To say that Zapatero didn’t deserve to win the 2004 election would be unfair because he undisputedly received the most votes. To say he didn’t expect to win is a different story. Some say he got lucky because it came as a result of the death of nearly two hundred innocent lives but that is a twisted way of looking at the whole matter. However, there is no doubt that, in this case, the use of extreme violence actually did produce the desired results: pain, suffering and political collapse.
On March 11, 2004, three days before the general election and two and a half years to the day after the 9/11 attacks, what would have been an uneventful morning on the public transportation system, in a flash, turned into hours of horror and mayhem. 191 drowsy commuters were literally blown apart by several bombs planted in small backpacks and left unattended on several commuter trains. As opposed to the strategy used in America, there were no suicide bombers, but devices set off electronically by cell phones from a distance; the aggressor would call the number and detonate the bomb.
At first everyone thought this was ETA’s doing. They are the Basque terrorist group responsible for some 800 deaths over the past four decades. Though the band had never perpetrated anything on that scale and normally targeted politicians, police, judges or military personnel instead of everyday civilians, no one considered another possibility. The bombing had been done just the week after a huge van stuffed with explosives had been located right outside of Madrid, and in December of the year before, bags carrying bombs had been discovered on trains in the north of Spain. Both had been carried out by ETA. It was reasonable to think ETA was behind the attack this time. As we walked to work to the incessant sounds of wailing sirens, not a single person I knew thought otherwise. It was an unusually brutal act for the group, but given the dates, who else could it have been? Even El País, the left-leaning national newspaper, cast the blame on ETA outright, as did numerous international dailies.
But something just wasn’t quite right.
Just hours after the bombing had occurred, the first rumors that the Basques had nothing to do with the horrifying massacre began to circulate. A tape with verses from the Koran were found in one of the vans used by the attackers, and the explosives used, GOMA-2, were not standard ETA material. The savagery of the act seemed almost uncharacteristic of the terroirist group; if anything, it appeared suicidal. If there was ever a way of doing their own cause in, that would have been it.
Still most people refused to believe it. It just didn’t make sense. And the Aznar government reaffirmed that stance of incredulousness by insisting it had no doubt about who had committed the crime. The opposition grew more and more suspicious. Suddenly, as a hundred bodies had yet to be identified, politics got involved.
You see, who was right had huge political implications as what was at stake was enormous. The ruling party blamed ETA, and that would have meant probably taking in more votes on Sunday because a harder stance would be needed against the terrorists and they would have been just the people to do it. But if the Muslims had bee the authors of the act, the Left could point the finger at the government claiming that because of Spain’s involvement in the war, 200 hundred people are dead. Though no one actually sought this, I am not going to accuse anyone of that kind of barbarous behavior, each side knew the benefits and damages of both situations.
The difference was, there really was no doubt. At least for those who were well informed. The Muslim theory grew in strength as the evidence piled up. While the spokesman for the Popular Party kept the country abreast of this possibility he also played it down, and by Saturday, as members of the police were arresting suspects from a radical Islamic group, the administration was still informing that it believed ETA was probably behind it all. The government was trying to delay the information before the election halls opened the next morning, and the opposition party was eager to get the news out and place the blame on the part. Everyone was either in a hurry or taking their time. No one had bothered to postpone the election a week off and honor the dead.
The next day, with anger in their minds, voters flocked to the ballot boxes and essentially ousted the Popular Party from power and handed it back to Zapatero and the socialists. It was a knee-jerk reaction, but an understandable one. A cell group from Al Qaeda had successfully toppled a government with the effectiveness it had with knocking down two 100-story buildings.