Carmelo Romero Salvador (Pozalmuro, Soria, 1950), has just published “Caciques and caciquismo in Spain” (Catarata, 2021). Doctor in History, tenured professor, retired, of Contemporary History at the University of Zaragoza, and teacher of historians, in the book he analyzes the history of the Spanish caciquismo from 1834 to 2020. With rigor and amenity, Romero traces a route divided into six chapters ranging from Spanish electoral laws to the caciquil kaleidoscope. It also provides a section dedicated to the last elections with a detailed summary of legislatures where it is shown, for example, that Javier Arenas (PP), has been the parliamentarian who has enjoyed a seat for more legislatures (12) and Alfonso Guerra (PSOE), the deputy who has remained in Congress the longest, no less than thirty-seven years.
Is there a cacique model?
The most popular prototype is the Count of Romanones, but the contest for first place, if any, would be highly contested. It is enough to see, as in the book, both the continuities in the position of deputy –Antonio Maura up to 19 times for Palma de Mallorca-, as well as the succession of grandparents, children and grandchildren in the same district or the family networks –parents, children, brothers-in-law, uncles, nephews … – of quite a few of them. The Cánovas, Sagasta, Silvela, Montero Ríos and a very, very long etcetera, did not lag behind, in this regard, Romanones. The maps, with the photos and names of those who most times occupied a seat in each province during the Restoration and of the deputies and senators who have been most times from 1977 to today, are as extensive as an illustrative example of this.
Have there been “good” chieftains?
For those who were favored by them, without a doubt. Moreover, many of the caciques appear, with the passage of time, as great benefactors of the territory, as far as their work “owes” certain public works in different localities with plaques that commemorate them. It seems like without them things in that territory would have been worse. What have never been made is plaques for the works that were not made or for the caciquil and subdued domain that they exercised.
Can electoral laws create a foothold for caciquismo?
The electoral law – all electoral laws and always – is the cornerstone on which a concrete mode of parliamentary political system is built and developed. For the praxis of caciquismo during the Elizabethan era and the Restoration, the single-member districts were key as parts of their electoral laws: one deputy per “region”, thus paying, in a Spain of cart and mule, “bell tower oligarchs” .
Can it be considered that the maxim “the law governs for the enemy and for the friend the favor” was the habitual practice of caciquismo?
Undoubtedly. And they knew that, by enjoying it or suffering it, both the voted Like the voters. Hence, they were looking for a representative who would combine “power, knowing and wanting to care about their interests” and that the candidates for the seat tried to establish themselves as the most suitable holders of that “power, knowing and wanting.”
Does the proportional system, which we have in Spain since 1977, prevent electoral corruption?
Most of the old ones, yes, of course; among other things because they would be ineffective, but, with the closed lists, it creates new ones, dependent, predominantly and in short, on the “party apparatuses”. On the other hand, the form of financing of political parties and the power of influence that the large mass media have has transformed – adapting to the realities of Spain that is no longer of a cart and mule but of television, internet and AVE – forms and caciquile practices. Caciquismo is nothing but an expression, at each specific time, of power relations between unequals.
Judging by the data you provide in the book, do you find many “hermit crabs” in Spanish politics that do not come out of the seat even with hot water?
Neither with hot water, nor with ice. I use the metaphor of the “hermit crab” precisely for those deputies who perpetuate themselves, election after election, in a district and sometimes, as I indicated, transmit it to their descendants as one more part, in practice, of “the inheritance.” . There is no province, as I exemplify in the book, without his, or his, “hermit crabs.”
Another aspect that has changed little is that of the ‘nursery’ deputies who appear for a constituency to which they do not belong. Can Javier Maroto or Toni Cantó be current examples of deputies who are given a gap to appear for an electoral district that is not theirs?
The number of nurseries It has decreased very notably as single-member districts have been eliminated and the provinces, with several deputies, are the territorial frameworks of choice. There are still cases, but they are much more exceptional than, as detailed in the book, in previous periods. Maroto was made a senator for a community that is not his own after not having been elected – which a priori did not seem likely – by his province and Toni Cantó has been awarded in Madrid denying the classic of “Rome does not pay traitors ”.
Can the goal of getting a permanent post in Congress without depending on governments be achieved only if you have the help of a supporter who “takes you” to the seat?
In the vast majority of cases, at least initially in Parliament, this is the case. In the same way that many voters look for a “champion”, that “champion” needs another more exalted to support and protect him. Thus arises what I call “manufacturers of deputies”, which in turn are more or less strengthened in national politics depending on the number of deputies who have “manufactured” and who, therefore, owe the minutes. Power relations, which in no other way can be analyzed or understood caciquismo, are not only between “those above and below”, but between “those above and those above.”
It so happens that the two deputies who have remained in Parliament the most are Sevillians (Arenas, 4 Congress and 8 Senate) and Alfonso Guerra (11 Congress). Do you think that such a long parliamentary experience benefits or, on the contrary, blocks the entry of new talent into politics?
Those who perpetuate themselves in office would answer, of course, that the experience benefits; those who aspire to enter – whether or not they have talent, that must be demonstrated – that blocks. In my opinion, the long continuity in the positions tends to generate not only, and perhaps not so much, experience of virtues, but also of vices. Professionalization in politics ends up being a burden not only for politics itself but, I suspect that at least in many cases, for the person himself. Experience, which is a value, can be used and expanded, with a minimum of generosity, among those who do not have it. Another thing is, of course, that it be done.