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Spanish diplomat visits Park City

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

When Deedee Corradini found out her friend a Spanish diplomat was planning to visit Utah, she wanted him to see "the other side" of the state.

"I said, you’ve got to come to Park City," said Corradini, a former Salt Lake City mayor who resides in Summit County. "He said, ‘wonderful.’"

He was invited to speak this week at Brigham Young University, but Carlos Westendorp y Cabeza, Spain’s ambassador to the United States, spoke to The Park Record Wednesday while sipping tea on Main Street after a tour of the Utah Olympic Park.

The ambassador lamented not bringing his wife and three children on the trip. They ski much better than he does, he admits.

"I used to ski very badly. I learned when I was already an adult," Westendorp y Cabeza said, adding that he has skied a handful of times in France and Austria. "[Park City] is better."

Meanwhile, Westendorp y Cabeza’s visit this week coincided with the indictment of several suspected terrorists in Spain for their alleged role, in a string of train bombings that killed nearly 200 people in Madrid on March 11, 2004.

The ambassador called terrorism the "modern scourge in our society."

"There is not a single country in the world that is able to cope with this scourge alone," Westendorp y Cabeza said. "We have the same goals, the same objectives. We have the same values. We share the same threats."

Relations were rocky between Spain and the United States when Spanish troops left Iraq following a victory by socialists in the Spanish election in 2004.

"The majority of the Spanish population did not see the reason why we should be in Iraq," Westendorp y Cabeza said. "This withdrawal of our troops created a turmoil, a turbulence, in the relationship between the two nations."

The train bombings occurred days before the elections and a promise from the socialists to withdraw the troops helped them gain power, the ambassador added.

"All of that did not create the best possible atmosphere between the two administrations," Westendorp y Cabeza said. "[Spain] were looking for somebody who likes the Americans and is known by the Americans and is trusted."

He was named ambassador to the U.S. in 2004 having worked with Americans in Bosnia and with the Clinton administration on the Trans-Atlantic Charter.

"[Spain] sent me here more as a symbol that we want to have good relations, than thinking that I am going to do miracles," Westendorp y Cabeza joked.

But the United States and Spain could learn a lot from each other on the topic of immigration, he said.

In the wake of protests that drew record-sized crowds to Salt Lake City last weekend to demonstrate for and against illegal immigrants, the ambassador spoke about immigration reforms that have occurred recently in Spain.

Situated near North Africa, Westendorp y Cabeza compared Spain’s proximity to the African nations of Morocco and Mauritania to the border shared by America and Mexico.

"It is very similar to the situation in the United States," the ambassador said. "Our Rio Grande is the Strait of Gibraltar."

Many of Spain’s immigrants arrive from Latin America, but pressure to accommodate a steady flow of sub-Saharan Africans entering the country through Morocco creates challenges.

"It is very difficult to stop," he said, adding that the quality of life in Spain in many ways significantly exceeds Morocco. "Whenever you have this difference there is pressure."

As Congress debates whether anyone who enters the U.S. illegally should be labeled a felon, the ambassador says the Spanish government has rejected such harsh measures.

Without immigration, Spain would lose nearly 5 million residents, the ambassador said. Currently about 43 million people live in the country.

"The Spanish people are aware of the need for having immigrants," Westendorp y Cabeza said, adding that filling some positions is difficult as economic conditions in Spain improve. "It’s the immigrants, or nobody’s going to do it."

Illegal immigrants employed in Spain for two years qualify to receive documentation to continue working but not immediate citizenship, he added.

"This is working quite well," the ambassador said. "Now, the question is, how to control those who come to Spain."

But conservative politicians in Spain have rejected recent reform measures, Westendorp y Cabeza said.

"Immigration is a good thing," the ambassador said. "But, obviously, it is not an easy issue. I don’t think we in Spain have a monopoly of truth. By talking, we can learn a lot."


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