COVID-19 reminds us every moment that for the purposes of danger and hope we are all citizens of a fragile and tiny village. And in this global town every experience counts. Spain has been at the center of a lot of news since the global onslaught of the virus began. Whether it’s the growing number of infected and dead, whether it’s the beautiful citizen initiative to applaud on balconies, day by day, those who fight the disease on the front line, or the creativity of many of their writers and artists. The Cuban professor and journalist Luis Luque Alvarez (1973), who for more than one lustro wrote about international topics in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, has lived in Madrid for 9 years and several of them exercising their press office there. Master’s degree in Spanish Language, a keen and tender commentator, many still remember on the island their exquisite articles. Here goes his look at the pandemic.
“I have read from several people the idea that Italy did not listen to China’s alarms and paid the consequences; then Spain did not listen to those of Italy and has also paid for them. Do you agree with this formulation?
“In Italy, measures have been taking since February. WHO was also making warnings, but here the government, formed by the PSOE and Podemos, went from all alert until it was too late. They wanted to show muscle in the March 8 feminist march, and that’s why they didn’t want to suspend mass public events.
“It is plainly irresponsible for the ideological agenda to stand before public health criteria, but it did. In fact, of the figures who led this demonstration in Madrid, the first to fall with the symptoms of the coronavirus was the Minister of Equality, Irene Montero, partner of Vice President Pablo Iglesias, but also sickened the wife of President Pedro Sánchez, Begoña Gómez, as well as Vice President Carmen Calvo, and another minister, in addition to Sanchez’s own mother.”
“Why so much incidence here and in Italy? First we have to see that we are in a globalized world. If this epidemic had arisen in the year 60, it was “ate” entirely by the Chinese, but with the abrupt increase in trade and international flights, a Chinese sneezed in Beijing and a Spaniard cooled in Albacete. There is in Madrid, for example, a huge Chinese community, in the neighborhood of Usera, and in northern Italy, in Prato, the textile industry that was once the pride of ‘Made in Italy’ is basically in the hands of Chinese workers, who are numerous there. Among those who come from Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, and the Europeans who go there, it is quite difficult to contain the epidemic in one place. There are too many vectors with a plane ticket!”
“To this day Spain already holds a sad escalation of privilege in terms of the number of infected and deceased…
“The country was not prepared for something of this caliber. No one is prepared for this kind of threat! It is a virus characterized by its very high capacity for contagion, and the affected one, which in the first few days may pass asymptomatic, may be infecting and infecting others without being aware of it.
“There is nothing to blame on the Spanish health system, which is exemplary, and I know it from my own experience. It works like a clock, the treatment and conditions are exquisite, and everything absolutely free. It should be mentioned, of course, that there is private health, but it is more of a luxury than it wants than a necessity. In fact, when someone who has private insurance begins to suffer from some serious ailment (cancer, for example), he opts for the public, where the guarantor of all supplies and care is the state.
“On the other hand, it must be said that they are not worth, as some cackle, the mantras of the ‘cuts’ or the ‘privatization of the public in Spain’ as causes of the current crisis. Both systems work very well, each in its field, and in the present crisis the State is in charge of both…
“What, in your opinion, would be the country’s main successes in the battle against the disease and what are the main shortcomings?
“I tell you quickly: problems, those mentioned above, of having prioritized the ideological over the criteria for responding to a threat that was to come, and not having suspended any social gathering as early as mid-February. And rightly so, two: one, the single command, by which the state goes on to control all resources, public and private, to respond where it is needed. The mobilization of health workers, police, army, supermarket workers, carriers, farmers, etc., has also been exemplary. And it is curious: this is not a country that spends its life thinking that it will be attacked by the English, the Chinese or the Martians, but society, when it comes to organizing, has done so exemplaryly, each where it plays.
“And as for the whole of citizenship, to which we must remain calm at home so as not to become vectors or victims, for people have responded. Every day, at 8 pm, all of Spain goes out to the balconies to applaud those on the front line facing the threat, those who make it possible for the country to function, to care for the sick, to have order, not to occur looting, to transport food, for supermarkets to open, and so on.”
“People summoned a saucepan over the irresponsible attitude of the second vice president of the government, Pablo Iglesias. What can you tell me about that?
“Indeed, just over a week ago, people passed messages through whatsapp groups, Messenger and other platforms, to give Vice President Pablo Iglesias a pan. They weighed two things on this. First, that days earlier, the like-minded Podemos had summoned a saucepan at the time King Philip VI addressed the nation on TV to give him a message of encouragement. Asked about the incident, Churches, an anti-monarchist confessed, did not know how to take over his role as vice president and came out in defense of people’s ‘freedom of expression’, when it is somewhat overundertailed. What is not understood is that a party that is in government, a government that is calling for the unity of all Spaniards right now, encourages a part of the citizenry to show its repudiation of the king’s figure in a crisis like the current one. He doesn’t play, the one he’s falling to. But to Iglesias, like the tale of the scorpion passing the river over the frog, it is impossible for him to stop behaving like an anti-system, living loosely from the same system that he wishes to overthrow, and functioning as one of his greatest representatives! It’s the inconsequencant maximum.
On the other hand, people knew the pots because, having insisted the president and all the authorities at the head of the crisis on the extreme need to stay home, even if one is suspected of being affected by the virus, he decided to skip the quarantine to which he was bound by his coexistence with an affected person, and to meet in a Council of Ministers , risking the health of the rest of the government. It is the “exemplaryness” to which certain ideologies of progressiveism have accustomed us.”
“What is your daily routine to combat confinement with your wife? What cultural products (literature, music, cinema) are they consuming?
“Two weeks ago, a few hours before the president of the government decreased the alarm, I left the office already with the indication that on Monday 16 we would all work from home. And here I come, getting used to it. We have our meeting by telematics every morning early, the tasks of the drafting are divided, and each to his own. We’re working really well, to be the first time.”
“At home, as we have the Internet, besides TV, books, magazines, etc., we don’t get too bored. Besides, being quite homemade helps me find myself in my air. What makes me tense is going out for the shopping. You sense, in the empty streets, that the one that passes you by may be infected, and we both try to separate. Also, interestingly, people on balconies also applaud health workers, who ring church pots, or criticize passers-by who appear to be walking and not making a necessary way out for groceries. I haven’t been yelled at, but there are people who have gone too far and they have been booed, the same for taking out to “urinate” a dog… stuffed animals, than for running. There is a lot of citizen consciousness, but catches are everywhere and there have already been hundreds of arrests (in Italy, by the way, a woman went out on the street with a horse and said that the animal needed to stretch its paws: it was out by rule).”
Another colleague and fellow of ours, also a resident there, said he had the body in Madrid, but his mind in Cuba. How do you conduct, in these circumstances, the matter of separation from your family?
“Of course, both my wife and I are concerned about the consequences of all this in Spain, but with our minds set on Cuba. We are terrified, seen what we are seeing here, where the supply chain works with Germanic precision, what can happen in Cuba, where having the money in hand is no longer a guarantee enough to be able to take home the necessary food and barricade itself while the ‘bug’ is placated. The images of the tails, queues not always fruitful, disturb us tremendously. We have elderly people there, and we wouldn’t want them cornered between the sword of the coronavirus and the wall of hunger.
“It’s a lousy time for Cuba. Local authorities have drawn the eternal rhetoric from combat, but the blissful virus does not understand glories and epics, but, at most, concrete material conditions that hold it back. And then there’s the U.S., or better, Donald Trump’s White House, which doesn’t seem to be driven to make the slightest humanitarian gesture. In 2016 I thought that, in the face of Cuba, for the good of our people, none could be worse than George W. Bush. But I was wrong from A to Z.”
“You are a man of a deep Catholic faith. I’m asking you what a Spanish journalist was asking Pope Francis a few days ago. Have you experienced a crisis of faith in such a sciatiful time?
“As a man of faith, I am not smelling in all this drama a ‘divine vengeance’. God is love, and He has left man the treasure of freedom to work in conscience. The origin of the virus is already broadly known and apparently leads to certain Chinese culinary practices that have made it possible. It’s a human error of palpable consequences. End of story.
“No, I haven’t had a crisis of faith. I’ve seen good, less good people fall. I have seen doctors, nurses, priests (more than 70 already in northern Italy, and rising) sick and killed, policemen, civil guards… People who have given up their lives serving others. It is ultimately a reflection of what God has done for us in the person of his Son: to give up his life so that we may live eternally. Thus, day by day I pray for those on the front line, that God may keep them; for those who have died, to welcome them; for those of us who are healthy, so that we don’t fall.
“My big concern is that, if it comes time, we have our homework done. May He help us to do so. I hope, however, that this is not the last time we talk, and that we still have some dominoes left to play.”
“Do you think we’ll get at least one better line out of so much pain?
“If we get out of this, I don’t know how better we’ll be as a society. What I do firmly believe is that all this is a real cold water bath for those who believe that human beings have no limits beyond their own free will. And yes: there are limits. We’re finite. With this awareness, when everything happens we can choose to lock ourselves in greater selfishness, in a ‘everything good for me and to enjoy, which are two days’, or, exercised in the gestures of selflessness of these weeks and months, take them as the norm of life, make life more bearable to others and make a better mark. God forbid it’s the second thing in Spain, in Cuba, in the U.S. and wherever.”