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Resignation in Madrid’s city council

Factions of the PP are exploiting the Halloween party tragedy to play at political opportunism

The judicial inquiry into the tragedy that took place in the Madrid Arena venue has claimed its first political victim. Tuesday saw the resignation of Pedro Calvo, Madrid city council’s economy chief, the third deputy mayor and the president of the public company that manages Madrid Arena, where four teenagers died as a result of a crowd stampede during a Halloween party in the early hours of November 1. The judge named him as an official suspect in the proceedings, leading Pedro Calvo to resign from his post. The fact that a Spanish politician has resigned upon being involved in a judicial inquiry has to be regarded as positive, but it is striking precisely because of the infrequency of such behavior.

His naming in the case does not imply a presumption of guilt, but merely the fact that the judge considers him related to the events he is investigating, which have possible penal consequences. The company presided by Calvo rented the stadium to the firm that organized the event, in spite of a number of safety shortcomings known since 2010, but apparently never remedied.

The man at the head of the public company that manages the venue must, of course, be a person of interest to the judge, who has also mentioned the entrepreneur who rented the place, and the legally liable persons in the security companies hired for the occasion of the massive Halloween rave.

But there have also been circumstances of an extrajudicial nature. These relate to the confrontations between the premier of the Madrid region, Ignacio González, and Ana Botella, mayor of the city of Madrid. Though the Socialist opposition is calling for the mayor’s resignation, more political relevance has been attached to the pressure being exerted by González, also of the Popular Party, who has called for blame to be assigned for what happened in Madrid Arena “as soon as possible.”

This episode belies the vain attempt of the PP’s secretary general, María Dolores de Cospedal, to deny the existence of any internal rift within the party. There is, it appears, a fierce struggle between factions of the Madrid party machine, whose reins remain in the hands of former regional leader Esperanza Aguirre, González’s mentor.

Neither he nor Ana Botella owe their positions to the ballot box, but rather to more or less calculated stratagems on the part of their predecessors, Aguirre and Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, respectively, who were elected to their former posts. The fact that this delegation of power is legal does not mean that it must be eternal: the holders of top elective offices need to depend on the endorsement of the voters, and not only on the maneuvering of clans within the party.

From the public’s point of view it is necessary that justice be done, and that reasonable conditions of safety be guaranteed in large public gatherings, such as at the Halloween party in question. This is not the same as jockeying for political advantage at the expense of such serious matters, in connection with the relative responsibilities of important institutions such as the regional and municipal governments of Madrid.

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