The woman at the heart of the dispute over one of Europe’s coronavirus hotspots says Spain’s government is exacerbating the crisis and depicts herself as a bulwark against socialist revolutionaries in its ranks.
To her supporters, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, head of Madrid’s regional government and perhaps the second most powerful elected official in the country, is the voice of resistance against a dangerous leftwing government running roughshod over democratic institutions and devastating the motor of the Spanish economy.
To her detractors, the leader of the region of 6.6m people is a rightwing ideologue who has been far too slow in responding to some of the highest infection rates in Europe.
Ms Díaz Ayuso, a 41-year-old who took office last year after a career largely spent in communications for her centre-right People’s party, portrays the regional administration as one of the most important checks on what she says is an “authoritarian” central government.
In an interview with the Financial Times, she accused Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez and his coalition allies in the radical left Podemos grouping of shattering “the consensus of the two Spains [of left and right]” and trying to transform the country into a place where only “one form of thinking is allowed”.
The clash comes just three weeks after Mr Sánchez and Ms Díaz Ayuso held a summit-style meeting and promised to work with each other. It highlights how polarised politics have overwhelmed public health messaging; the different weights that Spain’s left and right give to resuming economic activity; and how the country’s complicated decentralised system of government has struggled to contend with the crisis.
“It is more of a political problem, not a health one, because Madrid was doing things well,” Ms Diaz Ayuso said of the tensions over coronavirus curbs in her region, half of whose inhabitants live in the capital city.
“Just when we had applied sensible and fair measures that were showing results, the Spanish government rapidly decided to change its discourse and impose a very different model of lockdown that is very bad for the economy, does not solve the problem and has been rejected by the courts.”
Mr Sánchez’s government contends that it had no alternative but to use emergency powers to impose a ban on people entering and leaving the capital city and nine nearby municipalities — because of what it depicts as the inadequacies of Ms Díaz Ayuso’s measures in a region that for weeks was the most infected in Europe.
While the infection rate has fallen significantly in Madrid since the end of last month, it remains twice the average in Spain, itself one of the worst affected countries in Europe.
Mr Sánchez’s officials add that they had to act quickly after a court had struck down its previous controls just ahead of a holiday weekend.
“The business of a vital region like Madrid, with 6.6m citizens, which is also