MADRID ELECTION

Madrid premier receives death threat letter amid tense campaign

Interior Ministry beefs up candidate security after Isabel Díaz Ayuso becomes the latest target of intimidation

Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso at a campaign event in Leganés.
Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso at a campaign event in Leganés.ALBERTO ORTEGA / Europa Press

The head of Spain’s Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, is the latest politician to have received death threats in the mail during a highly confrontational campaign ahead of a regional election on May 4. The government has intensified security around the candidates.

A letter containing two projectiles and addressed to the Popular Party (PP) official was sent through a post office in Sant Cugat del Vallès (Barcelona), where employees identified the suspect envelope and contacted the authorities, police sources said.

This is the fifth letter in a week containing death threats against elected officials. Industry and Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto received a letter with a bloody folding knife, while Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska and Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias were sent envelopes containing rifle rounds. The chief of the Civil Guard law enforcement agency, María Gámez, also received a letter with a bullet inside, and the Interior Ministry said that a new suspect letter addressed to Civil Guard headquarters has been detected and is under investigation.

The folding knife that was sent to Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto
The folding knife that was sent to Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto

Díaz Ayuso, whose party is leading in the polls ahead of the vote next week, sought to minimize the incident. “These things must be dealt with by awarding them the relevance they have: none,” she said in an interview on Trece TV. “Those who commit these acts are seeking their five minutes of fame. To those who use terror to try to be in the spotlight, [I respond with] serenity and contempt.”

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), issued a statement condemning the latest incidents. “The threats against Isabel Díaz Ayuso and, again, María Gámez [alluding to the newest letter addressed to Civil Guard headquarters] are a threat against all of us. [We will be] neither tolerant nor accomplices of violence and the spread of hate. We as democrats will not accept that. We unreservedly condemn and reject these acts,” he wrote on Twitter. All of Ayuso’s opponents in the Madrid regional race tweeted messages of support.

Campaigning with bodyguards

Spaniards are very familiar with the concept of campaigning with bodyguards. The violence perpetrated by the Basque terrorist group ETA forced many politicians – not just high-profile leaders but also local councilors in small towns – to live with permanent protection in the 1990s and early 2000s. Even so, elected representatives from both the PP and the PSOE were routinely targeted and killed or injured. When ETA disbanded in 2011, a sense of normality returned to political rallies.

Never again had candidates feared for their lives, yet the mood is growing increasingly tense and security is being reinforced in some situations. When the Catalan secessionist crisis broke out, police protection was required at public events featuring non-separatist politicians, especially those from Ciudadanos (Citizens), which won the most votes at the Catalan election of 2017, the same year that the separatist government held an outlawed unilateral independence referendum. The emergence of the far-right Vox later acted as a magnet for this political tension in Catalonia. But until this year, no similar sentiments had been detected in Madrid, where some of the candidates to lead the region have been campaigning without bodyguards. Until now, that is.

The recent death threats and the climate of hostility have led officials at the Interior Ministry to reconsider candidates’ security. Those who still did not have bodyguards have been assigned one, and those who already had a protection detail have seen it reinforced. The overarching message is that the ministry is taking the matter very seriously.

We will be neither tolerant nor accomplices of violence and the spread of hate. We as democrats will not accept that
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

The government, run by a minority coalition of the PSOE and the leftist Unidas Podemos, on Tuesday expressed concern about the situation in Madrid, and blamed Vox for failing to openly condemn the death threats, particularly those against Iglesias and Grande-Marlaska, both of whom have been very critical of this party in the past. Vox members have described Iglesias, who shared pictures on Twitter of the letter he received, as a “crybaby coward.” The Podemos leader has noted that Vox deliberately resorts to personal insults to describe his physical appearance.

The government has also asked the PP to avoid any alliances with Vox if the conservative party wins the Madrid election, as polls suggest that it will. But Díaz Ayuso has dismissed the suggestion of “cordoning off” the ultranationalist party. “If they [the PSOE] don’t want Vox around, let them support me. Problem solved,” she said at a rally.

The Madrid premier also holds that the PSOE is using the recent death threats as a political strategy to mobilize leftist voters in a race that’s being framed in epic terms by both left-wing and right-wing supporters: as a choice between “freedom and communism” to some, and as a battle between “democracy and fascism” to others.

English version by Susana Urra.

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