The saviour vibe

Welcome, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, to the big-time.

The new leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP) has gone from the relative safety of his native Galicia to the lion’s den of national politics in Madrid. He took over the leadership of the PP in April, widely hailed by those in the party as its voice of reason after the helter-skelter mayhem of the Pablo Casado years. Here he is, they said: a more serious, more experienced figure than his predecessor, with none of the dallying with the far right or that hipster-beard nonsense, and a lot more credibility when it comes to winning elections.

Núñez Feijóo: More gnarly, less sexy. Photo: PP.

And now, as the political season resumes, the real tests will come for Núñez Feijóo. The run-in to a general election which must take place by late 2023 has begun, with a flurry of local elections to come in the spring.

The overwhelming feeling within the PP that led to him being earmarked for the job, almost before Casado had finished being unceremoniously ousted, was that Núñez Feijóo’s electoral record shows he can deliver a stellar performance next year, culminating in him becoming prime minister. His record appears to speak for itself: four victories in a row in Galician regional elections between 2009 and 2020, each time with a majority.

In 2018, he was also mooted for the national leadership, albeit with less cheerleading vigour from his colleagues, and he did not run for it. But this time round, in the wake of Casado’s sudden fall and as he coyly played at being unsure about taking the job, Núñez Feijóo’s saviour vibe glowed particularly bright. It helped, perhaps that he is just that bit older now, with the look of an intellectual but slightly edgy PE teacher. When you see him in a suit and tie it’s hard to believe that this is the same man who used to go on holiday with a notorious narco – which might explain why nobody seems to talk about that any more.

Indeed, the arrival of this lean, bespectacled Galician in the national political arena seems to confirm the end of the era of those fresh-faced disruptors who emerged between 2014 and 2018, shaking up Spanish politics before singeing their wings and crashing to the ground: Podemos founder Pablo Iglesias, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera and Casado, with their spin, tweets and Game of Thrones fixations, all suffered variations of that fate and Pedro Sánchez could do so too in the not-too-distant future. Let’s return, the PP’s leader seems to be saying, to something a bit more gnarly and a lot less sexy – some old-school, unvarnished Galician oak to tackle the troubling times ahead.

In June, ahead of the Andalusia regional election, I saw Núñez Feijóo speak in Málaga, where he seemed determined to ram this message home. “This speech might sound old-fashioned and boring and untrendy but I’m sorry, politics isn’t a fashion or a reality show and nor should it be,” he said. Close your eyes and it could be another Galician leader of the conservatives, the ponderous Mariano Rajoy, speaking. 

The polls show that Núñez Feijóo has given the PP a bounce and that they are ahead of the Socialists. That, for now, appears to be justification enough for the party’s decision to choose him.

But those who see Núñez Feijóo as a silver bullet should not get carried away. That’s partly because his seemingly extraordinary electoral record in Galicia should carry an asterisk. As a Galician-speaking moderate conservative, his victories were impressive but really no more surprising than, say, Bayern Munich repeatedly winning the Bundesliga. The political stage in Santiago de Compostela is a world away from the national arena in Madrid and it could be argued that the relatively tame atmosphere of the former is not the ideal place to hone your skills for the latter.

Núñez Feijóo is now responsible for managing a national party, a much more daunting task than being a regional ‘baron’. The PP has at least one self-absorbed populist renegade, in the form of Isabel Díaz Ayuso, constantly threatening to pre-empt or trample over any policy he might carefully formulate. Then there is the capital’s fierce and powerful right-wing media which, however centrist the PP leader may want to be, will exhort him to be as extreme and uncompromising as possible on everything from the Catalan question to the renewal of the judiciary. And meanwhile, his own abilities will come under scrutiny like never before. In his recent Senate debate with Sánchez, for example, Núñez Feijóo looked slightly flat-footed. If distancing himself from Casado’s hyperactive vitriol means coming to resemble the uber-passive Rajoy, he may have to reconsider his approach.

Why the clan left town

Ireland’s Kinahan clan has recently been in the news after moves by authorities in the United States to close the net on them for alleged crimes linked to drug trafficking, a development which appears likely to affect their involvement in the boxing industry. For a while, this notorious family had a base on Spain’s Costa del Sol, which became one of the venues for a series of tit-for-tat killings. In 2018, I wrote the following piece looking at how and why the Kinahans had left Spain for the relative safety of Dubai:

It’s summertime and along the Costa del Sol the bars and restaurants are thriving, the beaches are packed and the motorboats glide across the Mediterranean. But things are not quite the way they used to be in this corner of southern Spain: the Kinahans aren’t around.

The Irish crime clan, led by Christy Kinahan Sr, operated in and around the Spanish city of Marbella for over a decade, using it as a base for one of the biggest drug-trafficking operations in Europe and relishing the sun-soaked lifestyle. But a violent feud and the police investigations it triggered have forced the family’s leading figures out of Spain altogether.

Boxer Tyson Fury (left) with Daniel Kinahan.

The killing in a bar in Elviria, near Marbella, of Gerard ‘Hatchet’ Kavanagh, in 2014, signalled that the violence of Dublin’s drug turf wars had spread to Spain. Then, in 2015, another target of the Kinahans, drug dealer and armed robber Gary Hutch, was gunned down beside a swimming pool in a communal area of an apartment complex near Marbella. The following summer, Irishman Trevor O’Neill, who had no involvement in the feud or criminal background, was shot dead in front of his wife and children in Mallorca by a gunman who was trying to kill a member of the Hutch family.

Hutch, like his uncle Gerry, had once been an associate of the Kinahans, before joining their hitlist. But his murder in particular, for which Dubliner James Quinn was recently given a 22-year jail sentence by a Spanish court, made Spain a much more dangerous place for Christy Kinahan and his sons, Daniel and Christy Jr.

“They have to take their precautions,” says one source, from the Spanish police’s elite unit investigating organised crime (known as GRECO), who says the feud has made the Kinahans targets. “It’s not always enough simply to have a bodyguard, so they had to find a safer environment.”

This source says the last time he knows of Christy Kinahan Sr being in Spain was in the winter of 2016, when he was seen eating in a restaurant with members of his family. 

Christy Jr, meanwhile, is believed to have come in and out of Spain quite regularly until a few months ago. Police sources say he was stopped in Frankfurt airport last year while travelling to Málaga on a false passport. Although German police detained him, he was allowed to travel onward on an emergency document but changed plans and did not fly to Málaga.

Daniel Kinahan, meanwhile, is believed to be avoiding Spain altogether – possibly because of fears the Spanish police would pounce with evidence to bring charges against him.

The police pressure triggered by the violence in Spain has been as problematic for the Kinahans as the hazards of the feud itself.

“It was the worst business move ever to kill Gary Hutch,” says one police source who has been involved in investigating the clan.

“Once you start killing in public spaces, governments are going to get involved.”

Criminal organisations from Ireland, the UK and many other countries have long been active on the Costa del Sol and it was an attractive base of operations for the likes of the Kinahans due to its proximity to the western Mediterranean’s drug superhighway, its large international underworld and, of course, the sunshine.

But the spate of killings alarmed the Spanish authorities and prompted a commitment to smash international crime on the Costa from the very top of the country’s law enforcement. Cooperation with the Irish Garda was ramped up. Spain’s civil guard and national police, which in the past have been known to have an at times antagonistic relationship, have improved their intelligence sharing and overall cooperation to unprecedented levels over the last three years or so while working on the Kinahan investigation.

The conviction of Quinn is a direct result of the Spanish and Irish forces working together and is seen as major coup. As a senior figure in the Kinahan organisation, who enjoyed taking over Marbella nightclubs and shipping dozens of friends over at a time from Dublin for parties, his absence is notable.

After leaving Spain, Christy Kinahan Sr and his sons were believed to have set up a new base in Dubai, although stricter regulations for ex-pats there, introduced earlier this year, could be problematic for them. Meanwhile, the whereabouts of their nemesis Gerry Hutch, who used to visit Lanzarote regularly, are unknown.

But while Quinn is in jail and the Kinahans are no longer based in Spain, their influence can still be seen in much of the operational structure they set up, which included partnerships with Colombian and Dutch gangs.

“Apart from the family itself they have a lot of associates,” says the source from the GRECO police unit. “One thing is for them to have left but that doesn’t mean the organisation itself has been dismantled.”

In May, four Irish nationals were stopped in southern Spain while driving 3.4m euros worth of cannabis hidden among lettuces in a lorry headed for Dublin. Garda Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll hailed the “ongoing and very productive cooperation” between the Irish and Spanish police which led directly to the swoop.

Police involved in the case say that those arrested did not seem to be under the direct command of the Kinahans but they may have had indirect links to the clan’s activities. 

While drug-trafficking continues on the Costa del Sol, the Kinahan-related violence appears to have stopped. Spain has not seen any Irish gang killings since the Mallorca death in 2016. Although the Spanish and Irish police continue to monitor organised crime closely, there is a feeling that for the authorities in Madrid, the issue is no longer such a pressing one.

“The reality is that there haven’t been any killings in mainland Spain since 2015 so maybe that’s why it’s no longer a priority,” says the police source involved in investigating the Kinahans.

Also, a recent spike in drug-related violence between local gangs further west along Spain’s southern coast, near Gibraltar, has meant that police resources have been spread thinly. 

“The Costa del Sol could be the place in the world with the highest density of gangsters,” says the GRECO source. “So of course [the Kinahans] are important, but so are a lot of others.”

11M, still

On the morning of 11th of March 2004 I didn’t hear the bombs that blew apart three carriages of a commuter train in Madrid’s Atocha station, even though I was living nearby. I’d just had soundproof new windows installed in my flat and the noise of the blasts didn’t reach me. However, the terrorist attack, which killed 193 people, did shape how I saw Spain, a country I had moved to just a few months earlier.

As the anniversary of that attack comes round again, it’s impossible not to recall the human tragedy of that day. But 18 years on, it’s also hard to ignore the tremendous damage the political response to the attack did to Spanish democracy, with repercussions which can still be felt today.

Before the pandemic, I was invited to take part as an interviewee in a documentary on the 2004 attack. A couple of weeks ago I was honoured to be invited to a cinema screening of the film, ’11M: Terror in Madrid’, which was directed by José Gómez, for relatives of victims and others involved in the making of it. The film is now available for viewing on Netflix and it is a superb piece of filmmaking, giving voice to victims with compassion and discretion. It also explains the horrific logistics and backstory to the attacks with a clarity that even the most mulish conspiracy theorist would struggle to contest. I talk about the film and the broader problems sown by the events of 18 years ago here.


“A real politician…never betrays his country to an outsider. He betrays it to himself. He is the enemy within.” Guy Endore, ‘The Werewolf of Paris.’

Pablo Casado: belligerent and uncertain. Photo: PP

The seemingly never-ending stream of national opinion polls in the Spanish media suggest that Pablo Casado has a genuinely good chance of becoming the country’s next prime minister. His Partido Popular (PP) has made up ground on the Socialists in recent months and, with a surging Vox, the two main parties on the right would have more seats in parliament than the two leftist parties currently governing in coalition.

It should be cause for celebration for the conservative leader. And yet, all is not well.

On taking the reins of the PP in 2018 Casado was a new young broom, untarnished by the corruption of his elders in the party and a far cry from the meme-spawning equivocation of his bland predecessor, Mariano Rajoy. Juan Carlos Monedero, a co-founder of the left-wing Podemos, even described Casado as “one of the finest speakers in parliament”.

But now, just over three years on, he is something else: an angry yet unconvincing figure, not entirely sure of who he is.

Few except his closest allies would echo Monedero’s complimentary words right now. The early months of the pandemic, when Casado waged a fiercely unstatesmanlike campaign to destabilise the coalition government, are now far in the past. But more recently he has risked becoming a figure of fun, in great part due to his outré public utterances: attacking solar energy because the sun doesn’t shine at night, or recommending that vegans and other upstarts should “go out one day with a shepherd so he can show them how to eat healthily.”

Casado’s eccentric style then took a more aggressive line, as he asked Pedro Sánchez in congress: “What the f**k has to happen for you to accept some responsibility?” (a variation on a phrase Sánchez himself once used during the dog days of his own stint in opposition).

All of this compounds the notion of Casado as a man in a panic. There are two obvious reasons for him to be in this state and both, curiously, are on the right of the political spectrum. Isabel Díaz Ayuso, Madrid’s regional premier, has become his main nemesis having taken a very different journey over the last 18 months. Before the pandemic, she was rarely taken seriously, even by her own PP voters. Having been hand-picked by Casado himself, she was simply a holding figure who seemed out of her depth as she made odd gaffes of her own. The idea of her one day leading the national party, let alone the country, was a little like those fanciful celluloid imaginings in which a well-known face fills a position of great responsibility: Sergio Ramos as chairman of the Bank of Spain; Belén Esteban head coach of the national football team; Díaz Ayuso as prime minister…You get the idea.

And yet, a one-word slogan to counter the strictures of the pandemic – “Freedom” – has converted Díaz Ayuso into an electoral phenomenon and a national figure whose ambition and success torment Casado. To make things worse for him, she recently earned the ultimate accolade in Spain: a flattering article in a foreign newspaper.

Further right lies his other problem: Vox. The far-right party’s rise has coincided almost exactly with his own tenure as PP leader (you can’t help but wonder: how would Rajoy have dealt with that challenge?). And Casado’s confusion has been on display throughout, unsure whether to harvest the substantial moderate furrow to the right of the Socialists – which has grown since the dramatic decline of Ciudadanos – or rip off his shirt and go toe-to-toe with Vox’s Santiago Abascal over the far-right vote.

In late 2020, Casado performed what appeared to many to be a move to the centre by making a clean break with Vox. Denouncing their policies in what was a carefully prepared speech in congress, he called for tolerance for people, “whatever the colour of their skin, whichever god they pray to, whichever person they love, whatever language they speak.” All good centre-ground stuff. “We don’t like you,” he told Abascal, just to make sure.

And yet, it turned out to be just another temporary swing towards the middle. Here we are, a year later, with Casado swearing in congress, trolling solar power and generally looking as belligerent as he ever has, with his party showing no signs of having broken ties with Vox in any meaningful way. It is the latest stylistic U-turn by a werewolf-politician who is constantly shifting shape between moderate human and far-right beast.

The great irony of all this is that until now, internal bickering had been the speciality of the Spanish left, while the very broad church that was the right somehow managed to get along. Now, the left is just about managing to work together, against the odds, while an electorally resurgent right is looking about as united as a school parents’ association.

Casado’s curse, it seems, is that he still looks like an opposition leader rather than a prime minister-in-waiting. Sánchez had much the same problem until 2018 when, after getting into power through a parliamentary manoeuvre, his polls suddenly shot up purely on the strength of the fact that he now looked like a PM. The glass ceiling of public imagination had been shattered.

“If Casado ever gets into [PM’s residence] La Moncloa, those who are making fun of him and calling for him to be replaced might even say he is charismatic,” noted Pilar Gómez, of El Confidencial.

That may well be true. He’s got to get there first, though.

Whither reggaeton?

I recently stumbled upon an article in which a Mexican psychologist warned that reggaeton is bad for children’s cognitive growth, fuelling anxiety, confusion and low self-esteem. I found this heartening, not because I delight in the stunted development of the younger generations but because it reinforced all sorts of prejudices I had long harboured about reggaeton, a seemingly ubiquitous musical genre which has been dominating the Spanish-speaking world for what feels like decades, since emerging from Puerto Rico.

What is it I don’t like? The bog-standard beat which is somehow both soporific and stressful; the sub-fratboy lyrics, which on a bad day can make Gangsta rappers sound like feminists (ie: “You have a big ass/ve-ry big/and I’ve studied it /I’m about to graduate/and on my face I’ll have it tattooed…”); and then there are the childish-yet-creepy artist names: Casper Mágico, Luny Tunes, Bad Bunny.

Bad Bunny: neither big nor clever.

Full disclosure here: I am one of millions of innocent people who, in the summer of 2017, were scarred by the experience of being forced to listen over and over again to the airwave-colonising reggaeton hit ‘Despacito’ by Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi. Those few weeks of my life are now a blur of heat combined with a nagging two-step beat and some lyrics which include: “Oh/ You are the magnet and I’m the metal/I’m getting closer and I’m making a plan/Just thinking about it makes my heart race/Oh yeah…”

But my biggest problem with reggaeton is not the lyrics, the silly names or the repetitive beat. It’s the fact that it just won’t die. In a lifetime we witness endless musical fads, some better than others but virtually all destined to fade. Yet reggaeton has so far had a longer life than New Wave, Acid House, Grunge and Trip Hop all put together. It’s the indestructible amoeba. The morphing variant.

And, if anything, it has gained respectability. In her bestselling memoir of small-town life, Feria, Ana Iris Simón recalls the early days of reggaeton and how it “went from being something crass and vulgar, what they played at the village fiestas where those who wanted to be cool refused to go precisely because there was reggaeton on all the time…to being the main attraction of the Primavera and Sónar [music festivals].” Not only is it ubiquitous, she’s saying, but it also has credibility.

I was recently complaining about all this to a friend. He corrected me.

“You’re looking at this all wrong,” he said. “Reggaeton isn’t a fad. It’s here to stay – like rock ‘n’ roll or hip hop.”

This realisation initially left me stunned. For days I was dismayed by the thought that we are saddled with this rhythmic banality forever. But then came acceptance and the hope that perhaps a new, innovative artist will arrive (Good Bunny, perhaps? Or Mummy Yankee?) to drag reggaeton out of its ghetto of blingy mediocrity and down some adventurous new avenues. But the beat, it seems, will just go on and on.


About three years ago, when I was on the board of Spain’s association of foreign correspondents, I suggested to my fellow members that we should try to organise a meeting with Iván Redondo. By then, he had already become something of a legendary figure. A former advisor to the conservative Popular Party, Redondo had switched sides and been appointed as a chief advisor to the Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, who had just become prime minister.

Having had some contact with Redondo previously, I volunteered to get in touch and try to organise the event, which we envisaged as an off-the-record meeting which would give foreign correspondents a privileged glance under the bonnet of the new government. I spoke to his people and, to my surprise, they immediately said yes, Iván would be delighted to meet with the foreign press. A date was set and our members were informed. Almost every single one of them immediately signed up for the meeting, a show of interest that hardly any other public figure in Spain can generate.

I felt great about all this. Until, that is, one of Redondo’s people called a couple of days before the big date to tell me that something had come up and, sadly, we’d have to reschedule. Another date was set. Unfortunately, a couple of days before that meeting, exactly the same thing happened and we had to reschedule again. I was now starting to worry, because this was, after all, my doing. I was in a taxi in Valencia when the third fateful phone call came from a member of Redondo’s team to tell me that sorry, but yet again, Iván couldn’t make it. The meeting, needless to say, never happened.

Apart from being humiliated by my hat trick of Redondo jilts, I was amazed at the interest he could muster. This small, thirty-something, man had created an aura beyond that of an ordinary government advisor. That was linked, perhaps to his own obsession with pop culture and American-style political spin. A fan of The West Wing, Redondo was, or saw himself as, Spain’s own Toby Ziegler, managing the prime minister’s image with more zeal than anyone before him.

That energy and imagination has been credited for arguably Sánchez’s cleverest political move – the 2018 no-confidence motion which saw him replace Mariano Rajoy as prime minister. If, indeed, it was Redondo’s idea, it was brilliant, like that which saw health minister Salvador Illa step down earlier this year and run successfully as the Socialist candidate in the Catalan election.

It’s hard to overstate how much Spanish commentators have imbued Redondo with an aura of strategic wizardry and even sinister powers. He has been described as “the king of political plumbers”, “the most powerful man in government” and Sánchez’s “all-powerful guru”. On a less flattering note, he has been called a “bible seller” and drawn countless comparisons with the enigmatic advisor to Empress Alexandria of Russia: “The Rasputin of Moncloa”, “Sánchez’s Rasputin”, or even “The Basque Rasputin” (he is, to be fair, from San Sebastián).

His time advising Sánchez has, of course, included its fair share of missteps. Early in his tenure, the prime minister’s team tried to cast him as a hipster heavyweight leader, looking uber-cool in shades as he jetted around Europe to meet his counterparts. A weird set of official photos of Sánchez’s hands as he travelled back from Berlin carried the laughable, spin-inflected text: “The hands of the prime minister show the determination of the government”. Another, much more substantial, error attributed by many to Redondo was Sánchez’s failure to form a new government after the Socialists won the April 2019 election, leading to a damaging political hiatus. Last May’s lacklustre campaign and performance by the Socialists in the Madrid regional election, meanwhile, would have made Toby Ziegler blanch.

But now, Redondo is nowhere to be seen. Having reportedly rubbed many in the Moncloa palace up the wrong way, he was one of the high-profile victims of a recent cabinet reshuffle. So what should we expect, now that a new political season is beginning without the bible-selling Rasputin-plumber-guru? It is tempting to anticipate a new style of government – one that depends less on choreographed moves and sweeping gestures (remember the Aquarius migrant boat episode?) and more on substance – a trend which, it could be argued, is also encouraged by the retirement from politics of the headline-savvy Pablo Iglesias.

However, I have the feeling now that I, my fellow correspondents and pretty much everyone who has offered an opinion on Redondo over the last couple of years, has inflated his influence beyond its true worth. The many conspiracy theorists who have emerged throughout the pandemic have shown that it can be tempting to believe that there is a grand puppet master pulling the strings. The notion of a single scheming genius whispering in the ear of the prime minister while an irate platoon of advisors and ministers are made to wait outside the room is irresistible, but probably not entirely accurate.

So let’s see how much things change over the coming months now that Redondo has gone. In the meantime, all I’ll say is: Don’t worry, Iván, I forgive you.


“If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.” Hillary Clinton

Retirement can take many forms. For some, it means the purchase of a cherry wood pipe and some grade-A shag tobacco. For others, it might be that longed-for yacht and a trip round the Caribbean. In the case of erstwhile Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, it means having a haircut.

There were other issues on the news agenda last week: the fate of 140 billion euros in EU funds; the lifting of a national state of emergency; the bombing of Gaza. But in Spain, all were trumped by the news that Iglesias, who recently retired from politics, had amputated his talismanic, swishing ponytail.

A heavy rinse of meaning. Photo: Dani Gago.

The story broke with a side-on photo of him sitting placidly in the sunshine, holding a book while gazing into the distance, the ponytail now gone. That picture immediately unleashed a torrent of comment, analysis and downright gibberish as Spain obsessed over the absent hair. Was this a personal statement or a political one? Was Iglesias in crisis? Did the haircut in question represent some kind of betrayal?

To be fair, it’s impossible not to imbue those lopped-off locks with a heavy rinse of meaning. Just look at the timing. Iglesias did this days before the 10th anniversary of the most celebrated moment of the indignados movement: when tens of thousands of people gathered in Madrid on May 15th, 2011, demanding a major shake-up of the two-party political system.

The indignados’ legacy was the breaking up of that duopoly. Podemos was not the party of 15-M, but it did, as one commentator put it, “drink from the same well”, digesting and then exploiting the clamour for upheaval. From 2014 onwards, Podemos and (in a different way) Ciudadanos challenged the Socialist-PP supremacy, at times overtaking them in polls and repeatedly forcing them to negotiate in order to govern. But in the last 18 months, the hyper-leaders of both parties have resigned. In the case of Ciudadanos’s Albert Rivera, hubris did for him; as for Iglesias, his status as a lightning rod for the right appeared to take its toll.

The PP’s extraordinary resurgence in the recent Madrid election might just be a freak, a perfect storm of late-pandemic circumstances which made the victory of libertarian-populist Isabel Díaz Ayuso inevitable. Or it might be the shape of things to come: the restoration of a staid two-party system (okay, three if you include Vox) which was tested and shown wanting during the euro-zone financial crisis.

Squeezed between that election and the indignados’s birthday, it’s hard not to see the severing of that clump of hair as anything other than the end of a decade-long socio-political dream.

But then again.

The insightful Marina Lobo offered another explanation: “Nobody has thought about the possibility that Iglesias may have gone to the hairdresser’s to have a trim and things just got out of hand.”

A new threat

Last week, Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias revealed that he had received a death threat, sent via the Interior Ministry. It turned out that he wasn’t the only one: the head of the civil guard, María Gámez, and the interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, also received similar missives.

These were not simply sinister social media posts. Four bullet cartridges were sent to Iglesias with a stencilled note identifying him, his partner, government minister Irene Montero, and his parents as targets. Bullets were also sent to Gámez and Grande-Marlaska. The style was a throwback to the dark years of Eta’s terrorist violence, when the Basque separatist group sent such letters to politicians, judges, business owners and others as a matter of course.

A photo of the letter and bullets sent to Pablo Iglesias.

It could be that these letters are simply an aberration. But, sadly, they fit into the pattern of Spanish politics of recent times, in which aggression has become increasingly predominant, creating a swirling vacuum where genuine debate of public issues should be.

However, the death threats themselves have been overshadowed by the response to them on the part of the far-right Vox party. Rocío Monasterio, candidate for Vox in the upcoming Madrid regional election, cast in doubt the veracity of the threats, suggesting Iglesias had fabricated them, and would not condemn them  — “I condemn all violence,” she said, while refusing to acknowledge this particular incident.

This takes Vox deep into Trump territory, where even the slightest suggestion of statesmanship is shunned if it carries no political advantage. But it also reflects how politically uncomfortable these threats are for the far-right party and many others. Eta stopped killing over a decade ago and it formally disbanded three years ago. Yet Spain’s hard right has sought to keep it alive as a political issue, monopolising terrorism victimhood (despite the fact that Eta’s victims came from across the political spectrum) while casting the left as allies of the non-existent organisation. It has been a mendacious yet effective policy which has blown oxygen into the embers of Eta’s macabre legacy and helped polarise the country.

Iglesias’s status as the target of a domestic terrorist threat turns all this on its head. For Vox, and many in the Popular Party, Podemos’s leader is a friend of terrorists, so he can’t possibly be the victim of terrorism. Can he? In a binary world, many will find this too much to digest and so will buy Vox’s warped conspiracy theory that the letters are a hoax.

Quite another matter is whether Iglesias was right to walk out of a live radio debate because Vox was peddling this line, and whether the candidates of the Socialist Party and Más Madrid are well advised to join him in boycotting further debates with the far right. Engaging with those who are gleefully hacking away at Spanish democracy with a post-truth pickaxe will never be easy. But surely it is necessary, now more than ever.