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Cablegate: High Speed Train Hits Bump; Threatens Socialists

VZCZCXRO6750
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHLA #0087/01 3061638
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 021638Z NOV 07
FM AMCONSUL BARCELONA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0903
INFO RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 0866
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEHLA/AMCONSUL BARCELONA 1067

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BARCELONA 000087

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/WE (SAMSON/CERVETTI)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SP
SUBJECT: HIGH SPEED TRAIN HITS BUMP; THREATENS SOCIALISTS

REF: BARCELONA 76

BARCELONA 00000087 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: PM Jose Luis Zapatero acknowledged October
28 that the arrival of the AVE to Barcelona, which he had
repeatedly confirmed would happen by December 21, will not be
finished before the March 2008 general elections. Safety
concerns, poor management, and ill-advised political
considerations have conspired against the project. The PM's
announcement has already damaged his credibility in a region he
must win to hold on to power. While the Socialists may not be
in imminent danger at the moment, the alarms are sounding. End
Summary.

2. (SBU) Barcelona's summer of discontent has carried over into
the fall. In the last three weeks, three local train lines have
been closed in Barcelona as a result of recurring landslides
during the construction of the AVE high speed rail lines.
Critics charge the contractor, OHL, has cut corners on safety in
order to meet the December 21 deadline set by politicians. The
Catalan government (Generalitat) requested the cancellation of
OHL's contract - a request PM Jose Luis Zapatero's government
denied - citing administrative concerns.

3. (SBU) Critics also claim construction caused repeated
landslides including a platform collapse at the Bellvitge
station. Local train service was recently suspended for several
weeks as a result of construction mishaps causing increased
traffic and inconvenience for commuters in Barcelona. Since the
beginning of the AVE project approximately 12 workers have been
killed by construction accidents. The most recent death was on
October 15th when an AVE worker was killed by a machine that hit
him on the head during construction at the L'Hospitalet de
Llobregat station. Suspended train service has been replaced by
inconvenient, crowded, and slow bus service leading to public
outcry. The Barcelona City Hall has demanded that construction
slow so that safety measures are not further compromised.
Zapatero acknowledged this will delay construction well beyond
the December 21 deadline.

4. (SBU) Unexpectedly and purposely under the radar, Zapatero
and regional president Jose Manuel Montilla toured the AVE
construction sites October 28 in Barcelona. Zapatero admitted
there had been problems with the construction and assumed
responsibility for it, but stopped short of firing Development
minister Magdalena Alvarez, who is responsible for the project.
Alvarez later defiantly announced that she had no intention of
resigning. Zapatero pledged he would now personally oversee AVE
construction in Barcelona. The PM's visit was marked by one of
several mudslides many believe are caused by the project, and
prompted both Zapatero and Montilla to support efforts to make
the areas safer before reopening local lines, which have been
shut down due to the construction.

5. (SBU) Regional party leaders almost universally lambasted the
PM's visit and comments afterwards. Convergence and Union (CiU)
and Popular Party (PP) leaders joined their rival, and members
of the Catalan tripartite government, Republicans (ERC), and
ex-Communists (ICV) to complain about poor management of the
project and call for the minister Alvarez' resignation. CiU
leader Artur Mas suggested Zapatero should have visited the
construction sites and traffic congestion on a week day instead
of a Sunday so that he could get a real image of the problem.
ERC leader Joan Puigcercos stated that while Zapatero's visit
was appreciated, he believes that Catalunya needs to have more
control over its Public Works. Daniel Sirera (PP) stated that
it was shameful for Zapatero to visit the works secretly and by
surprise. ICV leader Joan Herrera criticized Zapatero for
coming to the construction site only to deafen the ears to the
petition to fire Magdalena Alvarez.

6. (SBU) As expected, only PSC remained relatively mute on the
topic. However, VP Pedro Solbes (PSOE) expressed confidence that
the PM and his team would get the job done.

7. (SBU) Comment: The March general elections are moving
forward faster than the high speed train. Zapatero's once
vaunted strength in Catalunya - a region he must win if there is
any chance for him to hold onto power - is being sapped.
According to an October 22 opinion poll by leading daily, La
Vanguardia, Catalans' support for the PM's policies towards the
region has dropped 23 points (from 60% in July 2006 to 37% in
October 2007). Although he still enjoys a healthy lead, his
support in Catalonia is slowly being confined to Socialist
members unlike in past years when his support was much more
broad and across regional parties. In any event, the majority
of people living in Catalonia have more trust in Zapatero (73%)
than in Rajoy (13%) although Zapatero's confidence rating
dropped eight points. In an effort to bolster his credentials,
PP president Mariano Rajoy sent the mayor of Madrid, who

BARCELONA 00000087 002.2 OF 002


previously dealt with a bad traffic problem there, to Barcelona
to see what has been occurring with the AVE construction. While
most are far from calling Catalunya a lost cause for the
Socialists, it is clear much work needs to be done here to shore
up support and win back trust. End comment.
ROBINSON

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