Europe’s far-right and nationalist leaders to meet in Spain on Friday

Hungary and Poland's leaders and France's Marine Le Pen will be in Madrid on Friday for a gathering of nationalist and far-right leaders, Spain's Vox party leader Santigo Abascal said on Wednesday.

far right leaders meet in spain
Poland's Mateusz Morawiecki, Spain's Santiago Abascal, France's Marine Le Pen and Hungary's Viktor Orban will all be present at the Madrid summit. Photos: Attila KISBENEDEK, OSCAR DEL POZO, STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP

The meeting comes two months after a similar gathering in Warsaw in December, with the follow-up organised by the far-right Vox, which is the third-largest party in Spain’s parliament.

“The aim is to continue the work begun at the Warsaw Summit: to defend Europe against external and internal threats by promoting an alternative to the globalist trend which threatens the European Union by attacking the sovereignty of nations,” said Vox leader Santiago Abascal.

Among delegates attending the two-day summit which begins on Friday are Hungarian premier Viktor Orban, his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, far-right leader Le Pen, a candidate in France’s upcoming presidential election, as well as far-right leaders from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and The Netherlands.

In July, Le Pen, Orban, Abascal, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and a dozen others signed a joint declaration announcing plans for a “grand alliance” in the European Parliament whose aim was to “reform Europe”.

Salvini, leader of Italy’s anti-immigration League, was notably absent from the Warsaw gathering and will also not be attending the Madrid talks.

In December, the parties discussed joint votes on sovereignty and immigration issues in the European Parliament but stopped short of striking a formal alliance.

The right-wing and pro-sovereignty parties fall into two distinct groups within the European Parliament: the Identity and Democracy Group, to which Le Pen’s National Rally and Salvini’s League belong, while the other is the European Conservatives and Reformists Group which groups Vox and Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party among others.

Last March, Orban’s Fidesz left the centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest group in the European Parliament, and is looking for a new home.

Both Poland and Hungary have been locked in a dispute with Brussels over their perceived backsliding on EU democratic norms, and are fighting a mechanism linking payment of EU funds to the rule of law.

Last year, both filed complaints with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the mechanism with a ruling expected on February 16.

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Why Madrid has become a haven for Latin American dissidents

Well-known faces of Cuba's protest have in recent years gone into exile in Madrid, which is rivalling Miami as a haven for Latin American political opponents.

Why Madrid has become a haven for Latin American dissidents

“Miami has always been the destination of those who suffered from Latin American dictatorships,” Cuban dissident and playwright Yunior García, who went into self-imposed exile in Madrid in November, told AFP.

But now “many Latin Americans are choosing to come to Spain,” added García, one of the organisers of a failed mass protest last year in the Communist-ruled island.

The Spanish capital is especially attractive for an artist and dissident fleeing a dictatorship because of its “bohemian” atmosphere, García said.

Spain has long drawn migrants from its former colonies in Latin America who have often sought work in low-wage jobs as cleaners or waiters — but in recent years prominent exiles have joined the influx.

Award-winning Nicaraguan writer and former vice president Sergio Ramírez and Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo López, a former mayor of Chacao, an upmarket district of Caracas, are among those who have moved to Madrid.

“Madrid is the new Miami, the new place where so many hispanics come fleeing dictatorship,” said Toni Cantó, the head of a Madrid regional government body charged with promoting the region as the “European capital of Spanish”.

Many Latin Americans are able to establish themselves easily in Spain because they have double citizenship, in many cases because their ancestors came from the country.

Others like García arrive on a tourist visa and then request asylum.

Sometimes, especially in the case of prominent Venezuelan opposition leaders, the government has rolled out the welcome mat and granted them Spanish citizenship.

Cuban political dissident Carolina Barrero is pictured during an AFP interview in Madrid. Spain has long drawn migrants from its former colonies in Latin America who have often sought work in low-wage jobs, but in recent years prominent exilees have joined the influx. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

‘Good option’

Contacted by AFP, Spain’s central government declined to comment.

But shortly after García arrived in Spain, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares told parliament that Latin Americans “share our values, they look naturally to Europe”.

For Cubans, getting a visa to enter the United States has been even more complicated in recent years since Washington closed its consulate in Havana in 2017. It only partially reopened in May.

“Spain is a very good option,” said Cuban journalist Abraham Jiménez, who fled to Spain in January when he finally was able to obtain a passport after years of being denied one.

Spain has received previous waves of Cuban dissidents in the past.

Under an agreement between Cuba, Spain and the Catholic Church, in 2010 and 2011, more than 110 Cuban political prisoners arrived in Madrid, accompanied by dozens of relatives.

There are now about 62,000 Cubans officially registered in Spain, with Madrid home to the largest community.

Cuba is “a pressure cooker, and ever time pressure builds” Havana eases it by forcing dissidents into exile, said Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, the head of the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory for Human Rights who fled to Spain in 2008.

Cuban journalist Mónica Baró is pictured at her home in Madrid. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

‘Lost everything’

Cuban independent journalist Mónica Baró said she left Cuba for Madrid in 2021 because she said she could no longer bear the “harassment” of Cuban state security forces.

Madrid shares the same language and has a “shared culture”, as well as a well-established network of Cubans, that has helped her overcome the “traumas” she brought with her, Baro added.

But not knowing if she will ever see her parents, who remained in Cuba, again saddens her.

“When you leave like I did, you have the feeling that you buried your parents,” said Baró, who faces arrest if she returns to Cuba.

García said he welcomed the absence in Madrid of the deep “resentment” and “rage” towards the Cuban regime found in Miami among its much larger community of Cuban exiles, which he said was “natural”.

These are people “who had to leave on a raft, who lost everything they had in Cuba, whose family suffered jail time and sometimes death,” he said.

Madrid on the other hand, provides “tranquility to think things through,” he added.

“I don’t want anger, resentment, to win me over,” García said.