United too late: Navarre town rounds on far-right party mayor

With just five percent of the vote, extremist grouping capitalizes on apathy

Nieves Ciprés, the president of Derecha Navarra y Española, with the mayor of Garínoain, Javier Echarri.
Nieves Ciprés, the president of Derecha Navarra y Española, with the mayor of Garínoain, Javier Echarri.LUIS AZANZA

On the balcony of Garínoain town hall three flags flutter in the wind: the Navarrese, that of the municipality and, significantly, the Spanish banner, something that had not happened in the town of 500 inhabitants until five months ago, when the far-right party Derecha Navarra y Española (DNE) took power. This extremist grouping is in favor of permanent life sentences, against abortion and same-sex marriages, and calls for "an exhaustive control on illegal immigration."

In the previous legislature Xabier Barrena Mendiorotz, leader of the local Independent Electoral Grouping for Garínoain, held the post of mayor. That was how it had been in recent times: local parties governing the municipality they live in. But when the regional elections of March, 2011 arrived, there was no resident willing to head up a formation. As there were no candidates, there were no elections. But the law states that within six months a candidate must come forward. The only party to present one was Derecha Navarra y Española.

When the people of Garínoain discovered what had happened, it was already too late. They did everything possible to prevent DNE from taking office, but to no avail. In January Javier Echarri Cabodevilla was invested as mayor with 5.6 percent of the vote - the minimum required for representation is five percent - despite 305 residents, almost the entire electoral roll, casting blank slips. Local residents immediately formed the association Aupa Garínoain, which led a march in the town on May 26 under the slogan "united against political usurpation."

Echarri arrived in the post indirectly; the head of the list was Gonzalo Vicuña, who lives in a neighboring village. However, on the day of the elections he suffered a panic attack caused by the abuse and insults of local residents and resigned the same day. Echarri, who was also in Garínoain on the day of the election, had to leave under the protection of local police. But it did not deter him and on January 4 he took the ceremonial staff in his hand.

The president of DNE, Nieves Ciprés Aznar, recalls while sitting in the meeting room at the Garínoain town hall that she was also attacked on the day of the ballot. "I decided to report it to the police as that sort of behavior is intolerable," she says. In Garínoain, nobody is sure what interest Echarri, 51, has in governing a municipality where he is not wanted, where he does not have a home (he lives in Pamplona) and where he only spends three hours a day, three times a week: the minimum required by law.

The people of Garínoain, a village of stone houses and paved streets situated in the Valdorba valley, are clear in their minds that the only good thing to come out of this is unity.

This party acts within the law, but without support it has no legitimacy"

During the day the streets of Garínoain are mostly deserted and the shutters on windows pulled shut. One of these houses belongs to the local carpenter. The family matriarch makes no effort to hide her distaste for the party that has grabbed power. "People of different ideologies live here, but nobody identified with this far-right party," she says. In the last general elections the Popular Party-Union of People of Navarre (UPN) coalition won 33.64 percent of the vote, followed by the Socialists (24.52 percent) and the Basque abertzale left grouping Amaiur (12.26 percent). Ciprés says she "has not lost the enthusiasm to win voters despite the attacks and defamatory remarks of the residents."

In Leitza, 90 kilometers from Garínoain in northern Navarre, DNE also garnered a council seat in local elections. Ciprés is no political upstart; her father, Ángel Ciprés Esparza, was the UPN mayor of Javier for 28 years and she has served as a councilor for the same party. She presented a candidacy for the Popular Party in the last general elections but a problem with her financial backing prevented her from being nominated by her PP colleagues. Far from abandoning the political scene, she formed her own, more radical, grouping, of which her father is honorary president.

The Garínoain case was not the only surprise to come out of the municipal elections of May 22, 2011: far-right parties reaped 100,000 votes compared to 47,000 in 2007. Spain is one of few European countries where extremist parties do not have parliamentary representation but these groupings have gained ground in recent years. Their strategy is simple: to stand in local elections where xenophobic and populist rhetoric chimes among voters disenchanted with the ongoing economic crisis.

It is a tactic well-known to Josep Anglada, the leader of Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC) and a town councilor in Vic (Barcelona), where PxC has become the second political force. Anglada, flushed with success, has begun to promote a new nationwide path for his party baptized with the name Plataforma per España, under which he plans to put forward candidates in the municipal elections of 2015.

Meanwhile, in Garínoain, the residents' fight against DNE continues. "This party acts within the law, but it does not have the legitimacy of support from the residents," says a spokesperson for Aupa Garínoain.