SPAIN: 'A deep sense of solidarity with Americans'
Thomas Cromwell

When President George W. Bush pushed hard for a U.N. resolution to justify war against Iraq earlier this year he seemed to be moving in a direction that separated the United States from its traditional West European allies, with two notable exceptions: Britain and Spain. And while most Americans were accustomed to support from the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, the emergence of the government of Jose Maria Aznar as a second West European friend in times of severe troubles was a surprise.

It should not have been a surprise, according to Spain's ambassador to Washington, Javier Ruperez. He stresses that Spain has long enjoyed excellent relations with America, and that because of its 30-year struggle with Basque terrorists, the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, "created a deep sense of solidarity with Americans."

But it was more than just sympathy that spurred Spanish support. It was Bush's approach to terrorism itself, the policy of taking the fight to the terrorists, wherever they might be, which resonated with the Madrid government. "We have been saying this is what should be done for years, but it seemed we were a preaching in the desert," the ambassador says. "We saw for the first time that a Western government took that line."

He goes on: "What happened in Afghanistan and Iraq (allies going out to destroy a terror base) was exactly what should have been done." He adds: "With Iraq, the international community had to say, 'Enough is enough.'" He says that his government's view is: "You don't live with terrorists… you fight against them."

He considers some of the current problems the occupation forces face in armed resistance as related to "some nostalgic groups there." Nevertheless, he sees the need to solve the poor security situation on the ground "as soon as possible" so that the quality of life for all Iraqis can be improved. But he is also confident of the outcome: "At the end of the day, the victory will be ours."

Ambassador Ruperez speaks on the issue of terrorism with a special fervor. Some 25 years ago, he was himself a victim of Basque terrorists, who kidnapped him and held him for almost a month. For him, then, terror acts are not abstract in the least, and the need to destroy terror networks and the environments that sustain them is a matter of global urgency.

After 9/11, cooperation between Washington and Madrid in the war on terror was intensified, in both human and technological fields. And Spain has dispatched 1300 troops to Iraq. Ambassador Ruperez says that through this close cooperation, "We have re-discovered the principles and commonalities that tie our countries together."  

He says that within Europe, Spain is "one of the staunchest supporters of NATO and transatlantic relations [with the United States]." He goes on to stress that, "it is fundamental that Europe and the United States cooperate for the benefit of the world."

Washington is, of course, very pleased at Madrid's diplomatic and practical support, and the ambassador says that this can be widened yet further. For example, he says that America and Spain have similar interests in Latin America, and can work together for the development of that region.

Spain is the Number 1 investor in Latin America (although second to the US in some countries). He says the revolt of several Latin American countries at the WTO negotiations at Cancun earlier this year had some positive aspects, because it showed the governments there were seeking fair trade relations with the US. But he notes that many of the countries need to be self-critical in their analysis, recognizing poor governance and corruption as leading obstacles to development.

He said Spain had to overhaul itself upon the death of Franco in 1975, and that by facing its own problems and tacking them it has managed to develop dramatically since then.

He also pointed out that on his most recent visit to the United States, President Aznar visited major Hispanic centers, such as California, Texas and Florida, with an eye to working more closely with Spanish-speaking American communities in developing US-Spanish relations.

The ambassador says that Spain currently has the "best balanced" economy in Europe and is enjoying strong growth rates. This and the secure legal and financial conditions in Spain make it attractive to US investors.