Spain’s far-right Vox sworn into regional government

Spain's far-right Vox party Tuesday was sworn in as part of a regional coalition government for the first time, with the prime minister calling it "very bad news" for democracy.

Spain's far-right Vox sworn into regional government
Castilla y León regional president Alfonso Fernández Mañueco (R) is congratulated for his re-election by the leader in Castilla y Leon of far-right party Vox, Juan García Gallardo (L) during a parliamentary debate to vote the new Castilla y Leon regional chief at the regional president in Valladolid. - Spain's far-right Vox party on April 19th 2022 was sworn in as part of a regional coalition government for the first time, with the prime minister calling it "very bad news" for democracy. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

Vox is now in power with the conservative Popular Party in the central Castilla y León region just north of Madrid.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the coalition was “very bad news”.

Vox is seeking to repeal a law on gender-based violence, opposes gay marriage and wants to centralise Spain by eliminating the 17 powerful regional governments.

The government will pay “close attention” to the policies of the new regional administration, especially with respect to the “rights and freedoms of Spaniards”, government spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez said Tuesday.

This is the first time a far-right party is sharing power in Spain since the return of democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

The move comes ahead of a regional vote expected in Andalusia, Spain’s most populous region, and national elections due at the end of 2023 in which polls suggest Vox is poised to make further gains.

Vox won 13 seats in a snap regional election in Castilla y León in February, up from just one.

The Popular Party came first but fell short of an absolute majority in the 81-seat assembly and joined forces with Vox to remain in power in the rural region north of Madrid.

As he was sworn in for another term as regional president, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco vowed to govern “for all” and said he was “very proud” of the agreement with Vox.

Founded in 2014, Vox started as a marginal force before causing a major upset in late 2018 when it entered the regional parliament of the southern Andalusia region.

The Popular Party tops opinion polls since it appointed a moderate new leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo on April 2nd but it would need the support of Vox to govern.

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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.