“The Government must really believe that it needs the opposition and the businessmen”
The Mayor of Madrid warns that the Government must assume responsibilities when the pandemic passes: “We will not be able to ignore the number of deaths”
What life is. José Luis Martínez-Almeida (Madrid, 1975) was more or less a year ago a politician without destiny. The PP was looking for a candidate to regain the mayoralty of Madrid and did not have much hope in this state lawyer who signed Esperanza Aguirre and who, almost by chance, assumed leadership of the opposition in the City Council where he martyred Carmena. Today, mayor in one of the capital’s worst crises in decades, Almeida has risen up as a representative voice of the party.
In a battered city that can hardly bury their dead , Martínez-Almeida has lavished himself. He attends this newspaper by phone from home and believes that the Government should assume responsibilities when the health crisis passes, without waiting for the economic recovery. “Appeal to the pact can evade the immediate demand for political responsibilities as soon as the health emergency ends.” Regarding Sánchez’s request to reissue the Moncloa Pacts , he warns: “The Government must really believe that it needs the opposition and the businessmen.”
QUESTION. You are coming out of this crisis stronger. Even part of the left, which ignored him, recognizes him.
ANSWER. This has touched me as mayor, another as a journalist, another as a doctor, another has simply had to stay at home and all those who do their duty and responsibility are heroes at this time. The Government asks for responsibility and sacrifices like we have never been required to do before. We are facing an unknown and uncertain situation and we are the heroes who fulfill our duty and responsibility: mayor, doctor, firefighter, funeral worker …
Q. What was the worst moment?
R. The most difficult moment in terms of decision-making was at the beginning, on March 10, because no measures had been taken from the Government of the nation, but the Community of Madrid did and we found ourselves in the position of making decisions. with some uncertainty about whether we were getting ahead. We doubted, it gave vertigo. But when in doubt, we decided that it was better to sin excessively and close libraries, parks …, which by default we applied from day one. Then, the lack of supplies of material occupies us every day for all the workers and of course the day-to-day drama of the hospitals. We have more than 11,000 deceased in Spain and it should not be forgotten. We will get ahead but there are already 11,000 fewer.
Q. Do you see the light at the end of the tunnel?
A. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. The figures within the tragedy and drama begin to tend downward, with fewer deaths, fewer earnings. A doctor told me the other day: “Let’s not say it too loud but it seems, it seems, that we are doing better.” It seems that confinement is paying off.
Q. How do you think Madrid will be? Without tourists, without theaters, without cinemas …
R. The next months are going to be very hard and things have to be said. We are going to have to deal with an economic emergency and with it a social emergency because a large part of the population is going to be left in a very precarious situation to which we will have to respond. As a society we are going to have to change some of our habits. After such a dramatic situation we will have to think that the same society is not going to go out the same way it did.
Q. Before you talked about the material. Has it not reached you?
R . We have not received any material from the Ministry of Health, we have received it from the Community and we have asked the ministry by letter. The little material, or the material we have received, has been from the Community and from City Council acquisitions and donations.
Q. The Community has also had problems with the material, with the Díaz-Ayuso ghost planes that took so long to land.
A. The problems exist. The point is that the single command in itself was not a bad idea because it could go to international markets with the status of a state. The problem is that this single command did not know how to manage from a Ministry of Health that had no structure, equipment or experience to make those purchases and that a few days later enabled the communities. The proof that it has not worked is that the Treasury is now in charge and now the major national players have entered into the purchase of supply. When you gave authorization to the communities you enter as a community that is more complicated. The single controller was not a bad idea but, unfortunately, it has not worked.
P. In reality, they clarified five days after the State of alarm that the communities could buy.
A. The decree of the state of alarm is very clear that there is a single command and then they had to clarify it. It is indisputable that the structure of the Ministry of Health is not dimensioned for such a situation.
Q. Has this come to mind for the ministry after so many years without competition? I am asking you as a State attorney who knows the Administration well.
R. It is indisputable that it is not dimensioned to face a situation of these characteristics and it has been found insufficient.
Q. Do you think that a bigger government is necessary or that it has been a problem of this government?
A. We have to reflect not on whether the competition is in the Government or in the communities, but if the Ministry has sufficient means for emergency cases that affect the entire State.
“It is indisputable that the structure of the Ministry of Health is not dimensioned for a situation of these characteristics”
P. Pedro Sánchez has requested today some Pacts of the Moncloa bis. How do you see it? Will the PP be there? On the one hand the PP supports the decrees, but on the other it is very hard.
R. The PP has supported the decrees of the state of alarm. Greater loyalty than supporting the decrees of the state of alarm in Congress is difficult to ask. It brings me to the memory of how others behaved in crises much less than Covid, what behaviors others had, what brutal criticism others made in minor crises. It cannot be said that the PP is not being loyal. What must be said is that the appeal to unity cannot suppose a lack of criticism. Loyalty is a two-way street. To pretend that loyalty is unwavering adherence is to ignore how one has to work at the moment. Now we have to work as a team, from the unit and shouldering everyone.
P. But the PP has been very critical.
A. In the health emergency we have only said that there is a lack of tests and medical material and that is a reality. In the economic emergency they cannot pretend that we cannot make proposals. The appeal to the Pacts of the Moncloa cannot imply that the Government pretends that we accept everything that they put before us. The Government needs to convey greater credibility and confidence. He cannot pretend in a week to go from issuing a decree that supposed to hibernate the economy with highly criticizable economic measures, to a week later to say that some Moncloa Pacts are needed here. The government must really believe that it needs the opposition, the businessmen. You cannot leave here with an appeal to unity but without negotiation.
“Greater loyalty than supporting the decrees of the state of alarm in Congress is difficult to ask for”
P. I understand then that you do not see sincere Sánchez’s request.
R. I hope it is sincere, but the truth is that this government needs more credibility in the proposals it makes to the Spanish, that it be sincere, but for that it has to change. It is not that the PP says it, it is that its partners such as the PNV and socialist communities have criticized it. Credibility is gained by counting on the opposition.
P. He says that we must all work together but the Community of Madrid has made the flag of the confrontation with the Government. You have front row entry in that show.
A. What the Community has done and said is the same as what the rest of the communities do and say. The same has more repercussion for being Madrid, which is also the epicenter of the pandemic. He says there is a lack of material. It asked for measures before and the Community took measures six days before the declaration of the state of alarm. And he was right. The appeal to unity cannot be that any kind of criticism that we others have is intended. Appeal to the pact can evade the immediate demand for political responsibilities as soon as the health emergency ends. Now it does not proceed because there is a health emergency. But no one can claim to shirk their responsibility because of an economic emergency.
“There will be accountability. We will not be able to ignore the number of deceased and infected that makes us leaders worldwide”
P. Talk about resignations.
R. I speak of accountability for decisions made and those that have not been made. We will not be able to ignore the number of deceased and infected that makes us leaders worldwide. No one will be able to ignore it and I include myself. Of course the central government too.
Q. And the communities?
A. Of course. Everyone. And the Town Halls, each one according to its competences. But sometimes it seems that the appeal to the unit when the health emergency ends to face the economic emergency tries to avoid demanding political responsibilities, and that cannot be.
P. But it refers to holding the government accountable when the health emergency ends.
A. Now we fight to save lives every minute and we must not be distracted from that fundamental objective, but then, immediately, there will have to be political responsibilities, from the Government or from any Administration. We have all made difficult and complicated decisions, but it is obvious that the Government has a very important role and therefore it will have to assume responsibilities in due course.
Q. On the one hand, you say that the Government was very soft on the measures and, on the other, that the Government has frozen the economy.
R. What I want to say is that from the City Council and the Community we understood the need to adopt measures that were escalating. The Government practically went from saying calm, that this was not so bad, to decreeing the state of alarm. There is a substantial difference.
Q. How is your relationship with the opposition?
R. We have a constant dialogue. I have met five times by videoconference with the spokespersons. I am going to call an extraordinary plenary session of control to the municipal government. We suspended plenary sessions and commissions, but in the third week I will inform the opposition of the proceedings. I say this because the Government currently has extraordinary and exorbitant powers granted in accordance with the legal system. Powers that limit fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. The counterpart cannot be the closing of the Congress. Because precisely the tranquility for citizens that the exorbitant powers of fundamental rights and freedoms are guaranteed in a democracy is because there is control over the Government. If there is no control of the government, democracy deteriorates. That democracy is in an extraordinary situation makes control of the government by the opposition more urgent. It is tranquility for citizens.
Q. Do you often wonder what would have happened if Madrid was confined before that weekend of 8-M and Atleti-Seville? I was going to go to the game and in the end I didn’t come by chance.
A. I went to that game. I don’t know how much it would have changed. But in view of subsequent events it was reckless. And it is not an attack on the feminist movement to say that the demonstration should not have been held in view of what has happened. There were other events that were held and in which the competent authority to authorize them was not the Government of the nation. In view of subsequent events, that demonstration and other events should not have taken place.
Q. If you went to the Metropolitan to see Atleti, you did not perceive that there was much risk.
A. The information was not available to me. Things as they are. Who had the information? Government.
P. Well, there are many people saying that “I already said it.”
R. I am not one of those of ‘I already said it’. The messages that the citizens received, and in that I am not special for being mayor of Madrid, is that it was not something serious, that it was controlled, that it was not necessary to fall into alarmism, and in five days they went into alarm.
“The Government has at this time extraordinary and exorbitant powers and the counterpart cannot be the closing of Congress”
Q. When will normality return?
A. If to return to normality is to end the state of alarm I would tell you that it could possibly be in May, but as a society I would not be able to give a date. The tests are decisive so that we can return to normality. We have hibernated the economy, but if we had had enough tests it would have been less drastic. The sooner you have to bring tests, but not to do 15,000 or 20,000 a day, as they say. This covers 10% of the population of an average district of Madrid. We need hundreds of thousands of tests a day. They are the ones who are going to give us the key. We test our essential personnel and we have detected asymptomatic people who have tested positive, which has allowed us to withdraw them from the service, and people who have been at risk but who, by giving negative results, allow us to continue working.
P. There were those who thought that the Spanish were not going to fulfill the confinement.
R. In this situation one realizes the greatness of the Spanish. It is being fulfilled and it is admirable because it is an unnatural measure in Spaniards, who like to take a walk, kiss, hug each other. We have told the Spanish to set aside for a month and a half everything that is part of their lifestyle but is exemplary. That the municipal police, which is being used intensively, put 800 sanctions on the streets in a city of 3.3 million gives an idea of how it is complying.
Q. What would you say to a hotelier or a bar owner who has mortgaged and has his business closed and without prospects?
R. Let me trust that when we have been in a very difficult situation in Spain we have come out ahead. We did it in Transition. This is said to be the most difficult situation since the Civil War and it is so from the social and economic point of view, but politically the Transition was tougher. I would tell you to trust that we will all succeed together.