Spain’s general elections this Sunday (July 22) could be a milestone event — of the bad rather than good kind.
If the latest polls are right — and, of course, they may not be — the until recently reasonably fringe party VOX could be about to become the first far-right party to enter national government since the dying days of Francisco Franco, in 1975. This it will do by becoming the junior partner in a coalition government with the conservative People’s Party (PP), as has already occurred in numerous towns, cities and regions across Spain in the wake of local and regional elections in May.
In such an outcome, Spain’s new prime minister will be Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the former president of Galicia’s regional government and current leader of the People’s Party. And he has a dark, shady past that he is trying his damnedest to downplay.
A Smuggler’s Paradise
That past was brought into sharp relief by El Pais’ publication, in 2013, of a series of leaked photos from 1995 showing Feijóo, then deputy health secretary of the region, enjoying both a luxury yacht cruise and a mountain road trip with Marcial Dorado, a known smuggler and then-suspected (and later convicted) capo of the Galician drug-smuggling mafia.
Dorado is on the left, Feijóo on the right:
As I reported for WOLF STREET at the time, Galicia has long been a smuggler’s paradise:
Perched on Spain’s rugged North-Western coast and boasting a wealth of hidden bays and isolated beaches, Galicia has long been one of Europe’s most important entry points for contraband merchandise.
“It’s a historic tradition here that really took off in the late 1960s, early 1970s, with American tobacco,” Susana Luana, a journalist for the regional daily Voice of Galicia, told the BBC. “A number of local fishermen used their fishing infrastructure, including boats, to transport the goods and used their knowledge of the thousands of tiny coves and beaches here to bring them safely ashore.
“Later they increased their earnings considerably by smuggling drugs instead of tobacco. These former fishermen established a name for themselves as professional smugglers and so were able to make lucrative deals with the Colombian cocaine mafia.”
Much like Mexico, Galicia has become an indispensable link in the 21st century narco-traffickers’ distribution chain. And like their Mexican counterparts, Galician drug smugglers seem to have furnished cosy ties with key figures in the local and regional government.
Not that the revelation of said relations seems to faze Nuñez Feijóo, who in a recent press conference resorted to the Partido Popular’s now-standard defence against corruption charges: namely, to play dumb and deny all possible wrong doing, even as evidence mounts to the contrary.
“The photos are what they are: photos. There is nothing behind them,” said Feijóo. “No connection whatsoever to contracts with the Xunta [Galicia’s regional government] or the health department, or party funding.”
A Flimsy Defence
That last statement is an interesting one given that Galicia’s health department, of which Feijóo was then deputy secretary, was already doing business with Dorado. The department had signed a contract to purchase diesel and gasoline for the region’s hospitals and ambulances from companies belonging to Dorado. At that time, Dorado owned several gas station companies whose diesel and gasoline he used to power the fishing boats, gliders and trucks that transported his merchandise (which he still insists to this day was only contraband tobacco). He also used the companies to launder the proceeds from his smuggling/trafficking operations.
Feijóos’ defence rests on the three-pronged premise that he had no idea whatsoever of his host’s criminal past or his current line of work. And anyway, they barely knew each other — a claim that Dorado has consistently denied. As defences go, it is pretty flimsy, as I concluded in my WS article:
Even in these times of political decadence, debauchery and ineptitude in Spain, Feijóo’s assertion that he was completely in the dark about Dorado’s line of business beggars belief. After all, when most normal people meet a new acquaintance, the conversation inevitably turns to the matter of one’s vocational calling. “How do you do?” quickly morphs into “What do you do?”
Such basic formalities should hold even greater weight for a junior government minister whose actions are, or are at least supposed to be, subject to official codes of conduct and public scrutiny. As such, Feijóo is guilty, at best, of woeful political judgement and incompetence and, at worst, of knowingly consorting with criminal elements. Either way, in any self-respecting democracy – which obviously excludes present-day Spain – Feijóo would have walked, or been pushed, as soon as the allegations were made public.
That didn’t happen. Instead, Feijóo stayed in his job, went on to become leader of the PP and is now on the verge of becoming prime minister of Spain. And he refuses to change his story regarding Marcial Dorado. As for Dorado himself, he continues to insist that he and Feijóo were close friends. As he told the journalist Jordi Evolé in 2020, not only did the two of them — and their respective partners — travel together several times; Feijóo even slept over at Dorado’s house, and Dorado’s wife made him breakfast the next morning.
Narco Funding of Spain’s People’s Party?
At that time, Galicia’s drug traffickers operated with almost total impunity, often in cahoots with the security forces and local authorities. Given these operational advantages as well as its strategic location, Galicia quickly became the gateway for roughly 80% of all the cocaine that entered Europe. It also became a key point of entry for consignments of hashish from North Africa. These illicit trade flows generated huge sums of money, not just for the drug traffickers but also local businesses, corrupt politicians and law enforcement officers.
Even local publications have pointed to meetings between well-known crime bosses and the People Party’s founder (and former Francoist minister), Manuel Fraga, and former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (2011-18), both from Galicia. In fact, the People’s Alliance (AP), the precursor to the People’s Party, was first founded in Galicia, in 1989. In 2011, it emerged that the People’s Party of Galicia had staged a campaign event in 2009, featuring then-national party leader Rajoy, on a boat belonging to the Os Caneos family, one of Galicia’s most powerful drug trafficking clans.
In 2017, Laureano Oubiña, a well-known hashish trafficker who served 22 years in prison on a string of charges including money laundering and drug trafficking, said:
“I financed the People’s Alliance, like other Galician businessmen who were not involved in smuggling.”
Meanwhile, back in the ’80s and ’90s the drug epidemic in Spain was either ending or ruining the lives of untold thousands of young Spanish people, including in Galicia. In the absence of action from, or in some cases collusion of, local authorities, a group of brave Galician mothers rose up against the powerful drug traffickers. Spearheading the movement was Carmen Avendaño, who became president of the Érguete (meaning “get up” in Galician) Foundation. According to her, Feijoo’s claims that he didn’t know that Dorado was a major drug trafficker are not very credible, given Dorado’s business activities were common knowledge in Galicia’s coastal communities:
First they arrested him for tobacco smuggling, he even went to Portugal to evade conviction; then it was said, with great certainty, that he, along with Pablo Vioque [a drug trafficker who became secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of Vilagarcía de Arousa], had moved onto laundering drug money.
Avendaño is not the only person to have questioned the veracity of Feijóo’s claims. Manuel Fernández Padín, a repentant drug trafficker who testified as a protected witness in the Spanish Police’s Nécora operation (1990-94) against Galician drug trafficking clans, told the Spanish daily El Plural that it is “almost impossible” that Feijoo didn’t know Dorado was trafficking drugs (emphasis my own):
The photos are from 1995, after the Operation Nécora trial. By then it was already well known that the smugglers had moved on to drug trafficking; the entire Galician coast knew who was who. Everyone in Galicia or in Pontevedra knew… [A]t first those who made money from tobacco smuggling switched to hashish or cocaine while they continued to share a table and tablecloth with the politicians of the time.
While there may be no smoking gun to prove that Galician politicians were on the take, there are certainly plenty of witnesses pointing in that direction. And the People’s Party has spent the last decade or so lurching from one corruption scandal to another, most of them related to illegal kickbacks and illicit public procurement practices. Corruption was arguably the main cause of the downfall of Mariano Rajoy’s government in 2018. From Wikipedia:
On 24 May 2018, the National Court found that the PP profited from the illegal kickbacks-for-contracts scheme of the Gürtel case, confirming the existence of an illegal accounting and financing structure that ran in parallel with the party’s official one since the party’s foundation in 1989 and ruling that the PP helped establish “a genuine and effective system of institutional corruption through the manipulation of central, autonomous and local public procurement.”
The initial public outcry over Feijóo’s relations with Dorado may have died down quickly ten years ago, but it has reignited in recent weeks, as Spain gears up for general elections. Yolanda Díaz, the leader of the left-wing party Sumar, has asked Feijóo to explain to Spaniards “what exactly were his relations with drug trafficking” during a decade in which thousands of young Spanish people died from drugs. “Explain to us relationship with Marcial Dorado when all of Spain knew who Marcial Dorado was”.
Díaz also urged Feijóo to “come to the [presidential] debate” on Wednesday and “explain it to us.” Feijóo, much like a certain sitting president in the US, has refused to participate in the pre-election debate this Wednesday.
It would be bad enough if consorting with known criminals was the full extent of Feijóo’s past pecadillos. But it isn’t.
He was also implicated in a transatlantic corruption scandal revolving around Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex’s disastrous foray into ship-building. As I reported for WS in 2020, Pemex’s huge no-strings-attached investment in Spanish shipbuilding giant Ballesteros bore all the hallmarks of an indirect bailout that bled hundreds of millions of euros from Pemex’s balance sheet in return for nothing of real value:
In 2013, as Spain’s financial crisis was still biting, the country’s biggest private shipyard, Ballesteros, based in the north-western region of Galicia, was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Hundreds of jobs were on the line, at the worst possible time for Galicia’s president, Albert Núñez Feijóo: just before new elections. With the help of Spain’s then-president, Mariano Rajoy, negotiations were quickly arranged with [Pemex’s deeply corrupt CEO Emilio] Lozoya, who agreed to let Pemex buy up 51% of the shipyard for next to nothing (€5 million), but the dodgy fun started then.
Despite having bought a controlling stake in the company, Pemex decided not to exercise any control of the business, preferring to leave that to the other (Spanish) shareholders. It also became Ballesteros’ number one client, ordering the construction of two so-called floatels (hotel-boats for oil rig workers) for hundreds of millions of dollars. One of them, acquired for €175 million, Pemex never even used. The other, Pemex hasn’t used anywhere near full capacity.
In October 2019, Ballesteros went bankrupt once again. Pemex’s current CEO, Octavio Romero, says that the purchase was riddled with irregularities and has filed a complaint for fraudulent administration.
After his dismissal in 2016, Pemex’s CEO Emilio Lozoya ended up seeking refuge in Spain, whence he was eventually extradited back to Mexico, where he is currently languishing in jail on a string of corruption charges.
Passion for Privatisation
Even more concerning is Feijóo’s passion for slashing healthcare spending and privatising healthcare services. In fact, while the Community of Madrid, under the stewardship of PP “populist” Isabel Ayuso, is now at the leading edge of this privatisation process, Feijoo’s government in Galicia was an early pioneer. According to the Spanish daily Publico, in his first four years in office (2009-2012), the now-leader of the PP slashed the healthcare budget by 8.6%. When Feijóo resigned as head of Galicia’s Xunta in 2022, healthcare spending in the region was, in real terms, still lower than in 2009.
Predictably, waiting lists have soared as spending has shrunk. During the pandemic, Feijóo closed several rural health centres in Galicia. In their place, his government — much like the UK’s — prioritised telephone and online consultations (despite the fact that the aged population in rural areas represents a major obstacle to this type of of attention).
The biggest beneficiaries of the systemic impoverishment and dismantlement of Galicia’s public healthcare sector have been large Spanish and foreign (mainly US) healthcare multinationals. They include Quirón, Hospitales de Madrid, Vithas, Ribera Salud, Medtronic and Centene. After 13 years of the Feijóo government, private hospitals in Galicia provide 26.5% of specialised and hospital care, 28.5% of interventions with hospitalisation, 40% of major ambulatory surgery operations, 29.8% of emergency care cases, 20% of admissions and 26% of outpatient consultations.
The People’s Party is not the only party in Spain that supports the mass privatisation of healthcare. In fact, the main party in government, the so-called Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and its coalition partner, Podemos, have drawn up legislation that would hand all medical care for workers and the self-employed to mutual societies. It would be the biggest sell out of the public healthcare system since its creation. According to WSWS, “mutual societies would become the backbone of the health service and would be responsible for the medical care of 90 percent of Spain’s working population.”
All of which serves as a reminder that on many of the most pressing issues of our time — from the privatisation of public services to the war in Ukraine, to the backfiring sanctions on Russia, the sanctity of the transatlantic alliance and the need for ever greater control, manipulation and censorship of the masses — most major parties in Europe, including those that dominate the EU’s power structures, are on the same page.
But the outcome of Sunday’s election in Spain could still have far-reaching implications. If Feijóo comes out on top but is unable to secure a majority and hence opts to form a coalition government with VOX (still a largish “IF”), Spain is likely to witness not only the emergence of a whole new form of “Kleptokakistocracy” (government by the worst, least qualified, and most unscrupulous) but also the return to national government of the far-right in a country where the scars of the Civil War and Franco dictatorship are still dangerously fresh.