Milagro is the Navarrese municipality of nearly 3,500 inhabitants in which Santos Cerdán (Pamplona, 1969) took his first steps in politics as a councilor for just over a decade; but it is also the word that almost defines his survival in the hard core of Pedro Sánchez. Carmen Calvo and José Luis Ábalos fell first, then it was Adriana Lastra’s turn. The sanchistas They have been disappearing from the front line, although some of those who toured Spain defending him in the primaries against the apparatus are now scattered in different institutions with high salaries. But Cerdán remains Secretary of Organization of the PSOE, a position in which he succeeded Ábalos just a year ago.
Patxi López will assume the spokesperson for the group in Congress and Pilar Alegría, that of the PSOE
Sánchez has decided to keep Cerdán (if at any time he had doubts, as some leaders believe) in the face of the struggle unleashed by the former deputy general secretary. He will be the only recognized face of the so-called sanchismo in the umpteenth turn of the screw that the president has given to the organization chart, this time to centralize power between Moncloa and Ferraz. In that sanhedrin is also the Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, who was with Sánchez in that battle although without any organic weight and with a lower profile. The others are Patxi López, who competed in hand-to-hand combat with the current president; Pilar Alegría, who was the spokesperson for Susana Díaz’s candidacy; Óscar López, who opted for the Basque leader; Isabel Rodríguez, who remained faithful to Emiliano García-Page; María Jesús Montero, who from that era susanista; and Miquel Iceta, who opted for neutrality as first secretary of the PSC, despite having preferences.
Sparing in words but direct in the message, he met Sánchez when he was Secretary of Organization of the Socialist Party of Navarra (PSN) and the current President of the Government, one of those known as “boys of [José] White” in Ferraz. But their relationship was woven after the dramatic Federal Committee of October 1, 2016 in which Sánchez lost the battle against the barons. That same night, Cerdán returned by car to Navarra together with the current regional president, María Chivite, to leave behind as soon as possible that embarrassing meeting of the highest body between PSOE congresses. They arrived at four in the morning. Weeks later, when the candidacy of the fallen secretary general began to take shape, he became part of his close team of collaborators.
Cerdán took charge, together with Paco Salazar from Seville –now assigned to the racecourse after having been Iván Redondo’s right-hand man in the Moncloa cabinet–, of the infrastructure of the candidacy and the collection of endorsements. It was not his first experience in that role at the national level because he was in charge of collecting the signatures in the north for Carme Chacón in her fight against Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, but this time he was more successful. It was he who was in charge of delivering the 57,369 signatures of militants for Sánchez. He arrived at Ferraz exultant in a taxi loaded with boxes. The face of Susana Díaz’s team, which she intended to destroy in that first test, suddenly changed. Everyone knew that this marked the victory of the dismounted socialist leader who was touring Spain supported by the “no is no” to Mariano Rajoy.
The Navarrese nailed the results of those primaries. “I told you that I was going to win in all the territories, except in Andalusia and Euskadi, and you did not believe me”, Sánchez later reproached the journalists who usually cover the information about the match with a certain ironic tone. Indeed, nobody thought that Sánchez was going to beat Susana Díaz and Patxi López in all the federations, with the exception of theirs, with everything against them. Cerdán had done the calculations and had no doubts. “There are colleagues who are afraid to endorse Pedro Sánchez because his apparatus is pressuring them,” he said at the time in an interview with elDiario.es. Since then he has repeated his success in his calculations in internal party fights, such as the primaries between Juan Espadas and Susana Díaz.
Until he arrived in Madrid to form part of the leadership of the PSOE as secretary of Territorial Coordination (in practice number two de Ábalos), the political life of Cerdán had been circumscribed to Navarra, a small territory and of little weight for the party. He was first a councilor in his town and president of the Ribera Alta Commonwealth until he was elected Secretary of Organization and, after the regional elections of 2015, also a spokesman in the Provincial Parliament. Shortly before, one of the saddest moments he remembers in politics occurred: when the Rubalcaba leadership prevented the Navarrese Socialists, then led by Roberto Jiménez, from promoting a motion of censure against Yolanda Barcina.
It was compensated five years later when María Chivite was sworn in as president thanks to the abstention of EH Bildu. “That was a serious crisis of confidence,” recalls someone who was then on the front line and who assures that Sánchez did not agree with that maneuver: “He put his interests in Navarra first.” Cerdán was one of those who defended that complexes had to be removed when leaning on the left abertzale, of which for a long time he was one of the few interlocutors that Sánchez had. He maintains that he is not going to be given “lessons” about ETA. In the ‘years of lead’, he was one of the leaders who had to take an escort and check the underside of the car.
With whom he is in tune is with the president of the PNV, Andoni Ortuzar. It was those ties that made him play a decisive role in the talks with the PNV for the motion of censure that brought Sánchez to Moncloa. The support of the Basque nationalists was fundamental. “He is a man of the party, modest, smart, open to dialogue and a reliable interlocutor,” a former socialist leader says of him.
Although the Navarran right is one of his obsessions, he maintains a good relationship with the president of UPN, Javier Esparza. Despite the ideological distance that separates them, Cerdán was the hinge for the Government’s contacts with Esparza so that his two deputies would support the labor reform. But the betrayal of Carlos Adanero and Sergio Sayas to their leader almost put an end to the star measure of the coalition, which was saved thanks to the error of a PP deputy. A situation similar to the one that occurred with the motion of censure in Murcia, which was a move by Sánchez carried out by the current Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, in the negotiation with Ciudadanos and by Ábalos and Cerdán in the dialogue with the PSOE that It ended up frustrated by four turncoats from Inés Arrimadas’s party and which triggered the call for the Madrid elections in which Isabel Díaz Ayuso swept. For both operations they have been pointed out in the middle of the party’s underground battle.
Cerdán is not one of those who has the media spotlight largely because he is not a brilliant speaker and also because of an image issue, according to several socialist interlocutors. “He is the only secretary of the Organization that does not have a public projection,” says one of the sources consulted. “In politics, there shouldn’t only be stars,” says a territorial leader who is also his friend in his defense. It’s like in a football team: the striker who scores the goal is just as important as the one who distributes the ball or the one who breaks the opponent’s game. Santos is there to coordinate and help the federations”. His job is gray and is to fix problems if he can before they come to light.
“There are no complaints from the territories. Neither those who are related nor those who are not so much”, expressed a long time ago a good connoisseur of the socialist plumbing on the appeasement of the party, which, however, is increasingly Caesarist. “He always gives us a hand,” says an Organization secretary of one of those federations furthest from Sánchez’s PSOE. The great example is that of the president of Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García-Page, who has become one of Ferraz’s critics: “Santos has never stopped picking up the phone [dijo en el discurso del congreso regional]. If we tell a party comrade to paint a militant, someone like Santos comes out.”
Cerdán is a lifelong PSOE militant. His grandfather was general secretary of the PSOE in his town in 1936, just when the civil war broke out, and his father was one of the five founders of the Milagro group. He is, as defined by a person who knows him well, “a classic socialist” who joined the sanchism and who has become one of the few survivors of that time.