A few weeks shy of his 79th birthday, former anti-corruption public prosecutor Carlos Jiménez Villarejo is one of five members of new Spanish political force Podemos (literally, “We can”) who surprisingly won European parliamentary seats in the May 24 elections. A veteran in a predominantly youthful movement, he highlights the transparent and participative manner in which he was chosen during primaries in which more than 30,000 people voted, in contrast to the way in which the country’s main parties present candidates to the electorate on closed lists.
Question. What made a former lawyer want to join a political party like Podemos?
Answer. A lawyer who really believes in democracy cannot turn a blind eye when a country betrays its constitutional principles. Podemos is breathing new life into a decadent democracy and offering a solution to the negative consequences of capitalism.
Q. You used to be close to the United Left and leftist-green party Initiative for Catalonia; what made you switch allegiances?
A. I needed to get back in touch with ordinary people, away from this two-party, bureaucratic political system we have. Another factor was that I disagreed with Initiative for Catalonia’s support for an independent Catalonia. I wanted to work with movements that weren’t solely focused on independence.
Q. Pablo Iglesias, Podemos’ leader, has said: “Catalonia will be what the Catalans want,” but you are opposed to an independence referendum.
I’m not only opposed to the Catalan referendum, but also to the way in which it is being proposed, which I think is dishonest”
A. I’m not only opposed to the referendum, but also to the way in which it is being proposed, which I think is dishonest. Podemos encompasses a wide range of views, and its program includes a vague reference to the right of the different peoples of Spain to vote, without alluding directly to Catalonia. Why not hold a referendum on evictions or what to do to bring the banks back under control?
Q. Podemos did least well in Catalonia overall, garnering just 4.66 percent of the vote…
A. We are adapting to the Catalan tradition of organizing via social and cultural clubs, called circles. Next month we’ll be opening one in the Maresme [a coastal area running north of Barcelona]. We are moving forward in Catalonia, although it hasn’t been easy.
Q. Has the independence debate influenced your results?
A. To some extent, but it’s also true that we don’t have much of a presence there. You have to remember that this is an organization that was born in Madrid just four months ago, and that has obtained more than 100,000 votes. I think that is a good result.
What is happening in Ceuta and Melilla goes against EU principles. This government is behaving in a cruel way”
Q. Will you take up your seat? Three months ago you said that you were too old to do so...
A. Yes, of course I will take up my seat. I don’t remember saying that, but if you say I did…
Q. Perhaps you weren’t expecting such a good election result…
A. I admit that we have been surprised by the result. I was third on the list of candidates after the most democratic primaries of any party in Spain: around 33,000 people took part in the voting, regardless of their age or political allegiances. When another party in this country applies the same principles, then we can start to talk about internal democracy.
Q. What will be your priority in the European Parliament?
A. Migration policy. What is happening in Ceuta, Melilla and Lampedusa goes against the EU’s principles. This government is behaving anti-democratically, and in an authoritarian and cruel way. I will denounce the fences, the razor wire, the use of anti-riot procedures, and returning people back across the frontier, all of which are against the law.
We have to do away with these politicians who have been in office since 1979”
Q. Podemos’ electoral program also includes something called the “Villarejo directive” against corruption. Can you explain this?
A. Corruption has invaded Spanish public life like a cancer. There are 2,000 judicial investigations underway, with 500 people under investigation, but only 15 are in jail. I feel strongly that we need to strengthen the justice system to be able to deal with this avalanche of cases.
Q. Are you questioning the courts’ response?
A. The courts have responded to this slowly and halfheartedly. Catalonia is a case in point, and has largely failed to act in the Palau case [involving allegations of graft at the state-run concert hall of the same name]; Mallorca is the exception, where more than 100 trials are being prepared and 48 already held that have resulted in 45 sentences.
Q. What specific measures do you propose?
A. Elected officials should not be able to hold office for more than eight years. We have to do away with these politicians who have been in office since 1979. Then there is the question of how the parties are financed. A party that depends on a bank can never act independently.