After attack, Spaniards channel anger at the polls
MADRID — Luis Perdices and Teresa Rodrigo have never voted, but Sunday the 30-something couple arrived early at the polling station at downtown Madrid's San Isidro High School.
"We're indignant," Teresa says. "The government has been manipulating information about the attacks until after the elections. We want to punish them with our vote."
Two days after train bombs left 200 dead and more than 1,460 injured, the mood has shifted in Madrid, from shock and grief to anger and defiance. And as people lined up at the polls Sunday, many were asking why their government initially failed to recognize Al Qaeda as the primary suspects.
Immediately after Thursday's bombings, all political parties suspended campaign activities out of respect for the victims. But as evidence of Al Qaeda's involvement grew, political concerns reemerged. One Socialist leader, José María Blanco, said publicly on Saturday that Spaniards deserved a government that would not lie to them. The ruling Popular Party cried foul in a televised news conference, accusing the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party of making false claims.
On Saturday night, a hostile protest erupted in front of Popular Party headquarters. Shortly thereafter, Mariano Rajoy, the Popular Party candidate for prime minister, called the demonstration "illegal" and accused the Socialist Party of organizing it.
As the weekend began, more than 11 million Spaniards turned out to rally in support of the victims and against terrorism. But by Saturday afternoon, many wanted to know why President José María Aznar and Minister of Interior Angel Acebes had first insisted that ETA, the Basque separatist group that has often resorted to violence, was responsible.
At the Atocha train station, where two of the four trains exploded, rally participant Obdulia Concejo Diez stood before flickering candles of a makeshift shrine. "Why don't they tell us the truth?" she angrily demanded. "Do they think we are stupid?"
Hours earlier, Mr. Acebes announced that three Moroccans and two Indians had been arrested in connection with the attacks. Ms. Concejo had no doubts about who was responsible. "The government put us into that war in Iraq, and this is what happens. [President] Aznar didn't plant the bombs, but he's guilty for what happened."
Her sentiment was shared by thousands of citizens who gathered later outside Popular Party headquarters to protest the government's involvement in the war in Iraq and its perceived lack of transparency about the bombings.
As protesters chanted, "We said 'no' to the war!" Juan Carlos Vela, an economist, said, "If an Islamic group is behind the attacks, it's because of Spain's participation in the war, which all of us were opposed to, and only the government was in favor of." Mr. Vela added that he had come to the demonstration because, "I want to know the truth about the attacks before I vote."
The election was foremost in protester's minds. "With the elections [Sunday], it's the moment to demand the truth." said Mariana Hernández, a young music student who marched at the demonstration with her mother and brother.
As the steady rain that had fallen since Thursday gave way Sunday morning to sunny skies, most people at polling stations agreed that the attacks, and the government's response to them, would affect the election results. Hotel worker Paqui Carmena was sure that the Popular Party would lose the absolute majority it has enjoyed since 2000. Her husband, Carlos Garcia, an interior designer, added, "Now, many people who wouldn't have voted are going to vote."
Gonzalo Pradera, a translator, brought his baby daughter to the voting booth on Bailen Street, a few blocks from the Royal Palace. "Now that it seems clear that it was Al Qaeda who caused the attacks," he said, "the Socialists are going to get more votes. People are going to blame Aznar's party for having gotten us into this."
Another voter, Eva Maria Gonzalo, who voted for the Popular Party, agreed that public sentiment had changed. "I haven't changed my vote, but I know a lot of people will."
Not everyone is sure that the latest investigation is on the right track.
In the ethnically diverse Lavapies neighborhood near the Atocha train station, many Moroccan immigrants are withholding judgment. Khalid al Khettar says he simply doesn't know what to believe, though he feels that he and other Moroccans are being viewed with greater suspicion.
Ibrahim, a Moroccan student who has lived in Spain for six years, also doubts that Moroccans could be involved. "Al Qaeda has nothing against [my] country," he said, paused, and then added: "My country has also suffered from terrorism."