Demagoguing the FARC-ETA Case

Over the last few days, Spanish conservatives have been desperately trying to one-up each other’s outrage-o-meter readings over Venezuela’s alleged role in supporting FARC’s collaboration with ETA. It’s...

Over the last few days, Spanish conservatives have been desperately trying to one-up each other’s outrage-o-meter readings over Venezuela’s alleged role in supporting FARC’s collaboration with ETA. It’s no surprise: even the most oblique sign of sympathy or cooperation with ETA is fantastically toxic in Spanish politics, so slamming the Zapatero government for being nice to people who are nice to ETA is a sure winner.

People’s Party leader Mariano Rajoy didn’t pass up the chance to slam Zapatero’s "dangerous friendships" once again, calling the notion that Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos had apologized to Chávez for the Prime Minister’s demand for an explanation "grotesque." He urged him instead to consider breaking diplomatic relations with Venezuela.

Madrid regional leader Esperanza Aguirre – who makes no secret of the fact that she’s gunning for Rajoy’s job – called for Spain to recall its ambassador, calling Chávez’s posture "disgraceful."

Meanwhile, the PP’s parliamentary spokeswoman, Soraya Sáenz, called the allegations "extraordinarily grave" and demanded a reformulation of relations with Venezuela, noting that the Zapatero government is being held hostage by its "dangerous friendships."

In case the message isn’t clear – the right in Spain is outraged, shocked, indignant.

A little thought experiment helps put this in context. Imagine Mariano Rajoy’s fairy godmother waved her magic wand and made him Prime Minister tomorrow.

Are we really to believe he’d then just "forget" that Telefónica has a cool billion dollars worth of accumulated profits "stuck" in bolivars, pending Cadivi (i.e. Chávez’s) authorization? What about BBVA’s 55% stake in Banco Provincial? Do you honestly think Rajoy’s buddies (and donors) in Madrid’s financial circles are just going to write that off because, hey, we all need to make sacrifices in the struggle against ETA?

How about those patrol ships Navantia is selling the Venezuelan Navy? Think Rajoy wants to be the one handing out the pink-slips to the shipyard workers because, y’know, a couple of Etarras spent two weeks teaching some Colombians how to use C4 half a world away?

And don’t forget about Repsol’s massive investment in Carabobo-1 block down in the Faja del Orinoco, or about Elecnor and Iberdrola. Think they’re going to just shrug their shoulders as their massive contracts to build electric power plants in Venezuela get tossed into the diplomatic pyre? 

No on all counts.

The reality is that Spain is in too deep at this point, in commercial terms, for principle to play into it. The wave of low-to-no-compensation expropriations that would come if they took serious action in response to this case would cost Spanish firms billions of Euros and leave thousands of Spaniards out of work. No remotely rational politician would go that route.

Which, I suspect, these PP blowhards know. Still, the temptation to use this case as a stick to beat the government over the head with is too strong to resist; the rewards too easy to forego. The PP knows perfectly well that no Spanish government would incur the costs of the policy they’re advocating, which is why they’re advocating it in the first place. It forces Zapatero to defend a policy that is plainly indefensible under the "rules of engagement" of mainstream Spanish politics. All in all, it’s a situation custom-made for demagoguery if I ever saw one.

I will say one word in defense of the conservatives’ position, though: the Socialist Government clearly brought this on itself. They must have known that coddling a guy like Chávez was a massive risk. They can’t be surprised that the commercial advantage said coddling yielded to Spanish firms came at the cost of leaving them exposed to surprises like Magistrate Eloy Velásco’s indictment. They gambled, and they lost. And hollow as PP’s criticism rings to me, the PSOE’s decision to pursue its "dangerous friendships" policy left the conservatives shooting at an open goal.