Santiago Abascal, Spain’s New Cold Warrior
The Vox party leader is often called Trumpian or far-right, but Abascal sees himself as a bulwark against a new wave of global communism.
In 2014 a Basque Spanish politician named Santiago Abascal broke off from the established center-right political party of Spain, the Partido Popular (PP), and co-founded a new party and veritable political movement in its own right, Vox.
The parallels with President Trump are illustrative: a political figure the establishment parties attempted to laugh off the stage or dismiss as a far-right crank; a movement fueled in large part by inaction over unchecked illegal immigration and a concomitant rudderless multiculturalism; a political debate framed around national sovereignty versus globalism, which the intelligentsia claims is oversimplified but nonetheless pulls at the heartstrings of a passionate, highly motivated voter base that expanded exponentially despite the odds; and the unabashed embrace of culture war against political correctness. Vox went from virtually unknown in early 2014 to Spain’s third-largest political party after the November 2019 elections.
When I first heard of Santiago Abascal from a close friend in Spain, he told me that Santi—as he is affectionately called by some of his supporters—was the “Trump of Spain.” But the member of Spanish Parliament and President of Vox is careful not to overextend the analogy: “My background is very different from President Trump’s. I come from a small town in Northern Spain, Amurrio. I became interested in politics when I saw my nation being threatened and betrayed.” Abascal routinely declares Spain to be in a state of national crisis and the threats and betrayals to which he refers—like the nation he struggles to defend—are of both older and newer provenance, from separatist movements with deep historical roots—Catalonia rebelled against the Spanish crown as far back as 1640—to the more recent advent of Isalmic extremism.
As a native son of the Basque region of Spain, Abascal has witnessed the effects of homegrown domestic terrorism first hand, when, for instance, Basque separatists burned his family’s clothing store the ground. He also sees the Catalan separatist movement—which gained steam with a highly publicized independence referendum in 2017 in violation of the Spanish constitution of 1978—as a form of domestic insurrection, calling its leaders plotters of a coup (golpistas) and advocating for an outright ban on any political party which advocates for dissolution of Spain’s territorial integrity. France and Germany, Abascal explains to me, already ban such parties.
Abascal does not write off the comparison to Trump entirely: “the defense of national sovereignty and of borders, the determination to confront cultural Marxism, the conviction that the future belongs to patriots” are all points of commonality. And while he hesitates to provide specific policy prescriptions for American conservatives, he does not shy away from drawing conclusions based on America’s November presidential elections. “In Disenso, the think tank affiliated with Vox which I oversee, we published an analysis of the provisional election results titled The Cultural Defeat of the Democratic Party. Of the four conclusions from the study I want to highlight two. First, the defeat of so-called ‘identity politics.’ Trump improved his results among those considered minorities (Hispanics and African-Americans) and groups that, thanks to cultural Marxism, are collectivized based on sexual orientation or gender. Second, fighting the culture wars works and translates into votes. Ten million more in Trump’s case compared to 2016.”
When I ask Abascal about relations between Spain and the United States, he is quick to point out—against the liberal pieties of the Hispanist indigenismo, which juxtaposes avaricious conquistadores with edenic native tribes—that Spain and America share deep cultural ties and a common heritage. “The Atlantic alliance is the natural position for Spain to be in because of our historic ties to the United States and Latin America; because of the number of people who speak Spanish and also because we share a cultural inheritance in the old Viceroyalty of New Spain, which more than a dozen American states were a part of.”
Abascal, unlike more isolationist or Russophilic elements of the French hard right, believes in the value of the NATO alliance and shares President Trump’s desire for pragmatic reform. “Of course, that’s common sense,” Abascal replies to the question of whether European member countries need to contribute more money to the alliance. The threats Mr. Abascal identifies to the NATO alliance, however would surprise the latte liberals of America’s left coast more than they would anyone in Little Havana. While mass migration and Islamism are examples of newer, “more complex” threats to NATO, “One threat isn’t new, but it’s regrouping all over the world: communism.”
To jaded Millennials and Gen Zers too young to remember the Cold War, communism often seems like an overhyped threat or a pretty idea which was simply perverted in its execution. “Let’s not forget one of the world’s greatest economic and military powers is communist,” Abascal reminds me, without mentioning China by name. Spain’s intimate knowledge of communism is a cautionary tale to Americans who entertain the extreme left, and especially to the Bernie-AOC enablers in the Democratic Party. When the 2008 financial crisis spread to the Euro zone in 2009—2010, then oil-rich Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela gave seed money to an upstart Spanish party called PODEMOS that is communist in all but name.
Ten years later, the party has a highly placed minister in Spain’s socialist-led coalition government, named Pablo Iglesias. His wife, Irene Montero, who also holds a government post, is a member of the Group of Puebla which, along with the so-called São Paulo Forum, seeks, in Abascal’s words, to spread narco-Chavista mafia tyranny across the Americas. “I want to clarify,” Abascal adds, “the government doesn’t have ties with Venezuela, what it has is complicity with the narco-Chavista mafia that rules Venezuela… Without the support of Chavismo, communism wouldn’t have gained such strong influence in Spain.”
Worse still, the EU, by Abascal’s telling, doesn’t understand the severity of the threat. “The EU is sorely mistaken to think that what happens in Latin America doesn’t affect Europe. Take Spain, for example, where there’s a socialist-communist government—partly funded by Venezuela—determined to overthrow the constitutional monarchy, and Italy, where the 5-Star movement is funded by Chavismo.”
“What would you say,” I ask Abascal, “to those who insist Bernie’s democratic socialism isn’t like Cuba or Venezuela, but more like the social democracies of Scandinavia?”
“I would tell them to listen to the Venzuelan people. They were certain, and this is how they tell their story, that ‘Venezuela isn’t Cuba,’ and now, shamefully, Cuba is in Venezuela. As a rule, you should distrust anyone who praises or has praised the Chavista narco-dictatorship.”
To combat the threat of communism, which has a foothold in Spain as well as several countries in Latin America (Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba and, most recently, in Abascal’s view, Chile with its proposed “reforms” to the constitution), Abascal recently formed the Forum of Madrid and an allied publication, La Gaceta. For a group often pilloried by the mainstream anglophone media as “far right” the Forum’s goals sound much more classical-liberal than latent-fascist. In Abascal’s words, the group was founded to unite anti-communists who support “the rule of law, private property rights, freedom of expression, and the right to life.”
On the theme of the European Union’s future, Abascal similarly sounds more like a nationalist defender of the nation-state and the rules-based international order than a bridge to Spain’s Francoist past.
“I’m proposing that the EU return to its roots, roots from which it has estranged itself by opting for a direction that leads to the disappearance of the nation-state under the plough of a bureaucratic mega-state that doesn’t represent anyone.” Again, unlike the the French far right, for instance, which appears to have embraced a losing strategy in calling for a French exit, Abascal clarifies, “I would never advocate for Spain leaving the EU, unless the latter favored, supported, or sought the dissolution of Spain or the liquidation of its national sovereignty.”
Kurt Hofer is a native Californian with a PhD in Spanish Literature. He teaches high school history in a Los Angeles area independent school.