Milford Edge – The not so canny Castilian

In Germany around year 2010 numerous leading politicians including ministers had to resign as it was revealed that they had copiously plagiarised or had not written their own dissertations. In Spain things seem to be no better, especially if a politician is a member of the conservative Partido Popular. Europe´s political elite lives in a neo-liberal world where values like hard work and just rewards are no longer valid. Their view of democracy is equally ambivalent.

Cross-posted from Barbary Fegs
A week ago today, Pablo Casado comfortably defeated Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría in the run-off for the leadership of the conservative Partido Popular (PP) achieving 57% of the delegates’ votes. The ballot was forced when previous leader, Mariano Rajoy, agreed to step down after the Gürtel scandal (corruption a massvie corruption affair involving the PP in which many high ranking members were sentenced to long prison terms) prompted the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) to trigger a vote of no confidence in the government, which duly fell. However, Pablo Casado might himself last only weeks in the job due to the master’s degree-for-nothing scandal that has dogged him since before the leadership campaign began.

Academic fraud

In 2008, Pablo Casado enrolled in a Harvard Master’s program, the grandly named “Driving Government Performance”. It is one of the three “American” qualifications Casado has always been particularly proud of, citing his “Harvards” at every opportunity. The only problem is that the degree actually had as much to do with Opus Dei as it did with Harvard. The course was offered by the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (University of King Juan Carlos) and actually took place in the University of Navarre-owned IESE business school in Madrid. The “Harvard program” consisted of an intensive four-day course from 16 to 19 June and was sponsored by the Community of Madrid, amongst others. Casado does not remember whether he received a scholarship or not. To pass the course it was only necessary to attend classes and do the work, but it seems the PP’s brand new leader did neither.

Casado was awarded the degree with 18 of the 22 subjects on the course being prevalidated – irregularly it turns out – and the remaining four dependent on the presentation of papers. Three of the four pending subjects were taught by the same tutor that former PP president of the Community of Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, had for the phantom degree that began her fall from grace. Casado never attended class and, although he claims to have presented all four pieces of work, no record of these or any dissertation have been found.

For his master’s in Autonomic and Local Law, Casado was given an “excellent” grade. The award of such a grade would have required 60-360 hours of class – including debates, class activities, group work and exams – assignments totalling 90 pages and a final dissertation. Casado and the university claim that all records from this period have been destroyed. However, as most contemporaries’ will testify, their 2008 end-of-degree projects are still available, many of them online for all to see. Perhaps it’s understandable that Casado’s memory is hazy; that summer, Pablo Casado passed no less than three “postgraduate programs”.

Gained within or without the rules, to give such programs the value of a “master’s degree” is palpably fraudulent. Most of the string of phantom PP degrees have been uncovered by investigative journalists. In this case, the principal investigation was undertaken by online newspaper It’s laudable that there are still brave souls plying this trade in modern Spain. You’d never know they existed if you only consumed Spain’s shockingly partisan mainstream media.

Casado’s election as top dog has been achieved despite his involvement in this latest strain of PP corruption. Why do PP politicians – and a few from other parties – need to bolster their resumés with fake qualifications? Because they are career politicians? Because they have never worked outside the political sphere? Casado is certainly one of those. These “degrees” were mainly doled out by one university with a strong PP pedigree and deep PP affinity, the University of King Juan Carlos. It would be the university that bears the name of the immune delinquent king, wouldn’t it?

Such qualifications are not necessary to represent the people. Ordinary people hate the idea of the privileged taking advantage of grants from public administrations to attain qualifications without having to do any work, without having any assignments assessed, without ever attending a class or defending a thesis. Ordinary people see them as the cocks, the foxes and the crows of hubristic fables, boasting of their “wits” – their range of abilities, their skill-sets – to the single-skilled cats and hedgehogs. In the fables, they are not as clever as they think and always wind up being killed. In real-life, they always survive, get moved on to a cushy job in the administration, pushed through a revolving door onto the board of a multinational company, sent to the European parliament where they can “do less damage”, kicked upstairs or moved sideways; there are many possible fates, but none involves being eaten.

The PP is incorrigible

In true PP tradition, Casado denies everything in the hope that it will go away, but the PP should have learnt something from recent years, which is that these things don’t go away any more, rather they hang around like a bad smell. Gone are the days when political parties can make things go away too, though the PP are experts at silencing people, especially their own, and will continue to try. In most other European countries, a newly elected major party leader in the same situation would be more worried. He might even have ducked the leadership election altogether, as did some of his colleagues. After all, three of his classmates, one of whom is a high-ranking ex-official in PP Valencia, have already been charged. For some inexplicable reason, top-ranking PP officials continue to think that they can do what they want and enjoy complete impunity, as if the last PP hadn’t fallen due to its own corruption and perjury, as if nothing had happened. It is psychotic.

The PP always thinks it can brazen things out, taking advantage of a generally favourable media, and the people’s poor memories, short attention spans and distractedness. It was this very sense of invincibility that led to a no-confidence motion being brought by the PSOE in the first place and the subsequent fall of the PP government, the same arrogance still evident in Rajoy’s farewell speech prior to Casado’s coronation. Anyone expecting an expression of contrition was disappointed. According to Rajoy, Rajoy has played a blinder, beginning to end. By the same token, anyone expecting any kind of clear-out or clean-up from the new leader will also be disappointed.

Cifuentes and Casado

Parallels with the Cifuentes case are unavoidable, but give few clues as to how the Casado case will pan out. Despite being humiliatingly exposed as a liar and a cheat, Cifuentes clung on to her position until a video tape of dubious legality and origin showed her shoplifting, and that was enough to end her political career. Cristina Cifuentes had had pretensions to lead the party. However, her resignation was not the result of a corrupt political party cleaning up its act, but a termination straight from the sewer, and as such it should worry all Spaniards. Who gave the order to release the tape? On the bright side for Cifuentes, and in a stereotypically PP touch, Cristina Cifuentes has been reemployed by the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) in a high-level administrative role on a €43,000 salary. It is seemingly unimportant that the CV that got her the job in the first place isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.

The damage to the reputation of the University of King Juan Carlos is incalculable and there have been signs during the rash of investigations into qualifications attained by top-ranking PP affiliates that the university is trying to distance itself from its problematic ex-alumni – surely an impossible task. Cifuentes is hoping that she and Casado will be tried together, and exonerated, by Spain’s now infamous Supreme Court. Casado says he’s “tired” that something “so captious” and “so irrelevant” as a giveaway master’s degree should be the focus of so much public interest. Sadly for him, the honesty of politicians remains of paramount interest among the long-suffering Spanish electorate, however hysterical the distracting noise on the Catalan situation may have become.

Straight on the Catalans’ case

As any good Spanish politician knows, this is the moment to focus all eyes on Catalonia, to run around shouting about the unity of Spain and what needs to be done to put the “separatists”, “coup leaders”, “fugitives”, “terrorist sympathisers”, “criminals” and “lefties” in their place. Casado hasn’t been afforded the customary honeymoon period to which all new leaders are entitled and he has had to get straight on the Catalans’ case, talking of little else but the unity and greatness of Spain and criminality of the Catalans, just in case anyone’s thinking of taking a good look at the unrepentant monster that is the Partido Popular.

Of course, one of Casado’s first stops was in Catalonia, where the party represents only 4% of the population. He immediately called for the introduction into the Spanish criminal code of the charges of “improper sedition”, or sedition without violence, and the “holding of unauthorised referendums”. Obviously, the law as it stands is inadequate in relation to the events of last September and October in Catalonia. Basically, Casado is saying the law doesn’t cover it, so let’s change the law. Casado seems unaware that his words betray the political motivation behind the rebellion and sedition charges against Catalan politicians and civil leaders. New PSOE Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, has said much the same with respect to the rebellion law. Before becoming PM, Sánchez had proposed reforming the penal code to “adapt” the crime of rebellion to the Catalan situation, saying it was necessary to “update” this offence to take account of “events that were unimaginable years ago”. According to Sánchez, rebellion is “linked to military coups” and should be extended to include public leaders who use the “institutions” to “subvert” the constitutional order. “It is evident that the crime of rebellion as defined in 1995 does not correspond to the type of rebellion that occurred in recent months”.

In the light of these admissions and of the verdicts handed down by a German court rejecting the extradition of Puigdemont on rebellion or sedition charges that led to Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena’s withdrawal of the European arrest warrants, the question is why are nine Catalan politicians and civil leaders still in pre-trial prison and another seven in exile, most on charges of rebellion and sedition? Casado forges on regardless, thickening the smokescreen with every day that passes. From Andalusia, he launches his latest threat – the reapplication of Article 155 and reimposition of direct rule on Catalonia. In reality, Article 155 was ever actually lifted completely, the functioning of the Catalan parliament having been made impossible by the suspensions from office and salary of elected representatives of the Catalan government by a Supreme Court judge and his clerks. There will be no plenary session in the Catalan parliament until October.

Pablo Casado doesn’t only face problems with unruly judges investigating academic fraud who don’t accept the force majeure always claimed by Populars in trouble, the eternal ace in the hole, the unity of Spain. This is the right to lie, steal and break the law, with impunity, even if the offences committed have precisely nothing to do with preserving the indivisibility of Spain, like most of the corruption cases of Spain’s most popular party. Anything goes if Spain’s indivisibility is threatened. Perhaps Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría hasn’t quite given up yet either. The defeated candidate in the run-off against Casado stood Casado up at the first meeting of the PP executive in Barcelona after the negotiations to form the new leadership team broke down.

Then there are the “cesspits” of the Spanish State. The “sewers” are always forgotten about until suddenly an illegal recording or confidential document mysteriously turns up or there’s an unexplained death. There’s a very real possibility of more dirt on Casado, or any of the defeated or withdrawn candidates come to that. Alberto Núñez Feijóo, was the frontrunner in the leadership battle until his withdrawal. Feijóo’s mid-90s friendship with jailed Galician narco, Marcial Dorado, probably persuaded the favourite to wait his time. In Spain, someone always has some dirt. Without reform, the PP will never shake this image and the fact is that, with only Rajoy gone, the PP is still corrupt.

The post-Rajoy era is only a week old and Casado’s victory has already seen the return of José Maria Aznar, the PP ex-president who hadn’t set foot in PP HQ in Calle Genova for three and a half years as a result of his falling out with Mariano Rajoy. Casado has brought Aznar back in from the cold, despite the fact that he presided over the most corrupt of Spanish governments of the millennium, which is saying something. Aznar was prime minister of the infamous cabinet of 2002, where 12 out of 14 were spattered by corruption cases.

Casado himself has always been ambiguous on the corruption issue, announcing he will take new measures against corruption without ever specifying which. Casado said he wished to “establish the necessary control and early warning mechanisms”, whatever that means. Surely a little more caution is required where association with José Maria Aznar is concerned though. Aznar is yet to apologise for taking Spain to war in Iraq against the wishes of the vast majority of the Spanish people and on the basis of fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

Forgetting in Spain is a real problem. Spain is a place where “forgetting” is urged by the law, right-wing politicians and its media alike. Casado is one of these “forgetters”, but he’s being a bit optimistic if he expects people not to re-examine Aznar’s rank legacy on his return to PP society. And let’s not forget either that, from his office in right-wing think-tank, the FAES, Aznar had not only been critical of Rajoy, but even supplied Ciudadanos with a few ideas and their leader, Albert Rivera, with his explicit support. PSOE’s grandees had done the same with Pedro Sánchez. Alfonso Guerra, PSOE’s most hardline Spanish nationalist “barons”, expressed his respect for Ciudadanos’ “coherence” on the Catalan issue and resultant success in the polls. So it is also important that Casado gets the job because he is the PP’s answer to Riveramania, the youthful clone engineered to win back some of the hordes of PP supporters that have given up the blue for the orange.

This is supposed to be the time of the fresh-faced, clean-cut new leaders, but these arrogant, inexperienced young men languish in bad-tempered opposition for the time being, distanced from power by hubris. If only it wasn’t for all those corruption scandals. Maybe the mighty Spanish media can make it go away, spin it, lessen its importance, get everyone focussing on Catalonia. That shouldn’t be difficult. Maybe the summer break followed by the show trials of Catalan political prisoners will help people forget about the criminal organisation that is the PP and their key role in the currently appalling state of the country in terms of the economy, social conditions and human rights.




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