Spanish senator Rita Barberá, a veteran figure within the conservative Popular Party (PP), died on Wednesday morning of a heart attack at a Madrid hotel. Emergency medical services confirmed her death shortly before 8.30am inside her room at the Villa Real Hotel, just a few meters from Congress.
Interior Minister Ignacio Zoido and several PP deputies walked over to the hotel as soon as news of her death emerged. Zoido declined to make a statement on his way out.
Most members of Congress held a minute of silence shortly after 9am. However, the leftist Unidos Podemos coalition walked out, refusing to participate in what they described as a political tribute to corruption.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said he thinks it is “terrible” when someone dies, but added that his deputies cannot participate in a political tribute to someone “whose career is marked by corruption.”
Lamentamos la muerte de Barberá pero no podemos participar en un homenaje político a alguien cuya trayectoria está marcada por la corrupción— Pablo Iglesias 🔻 (@PabloIglesias) November 23, 2016
"Maybe it would make more sense if we paid homage to victims of energy poverty or corruption in this Congress," said Iglesias, referring to an 81-year-old woman in Catalonia who died after her apartment caught fire when she was using candles to light her house because her power had been switched off due to non-payment of bills.
Barberá had been in the spotlight for months over a scandal affecting the PP’s Valencia branch. On Monday, she had been questioned at the Supreme Court as an official suspect in a corruption case involving money laundering in Valencia.
Before that, she narrowly averted being investigated in the Noos case, which affected a member of the Spanish royal household.
The 68-year-old politician was mayor of Valencia between 1991 and 2015, and a regional deputy from 1983 to 2015.
The PP had sought to distance itself from Barberá at a time when it was struggling with several corruption cases
Although she always denied involvement in any acts of corruption, PP leaders forced her to leave the party in September. She had been a card-carrying member for four decades.
But despite mounting pressure, Barberá refused to give up her senatorial seat, which afforded her partial immunity from the courts.
The PP had sought to distance itself from Barberá at a time when it was already struggling with a series of high-profile corruption cases. The conservative party’s public association with graft was one of the reasons why it failed to find governing partners after the national election of December 2015, then again following the snap election in June.
English version by Susana Urra.