On a recent Sunday the President of the Government was asked at a meeting if he intended to remodel his government, by making changes among the ministers. Rodríguez Zapatero replied briefly to the effect that the only change considered at the time was a new post for the retiring Minister of Labour, Celestino Corbacho. Sr. Corbacho had announced his intention of returning to the normal (?) everyday debate in Catalan politics.
As writers in all the Spanish newspapers correctly predicted, this meant that on the day after, a Monday, the El Pais website duly ‘leaked’ the news that there was about to be a positively volcanic re-shuffle of responsibilities in the Cabinet, in which only Mr Zapatero himself would be untouched, one way or the other.
First, Zapatero has removed three of his most stalwart fans and supporters. María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, senior vice-president and ZP’s staunchest admirer; Miguel Angel Moratinos, Foreign Minister, and Elena Espinosa, Minister for the Environment are all out. They will be given sinecures for their pains. Moratinos learnt about his abrupt dismissal while occupying his seat in Congress, and was seen to weep.
Zapatero has elevated his personal Rasputin, Alfredo de Rubalcaba, to the position of First Vice-President. He stays at the head of the Ministry of the Interior too. His powers are almost unlimited. Elena Salgado stays as Second Vice-President and Minister of Finance. Manuel Chaves stays as Third Vice-President and Minister in charge of Territorial Politics. Ramon Jauregi (one of the formerly great barons of the Party) has been rescued from his post at the European Union, and reinstated in the Cabinet as Ministry de la Presidencia, in charge of most matters connected with the present incumbent of the Moncloa Palace. This had been another post held by De la Vega before the Great Re-shuffle. Trinidad Jiménez, fresh from her humiliating defeat in the Madrid candidacy battle, has been moved to Exteriores, replacing the tearful Moratinos. The female Minister of Defence, one Carme Chacon, stays put, much to the chagrin of certain senior army officers, who strangely think (but keep quiet about it) that a country’s Ministry of Defence should ideally be headed by a man with some military experience. Chacon is a lawyer, like so many politicians of today.
The new Minister of Labour, who must face the nearly five million unemployed in Spain, is a trade unionist who was much photographed demonstrating with other workers during the recent rather unsuccessful general strike. His name is Valeriano Gómez. He will now have to negotiate with his fellow strikers, which could prove difficult, and amusing for some. Francisco Camaño stays in the hot seat as Minister of Justice. Leire Pajín has been lifted out of her job as Party Organiser, and dropped into the chair at the head of the Ministry of Health. There is a difference of opinion in various newspapers about Srta. Pajín’s qualifications for high office. Some say this young lady (34) has a Degree in Sociology. I do hope so. Other organs claim she left school young with no examinations of her knowledge having taken place. Who knows? Spain has had six years of Zetapé’s government, and has experienced a remarkable indifference to the truth throughout those years.
The dumb Ministry of Equality invented by Zapatero under the leadership of one Bibiana Aído has vanished. The repulsive José Blanco still has his Ministry of Development (Fomento), but he isn’t often seen there. He leads the rabid spokesmen who on a daily basis (especially at weekends) gather to insult and assault the only important political party in Opposition, the Partido Popular. Both the Ministry and the Minister of Housing (Vivienda) have gone like a puff of smoke, and ex-Minister Beatriz Corredor will become a secretary of state, which is a sad comedown for this hard-working young lady (42). Ángel Gabilondo is a good Minister of Education, and will be relieved to know he has not been relieved. The Ministry of Culture (Ángela González-Sinde) is untouched. So is the Ministry of Science under Cristina Garmendia.
Zapatero surprised not a few of his many supporters by plucking Rosa Aguilar (another lawyer) from the ranks of the Communist Party and making her the new Minister for the Environment, replacing Elena Espinosa. The Minister for Industry, Miguel Sebastián, one of ZP’s oldest friends and advisers, stays at the helm, though the seas are very rough indeed, and he will need all his undoubted talents to avoid the rocks.
Thus the total number of ministries is reduced from 17 to 15, but it has also been announced that each ministry will form a department working for a Spokeperson (Portavoz). This means there will be no change in the cost of government. No cuts are expected. In fact not a single newspaper or political website has missed the fact that the cabinet re-shuffle has brought no new plans to deal with unemployment, rising inflation or reckless public spending in the Autonomies. It is a wholly political game of musical chairs, designed with one purpose in mind; an unending and determined assault on the Popular Party, which has started already. The significance of all this drama is to reduce the Opposition by systematic propaganda. Under the genius of Rubalcaba, who has just become the effective ruler of the country (he controls justice, the police forces, and communications), each serving member of the Opposition will be singled out for scrutiny. Character destruction via the PSOE-controlled media will be rife. Woe betide any Popular foolish enough to accept a bribe in the form of a box of chocolates. He or she will be dragged up before the courts as a champion of corruption. I don’t need to point out that such microscopic meddling by government departments will not be applied to members of the PSOE. That would be stretching things a bit.
When I regard recent events, I am reminded, by some perverse chance, of a very early sixteenth century painting by the barely known artist Signorelli. This brave man dared to produce a work showing the AntiChrist as identical to the figure traditionally associated with Jesus Christ, rather more saturnine, with skin affected by the fiery regions he inhabits. Standing close by the AntiChrist in this remarkable painting is Satan himself, whispering bitter thoughts in his ear. Four centuries later Cardinal Newman remarked that no-one resembled Christ more than the AntiChrist, except that the former is the Son of God, and the latter is a Prince of Iniquity, capable of defrauding everybody, including those on his side. Why do I see in this minor masterpiece a mirror of our times? Could Signorelli have foreseen Rubalcaba whispering into Zapatero’s ready ear?
Note: By the way, the painter did indeed suffer horribly for daring to put on canvas his interpretation of the AntiChrist. His oldest son, already an admirable painter himself, was cut down by the plague in the flower of his youth. Signorelli himself died twenty years later, forgotten and penniless.