Why is Spain’s right-wing PP accusing their own leader in Madrid of corruption?

Bitter political infighting has erupted at the top of Spain’s right-wing Partido Popular amid accusations of corruption and spying. The dispute has wedged a gap between its national leader and regional boss in Madrid as rumours of a leadership challenge swirl.

Spanish conservative People's Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado (L) and Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso have up to now enjoyed a good political relationship. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Another year, another Spanish political scandal.

There’s no one political party that has a monopoly on scandal in Spain, but when it comes to corruption and spying, right-wing party Partido Popular members (PP) are experts. Just four years ago corruption downed the last PP Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the lingering legal consequences have been rumbling on in the background throughout the parliament with the ‘Operation Kitchen’ investigation.

But now, just days after a poor result in the Castille and Leon regional elections that trapped PP leader Pablo Casado between minority government or coalition with far-right Vox, President of the Madrid region and rumoured national leadership challenger, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, has publicly accused Casado of being involved in a campaign to discredit her.

It is alleged that PP top brass hired private detectives to see if Ayuso had intervened to award a €1.5 million COVID-19 face mask contract to an associate of her brother.

Speaking publicly, Ayuso denied any involvement and remarked that “although political life is full of unpleasantness, I never imagined that the leadership of my party would act in such a cruel and unfair way against me.”

Many view the move as a preemptive strike by Casado to extinguish a potential leadership challenge as his popularity further falls and Ayuso’s climbs following her landslide victory in Madrid last year. Tensions have bubbled since then, and rumours of a leadership challenge grew. 

Details of the face mask contract were unearthed last year when it emerged the contract bypassed the usual tender process, and PP officials say an internal investigation was launched after Ayuso failed to cooperate with the probe, but deny private detectives were used.

In response to Ayuso’s public attacks on Casado, party General Secretary Teodoro García Egea defended the leadership against what he termed “a campaign of attacks, slander and insults” and noted a disciplinary investigation, and perhaps even legal action, would be opened against her.

With PP’s last spying scandal still looming over the party, the party has been dragged into another. The party is no stranger to illegality and infighting, but this time it couldn’t even wait to be in government. 

What was a rumoured rift and potential leadership challenge now seems a certainty somewhere down the line, and expect the face mask contract scandal to get ugly. Just as they did by calling a snap election in Castille and León, it seems PP’s decision to preempt things may backfire on them.


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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.