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Spanish Elections

Borja Echevarria
News Editor for elmundo.es
Tuesday, March 16, 2004; 11:00 AM

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain's new prime minister-elect, repeated his campaign pledge to withdraw 1,300 Spanish troops from Iraq. Zapatero's Socialist Party won Spain's parliamentary elections Sunday, just days after a train bombings in Madrid killed 200 people and sent the nation in mourning.

Borja Echevarria, news editor for elmundo.es, the Web site for Spain's El Mundo daily, discussed the recent election, the terrorist bombing and the political climate in the country.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Alexandria, Va.: I read elmundo.es on a daily basis. It is extremely informative and well written and it gives a different point of view that what one reads in the US media. The message that I hear from Spain (which I agree with) is that you can be against terrorism AND oppose the war in Iraq. This is a very clear distinction that many in the US do not understand. They think the Spanish public has been manipulated by the terrorists. (Spaniards are more sophisticated than that).
The massive outpouring of people in the streets in such a peaceful and dignified manner made me feel proud of having been born in Spain (Cadiz!). Thanks for doing such an excellent job of keeping us well informed.

Borja Echevarria: Thanks for your comments. In Spain, 99% of the people is against any kind of terrorism -ETA, the basque terrorist group- or Al Qaeda, but spanish people are mostly pacific. In the case or Irak war, most of spaniards think it was an illegal war, that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that Bush would have gone to the war even if he had known this because he wanted a war in the first place.

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Lyme, Conn.: For there to have been such a dramatic reaction to the terrorist attack in the elections, didn't there have to have been a strong undercurrent of questioning the wisdom of supporting the invasion of Iraq? How strong or weak was this sentiment before the attacks?

Borja Echevarria: Before the war, the demonstrations in Spain were huge. People from diferent political views marched together in the streets and so they have vote last sunday.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think the new Socialist government of Spain will be able to work closely with France, which is governed by a centre-right coalition under Chirac? Other than agreeing on the Iraq war, what will Spain's Socialists and France's right-wing government have in common?

Borja Echevarria: Aznar and Blair got along very well althouh they had a pretty diferent political background. I think Zapatero, the socialist leader, will have no problem with Chirac. Even more, his relationship with France could be better because of his european vision, something lacking in Aznar's foreign policy.

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Brookeville, Md.: Mr. Echevarria,

Thanks for taking my question.

As tragic and horrible as the attacks in Spain were I hate to see any government even hint at appeasing a terrorist group's desires. Do you feel Spain's election results and the new Prime Minister's desire to pull troops from Iraq are directly related to the attacks or was this election result and policy very possible regardless of the attacks.

Borja Echevarria: Mister Zapatero had already announced before the elections that he would withdraw spanish troops from Irak if he won. It's very possible that without the terrorist attacks he hadn't won. The polls were clearly favourable to Aznar and no one even thought that the socialist party would be able to win. The only discussion was wether the conservatives would obtain a simple or total mayority of the votes.

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Washington, D.C.: American comentators have speculated that a large number of Spanish voters were swayed to vote against the PP because they felt that the Aznar government lied at first in trying to blame ETA for the attack. However, I have not seen any evidence for this in any of the "man-on-the-street" interviews that I have seen of Spanish voters. What I have seen instead is voters who were uneasy with the Aznar government's approach to Islamic terrorism, but were not planning to allow that unease to sway their vote--until March 11. Which is the truth? Thank you.

Borja Echevarria: A lot of people were already angry with the goverment before the 11-M, but many of them didn't feel happy with the socialist party either. But it's true that after the bombs, and when the spaniards realized that it was not ETA, and after the way the government handled the situation, many people decided to vote against the goverment. It was a punishment to the goverment more than a reward to the socialists.

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Borja Echevarria: In the fourth question I said Aznar, when I meant Rajoy, the new conservative leader.
Sorry

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Bethesda, Md.: Buenos d?as. As a Spaniard living in the U.S. I too relied mostly on elmundo.es to follow Thursday's attacks and the following events. Could you please summarize the controversy surrounding Aznar's government way of handling information related to the bombings? Everybody naturally assumed at first that it was ETA, but was there really a delay in communicating later discoveries to the population?

Did the government officially confirm the explosive was titadine (the kind used by ETA) before it was found out it wasn't? Was there a delay in notifying about the unexploded backpack? What about the witness who said he saw men around the van that morning, apparently wearing ETA-style ski masks, then saying they could've been scarves?

U.S citizens may not be aware that mass media in Spain -and the rest of Europe- are much more openly politically-aligned to the right or the left in their news coverage than here. I have heard and read the government was intentionally slow to confirm leads that pointed to Al-Qaeda. But after the elections, I have also heard PRISA (a powerful mass-media conglomerate closely tied to the winner PSOE) exaggerated the contradictions and spread the idea of a lying government.

As an expat who has to rely on what's posted on the net, I'd appreciate El Mundo's view of all this. Thanks.

Borja Echevarria: I have my own opinion, but I can't say for sure they delayed the information. But what I'm sure is that when they said that ETA was responsible they couldn't have the whole information to say such a thing. Their way of handling everything was extremely erratic.

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Washington, D.C.: Spain has a very small Muslim minority, under 500,000 in total. Is there any indication that there will be a backlash against that minority in retaliation for the Madrid bombing?

Borja Echevarria: There's no indication of this. Today I had lunch in the Mosque and even there was no Police. Spaniards feel good about the muslims, you must not forget that for eight centuries they were part of this country.

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Nederland, Colo.: You said "It's very possible that without the terrorist attacks [Zapatero would not have] won." How does that belief fit with the reported 90 percent of Spaniards opposing Aznar's joining the war against Iraq? Also regarding the earlier query about "appeasing the terrorists," don't many believe that terrorists actually prefer their opponents to adopt militarist policies, as Aznar did?

Borja Echevarria: People marched one year ago against Aznar's policy in Irak, but for spaniards Irak's war was not the only issue. Don't forget that Spain has only 1.300 soldiers in Irak. Spaniards thougt that economy worked well and that is so important for most of the people. Last may we had local elections and the conservatives won by far. To the other question, I think that islamic terrorists don't want to have in Spain an enemy. They prefer that we leave their country.

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Arlington, Va.: I would like simply to express condolences for the terrible tragedy your nation has suffered. I am an American citizen, but I was born at the old US Air Force base at Torrejon, and I am thus in some small way a Madrileno. I share the grief of your people.

Borja Echevarria: Gracias

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USA: I am very impressed by the people of Spain, who apparently were able to come together in genuine community to oppose terrorism and then accurately direct blame at their government leaders who, in effect, provoked the terrorist attacks by participating the unprovoked United States aggression against Iraq.

I fear that if a similar attack happened in the United States, the levels of paranoia, disinformation, and isolation are such that it would likely favor the incumbent president, Bush, whose policies have only generated more anger at the U.S. in the world.

Do you agree with this interpretation of the events in Spain?

How is the United States viewed in Spain? Do people make a distinction between the extreme policies of the current administration versus Americans generally, or not?

Borja Echevarria: I agree with the most of your interpretation. Spaniards, when they marched in the streets, in some way they were telling the goverment thay if one day there was an attack against spanish interests, this would be related to the spanih policy in support of the US. So when the 11-M took place, and when it was clear it was not ETA, they realized in that moment that they could lose the elections.

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Madrid, Spain: According to Alexa.com, the independent online auditor, elmundo.es is the international leader in the internet among spanish written media. Why do you think you have such a big success?

Borja Echevarria: We believe in information, fast, accurate, updated, using the classic journalism mixed together with new technologies. Secondly, we believe in a model of free disemination of information that has made us profitable and the leaders in number of readers.

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Lake Ridge, Va.: Mr. Echevarria:

I find it troubling that the people of Spain are misdirecting their anger at the US. Why are they not angry at groups that actually perpetrated the attacks? It seems quite obvious that the terrorists truly accomplished their goal in Madrid: the act of terror turned Spain against their own ally and has created an atmosphere of appeasement in Europe. How can those of us across the Atlantic think of anything but the appeasement of Hitler before WWII? Has Europe learned nothing of the policy?

It is true that if you do not anger your enemy, he won't attack you in the immediate future. But unless you are prepared to fully succumb to him in the future, you must be prepared to fight him in the present. Why do Europeans have a hard time seeing this? I'm not advocating all-out war anywhere. I'm just saying that I believe a united front against terrorism is the best and only weapon with which to fight it. But the European nations seem more concerned with just not being the next attacked than actually finding a way to win.

Borja Echevarria: I dont't think spaniards are angry with americans, but with the spanish goverment and with Bush policy. To the other question, most of us think we should fight together against terrorism, but in a more clever way than bombing Afganistan
-because Bin Laden hid there- or Irak -because Sadam lived there-.

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Madrid, Spain: We are hearing that Zapatero will turn towards Europe (France and Germany mainly). Were John Kerry elected President of the U.S. what might Zapatero's relation with him be?

Borja Echevarria: I think Zapatero will try to have a good relation not only with Kerry but also with Bush. He doesn't like confrontation.

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USA: elmundo.es is reporting that according to Pedro Almod?var, "el PP estuvo a punto de provocar un golpe de Estado el s?bado" (that the Popular Party was on the verge of provoking a coup d'etat on Saturday).

I realize that Almod?var may not be the best source for political information. But do you have any comment about this?

Borja Echevarria: You're right. He's not the best source. His comments were based in a rumour circulating by e-mail, and he, stupidly, has made it true.

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Arlington, Va.: How will the bombings affect large public events, such as the upcoming Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Seville, and train transportation in the country?

Borja Echevarria: I hope you have a good time in Seville and there shouldn't be any problems.

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Silver Spring, Md.: If Spain pulls out of Iraq, does that not serve the purposes of those who threaten the free world with random acts of terror? Is it not almost certain that they will escalate their tactics to try to break the will of other nations?

What evidence is there that a policy of appeasement will not fail in the present case as it has throughout history?

Borja Echevarria: It's true that, if Spain finally pulls out of Irak, terrorists would probably have achieved their purpose, but it's more true that spaniards didn't want to be there, and this is why they voted against the party in the goverment.

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Alexandria, Va.: One of the reasons why the Socialists were ousted in the first place was because after so many years in power there was a lot of corruption. What worries me is that they will go back to their bad old ways. Do you think that the Socialists have cleaned up their act? Are there any new safeguards to avoid a repeat of this? Thanks!

Borja Echevarria: Socialists have been out of the goverment for eight years and we hope corruption doesn't come back. Journalists will keep a close eye on Zapatero and his team, reminding him his electoral promises and denouncing any kind of corruption.

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Austin, Tex.: I opposed the Iraq war, and I keep up with Spanish politics. So I wasn't especially surprised or disappointed with the election results. But I did read something that bothered me about Rodriguez Zapatero making it a point to sit down when the US flag passed by during a public ceremony. I hate to sound like a typical flag-obsessed American, but that strikes me as a really ugly gesture toward not just the US government, but the entire nation.

So here is my question. What can we expect from the PSOE government? A strong, European voice that is more willing to stand up to the Bush administration while recognizing our enormous common interests and shared values (a good thing for us all, I think), or the sort of puerile, knee-jerk anti-Americanism suggested by the flag incident?

Borja Echevarria: I think it was not a nice gesture, but a symbolic one against Bush and not to the american people. Let's hope his attitude is not puerile. Spain and United States have more things in common than disagreements.

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Borja Echevarria: Thank you so much for everything, from elmundo.es in Madrid.
Sorry I couldn't answer all the questions.

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