POLITICS

After a life-threatening accident, Cristina Cifuentes is back in the fray

The Madrid central government delegate has been out of politics for three months

Cristina Cifuentes, pictured last week in Madrid.
Cristina Cifuentes, pictured last week in Madrid.Uly Martín

Four months after a serious traffic accident that hospitalized her for a month, Cristina Cifuentes, the central government’s delegate in Madrid, has returned to her job.

Cifuentes was hit by a man driving a BMW while traveling on a scooter through the center of Madrid in August, sustaining serious damage to her lungs, as well as breaking five ribs. her condition was so serious, that she had to undergo a tracheotomy once she was in hospital.

On Thursday of last week, Cifuentes attended a breakfast meeting in a smart Madrid hotel with the interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, an arch-Catholic known by some of his team as “God the father.” Cifuentes, a republican, supporter of gay marriage and abortion rights, was sitting alongside Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the PP’s secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal, and other senior party figures. (Neither Madrid’s mayor nor its regional premier, Ana Botella and Ignacio González, respectively, were in attendance, perhaps indicating their current low standing in the party.)

Looking well, and elegantly dressed and made up, Cifuentes, who has lost eight kilos since her accident, was not introduced by Fernández Díaz, although he made up for the apparent oversight after he spoke, welcoming her return to the political fray effusively.

Cifuentes was hit by a BMW while traveling through Madrid on a scooter

Two days after she was released from hospital at the end of September, Cifuentes was at her desk overseeing security arrangements for a demonstration in the capital against the king, as a photograph released to the media showed. In the event, the supposed threat to public order failed to materialize, in large part due to heavy rain, and in the end, barely a thousand people turned up, a somewhat smaller number than the amount of officers Cifuentes sent.

“I prefer to overdo things, rather than risk not having enough officers, because when there aren’t enough, the police end up having to charge the crowd to disperse it — a baton charge for me is a failure,” Cifuentes is on record as saying. She has adopted a tough line on law and order since she took over the role in January 2012.

That said, of the 2,059 protest marches for which she has arranged security measures, only six have required the use of force to disperse crowds. She says that she wants to see more police patrolling the capital, despite a cut in new recruits.

Appointed by the prime minister, the government delegate is the highest representative of the central administration in a region, and is second only to the head of the regional government. Cifuentes is in charge of all central government services in Madrid, and is tasked with coordinating the work of the state with the regional administration.

I prefer to overdo things, rather than risk not having enough officers”

She feels that she cannot leave her number two — María del Mar Angulo, whom she appointed in October to stand in while she was recovering — to start a new year alone. It is true that nobody is indispensable, but Cifuentes is a political animal, and wants to be back in the thick of it; she also believes that returning to her job will help her recovery.

She maintains good relations with supporters of both Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the former head of the regional government of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, who has stood down as regional premier, but retains the position of head of the Madrid branch of the party. She is known to tow the party line, but she has been out of the political arena for some time, and will be keen to reestablish her authority.

A veteran at 49, she joined the PP’s precursor, the Alianza Popular, in 1979. With Botella and González’s popularity at a low in the wake of the capital’s failed Olympic bid and the collapse of talks over the Eurovegas casino, Cifuentes has no shortage of options.

“Welcome back Cristina, we need you more than ever, now that the streets are filled with vandals and hooligans,” said Javier Bello, the Mayor of Alcalá de Henares at a dinner in her honor on Wednesday. Cifuentes thanked her hosts, but refrained from discussing vandals. Criticized by some for her high-handed approach to the civil servants who work with her, and for creating a close-knit team that answers only to her, she is known for keeping her thoughts to herself.

She wants more police patrolling the capital, despite a cut in new recruits

One task that Cifuentes is clear about coordinating, now that the Popular Party controls the central government as well as many regional and municipal administrations, is law and order in the capital, and is critical of how her predecessor handled the street protests that took place in May 2011 as the 15-M “indignant” movement spread, and which saw Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square occupied for two months with protesters of various stripes camped out there.

Cifuentes says that she will no longer use a scooter to travel around Madrid. Friends say that the accident has changed her outlook, and that she believed she was going to die when she first went into hospital. Due to the pain she was suffering, she even wished she were dead. Eventually, she decided that she wouldn’t let herself die.

Since she began her recovery, she has a greater appreciation of the little things. “Be careful: when you leave home, you never know if you will return,” she told her hosts in Alcalá de Henares last week.

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