Zapatero “Uses Foreign Policy to Score Points in Spanish Politics”
The Great Filtration
Zapatero “Uses Foreign Policy to Score Points in Spanish Politics”
The documents reveal conversations with the King, Zapatero, Rajoy, Felipe González, and Aznar – the Embassy manipulated and threatened to achieve its ends; it also released devastating reports. A cable classified the bilateral relationship as “zigzagging erratically.”
El País: “Zapatero usa la política exterior para ganar puntos en España”
Jan Martínez Ahrens, reporting from Madrid, November 29, 2010
Condoleezza Rice leaves La Moncloa in 2007. (Ricardo Gutiérrez)
The 3620 documents of the United States’ Embassy in Madrid analyzed by this newspaper (103 secret, 898 confidential, and 2619 unclassified) offer a unique vision of the tableau of priorities, strategies, and secret pressures of Washington toward Spain from 2004 until this year, a period that corresponds almost completely with the government of Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The cables which El País will publish in the following days illuminate the most agitated and unknown moments of this relationship between a superpower and a mid-sized ally with whom there was no risk of rupture, although there was friction. Those areas of disagreement, replete with shadows, include the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the Kosovo crisis, Spain’s links with Cuba and Venezuela and its commercial relations with countries suspected of terrorism, and other matters under judicial investigation; the secret and confidential papers allow us to look through the keyhole and see for the first time the maneuvers behind the scenes (and “behind the scenes” is one of documents’ most repeated phrases) of the powerful legation. This operative, discrete, and ligne claire literature includes calls, meetings, warnings, and threats directed toward people with decision-making power or privileged information.
In this agenda figure the King (mentioned in 145 cables, including those from other embassies), José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (111), Mariano Rajoy (129), Felipe González (76), José María Aznar (53), ministers, judges, attorneys, businessmen, and representatives of the highest institutions of state. All these top-level contacts are profiled in detailed reports sent as analysis to the Washington machinery (the peak year is 2007, with 928 cables, 80% more than the annual average), and they reproduce conversations which the Spanish interlocutors did not expect to be disseminated and whose content leaves them in ethical gray areas or compromised before public opinion. These include the cables over judicial cases which affected American interests. The scheme is repeated in other episodes of political or entrepreneurial nature, with the consequent deterioration of the delegate, who was many times situated at the cusp of power. At these points, we should not forget the bias of the reports which, far from any pretense of neutrality, simply value actions by whether they advance the interests of the Embassy, an observer which is neither independent nor antiseptic but rather a pure agent of the United States.
The fundamental object of the Embassy’s work is the Socialist government. Its three ambassadors in the last six years (multimillionaire George L. Argyros and Cuban-American Eduardo Aguirre of the Bush administration and philanthropist Alan D. Solomont of the Obama Administration) profile in many secret letters to Washington (carbon copied to the CIA) the highs and lows of their relationship with Zapatero and his team. They bring to light the ins and outs of high Spanish politics and facilitate an unedited X-ray of American interests in Spain, which are at times very different from the interests of Spaniards. White hot topics on the Iberian Peninsula like ETA are considered domestic affairs and sustain only the habitual bureaucratic curiosity of the Department of State, except when the truce was broken and the subject acquired political significance of the first order, capable, in the diplomats’ judgment, of bringing down the government.
A key point in this great political fresco is the Socialist victory and the end of Aznarism. Zapatero’s entry into La Moncloa, which the diplomats attribute in part to the PP’s poor management of the Madrid train bombings [11-M], generated a wave of secret and confidential cables destined to inform their chiefs who the Socialist leader was and what his desires were; the diplomats considered him to belong to an “old-fashioned and romantic” left wing.
From the beginning, they warned of problems over Latin America but over all of the possible retirement of troops from Iraq, which in short time was confirmed. This decision chilled relations to the point that Bush did not even make the customary congratulatory call to Zapatero for his second electoral victory. From that low point, the Embassy papers show how confidence was slowly restored, with Spain throwing itself into remaking the relationship, but with the United States, knowing the Spanish desire to make up lost ground, forgetting neither its central objectives nor its carrot and stick politics.
A report by ambassador Eduardo Aguirre sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice affirms that “Zapatero is playing a game for the benefit of his leftist and pacifist electoral base, and uses foreign policy to score points in Spanish politics, rather than to address to key priorities of foreign policy or broader strategic objectives (…) This has led to a bilateral relationship that is zigzagging erratically.”
This unequal correlation of forces is reflected in a tract which dispenses reports on Spanish political figures. No one inspires enthusiasm except the king (to the point that advice is given on how to make oneself agreeable to him) and perhaps the military. The description of the President is very different. From the beginning of his rule, he has been considered a problem for certain vectors of American foreign policy, a short-term politician who puts electoral calculations above the common interest.
It is much the same for his ministers. In the papers, we see them receive all kinds of admonitions from the American ambassador of the time, most of all from Aguirre.
The responses to these pressures cover a wide spectrum, many of them conciliatory, others conniving, others flatly negative. This occurred, for example, when the Spanish Secretary of State was confidentially sounded out about the accelerated extradition of an arms trafficker; without changing tone, he reminded the representative of the most powerful nation on the planet that he would never put the person in question “on a 3 A.M. flight to the United States” because in Spain, such processes are completed with guaranteed rights and transparency.
It’s one more scene from the hundreds of secret (and often not so reassuring) maneuvers captured in the papers of the United States Embassy in Madrid. Some were apparently relaxed meetings, others hard and direct pressures, and others devastating reports about the highest figures of the state. This is to be expected in a world steeped in confidentiality and secrecy. Only this time, everything has been discovered.