At 4 o’clock he enters the lobby of the Madrid hotel Wellington the man who for 42 years was in charge From the newspaper The country and Grupo Prisa. He descends the steps with a firm step and goes to the journalist. He is Juan Luis Cebrián, honorary president of El País and member of the Royal Spanish Academy. I recognize in this seasoned journalist and philosopher a breed bull that makes me a bit on my nerves. Juan Luis Cebrián has the history of Spain on his fingers.
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Already at age 31, the youngest son of Ortega y Gasset –José Ortega Spottorno– asks you to run a new newspaper that would be that of reconciliation during the Spanish transition: The country, a newspaper that for Cebrián was like a ‘son’. In an environment full of noise, with a concealed shyness, he releases phrases that line up to give this interview a title.
You are a member of the Board of the World Jurist Association and I read in your columns how you underline the importance of the independence of the Judiciary by putting your magnifying glass on Spain …
Here is a discussion about the future of representative democracy, political power has always tried to control the rest of the powers, and in Spain, Alfonso Guerra already being vice president of the Government, had a famous phrase: “Montesquieu has died.” There is very little liberal education in Spain regarding the importance of the separation of powers and independence. In representative democracies, especially the Spanish one, the parliaments, instead of controlling the Government, are rather controlled by the Government. The deputies are not concerned with their voters, they are concerned with who is in charge of the party. Because they owe the party apparatus to be deputies. In the Spanish Parliament, the majority represented in the Government control the vote of the deputies. In the United States we see how the discipline of votes is broken by Republicans or Democrats, we see it with Labor and Conservatives in England. Here the only way to break voting discipline is to get out of the party. If you do so, you do not lose the Act of Deputies, but you disappear from political life.
Can it be inferred that the Executive in Spain controls the Judicial Power?
The judiciary is elected by the deputies, who in turn are elected by the party apparatuses. It is necessary to break that umbilical cord. At the beginning it was like this in the Constitution, but in times of terrorism and in a very great instability, Felipe González proposed the change, which everyone respected, because it was convenient for everyone and it is still in force today, that the deputies, by a reinforced majority They are the ones who choose the government of the judges. That has been a political failure because it has become the ‘lotelitación’, as the Italians did – I appoint three socialist judges, three conservatives. Now the situation is worse due to polarization and intransigence, due to the ruling party and the opposition party. For this reason, judicial independence is very important, which is never perfect, in any country, and that is why it is so important that it is not controlled by the Executive Power, as is happening in Poland or is happening in Hungary, for example.
What do you think of Pedro Sánchez?
Pedro Sánchez is not a political leader, he is a member of the party apparatus and has known how to cultivate the other members of the apparatus. It has an important resistance capacity. Now he is reinforcing the party from within to control it. Aim for total control. He has an ambition for real power and knows how to exercise power, but he does not have a defined project about the future of this country; I think you have some ideas that are good. But his parliamentary weakness has led him to incomprehensible pacts with the pro-independence parties. In addition, an excess of ideology, which is also in the conservative parties, of looking to the past, of judging the Franco regime. And nobody who is less than 40 years old has lived the Franco regime.
And why is it better if the story is not known?
No, I think you have to know, history is known, it is written by historians of all ideologies. It is published. I come to eat with a former director of The country, and recalled that at the beginning we published on the memory of the civil war. But now there is an attempt by the political power and the opposition to divide the Spaniards again into good and bad, and that is precisely what civil wars are. And a lack of knowledge that the political transition was the reconciliation between the winners and losers of the war, illustrated by the embrace that Santiago Carrillo, among others, (general secretary of the Communist Party) hated by the right, and Manuel Fraga, that he had been Franco’s minister and was a bit representative of post-Francoism, so to speak.
In that reconciliation,The country had a relevant role?
The country It was an idea of the youngest son of Ortega y Gasset. He brought together open-minded Francoists who wanted the transition to democracy and representatives of the liberal opposition, both Christian Democrats and Communists. El País was born out of civil society that wanted reconciliation. I am the son of a winner of the war, I was married to a daughter of a loser of the war who had been in prison, in addition, my father had been a Falangist and was the son of a military man – my grandfather – who Franco put in the jail because he was a Republican military man. That is a civil war, you separate families, and there is no war at all in current Spanish society, and I think you can verify it. It is an integrated society. But there is a polarizing language in the political class.
You have said: “The media, to be ideologically independent, must be economically independent” …
Yes. That is what we decided when we founded The country and we were financially independent. Social networks and the globalization of the digital society are generating serious crises in the traditional media. The first is the financial crisis because advertising has disappeared.
“According to ‘The Economist’,
of 190 countries in the world
only 20 are a democracy they call perfect. Democracy is a very recent phenomenon ”.
They have been bought by large corporations …
No, sometimes they are big and sometimes they are small. The problem is that they are becoming ruinous businesses.
How is Pedro Sánchez’s relationship with the media?
Sánchez tries to manipulate the media mainly through its owners. But it is not only Sánchez, this is a practice –not only Spanish– to which we are accustomed. The problem is how public opinion is formed, which is fundamental for democracy to work. Now public opinion is very distorted by the digital environment and the headlines, the brands that guaranteed what was said there and also the exercise of professional journalism have lost weight.
We are moving towards knowing and not knowing anything …
No, what I believe and have said many times, the digital society is a change of civilization and the invention is as important as the printing press was.
So what about this change in civilization, public opinion and democracy?
There can be no free elections if there is no public opinion capable of expressing itself. Representative democracy is in crisis, the global system of political representation and exercise of power is in crisis, and the media are suffering from this.
How do you see Latin America?
He had a lost decade and then a prodigious decade. Representative democracies were established, except in Cuba. Now there is a growth of populism and a disregard for liberal democracy. There is a regression of the system, also because it must be said that there are endogenous problems, such as social inequality, and together with Africa they are the two most regrettable continents in this regard; and the other is corruption, which is not a phenomenon only in Latin America.
Should democratic governments do business with countries at war or totalitarian systems?
According The EconomistOf 190 countries in the world, only 20 are a democracy that they call perfect (Nordic countries), only another 40 have a democracy that they call imperfect. Democracy is a very recent phenomenon. There is a long way to go.
Montesquieu will have to be resurrected. How Hugo (el ‘Pollo’) Carvajal could have been hiding in Spain for so long?
He was head of the intelligence services. All the intelligence services in the world, they are all all of them, they are related to each other, officially and unofficially. They pursue and protect each other. Starting with the United States. I don’t personally know anything about Carvajal, but it was known that he was in Spain.
And Carvajal ‘pays’ by delivering documents such as Podemos’ relationship with Chávez and Maduro?
I do not know. What I do believe is that they have gone to look for him where the DEA services have said. It was not a coincidence. I think there has been a decision to say, ‘Now, this should be done.’
Is there evidence to show that the King Emeritus mishandled the tax issue?
There is a test that is the one that he himself has given.
On Pandora Papers it seems that in this situation there are many people, for example, former presidents. Why does the press in Spain attack the king emeritus so much?
I believe that there is a sector in politics that is now in power that is identitarily against the monarchy and that has seen that, if a crisis of the monarchy is generated, it is a total crisis, the Constitution falls, and we enter a period constituent, with all that that implies. Therefore, they have attacked the crown so much, not so much because of the crown itself, but because it is the key piece that holds the entire constitutional arch. There is corruption, according to the Pandora papers. No one has explained to us where they come from.
The Panama Papers were a CIA operation, that is known, and also to discredit Putin. I am concerned about these terrible leaks and I think they are useful, and I defend journalists and newspapers. The country published the WikiLeaks, but these leaks are not always the result of journalistic investigation, starting with Watergate. They are leaks, always the one who filters has some kind of intention. Whichever.
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What was the role of the emeritus king in the transition?
It was fundamental. First, because he inherited all of Franco’s powers. I believe that here there would have been democracy, in any case, with or without a king, but if he had tried to continue the Franco regime it would have been more difficult and expensive; and second, because in 23F all political power was kidnapped by the military and it was the king who deactivated 23F. Of that I was a personal witness.
What do you remember about those hours?
I remember everything.
MARÍA ANGÉLICA CORREA
FOR THE TIME