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From the May 2004 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 51, No. 5)

The Madrid Terrorist Attacks and the Spanish Elections

The World Watches

La Vanguardia (centrist), Barcelona, Spain, March 16, 2004

The world’s principal media have never before shown this much interest in one of Spain’s general elections. This is not because we have become one of the 10 largest economies in the world, though that played a role: It was the massacre of last Thursday, an event which conferred on Madrid a distinction not very different from that which came to New York City after the tragic attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

In this sense, domestic politics have acquired an international significance that obliges our political class to be careful about their proposals and pronouncements. To date, the public statements from the winners and losers of last Sunday’s election have reflected, almost without exception, a spirit of moderation and cooperation with their adversaries—if not enemies.

To begin with, the prime minister-elect, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, has confronted an issue which, if not treated firmly and diligently, could cast a shadow over his term—which has not even started. Zapatero has roundly denied that he owes his victory to the attacks on 3/11 and, in purity, no one can or should argue with him.

Would the Popular Party [of Prime Minister José María Aznar] have won the vote if the massacre had never happened? No one knows, and the public-opinion polls that were published—such as the one in this paper on March 7—and those not published, because they were commissioned by the parties, showed a clear trend in favor of the Socialists.

But that is not the question. As we pointed out in our editorial published yesterday, the electorate reacted very negatively to the way events after the attacks were managed by the Aznar administration. Hindsight is always perfect, but perhaps if the government had called together representatives from all the major political forces that very afternoon, and if it had not rushed to assign responsibility for the killing, it is likely that it would not have suffered such a severe beating as it got on Sunday. Going it alone as it did, so typical of the second term in office of the Popular Party, and of Aznar’s personal style, ended up costing it dearly.

Looking to the government they are about to create, the PSOE [Socialist Party] and its leader should continue to exercise the prudence and moderation that characterized their postelection statements. The party’s position on the issue of Spain’s troops in Iraq is very well-known and based on multilateralism and respect for U.N. resolutions. However, it must work hard to educate people on this issue, because it is necessary to prevent all the media, national and international, from coming to the absurd conclusion that Spain is withdrawing its troops because of the massacre on Thursday. The impression—implicit or explicit—that a democratic nation such as ours is giving in to terrorist attacks would be as unjust as it would be devastating.

It is a risk easy to avoid. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that it is very likely that by June 30, the date for the transfer of power to the new Iraqi authorities, the U.N. Security Council will approve a new resolution reinforcing the U.N. role in the pacification of the country. It
is not at all unlikely that countries such as France and Germany, which opposed unilateral intervention, will participate in this effort if it is under U.N. auspices. That would mean the redefinition of the role of Spanish troops is almost certain and has nothing to do with anti-terrorism policy.

It is time for the security forces to work, without pressure from any party, to investigate to the very end the criminal conspiracy that led to the killings. In parallel, the international community raises its guard to prevent crimes against humanity which transcend any border or national interest.

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