Three Days in Spain
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The winds of change are blowing furiously through Spain today, as terrorism and war take center stage for the first time since September 11 as the determining factors in a democratic election.
It began in horror with the bombing of Spanish commuter trains and the deliberate slaughter of 200 people on Thursday. Thousands more were wounded in the blasts, and the entirety of the nation was hurled into the blackest mourning. The government of Jose Maria Aznar has attempted to connect the bombings to the Basque separatist group ETA, but evidence -- including a videotaped claim of responsibility -- is pointing towards al Qaeda as the perpetrators.
The reasons Aznar's government wanted to see the attacks connected to ETA instead of al Qaeda were found in the streets of Spain by the thousands on the Saturday after the bombs went off. Madrid was awash with protesters demanding answers from Aznar as to who was responsible. They thronged the streets holding signs reading 'Paz,' and carried a banner reading 'Your War, Our Corpses.' There were protests in Andalucia, Barcelona and other cities, as well. If the attacks could be connected to ETA, the resulting fury would be directed towards the Basque separatists. If the attack was perpetrated by al Qaeda, however, that fury would roar towards Aznar himself.
He would be held personally responsible for those deaths because he involved Spain in the invasion of Iraq despite the disapproval of some 80% of Spain's citizens. If the attack was perpetrated by al Qaeda, it would be seen as revenge for Spain's role in Iraq. As the Spanish people wanted no part of that war, and as Aznar brought them into that war against their wishes, the blood of those people, according to those thousands of protesters, would be dripping from his fingers.
Much of the mainstream media's coverage of these protesters suggested that the crowds had been usurped by anti-war activists, that the majority of the protest was aimed at the bombers and not Aznar's government. But then, on Sunday, the people of Spain went to the polls for the parliamentary elections. Turnout for the vote was extraordinarily high. The results appear to prove beyond dispute that the anti-war sentiment seen in the crowds on Saturday was not the exception, but the rule.
There were several parties on the ballot on Sunday, the two most prominent being Aznar's Popular Party and the Socialists. Before the bombing, it was widely believed that Aznar's hand-picked successor for the prime minister's spot, Mariano Rajoy, would win handily, and that the conservative Popular Party would retain its majority in the 350-member Congress of deputies. By 6:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, however, conventional wisdom had been turned on its head. With 96% of the votes counted, the Socialist Party had taken 163 seats, Aznar's Popular Party had taken 148 seats, and Rajoy had given a concession speech for himself and his defeated party. It was a reversal of epic and stunning proportions.
There are a number of lessons to be taken from the incredible turn of events over the last 100 hours, few of which are comforting.
The timing of the attack on Thursday is deeply troubling. If al Qaeda was indeed responsible, the terrorist organization certainly planned the blast to happen on the eve of the election. While many may rejoice at the repudiation of a party that brought its nation to war against the will of the people, the fact remains that this repudiation came after 200 people died. Terrorism, slaughter and fear owned the ballot boxes in Spain on Sunday, a precedent that is simply horrifying.
America's role in the Iraq invasion itself played a central role in the Thursday attacks, and bears a lion's share of responsibility for the horror. George W. Bush sprinted to attack a nation that posed no threat to his country, or Spain, or any other. He has poured hundreds of billions of dollars and nearly 600 American lives into the endeavor, in no small part because of now-debunked claims that Iraq and al Qaeda enjoyed an operational alliance.
Had Bush chosen to press the fight against al Qaeda itself, and not against toothless red herrings like Iraq, it is entirely possible that the bombings in Spain would never have happened. The force and funding of American wrath would have been brought to bear against actual terrorists, severely impeding actions like the one which so shook Spain. Had Bush chosen to press the fight against al Qaeda itself, and not Iraq, Spain and Aznar and all those dead would not now be on the forefront of the carnage.
Again, many will find some grim satisfaction in this, but the facts augur a deepening gloom. Clearly, the Iraq war has not made America or the world safer. It has, in fact, further imperiled many nations and many peoples. The people of Spain were right to resist it. The hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans who took to the streets to resist it were right to resist it. The 30 million people who protested in every capitol on Earth on February 15th were right to protest it.
Though they have been proven right, there is no comfort in it, for as the terror in Spain has demonstrated, the people of the world face more of a threat now than ever before. This will be further articulated on March 20th, as yet more protests to mark the first year of the war will again boil in the streets of the world. The war grinds on, and the consequences continue to claw at us all.
In the horror and woe there are three thin linings of silver. The first is this: Although a constitutional monarchy modeled much after the United Kingdom, Spain is showing all the signs of a young and healthy democracy -- engaged, concerned, and vital. The protests and voter turnout are evidence enough of this. Surely, the 80% who opposed involvement in Iraq show they are a vocal populace who enjoy the mantle of democratic reform bestowed a generation ago.
Their constitution was ratified in December 1978 after a three year process that began upon Franco's death and subsequent acquisition of the reins by King Juan Carlos during the interim. The last 25 years have seen Spain eager to become a player with the other Western modern European nations like the UK, France, or Germany. The first step was joining NATO in 1982, and since, the pendulum of power in the prime minister's seat has veered between the Socialist Party on the left and the conservative -- center-right by U.S. standards -- Popular Party. The pendulum swung back on Sunday. The nation is a young and healthy modern republic, coming closer with each year to being the player in the European Union it wants to be.
The second lining is this: When the bombs went off in Spain, that nation and the world faced a tipping point. The fear and horror could have compelled the Spanish people to support their government and its role in the farcical War on Terror. They could have allowed themselves to be swept up in hysteria and lined up behind leaders who have, thus far, done everything wrong. They did not do this. They did, in fact, overwhelmingly repudiate their government and its war. This came at a terrible cost in blood, but had they done otherwise, the precedent as witnessed and potentially followed by the world could have spiraled beyond even a semblance of control.
The third lining is this: The bombing took place on Thursday. Two days later, the people of Spain were battering down the doors of government offices demanding information, demanding truth. "We cannot vote without knowing who are the assassins," cried the protesters. "The government is hiding information. They think we're idiots." Emilio Jimenez Tomas of Madrid, in a comment given to the New York Times as he surveyed the wreckage left behind by the bombings, said, "Look at this. This is an election and the government pretends that they don't know anything about who really did it. They've been lying to us and we won't know the real truth until after the election."
Two days. That was all it took for the people of Spain to become impatient, to pressure their government for the truth. When they did not get it, they threw that government out on its ear. For America, a nation approaching the 1,000th day in which their government has not provided the truth of September 11th, this is a lesson to be taken deeply to heart.
My thanks to historian Laurin Suiter for providing background on Spain's democracy.
William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor of truthout. He is the author of 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'