Spain’s Andalusia calls regional vote in test for PM

The leader of Spain's most populous region, Andalusia, on Monday called a regional election for June 19th that could see far-right party Vox make gains and step further into the political mainstream.

Spain's Andalusia calls regional vote in test for PM
Andalusia's conservative regional president Juanma Moreno Bonilla in 2019. Surveys suggest the PP will win the most seats in the next election. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

The polls in the southern region will be a test for Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s minority government ahead of a national election expected at the end of next year.

The conservative Popular Party (PP) has governed Andalusia, a traditional stronghold of the Socialists, since January 2019 in a minority with the support of Vox and market-friendly party Ciudadanos.

The government’s term expires in December but regional president Juanma Moreno said Andalusia needed a government with a fresh mandate to tackle soaring inflation and the economic impact of the Covid pandemic.

Andalusian law prohibits a regional election from being held in July and August, when many voters are on summer holidays.

Leaving the polls until autumn would not give a new administration enough time to approve a budget for 2023 that confronts the “difficult time we are living in,” said Moreno.

“There is no time to lose,” he added in a televised address.

Vox emerged as a kingmaker in Andalusia in the region’s last polls in December 2018, taking a surprise 12 seats in the first electoral success for the far right since Spain returned to democracy in the late 1970s.

Surveys suggest the PP will win the most seats in the next election and could manage to form a majority in the 109-seat assembly if it forms a coalition with Vox.

The PP has 33.1 percent support, which would give it 44 seats, while Vox on track to win 20 seats, according to a poll published Sunday in daily newspaper El Mundo.

That would give the two formations a total of 64 seats, nine more then needed for an absolute majority.

Vox was sworn in as part of a regional coalition government for the first time earlier this month in the central Castilla y Leon region just north of Madrid where it now governs with the PP.

Founded in 2014, Vox’s platform includes a crackdown on immigration, restricting abortion and rolling back domestic violence laws.

Andalusia, home to 8.5 million people, has high unemployment and is one of the main arrival points in Spain for migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

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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.