‘I am the miracle worker’

The Local's Spanish Face of the Week is none other than formerly-moustachioed ex-Prime Minister José María Aznar, who has managed to bypass insinuations of links to corruption to publicly criticize his successor and hint at a return to the political fray.

'I am the miracle worker'
The six-pack-packing former-PM is back in the news and possibly back in the political ring. Photo:Youtube

Who is José María Aznar?

The luxuriantly-coiffured native of Madrid was Prime Minister of Spain from 1996 until 2004, rising from the ranks of the Falange-supporting FES Student Union to lead the PP (Popular Party) to victory in two general elections.

He comes from a political family – both his father and grandfather worked for Franco's government – and he's married to Ana Botella, the current Mayor of Madrid.

Widely credited with overseeing Spain's economic boom, Aznar famously told The New York Times: "I am the miracle worker."

However, his unquestioning support for President George Bush's readiness to wage war on Iraq and the ensuing Al-Qaeda bombings in Madrid cost him his presidency, as the Spanish general public turned to the opposing Socialist Party.

So why are we talking about him in 2013?

Aznar hit the headlines this week when he threatened to rejoin the political arena and criticized the current Popular Party Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy for not cutting taxes.

The crisis has been tough on everyone. Perhaps he needs the money?

It's possible, but unlikely. In addition to a substantial income as a writer, José Maria is a board member and advisor to several companies including Rupert Murdoch's News International and Endesa, the energy utility that he privatized while in power and from whom he receives over €200,00 a year.

He regularly appears as an international guest lecturer at American universities, giving him the chance to brush up his once broken English.

He also gets a pension of €70,000 a year, plus expenses, for being a former prime minister.

Yes, but he probably has a lot of bills…

If times do get tough for Aznar, he can always count on the generosity of his friends. Court documents recently revealed that Francisco Correa, currently under investigation as part of the corrupt Gürtel business network, gave €32,452 to his pal José Maria as a gift to pay for lighting rigging at the wedding of Aznar's daughter in 2002.

€32,453? That's a lot of lights isn't it?

Wedding guests Silvio Berlusconi and King Juan Carlos of Spain always like to look good for the ladies. Cameras. I meant cameras.

It's a bit suspicious, though. What did the Aznars have to say about it?

"I find your lack of faith disturbing."

That was Darth Vader, wasn't it?

Sorry. "The doubt is offensive," said Mrs. Aznar when she was asked about it this week.

Isn't Aznar a bit old to be jumping back into politics?

José María may be 60 years old but he's still a fine figure of a man. He claims to do 1,000 sit ups a day and paparazzi photographs of his rippling 'six-pack' abdominals set right wing Spanish hearts aflutter in 2009.

But where's the magnificent moustache?

Aznar's splendid facial hair was a key component of his macho image when he was in power. Urban legend says that he first grew it to cover the paralyzed upper lip he has as a result of an altercation with doormen in an establishment of ill-repute in La Rioja, which he investigated during his time as a tax inspector.

His many fans hope that they have not seen the last of it, or him.

Editor's Note:The Local's Spanish Face of the Week is someone in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Spanish Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen

The Spanish government on Tuesday approved a special fund to exhume graves at the Valley of the Fallen, where thousands of victims of the Spanish Civil War and dictator Francisco Franco are buried.

Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen
Women hold up pictures of their fathers and relatives, who were condemned to death during Franco’s dictatorship. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP

The Socialist government said it had set aside €665,000 ($780,000) to exhume some 33,000 victims whose remains lie behind a vast basilica near Madrid.

Franco was buried in the basilica when he died in 1975 but his remains were removed in 2019 and transferred to a discreet family plot on the outskirts of the capital.

Government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montera told reporters that more than 60 families and international institutions had called for the exhumation of the victims to give relatives who suffered during the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship “moral reparation”.

Campaigners estimate more than 100,000 victims from the war and its aftermath remain buried in unmarked graves across Spain —- a figure, according to Amnesty International, only exceeded by Cambodia.

Human remains discovered during exhumation works carried out by the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory of Valladolid, in a mass grave where the bodies of hundreds of people were dumped during the Spanish civil war. Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP

Built between 1940 and 1958 partly by the forced labour of political prisoners, the imposing basilica and the mausoleum of the Valley of the Fallen was initially intended for those who had fought for Franco.

But in 1959 the remains of many Republican opponents were moved there from cemeteries and mass graves across the country without their families being informed.

The crypts and ossuaries where some of the victims are buried are inaccessible as they were walled off at the time.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made the rehabilitation of the victims of the Franco era one of his priorities since coming to power in 2018.

As well as the Valley of the Fallen, his government is also focusing on identifying remains founds in mass graves across Spain.