Shooting oneself in the foot

February 23, 2009

Mariano Fernández Bermejo, ministro de Justicia.preview

This is the scenario: Judge Baltasar Garzón initiates an investigation into systematic corruption in the Partido Popular (PP) of Madrid and other important cities. Arrests are made and heavy bails are set. Plenty of PP bigwigs are allegedly involved, some of whom are aforados, including a President of an Autonomous Region governed by the PP and several national and regional deputies (and more to come, apparently).The excrement hits the fan and the PP, which is under its own investigation for spying among its own ranks in Madrid, is in retreat.

When you’re cornered, you attack, don’t you? Mariano Rajoy, the Leader of the Opposition, says that Garzón, who was once, for a short time, a high-up elected PSOE parliamentarian and now sits as one of sx judges on the National Criminal Court ,  is persecuting his, Rajoy’s, party. Like manna from heaven, rather than excrement, for the PP, the Minister for Justice, Mariano Fernández Bermejo (PSOE, photo), is discovered to have gone on a weekend hunting jaunt with the famous Judge Garzón – not very cleverly at the northern Andalucía estate of a member of the PP. To make matters worse, the Minister of Justice did not have the right gun licence for Andalucía, so was hunting illegally.

This scenario turned out to be ideal for both parties: they are able to raise smokescreens of cross accusations instead of dealing with the economy, which neither party seems able to do. Indeed, the PP scored a victory today: Bermejo resigned his Ministry “but I will continue to work from my position as a Deputy”. He had presented his resignation last week but Zapatero didn’t accept it. Until he had to, obviously (See my article: The need to be right, below.)

Bermejo was on a roll until then. He was ‘renovating’ the judicial system, which badly needs it. (The budget for this phase of the renovation is €20 million, and the budget for handing out free long-life light bulbs throughout the country is €40 million.) But he was not well liked by those he was supposed to be renovating: there have been strikes by court officials, court Secretaries and even an unprecedented and allegedly unconstitutional strike by judges. His successor is Francisco Caamaño, who is known as a deft negotiator and well respected. It will take a lot of negotiating to unravel this mess.

In the meantime, the PP licks its chops – though not for long if Garzón has his way. But then, they’re all in an electoral battle in Galicia and the Basque Region, so they may be otherwise occupied.

But one thing must be said: Bermejo is one of very few Spanish politicians to have resigned for a misdeed. This brings to mind the non-resignation of several PP ministers of the Aznar era, who should have resigned for much more serious things, including the mishandling of the Prestige environmental catastrophe, the Yak-42 aircraft accident that killed 62  Spanish soldiers on their way back from Afghanistan – or indeed, Aznar himself, who got his country into the Iraq disaster in the first place, though he was elected out before he could do any more damage.

(c) Alexander Bewick 2009


Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, October the 12th was a celebration of the Discovery of America, but around the 400th anniversary (1992) of Columbus’s famous voyage the Spanish-speaking countries on the American continent rose up in protest with the obvious conclusion that they hadn’t needed to be discovered, thank you very much. The Inca, Aztec and Maya empires had already existed in splendour, if at different times and with a variety of influences on their neighbours, when Spain was still in the Dark Ages.

The fact that Don Cristóbal and the hordes that followed him decimated the native population through tricks, disease and gunpowder would have undoubtedly had some impact on the latter day protests from the Americas. Nevertheless, Spain is proud of its ‘discovery’ and the riches that made it the most powerful ‘European’ empire of the XVII Century.

These days Spain’s trade with Latin America accounts for a very large proportion of its income, however. Language, history and a largely Mediterranenan temperament have also created strong links to all the Hispanic countries from Mexico in the North to Argentina and Chile in the South. But there’s an interesting extrapolation to this.

According to conclusions reached at a seminar for journalists, academicians, diplomats and intellectuals from Spain and Latin America held recently in San Millán de la Cogolla, La Rioja, there will be some 100 million Spanish speakers in the US by 2025, which projection will represent 25% of its population. This would make the United States of America the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. Hispanics, as they’re called there, are already the largest minority, having overtaken African Americans some while ago. And the US is the second-largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world right now.

There is some irony in the fact that if you tell the average only-speak-English American (Northern, that is) that you’re Spanish, they will automatically pigeon-hole you with their neighbours to the South. Indeed, most of them seem to have no idea that Spanish comes from Spain. But then, most of them have never heard of Spain, either, and certainly couldn’t place it on a map (which conjures up a farcical image of a Mexican-American schoolkid pointing to Chicago when asked to identify Spain on a blackboard).

Native Americans (I use this term for lack of another), North or South, are known for their infinite patience, something that might account for their having been downtrodden for so many centuries. But patience, we are told, is a virtue, so I can’t help feeling there is a certain cosmic justice to those statistics. Many if not most of the immigrants from the South to the US, legal or otherwise, have more ‘native’ blood in them than Spanish, but they carry their common language with them. So the justice offers a double-whammy: ‘we were conquered once and now its our turn’.

(c) Alexander Bewick 2008

(Related links: Spanish in the World; Wikipedia; Instituto Cervantes)