranteed.