My wife and I do not particularly agree with the political program of CUP, a small left wing party advocating an independent Catalonia. Still, yesterday we decided to join their demonstration to show our support for the message Estem farts! (We have had enough!), from Vilanova to Spanish prime minister Zapatero. What we are fed up with this time is not the Spanish state in general but more concretely with the government’s latest fiasco.
In Spanish politics, centralism as opposed to regionalism forms a dividing line almost as strong as the ideological one. Generally speaking, the incumbent socialist central government can usually count on the passive support from all Catalan political forces, from the left to the right. The only exception is Partit Popular - the Catalan branch of the main opposition party - but their strongly centralist agenda renders them a weak role in this autonomy-minded region. A close cut race is expected for next spring's elections to the Spanish parliament. Zapatero’s government has a lead in the polls but his recent mismanagement of problems related to the AVE (Spain’s high speed train) undermines that in a region which he can hardly afford to lose.
To me, the AVE project seems sadly politicized from the beginning. The first line to be opened was Madrid-Sevilla and before the end of this year the Spanish capital will also be connected to Malaga and Valladolid. The highly symbolic connection to the state’s second largest city, Barcelona, will be completed only in 2008. Were it only for the historical delays of this project, Zapatero’s earlier promise to have it inaugurated before Christmas this year, would only seem naïve. Now, with the soil subsiding under the tracks, the competence of his government is seriously being questioned.
Two weeks ago, railway traffic was suspended in the Bellvitge area, the entry into Barcelona. With open holes in the ground, the government did the only thing possible - that is to give priority to the safety of the travellers and the construction workers. People now have to change from train to special buses taking them around the affected zone. In the most heavily trafficked part of the whole Spanish railway network the consequences of such a manoeuvre are dire. When 100.000 daily travellers are moved to buses, ordinary roads collapse from congestion and all at once has the government made sure that nobody escapes the hassle.
And painful it is, indeed, not the least for us out here in Vilanova. When my family moved here, a train journey to Barcelona took 40 minutes. During this year, we have seen that increase to 50 minutes as of standard and on top of that have had a number of big delays due to power cuts or minor accidents caused by the AVE construction works. Comments in our local newspaper reveal that irritation was running high already before the train traffic was cut off completely. These days, people like my wife, who takes the train to work in Barcelona, spend a minimum of 3 hours a day commuting. To make matters worse, until now, nobody has wanted to tell for how long we will have to endure this extraordinary situation.
Tomorrow, November 5, Zapatero has promised to inform on when the commuter trains will again start to operate as of schedule. Whatever his message will be, he can expect severe criticism from the whole range of Catalan politicians. The comments from PP, and possibly those from right-wing CiU and extreme left ERC, he might be able to disregard. However, this time he had better act on what we hope to hear from his fellow socialist Montilla, president of the Generalitat, and Joan Ignasi Elena, the mayor of Vilanova i la Geltrú. During the latest month, Zapatero has repeatedly made his local party leaders seem embarrassingly powerless. To describe what the inhabitants of Catalonia now feel about the central government, Estem farts! is clearly an understatement.