Photo: Clarín retrieved
This week, Spain saw the end of an electoral campaign dominated by the economic crisis, Catalonia and corruption as the most sensitive topics for voters. The topics of Venezuela and chavismo never made it to debates between candidates and foreign policy was so relegated that they didn’t even mention their positions regarding the European Union.
Catalonia has made Spanish voters look inwards. In that context, any foreign matters lose relevance, but Venezuela, with all its gradients in the ideological spectrum of Spanish politics, hasn’t completely disappeared from public discussion.
Pedro Sánchez, current President of the Spanish Government and leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), has disregarded the use of the Venezuelan topic as a campaign prop: “When we talk [about Venezuela] it’s merely for the right to berate the Left, telling us that we’re not democrats.” Meanwhile, he defends the idea of Spain as an actor and not as a mere spectator in international policy. In an interview with El País, he said that “Spain is leading international response regarding Venezuela.” But is it?
In that context, any foreign matters lose relevance, but Venezuela, with all its gradients in the ideological spectrum of Spanish politics, hasn’t completely disappeared from public discussion.
Sánchez is clearly hostile to the idea of an armed intervention in Venezuela and careful in how he expresses his support for Juan Guaidó. He’s said that Spain “has no right to decide who must govern Venezuela” and that, according to his government, Guaidó is a president responsible for holding elections, more than anything else, adding that all of Europe shares this stance, along with “many political leaders of the Latin American community with whom I’ve talked.”
The other half of the Spanish left, represented by Pablo Iglesias and his party Unidos Podemos, seems to be permanently associated with the Venezuelan dictatorship, after numerous accusations that the party has been financed by chavismo, which Iglesias has tried to deny, actively seeking to distance himself from a past where he presented Venezuela as an example.
“Venezuela’s current political and economic situation is disastrous. Rectifying in politics is good,” Iglesias said recently, but back in 2014, his words were very different: “I’m moved when I hear the Commander (Chávez). He’s sorely missed. This man told us so many truths.” Iglesias has adopted a habit that seems like an homage to Chávez and perhaps only Venezuelans can notice: nowadays, he’s always seen carrying a pocket version of the Spanish Constitution, and quoting it as the Venezuelan strongman used to do with the Constitution of 1999.
Meanwhile, in the conservative camp, the People’s Party (PP) announced in early April that Leopoldo López Gil, father of Venezuelan leader and political prisoner Leopoldo López, will be their candidate at the European Parliament elections on May 26th. López Gil said that he hopes “to speak faithfully not only for the Kingdom of Spain, but also for Latin American countries and especially Venezuela before the European Parliament.” López Gil received the Spanish nationality in December 2015, when former PP leader Mariano Rajoy was head of government.
Pablo Casado, the PP’s current leader, says that López Gil is a great friend and has criticized Sánchez’s stance: “Sadly, due to Sánchez’s hesitation, it seems that the solution to oust Maduro’s regime is taking its time.” Casado promotes a Spain with a “protagonic role in Ibero-America” and complains that the current occupants of La Moncloa Palace have chosen the wrong allies, alluding to Pedro Sánchez’s visit to Cuba.
Albert Rivera, candidate for Ciudadanos, personally visited Venezuela in 2016 to try and meet with Leopoldo López in the military prison of Ramo Verde.
In their government plan, PP proposes a Program of Assistance for Venezuela’s Reconstruction, which ranges from humanitarian aid to cooperation in establishing a free market economy. They also demand investigations on the grants received by institutions that have “cooperated with the Venezuelan dictatorship,” arguing that Spain is bound by the obligation of denouncing dictators and supporting democrats. Casado, the only candidate that has mentioned Venezuela’s situation in the debates, has also promised to implement a temporary protection status for Venezuelan citizens, giving them temporary residence and work permit in Spain.
In the Spanish center-right, Albert Rivera, candidate for Ciudadanos, personally visited Venezuela in 2016 to try and meet with Leopoldo López in the military prison of Ramo Verde, and in this campaign he spoke about the topic after a Venezuelan child asked him a question in a TV show. “I wish Venezuelans could vote, as you know, they can’t. There’s a dictator who, like Franco in his day, doesn’t allow people to vote. And I want Venezuelans, who are our brothers and speak our language, to be able to do that. I know President Juan Guaidó, I know Leopoldo López. I promise you that freedom will come soon.”
Rivera criticized Sánchez’s position after Juan Guaidó took his oath, saying that Spain should provide all the necessary assistance for the holding of “free and fair elections” in Venezuela. Like PP, Rivera has also complained that Sánchez’s government isn’t exercising enough pressure, and that the fall of the chavista regime should be a cautionary tale for other autocracies. Regarding his support for a military intervention in Venezuela, he answered that “it’s an option that’s not on the table right now.”
As for far-right party Vox, their candidate Santiago Abascal was left out electoral debates due to the criteria of proportionality established by the Central Electoral Board, but the party supports Venezuela’s opposition in Spain and openly supports a military intervention in the country, also advocating greater Spanish involvement in Ibero-America. “It’s not about a second wave of conquerors but rather an older brother in ‘Hispanity’ that brings us together as a family,” Vox’s International Relations vice-secretary Iván Espinosa de Monteros in March. “Hispanity” was a concept used by Francisco Franco’s dictatorship to reduce its isolation through alliances with conservative governments in Latin America, such as Marcos Pérez Jiménez’s dictatorship in Venezuela.