MANUELA CARMENA | Ahora Madrid mayoral candidate

“I’m more interested in improving people’s lives than in politics”

The 71-year-old retired judge allays fears by saying she has no ties to Podemos

Juan Cruz
Manuela Carmena during her interview with EL PAÍS.
Manuela Carmena during her interview with EL PAÍS.Bernardo Perez (EL PAÍS)

Manuela Carmena, a 71-year-old retired judge who joined the Spanish Communist Party as a young woman and later worked as a lawyer, a magistrate and the head of a UN human rights working group, is poised to become the next mayor of Madrid if her Ahora Madrid bloc forms a leftist coalition with the Socialists.

If she does, she will be ending 24 years of uninterrupted rule by the Popular Party (PP), whose nominee Esperanza Aguirre won the May 24 elections by a small margin despite having a much higher media profile than Carmena, who was a virtual stranger to Spaniards until a few weeks ago.

Although Ahora Madrid includes several left-wing and green parties, its most famous member is Podemos. During her campaign, Aguirre claimed that if Podemos ever took over government, it would be the end of democracy as Spaniards know it.

But Carmena denies any ties to the anti-austerity party, and says she feels independent enough to go her own way if she makes it into the mayor’s office later this month.

Question. So now the banks are scared of you...

Answer. There’s no reason for them to be.

Q. But why are they?

A. I get the feeling the financiers are not scared. I think this fear is much more present on the political right, not on the economic right. The political right is disseminating facts and figures that are not true, in order to create fear.

Q. Are you going to meet other businesspeople and bankers?

A. Of course. My goal is to carry out a program and seduce those who did not vote for me. Cleaning up the economy, leaving corruption outside the door, is going to be an incentive for the right kind of businesses to flourish.

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What does Podemos want?

Q. But what will you tell them? What are you going to do about debt? And how do you juggle the right to housing and homeowners’ rights?

A. The city has debts, but it also has a lot of money. In accounting terms, the situation is not especially bad.

Q. How do you make the right to housing and homeowners’ rights over their property compatible?

A. We need to explore what happens when housing becomes a financial product, and whether housing may be used as a tool for speculation, or whether it always needs to have some connection to that for which it was meant.

Q. What would you do if the justice system told you not to go down that road?

A. I would obey the justice system. I have been a member of it, and to the end I will say that justice has the last word, of course.

Q. In that respect, you are contradicting what you future colleague [mayor-to-be of Barcelona] Ada Colau said. She stated that if she doesn’t like some laws...

A. I don’t think she really meant to say that, I think rather that she was thinking about conscientious objection, which the law recognizes when people feel that observing a law violates their moral or ethical principles.

We have absolutely no ties to any party. That makes me feel very free and very comfortable. I am not tied to anything”

Q. Does you dependence on the parties that make up Ahora Madrid establish certain obligations for you?

A. Fortunately they are not parties, it is a citizen platform that set out a broad program, not a closed one, and I feel comfortable with that.

Q. How would you be tied down by the norms dictated by Podemos?

A. I wouldn’t. We have absolutely no ties to any party. That makes me feel very free and very comfortable. I am not tied to anything.

Q. Early in your campaign you talked about Podemos’s lukewarm position regarding the political prisoners in Venezuela. Now former Socialist prime minister Felipe González is traveling there to help with the legal defense of the mayor of Caracas. What do you think of that situation?

A. I find it praiseworthy when someone takes an interest in someone else who has been deprived of their human rights. I hope that person gets his rights back as soon as possible. All roads must show respect for democracy and for human rights. But I would have liked for Felipe González to show more of an interest in child malnutrition or our own home evictions.

Q. And who is taking an interest in Venezuela?

A. As far as I know, basically Felipe González. The more traditional sectors of politics are taking an interest in it because they think, at least that’s the way I see it, that it’s a way to undermine the new movement that grew out of 15-M (the Indignados social protest movement), which has become Podemos’s party, much to my chagrin, because I wouldn’t want Podemos ever to be a party. There is enormous interest by many sectors in using Venezuela as a way to undermine Podemos, a bit because of their initial circumstances dealing with financing, or whatever.

I find it dangerous, very aggressive for our democracy, for someone to want to prevent the outcome of the elections

Q. And if we take Podemos and Felipe González out of the equation, what do you think about what’s happening to the mayor of Caracas?

A. I don’t really know. When one does not really know what’s happening in a country, and it’s hard to know when you live somewhere else, I have a protocol of sorts: whatever the United Nations says. Since I don’t really know what’s going on, and the UN said it was an infraction, I support that. I am not a political scientist, I am not a person who reads a lot about international affairs every night. I admit that I am not very interested in politics as such, either.

Q. Come again?

A. That’s right, I’m not very interested in politics. I am much more interested in improving people’s lives.

Q. And the campaign did not make you like politics more?

A. On the contrary, less and less. It made me feel very distant because there are many things about politics that don’t interest me at all.

Q. Were you ever afraid to have the mayor’s seat taken away from you?

A. Yes. I see such a reaction from the PP that I was really very surprised. I was especially surprised for a demonstration to be called against the election results, where the same expressions used by the PP candidate were used by protestors, in order to prevent a sector that got nearly as many votes as the PP from governing. I was very concerned because I had never seen anything like that in Spain. I find it very dangerous, very aggressive for our democracy, for someone to want to prevent the outcome of the elections.

Q. Did they try to prevent it?

A. It is evident that they did.

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