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CONFIRMED: Spain’s far right enters regional government for first time

Spain's Vox party on Thursday entered a regional government as part of a coalition agreement with the right-wing Popular Party (PP), the first time in Spain's democratic history that the far right will govern in a region.

CONFIRMED: Spain's far right enters regional government for first time
Leader of far-right Vox party in Castilla y Leon, Juan Garcia Gallardo, will become the region's vicepresident. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

The country’s highly decentralised system gives Spain’s 17 regions broad powers, meaning Vox’s entry into the regional government of Castilla y León, just north of Madrid, will give it a major impact on policy.

Vox said it would hold the second-highest position in the government of Castilla y León, where it came third in last month’s regional election.

Although the PP came first, it did not achieve an absolute majority, winning only 31 of the regional assembly’s 81 seats.

That left it vulnerable to pressure from Vox — which won 13 seats in a huge increase from the 2019 election where it secured just one.

“We have reached an agreement with Vox… that will allow us to establish a stable and solid government,” tweeted the region’s outgoing PP leader Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, who will be reinstated thanks to the deal.

Vox leader in the region Juan García-Gallardo will be Castilla y León vicepresident, the parties have agreed. 

READ ALSO: How the crisis in Spain’s centre-right party is opening the door to the far right

The ruling Socialist party immediately attacked the opposition PP over the deal, denouncing it as “a pact of shame”.

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

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.

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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