The 8th March (8M) feminist protest and its relation to the coronavirus outbreak has gained a lot of media and political criticism in Spain. With over 120,000 people attending, many would now agree that it should have never been held. Most of the parties on the right have been critical, in various degrees, since the protest, and also of the following management of the virus.
Several prominent politicians that went to the march have contracted the virus, including Irene Montero the Minister for Equality, Carmen Calvo the Deputy Prime Minister and Begoña Gómez, Pedro Sanchez’s wife. However, several politicians that never went to the march have also got sick.
Many have said that 8M was ‘the single biggest cause’ of the spread of coronavirus in Spain. There has been no investigation into this, and even if there was, would they be able to prove it? However, let’s look at what has been reported in the news to see if we can cut through all the political point scoring.
How it unfolded
The 8M commission, the group in charge of the feminist march, contacted the Ministry of Health days before the event and were told it could go on. Also, in the week before the march, Irene Montero encouraged people to go to 8M.
Days before the protest, Fernando Simon, the director of the Centre for Coordination and Health Emergencies, was asked directly about 8M at a press conference, in response he said “If my son asks me if he can go, I will tell him to do whatever he wants,”.
It is worth pointing out that Simon is not politically appointed but the Public Health Specialist in charge of the department working with the government to manage the pandemic.
At a press conference after 8M, Simon declared that on the Sunday afternoon, the day of the protest, they had obtained “partial information” about a rise in covid-19 cases in Madrid, but that the situation “took shape Monday morning”.
Following 8M, the Communidad de Madrid decided to close schools in order ‘to save time’ and ‘prepare the healthcare services’ for the arrival of the virus. This was repeated by Madrid’s President, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, on the 25th March. This was in response to an investigation that has been opened. The investigation was initiated following a complaint, by an unknown individual, against the government delegate to the Communidad de Madrid, José Manuel Franco, for allowing 8M and other events to go forward.
Diaz Ayuso also said that Madrid’s regional had taken steps before and after the march to contain the virus. Whilst there is some evidence, holding meetings with various departments and closing the residential homes on the Friday 6th, there seems to be other evidence against this statement. Like the Madrid President attending the tribute to the 11M Atocha bombings in Sol with many other people.
The Popular Party controlled Communidad de Madrid has been at odds with the left-wing collation government since 8M, saying that the government had withheld data from them. Although the normal stream of information, in terms of health statistics, would go from the regional government to the health ministry, not the other way round.
After being questioned by officials from Vox and the PP, the Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, declared that the responsibility for suspending gatherings and events was with the communidads, and that he could do anything until the state of alarm was declared on the 14th March, almost a week after the 8M.
In fact, it was the communidads of Madrid and the Basque country that banned gatherings of over 1000 people on Monday the 9th March. This was after informing the health minister on Sunday evening that there had been a rise in cases. There have been various reports in newspapers that the central government was influencing the communidad’s decisions, then of course, there are other reports stating the exact opposite.
There is always more than one side to a story.
El Publico has also looked into many of the contradictions that come up against the very people aiming criticism at 8M and the government for not cancelling it.
They point out that there were various events the same weekend including Vox’s own conference in Madrid with over 9,000 people attending. Javier Ortega Smith later being diagnosed with Covid-19. After 8M Vox also questioned the need for strict regulations saying that Spain needed to protect itself but also keep going.
The PP have been the biggest critics of 8M whilst Vox leader Abascal was in isolation. However, the PP went to the demonstration themselves and even had a debate about whether they should go. Vox later criticised the PP for going on.
Ciudadanos, deputy mayor of Madrid Begoña Villacís, went to 8M along with a banner and her colleagues, yet just like Pride marches in the past, they were chased out of the march. Ciudadanos are not popular in parts of the feminist community because they are supporting anti-feminist party Vox, along with the PP in several offices over the country.
Since 8M neither Podemos nor PSOE have come out openly to discuss the issue in depth, and much of the criticism is yet to be addressed. As we can see from the above, none of the opposition parties were in a place to say they knew better. If they had, their behaviour would have been more congruent with their discourse.
Political opposition is there to hold the government to account, it is a fundamental necessity for a functioning democracy. Yet, when parties use situations to gain votes and spin conspiracies, this is doing more damage to the country, and they are not fulfilling their duties as opposition, but serving their own self interests.
There is also the fact there were five La Liga matches in Madrid that weekend, a lot of second division football, church masses and basketball. There was also the education fair at IFEMA, which had about 100,000 people attend over the week. I went and it was packed with people looking to the future. The Army, police and health care services were all there promoting their courses.
They estimate public transport in Madrid alone carried 13.9 million peoplearound the capital in the week before the protest. It ends with asking not how did the virus spread so quickly, but also why were we not better prepared for the virus?
Since the events of early March, the media coverage has been bashing the central government and the 8M protest, and the politicians have been using it as an excuse to score political points.
The Junta de Andalucia was caught paying for advertisements, in the form of newspaper articles, praising the communidad’s management for the covid-19 whilst simultaneously accusing the central government of lying
El Espanol recently did a survey into political parties and the believed causes of the covid-19 outbreak, it showed that PP, Vox and Ciudadanos voters are more likely to blame the 8M. On the left, PSOE and Podemos voters are more likely to blame the austerity of the last two PSOE and PP governments. Taking this last point into account would also need to look at the EU’s role in the austerity from 2012.
More elections? Not likely.
The Vox leader, Abascal, in an interview with ABC has called for the resignation of several female ministers. Some citizens are also asking for an election.
A country that is still in the middle of a global pandemic and a government that is also fighting with the EU for more financial support, really doesn’t need an election within the next two months. That is to say, how would one come about? If the Catalan ERC withdrew support for Pedro Sanchez, then this would be one way of collapsing the government. Yet, if they did that, they would be gambling and may even find Vox leading a government. The same party that wants to dissolve all regional parties. That is not a risk the ERC are willing to take.
Then there maybe resignations. In Spain’s previous political climate this would not have happened. It took a vote of no confidence to remove the PP’s Rajoy as prime minister after a corruption scandal. But, if ministers were to resign, the government may still sail the storm out. These are new times and this is the more likely option.
When compared with Britain or the USA, Spain has managed the situation better than most. It should be investigated to find out whether there was negligent or unethical behaviour in the early response to the management of this pandemic. The fact that holding gatherings went against the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) guidelines is enough for an investigation. It is clear that events unfolded obscurely. That is what needs to be investigated and any decisions made thereafter.
So, as you can see the issue of 8M concerns various things, from whose responsibility it was to cancel it, overly ambitious politicians scoring political points and media that has a lot less to write about as we are all sitting inside.