When Mariano Rajoy announced his new government in December there were some who chose to see it as a selection of moderate, almost technocratic, ministers. The reality is that Mariano made his ministerial choices on the basis of loyalty to Mariano above all other considerations; apart from the now obligatory inclusion in a senior position of a banker. Only two months later, the idea that this is a moderate administration is already very difficult to sustain. Take the case of the justice minister, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón. As mayor of Madrid he was of course rightly famous for having bankrupted the city and for having won a gold medal for failed Olympic bids. But he was also seen as a centrist politician capable of reaching out to those voters who disliked the fundamentalist, taliban wing of the Partido Popular.
The trick worked well for quite a few years, but it was just a trick. Gallardón's mask started to slip before he made the leap to national politics, the papal visit last summer saw him enthusiastically joining the competition to hand over as much of Madrid as possible to the Pope and his pilgrims. Now installed as a minister, it is Gallardón who will steer through what promises to be a thoroughly reactionary abortion law reform. Quite possibly taking us back to the position of the 1980's when women wanting an abortion and health professionals could never be absolutely sure that what they were doing was legal. Just the sort of precarious ambiguity that suits the PP on issues like this.
Gallardón, who has never hidden his ambition to lead the PP and who prospered under the patronage of eminent Franco-democrat Manuel Fraga, is now perhaps more concerned about winning over those still to his right. So, yesterday, it was Gallardón who led the charge in defence of the brutal police violence we have seen in Valencia in the last few days. Fully equipped riot police beating up school kids has led to some shocking scenes, but the moderate Gallardón sees none of this. Instead he would have us believe, alongside the ever more servile right-wing press, that it is all the work of anti-system radicals intent on attacking the police. Oddly enough, as the riot police were withdrawn yesterday, there was an outbreak of entirely peaceful protest in Valencia. It's almost a perfect portrait of the way that region is being run, kids and their parents who protest about having no heating in their schools get beaten by riot cops whilst the corrupt political leadership who don't pay the heating bills continue to go peacefully about their business.
It's fairly clear that the new government has let the police off the leash in dealing with any protests against the severe cutbacks being implemented by Rajoy's administration. In Madrid Esperanza Aguirre was threatening to form her own regional police force last year, as the then PSOE administration refused her repeated requests to crack heads in the Puerta del Sol. In compensation for not getting her own private police force (a truly frightening prospect), she instead got one of her people installed as the Delegada del Gobierno in Madrid, the government's local representative. The change is already being noted with the police putting any meetings of the 15M movement held in the Puerta del Sol under intense pressure.
The excuse for this pressure on protest movements is that such actions have not been authorized by the government. It's a common PP refrain that the 15M activities are illegal because they do not ask for permission. Back in the real world there is actually no legal requirement in Spain to ask those in power for permission to demonstrate - just as well! The Spanish constitution guarantees the right to assembly and there is only a legal requirement to communicate the intention to meet if the event in question affects the use of areas of public transit. Failure to communicate this isn't even a serious crime, the penalty would be a fine. But for the right it's sufficient excuse to send in the riot police, and to use the law when it suits them to use it. Sports fans who come on to the streets to celebrate their team winning a trophy are unlikely to be baton charged by the police.
Occasionally, very occasionally, the police are forced to account for excesses. With huge media coverage of the violence they used against peaceful protestors in Barcelona last year a judicial case against the senior officers responsible on the day is leading to the possibility of a trial. But will it matter? In 2009 five Catalan police officers were found guilty of mistreatment and illegal detention. Oh, I almost forgot, they were found guilty of torture too. The details of the case are appalling. Last week the PP government pardoned them and they will soon be back on duty 'upholding the law' with no penalty of any kind. How safe does that make you feel? The more you hear the vacuous rhetoric about how we are all equal before the law, and we hear it a lot these days, the less likely it is to be true. Meanwhile, let's not forget that the moderate Gallardón is STILL on the left of his party.
From Vergara in Público:
From Vergara in Público: