Whatever decisions historians end up making when considering José María Aznar’s time in office, there can be no doubts about his overly dramatic performance as an ex-prime minister. When he was the head of the opposition, and of course when he was Spain’s leader, Aznar was the politician who can lay claim to creating the most divisions among Spaniards, as well as pitting them against one another. He continued to do so once he left the prime ministerial palace, spitting out phrases and using a tone that would have been seen as ridiculous were they not so pathetic. His untimely appearance in a television interview last week saw him criticizing the current government (run by his own Popular Party), questioning the political capabilities of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and positioning himself as the epitome of a hardened leader — of the type this country does not need. The whole thing was a complete disaster.
His theatrical statements relating to a possible return to active politics — “I will fulfill my responsibility with my conscience, with my party and with my country. I have never shirked my responsibilities,” he told Antena 3 — were only missing a final flourish appealing to God and to history, such is the entrenched ideological traditionalism that characterizes him. As Montaigne once pointed out, even on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.
The real estate effect
Aznar was able to leave the front line of politics when the economy was growing, jobs were being created and Spain was managing to meet the criteria necessary for membership of the single currency. But a considerable part of that growth was due to a real estate boom. Five years after that bubble burst, we are still paying for those years, with rampant unemployment and the destruction of wealth. The euphoria of those years was not the result of policies that transformed the productive model of our country, but rather the aims of a government that was determined to reap the short-term rewards of policies that gave a false sensation of wealth, which was produced by a bubble that he himself had inflated.
In terms of foreign policy, his pro-NATO stance, which weakened our solid alliances with Europe and Latin America, allowed him to get his foot in the door of George W. Bush’s office. (The then-US president affectionately referred to him as “Ansar.”) The cost of this, however, was Spain’s involvement in the catastrophic Iraq War. To justify his actions, he was more than content to propagate the myth of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. And later, after the Atocha bombings in March, 2004, he did not hesitate to distort the facts regarding the culprits of that terrorist attack, which remains the worst of its kind in Spain. His objective was simply to seek victory for his party in the imminent general elections.
This dismal résumé does not stop Aznar from speaking as if he were the head of a right wing with certain characteristics that were thought to have long since disappeared. Speculating on his motives for granting last Tuesday’s TV interview is a waste of time, given that to the naked eye they would appear to be based on resentment and malice. But his attempts to appeal to the middle classes, and his calls for the need for taxes to be lowered, did not hide the true motives of his concerns: the evidence that his mandate coincided with the establishment of the biggest network of political corruption that has been seen in Spain’s recent past, which was put together based around leading Popular Party figures. We are, of course, talking about the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts network, whose leader was responsible for making a considerable payment toward the cost of the wedding of Aznar’s daughter in 2002, according to documents that have recently come to light. The former prime minister has argued that this was simply a gift from a friend. Everyone chooses their own friends, but this is an episode that is, at best, indecent.
It would appear that Aznar does not feel that he is being defended by the current leaders of the Popular Party, and, as is normal for him, rather than saying sorry for his mistakes, he has instead gone on the offensive, threatening those who point them out. This was clear for all to see when, during his interview, he attacked Grupo PRISA, the parent group of this newspaper, for having published information that places him within the origins of an irregular system of cash payments that was run by the former treasurers of the party, Álvaro Lapuerta and Luis Bárcenas.
Aznar has a profoundly misplaced concept of the dignity required of someone who has served at the head of the government. According to him, he has retired from politics, but that has not stopped him from making vicious verbal attacks against his successor, former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, both inside and outside of Spain. Now he has turned his attention on his own party, in particular Rajoy, at a time when the PP — in which he still holds the position of honorary president — and the government that it forms, needs his support; or, at the very least, his silence. Aznar has a record of disloyal behavior, and this must oblige us to carefully analyze the threats that are represented by the toxic nature of what he has to offer.