“An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.”
The above quote is from the 19th century American senator Simon Cameron, who served as Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary for War for less than one year before being forced to resign over… yes, you guessed it, corruption charges. At least Cameron was consistent in both his words and actions.
Which is more than can be said for many of the senior politicians of Spain’s governing party, the Partido Popular (PP), who seem more than happy to wet their beaks in the fountain of corruption but, when caught in the act, deny all wrongdoing, even as evidence mounts to the contrary.
With each new corruption leak, Rajoy’s government stumbles closer and closer to the brink. The latest round of allegations, published by the Spanish Daily El Pais, implicates almost all of the senior rank and file of the PP, including Rajoy himself, in a frenzy of corruption lasting well over a decade. Indeed, it is Rajoy’s predecessor José Maria Aznar – the man who stood shoulder to shoulder with George W Bush and Tony Blair as they announced the launch of military conflict against Iraq in 2003 – who supposedly formalized the practice of soliciting kickbacks from construction companies in the early ’90s.
According to a number of the party’s former treasurers, Aznar was unhappy with the “official” salary he received as the party’s president and proposed complementing it with supposed “representation expenses,” which would not be declared to the relevant tax authorities.
Sources claim that these salary “bonuses” averaged roughly 3,000 euros per month. To keep track of all the money changing hands, the party treasurer – who until 2009 was Luis Bárcenas, the man who was recently discovered to have stashed away some 22 million euros in Swiss bank accounts and who, it seems, is now spilling the beans on his colleagues – kept a closely guarded list of the recipients of these funds.
The big question is just how much did the current PM, Rajoy, know about these practices? More important still, how much did he himself pocket (if indeed he did)?
As the government’s edifice crumbles, official denials of wrong doing are coming in thick and fast from all those implicated in the scandal, including, of course, Rajoy himself, who claims never to have received or distributed “black money.” Some, including Aznar and Cospedal, have even instructed their lawyers -working on taxpayer expense, no doubt – to file law suits against El Pais and other publications for defamation.
All the while, the Spanish economy continues its descent into the abyss. Household consumption has collapsed by about 50 percent since 2002; unemployment continues its dizzying rise toward 30 percent – and a staggering 60 percent among the youth – leaving the country’s best and brightest little choice but to seek opportunities overseas; and many of the small businesses that have miraculously weathered the crisis up to this point are now biting the bullet and closing up shop or concentrating their operations in the submerged economy (and who could blame them, considering how the government appears to be using their hard-earned taxes?).
As Rajoy and his rag-tag team of ministers promise to do all it takes to prove their innocence, they ignore one essential point: the damage is done. Trust in politics is hard gained and easily lost, and in Spain these days, public trust in the government is at rock bottom. As a recent poll revealed, 96 percent of Spaniards have no faith in the intentions of either of the main parties – hardly surprising given the scale and scope of corruption and betrayal.
And with the furore unlikely to die down any time soon, one can only wonder where events in Spain might eventually lead. The internal battles in the government are almost certain to intensify, with rumours surfacing that the recent leaks may even be part of a coordinated campaign by the PP’s radical wing to discredit and unseat Rajoy. Certainly Esperanza Aguirre, the former hardline president of the Community of Madrid and one of just a handful of senior government officials to emerge unscathed from the scandals, seems to have her sights set on the top job.
What about the European Union? Will it be stepping into the fray to prevent Spanish political instability from further jeopardising the European project? Might the commission try to depose Rajoy, as it did so ruthlessly Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Greece’s Geórgios Papandreu, replacing them with technocrats (read: former Goldman Sachs bankers) more amenable to the demands of the European superstate?
Or might the people of Spain finally take matters into their own hands? Could Spain be the first of this year’s European Springs? Certainly public rage is simmering toward boiling point – as can only be expected given the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions and the excesses, abuses and woeful inadequacies of so many of its treasonous political “representatives”. Even traditionally moderate or conservative voters are beginning to use the dreaded r[evolution] word!
As Marcus Tullius Cicero warned over two millenia ago, “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within… For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.”