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POLITICS

Spain’s far-right Vox party poised to enter Castilla y León government

Spain's far-right party Vox is poised to enter a regional government for the first time after big election gains over the weekend, suggesting a blueprint for future power sharing nationally.

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Leader of far-right Vox party in Castilla y León, Juan García Gallardo gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Valladolid on February 14, 2022, a day after the results of the regional election. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

Vox came third in Sunday’s snap polls in the central Castilla y León region, winning 13 seats in the 81-seat assembly, up from just one.

It is now demanding it form part of a coalition government with the conservative Popular Party (PP) which came first with 31 seats — two more than in 2019 but well short of an absolute majority.

“Vox has the right and the duty to form a government in Castilla y León,” Vox leader Santiago Abascal said late on Sunday.

The party also wanted the vice-presidency of the regional government, he added.

The voters “have spoken” and “we will demand nothing more nor less than what is due to us,” Abascal said.

The formation of a PP-Vox government could be a foretaste of a right-wing alliance that might govern Spain after the next general election due before the end of 2023.

Most recent polls put the PP first, ahead of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s ruling Socialists, but short of a majority — and that would mean they might have to form an uncomfortable alliance with Vox to govern.

The Socialist party came second in Castilla y Leon with 30 percent of the vote, giving it 28 seats.

Spain’s highly decentralised system gives its 17 regions broad powers, which means the entry of Vox into a regional government would have a major impact on policy.

Castilla y León could serve as a “lab” for Vox, said Paloma Roman, a politics professor at the Complutense University of Madrid.

The party called for the repeal of a law designed to protect victims of domestic violence and opposes both gay marriage and Gay Pride marches.

Founded in 2014, Vox started as a marginal force in Spanish politics before causing a major upset in late 2018 when it entered regional parliament for the first time, winning seats in the assembly of the southern Andalusia region.

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VOX leader Santiago Abascal (L) and Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talk to the press following the far-right and nationalistic “Defend Europe” summit organised by VOX in Madrid in late January. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Following national elections nearly a year later, it became the third-largest force in Spanish politics with 52 seats in the 350-seat parliament, mirroring gains elsewhere in Europe for the far right.

The regional governments of both Andalusia and the Madrid area are PP-led but supported from the outside by Vox in exchange for political concessions.

The election was called by Castilla y León’s current PP leader Alfonso Fernández Mañueco after he broke with Ciudadanos, his centre-right coalition partner which lost almost all its seats.

The demise of Ciudadanos is leaving the PP with virtually no other potential partner other than Vox.

“The PP won the elections… but it is in the hands of Vox,” said Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza.

Pablo Simón, a politics professor at Carlos III University in Madrid, agrees. The PP, he said, “has no other choice than to make way for its main rival further on the right which is Vox”.

But this coalition could become a problem “if the PP wants to form alliances with moderate partners” in other regions or at the national level, he added.

Fernández Mañueco has left the door open to forming a coalition government with Vox, saying there was no “red line” between the right and far right. But some top PP figures have expressed doubts.

“Coalition governments do not provide stability,” PP secretary general Teadoro Garcia Egea, the party’s number two, said Monday.

At Complutense University, Roman argued that a PP-Vox government in Castilla y Leon could turn voters off Vox once they got a closer look at their policies.

This could lead voters to impose a “sanitary cordon” around the party, she added.

READ MORE: Why elections in little-known Castilla y León really matter for Spain’s future

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POLITICS

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.

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