The Spanish vice-prime minister and leader of Unidas Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, does not seem intimidated by the possibility that the Supreme Court may indict him. “It is impossible,” he explains in his first interview as minister with il manifesto. And he counters: “The pandemic is an historic opportunity to strengthen the health system and address the historical weaknesses of our production structure.”
Can you explain to Italian readers how it is possible that you have gone from being a victim of espionage to a possible defendant?
It is difficult to explain, especially considering the proven facts: in November 2015, a telephone was stolen from one of my collaborators, some content from which was found during a search at the home of a former police commissioner who is now in prison, accused of very serious crimes such as espionage. During the search, evidence was found that he had leaked information about that phone to some extreme right-wing journalists, and we know that these journalists published it. In the search at the home of Commissioner Villarejo, a recording was also found of a conversation with one of these journalists, Eduardo Inda, who said he had already taken “all the fat” from the stolen pen drive. All are proven and recognized facts. The rest is inexplicable. As vice-prime minister, I have to be prudent and have faith in justice, and I think it is clear what the answer of the Supreme Court will be. But there is certainly an alarm being raised in Spain regarding the politicization of justice. On Sunday, for example, the president of the community of Madrid told a large newspaper [El Mundo] that the resistance against the government is led by “her, by the king and by justice.” These are very serious statements.
Why do you think they are attacking you?
We are the first coalition government in the recent history of Spanish democracy. Our very presence has broken a historical exclusion clause, such as the one in Italy that prevented some political forces from governing beyond the level of municipalities and regions. In Spain, with us, all that is over. And it is likewise a factor that the program negotiated with the PSoE would be called by any economist a social democratic one. The problem is not what we are doing, but who we are, where we come from and what it represents for some historical powers that people like us can be in government. All this in a context where the pandemic has destroyed the paradigms of the neoliberal economy by imposing a neo-Keynesian consensus. The government, even with its limitations and contradictions, has shown that social policies are a better way to respond to crises than cuts. If we add to this the fact that debates have opened up in society that these powers are worried by, such as the debate on the monarchy—just yesterday, a poll came out where the republicans outnumber the monarchists—and the republican force with the most weight and votes is us, well, it is clear that there are certain sectors that do not like democracy when they aren’t winning.
What will you do if you are indicted?
It is impossible for such an indictment to occur. Let us not forget that the Audiencia Nacional told the investigating judge three weeks ago that he should grant me the status of injured party once again. This makes it quite unlikely that his proposal to indict me will get anywhere, unless we ignore legality itself. And anyway, we are seeing a world where black is white: we have been victims of illegal espionage, this has been proven. There was an underground structure directed by the PP government that worked to protect its corrupt people, inventing evidence against the opposition, with a para-political flank and a media flank. We are accused of having invented the fact that they were spying on us to obtain electoral benefits. This is nonsensical.
In this country, there are people in jail with very long sentences just for asking others to vote in a referendum.
According to me, the independence supporters in prison should be free, exercising their political rights. That said, one of the unresolved historical political problems of Spain is the territorial issue. It is a fact that the citizens of some territories like Catalonia would like a different legal relationship of their own territory with the rest of the state. The Catalan conflict will not be resolved by prison or trials, but by negotiations and political dialogue. We have always defended this approach, and we have always been against exceptional legal measures. I have been visiting the independence-supporting prisoners in jail, I believe that no other member of the current government has done so.
Is it harder than expected to be a minister? There are two of you in your household, with your partner Irene Montero, Minister for Equality, and three children; you are receiving daily death threats…
For the past five months, we have had far-right militants on our doorstep every day. And this implies a permanent police presence. We cannot go out alone, not even for things we used to do before, like walking dogs or taking a quiet walk with our children. Now, we have to do these things with protection, and it is not easy. But we knew what we were going to encounter and what our political presence represents. And in a sense, it is also a reason for joy, because so much hostility is the proof that things can be changed. If we were just like the others, if we had turned into what we had been criticizing, we would not receive so many attacks and so much intimidation. There are personal sacrifices, a lot of them. But we can’t complain too much: not too long ago, people with our ideas were being imprisoned, tortured or shot. That is why we have to be cautious and measured with our complaints about the pressure we are under.
How did you manage this pandemic? Will Podemos be able to achieve the goals you have set for yourself with the crisis that awaits us?
No one expected a pandemic like the one we are experiencing. But the pandemic is teaching us several lessons. The crisis has put on the table the need to strengthen the public sector: we must aim for a much stronger public health system, where doctors, nurses and health personnel do not work in precarious conditions. And at the same time, the social consequences of this crisis are highlighting something that has been essential for us for some time: the entrepreneurial role of the state.
As a government, with the arrival of European funds and the economic paradigm shift, many opportunities are arising to address some of the historical weaknesses of our production structure. We have a country that is too dependent on international tourism, full of industries with low added value, such as construction, at the root of corruption, and now we have the opportunity to focus on an industry that would develop in a sustainable way, on research and innovation, on a policy of care for people, one that universalizes child education and that is able to transform the system of subsidies for dependent persons, reinforcing home care instead of the current system of nursing homes.
To the critics of decentralization in Spain, I say that this is a value. I believe that a system of co-governance or shared sovereignty is good in terms of effectiveness and that it will allow us to tackle the great territorial debates, also keeping in mind the great unsung heroes of decentralization: the municipalities. We have certainly made mistakes. But we can be proud of how we are facing the historical challenges. For this reason, one can understand the tension on the part of some sectors of the right, which are seeing an era come to an end and one with completely different ideas arising.
And what will happen with labor reform, the protection of the right to housing, the rights of migrants?
The process of dismantling the labor reform of the PP, initiated by Minister Yolanda Díaz, is clear-cut: social dialogue and agreements with the industry associations. For issues that do not form part of the government agreement, we will have to fight a lot. But the issue of rent control and the right to housing is there, and for us it is essential. And we will make it happen with the approval of the budget, which I believe we will achieve with a solid left-wing majority, one which is strengthened and which demonstrates the territorial plurality of the country. On migrants, our position is clear: I believe that respect for human rights should be the core of our country’s migration policy. But we are aware that the government agreement is much more limited than we would have liked. And that we have only 35 deputies against the 119 of the PSoE.