The car-bomb murder in Madrid Monday of a Supreme Court judge, his driver, and his bodyguard brought to 19 the number of terrorist deaths since the Basque separatist group ETA ended its cease-fire 10 months ago. More than 65 people were injured in the blast, which took place in a busy residential neighborhood at rush hour. (Early Thursday morning, a car bomb went off in Barcelona, injuring two.)
The Spanish papers all carried images of the spontaneous anti-ETA gatherings that have become the standard popular response to the group’s acts of terrorism. El País described the scene in Madrid, where over 200,000 assembled: “The same anger, the same impotence, and the same sad faces.” Although most of the summer’s protests have been silent, on Tuesday there were shouts from the crowd demanding life sentences for terrorists, as well as occasional calls for the death penalty—though other members of the crowd were said to have spoken out against execution. El Mundo portrayed an angrier crowd—demanding more than “gestures of solidarity” and calling on President José María Aznar to keep a firm hand, to make punishments harsher, and not to be intimidated by the violence. An editorial in El País declared:
ETA doesn’t try to convince people. Quite the opposite: It is because it recognizes its inability to do so that it tries to impose its will by force. … Rather than trying to win, they want to show that they can’t be beaten; that a democratic government is unable to guarantee public safety or to prevent a murder in the center of Madrid. [They want to] discredit legitimate authority and to demoralize the citizenry.
In Britain, both the liberal Independent and the conservative Daily Telegraph drew parallels between Spain and Northern Ireland. The Independent pointed out that the IRA, “even at its most murderous, reflected genuine grievances. … Basques enjoy rights which many other ethnic groups elsewhere in Europe can only envy. The Basques have their own police force, their own health service, their own powers of taxation—and their parliament is ruled by a Basque party.” It concluded: “The revulsion of ordinary Basques against Eta can be a powerful weapon against Eta’s murderous tactics. Repression by central government is not.” The Telegraph expressed the opposite opinion, hoping the Spaniards would not negotiate with ETA as the British government did with the IRA:
[ETA] is determined to win this test of endurance by sickening the Spanish government and people into conceding its demands. Let us hope that the Spanish state has greater staying power than its British counterpart in dealing with a terrorist menace.
The case against the death sentence: “From prison to the podium” was the headline on El País’ revelation that Sebastián Rodríguez, who won five gold medals and broke four world records for Spain in the recently concluded Paralympic Games, is a convicted terrorist. In his teens he joined the left-wing First of October Armed Revolutionary Group (GRAPO), and in 1985 was sentenced to 84 years in prison for his part in a murder and several bombings. In 1990, he took part in a politically motivated hunger strike, refusing food for 432 days, during which time he was often hospitalized and force-fed. The fast affected his body’s ability to assimilate proteins and left him unable to walk. It also led to his release from jail, since Spanish law requires seriously ill inmates to be released. According to the paper, Rodríguez has not repented his “militant” past and still regularly gives money to an organization that supports the GRAPO political prisoners. Still, several politicians from his hometown of Vigo expressed their support for the swimmer, including a conservative politician who declared, “He seems to be totally rehabilitated now.”
U.S. election corner: On the endorsement front, the Independent threw its support behind Vice President Al Gore. The editorial dumped on Dubya: “His short attention span, his pervasive lack of curiosity, his general lightness of being, remain unnerving. He has mastered his lines, but all too often does not seem to understand them.” An op-ed writer in the Times of London declared, “Whoever wins, they’re a couple of losers,” but decided that Gore would “do less harm than Bush to America and the world.” The piece concluded with two predictions:
Neither Gore nor Bush will be remotely as good at managing the US economy as Clinton. And whichever of these feeble candidates squeaks through next week, he will not win a second term in 2004.
The International Herald Tribune provided a primer for foreigners who can’t tell the two U.S. presidential candidates apart. It achieved this by recounting the special concerns each candidate brings the peoples of the world:
Some Arabs worry that Mr. Gore would bring a clear tilt to Israel, giving the United States its first Jewish vice president in Joseph Lieberman; some Asians fear a more confrontational U.S. approach toward China under Mr. Bush, though some Taiwanese and South Koreans say the governor’s election would comfort them.
And if the franchise were extended beyond the borders of the United States? According to the IHT, Israelis favor Gore, while Bush enjoys a “marginal edge among Palestinians.” The Irish Times reported that 59 percent of French voters polled by the Catholic paper La Croix would vote for Gore, and 31 percent for Bush. And, confirming how much the French love America, when asked to characterize the United States, “the most frequent associations the respondents made were with violence, the death sentence and social inequality.”