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By Andres Oppenheimer
The widely expected victory of the center-right
If that happens, it would make a big difference in the Latin America diplomatic arena. Despite its economic crisis, Spain is a major investor in Latin America, and a leader on Latin American initiatives within the 27-country
But will the PP win, and will it change Spain's foreign policy? Let's look at the facts. A June 5 poll by the daily El País shows that PP leader Mariano Rajoy's party leads by a record 14 percent in voters' preferences over its nearest rival. In the May municipal elections, the PP won by nearly 8 percent of the vote.
On a week-long visit here, I've found the country as beautiful as ever -- Madrid's streets are clean, and sidewalk cafes are teeming with patrons until the wee hours -- despite the economic crisis that has resulted in 20 percent unemployment. But in conversations with friends across the political spectrum, widespread disenchantment with the current government of
Rather than a symptom of Rajoy's popularity -- he has zero charisma -- the polls reflect widespread disappointment with Zapatero and his party. According to a June 28 editorial by the daily El Mundo, Zapatero's "has been the worse government the nation has had in thirty years of democracy."
Elections are scheduled for March 2012, but the conventional wisdom here is that -- if things deteriorate further -- they could be held as early as November.
Congressman Gustavo de Arístegui, the
By comparison, if the
Regarding Cuba, for instance, the
In addition, a
"When some Spanish companies have had problems in Argentina, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the Spanish government has looked the other way," he said. "Spain must defend its companies. There are 8 million Spaniards in Spain's stock market, and the government cannot ignore their interests."
But Carlos Malamud, a Latin America analyst with Spain's
My opinion: Spain has already begun changing its foreign policy rhetoric under the current government, since the appointment late last year of Trinidad Jimenez as foreign minister.
Unlike her predecessor Miguel Angel Moratinos, who came across as an apologist for Cuba's military dictatorship, Jimenez has built bridges with human and civil rights groups. Having interviewed both, I found Jimenez to be much more open-minded than Moratinos.
Also, even if Spain shifts to the right, Rajoy will want to differentiate himself from former right-of-center Prime Minister Jose María Aznar, whose embrace of George W. Bush's ill-fated invasion of Iraq does not sit well with most Spaniards.
The good news is that Spain's return to a more principled foreign policy -- in the tradition of former Socialist President Felipe Gonzalez -- has already begun, and is likely to intensify no matter who wins the next elections.
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