The political world was shocked to learn on Wednesday morning of the death of Rita Barberá, the high-profile former mayor of Valencia and Partido Popular (PP) grandee.
Barberá, 68, died of a heart attack in the hotel where she was staying near the Congreso building. News reached MPs just as they were arriving for Prime Minister’s questions and some PPmembers made a detour to the hotel to find out more.
The veteran politician had made the headlines on Monday after attending Madrid’s supreme court to deny her involvement in the Taula Case, an alleged financial scandal in the local Valencia PPparty, which she once led.
Although Barberá had denied knowledge of any corruption among those around her, she had recently bowed to pressure from PPleaders to leave the party while she was investigated. However she had kept her Senate seat as an independent, which meant that she could only be investigated in the supreme court and not local Valencia courts.
Paramedics were called to the Villa Real hotel around 7am by the politician’s sister but were unable to save the former mayor. Sources said Barberá had become increasingly frail in recent days and was taking extra medication “due to the stress she was under”.
Politicians from different parties reacted to the news. Many expressed their condolences and members of Barberá’s former party in particular condemned the way she had been subjected to a “witch-hunt” in recent months over the unproven allegations of corruption.
Celia Villalobos, MPand ex-mayor of Malaga as well as a friend of Barberá, said that the media had “condemned her to death”.
A minute’s silence was held when the Congreso opened for business. However there was heavy criticism of Podemos MPs who refused to take part. Leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias said that Barberá “didn’t deserve any political tribute”.
Rita Barberá served as conservative mayor of Valencia from 1991 to 2015, winning so many times that she was nicknamed “the mayoress of Spain” and before recent controversy was credited with significant improvements to the city.