Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I have been reading with interest ‘La Reina – Muy de Cerca’ – the biography on the Spanish Queen Sofía by celebrated journalist Pilar Urbano.

The section that caught my immediate attention is the scenario surrounding the Spanish King and Queen’s boycotting of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding because of the decision that they should sail on their honeymoon from Gibraltar.

Queen Sofía was very much looking forward to the wedding as Prince Philip is her second cousin. The prince’s father, Andrew of Greece, was the queen’s father’s first cousin. Of course both the queen and prince are Greek.

The closeness between King Juan Carlos and Queen Elizabeth is shown in when he phoned her at Balmoral to discuss the dilemma he called her ‘Lilibeth’.

According to the Spanish queen her British counterpart was shocked and dismayed when she found out that the honeymoon would depart from Gibraltar and hence it would be unacceptable for Sofía and Juan Carlos to attend. The Spanish government would just not accept it.

Juan Carlos pleaded with the Queen for Prince Charles and Lady Diana to come first to the Bay of Cádiz, Algeciras, Málaga or other ports in Spain so that the Spanish Royals could greet them and then escort them to Gibraltar.

However Queen Elizabeth made it clear that although she was the monarch, and it was her son that was getting married, the decision about which she had apparently not been consulted to send them off on the Royal Yacht Britannia from Gibraltar, had been taken by the British government and she could not interfere with or alter it.

The suspicion in Madrid is that it was Britain’s then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who had insisted on a calculated snub to Spain and of course once that decision was taken there could be no backing down to apparent Spanish pressure.

It shows how in both Britain and Spain the royal households are manipulated by the politicians of the day.

Hence it was that the Spanish Royals did not attend the wedding and Prince Charles with Lady Diana sailed off from Gibraltar – a disastrous start to what proved to be a disastrous marriage.

Queen Sofía stated: “Estábamos entre la espada y la pared.” Literally meaning between a Rock and a hard place – the Rock being Gibraltar.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


As we look back on 2008 and towards 2009 one fact is clear –corruption is alive and well and living amongst us.

You might argue that the world economic crisis is what occupies peoples’ minds at this time. True it is. However it was born of corruption in the financial sector in the USA from selling dodgy mortgages to the multi million dollar Ponzi scam of Bernard Madoff. It was then seen to spread around the world of greedy bankers and financiers aided and abetted by their political friends. Banks were hurriedly bailed out not so that they could help mortgage owners or embattled small companies but so that their bonuses, golden handshakes and company jets would stay airborne.

In Spain corruption is the sad norm. Voto en Blanco has touched on the tendency to corruption in the current PSOE administration looking back to the years of Aznar and González. It observes:

“Aznar pudo haber demostrado con su mandato que su partido era mejor y distinto que el corrupto PSOE de Felipe González, al que sustituyó en el gobierno en 1996, pero hizo justamente lo contrario, demostrando que ambos partidos eran similares, obsesionados con el poder, inclinados hacia la corrupción, incapaces de regenerar la democracia degradada, ambos interviniendo la Justicia, coartando la libertad de los diputados, partidarios de las listas cerradas, mintiendo desde el poder e incumpliendo las promesas electorales.”

This corruption in Spanish life has affected expats living in this country. However far more have lost their homes, life savings and future hopes at the hands of criminal financial advisors and investment companies who are British and prey on the weak and gullible amongst their own community.

There is no reason to believe that 2009 will be any different. The omens are not good.

A happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008


When I reported on the purchase of the luxury Los Monteros hotel in Marbella by the Russian petroleum company North West Oil I presumed the job insecurity and lack of investment was at an end.

The Russians took control at the beginning of the month then 72 of the staffed were sacked on December 23, just two days before Christmas.

Ho, ho, ho said the oligarchs – an unhappy Christmas and miserable New Year to you all.

The number dismissed represents 40 per cent of the work force leaving 100 people still employed at the hotel. It has been suggested that under the mechanism used by the management the number laid off should have been 10 per cent. This has forced the regional government’s ministry of employment to send an inspection team to the hotel.

The minister for employment, Antonio Fernández, stated that the delegation from Sevilla will examine the exact situation at Los Monteros. It will report back as to whether the hotel has broken the labour laws or not.

The remaining workers have called a 24 hour strike for December 31 and January 4 then from January 7 for an undefined period.

Today the union is presenting a case before the Málaga employment court to have the sackings nullified. The union also hopes to meet with the North West Oil representative, Ernest Malysehv, who has been in Russia for the Christmas holiday –no seasonal gloom for him then.

Naturally I feel for and support the workers of Los Monteros. Employment delegations and court cases are all well and good as too are protests and strikes. However at the end of the day this same breed of Russian had no qualms about invading Georgia so laying off 72 workers won’t even register on their conscious.

And to think the Soviet Union was once the workers’ paradise.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


The British and Spanish Royal households are saying nothing but officials in Madrid have stated there is a plan in place for the Infanta Leonor and Prince William to marry.

There is of course an obvious age difference. The Infanta is three years old and the Prince 26. It is understood that the heir to the British throne will be allowed to have a live-in relationship with Kate Middleton for 12 years at which time the Infanta will be 15. Their engagement will be announced on the Infanta’s 16 th birthday with the wedding taking place within two years. The Prince will then be 41.

British constitutional expert Lord Lowsey of Maldon stated: “Arranged marriages in the British Royal Family have not featured of late. However given that three of the Queen’s children have been through divorces it is felt that now is the time to return to tradition.”

He added: “There is a precedent for such unions between Britain and Spain. When King Henry VIII acceded to the throne following the death of his father, Henry VII, his wife was Catherine of Aragon, who was the widow of his elder brother.”

The marriage union is seen as a way of strengthening the strong ties between Britain and Spain. Both are members of the EU and NATO with Britons being the major visitors to Spain either as tourists, part-time residents or having chosen to make their homes on the Iberian Peninsula. Britain and Spain intend to form an alliance to counter the French – German axis.

There is also another hoped for benefit. At some point both Prince William and the Infanta Leonor with take their rightful places as the monarchs of their respective countries. This will unite the two crowns and automatically bring Gibraltar under joint sovereignty bringing to an end a dispute that has blighted relations since 1704.

(Spanish officials in Madrid released news of the union on December 28 –Día de los Santos Inocentes. Their British counterparts are not expected to make any announcement till April 1.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Spain’s monarch, Juan Carlos, made his Christmas address on December 24 as is the tradition as it is on that evening that Spanish families enjoy their special meal – although for many it would have been more frugal this year.

He spoke of the global economic crisis adding that Spain must play a strong role in world affairs to ensure its “growth, well-being and security.”

Juan Carlos stated: “The current economic crisis shows how much we depend ever more on the rest of the world and we have to know how to skilfully manage the defence of our interests in the world.”

“For that, today more than ever, Spain’s international role is important, in our institutions, companies and professionals, to ensure our growth, well-being and security.”

The king noted that Spain is also preparing to hold the six-month presidency of the EU in 2010. “For that we must also give a new impetus to our relations with the United States, strengthen our solid ties with Latin America and with the Mediterranean and maintain our profile in Africa and Asia.”

He also called on Spaniards, particularly political parties, unions and company bosses, to unite to overcome the economic crisis: “Let us ... move in the same direction, with each one of us bringing their own grain of sand.”

However for some Spanish commentators the king spoke nonsense in these troubled times and missed a golden opportunity to hand out some home truths. The Voto en Blanco blog commented: “Dijo, por ejemplo, que ‘Gracias a nuestra Constitución, España ha vivido por primera vez treinta años de democracia plena’, ignorando que la España en la que él reina, la de la Justicia intervenida por los partidos políticos, la corrupción galopante, los ciudadanos marginados, los partidos políticos insaciables de poder y el despilfarro incontrolado de un poder político que ya ni siquiera conecta con la ciudadanía, está, por desgracia, a años luz de distancia de lo que él llama ‘democracia plena’."

In Britain Queen Elizabeth made her speech on Christmas Day afternoon which was seen by millions at home and across the Commonwealth. She spoke of: “Christmas is a time for celebration, but this year it is a more sombre occasion for many.”

“People are touched by events which have their roots far across the world. Whether it is the global economy or violence in a distant land, the effects can be keenly felt at home.”

Of course the people watching these broadcasts be they from monarch or president know the speakers are largely isolated from the everyday worries of their subjects. There was no cutting back on the celebrations at Sandringham this Christmas, Prince Charles still has a flunkey to put his toothpaste on his brush and Prince Andrew will jet off on golf holidays at the public expense. Spain’s royal family is less extravagant but there has been little sign of Juan Carlos tightening his ample royal belt.

Voto en Blanco called the king’s broadcast: “pamplinas en tiempos de crisis” – “nonsense in times of crisis”. Dickens’ Scrooge would just have cried “Bah! Humbug!”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The decision by the Spanish judicial authority, the CGPJ, not to revise its ruling on the case of Judge Rafael Tirado has been described by the father of murdered youngster Mari Luz Cortes as “a national shame”.

In an earlier disciplinary hearing the CGPJ classified the failings of Rafael Tirado as a “serious” offence after he left the alleged killer of Mari Luz Cortes free after he had been sentence to jail for paedophile related offences.

The prosecutor had appealed against this ruling seeking instead that Tirado should be suspended from his duties as a judge for three years. He considered the judge’s offence to have been “very serious” which would have earned the tougher suspension sentence.

Gabriela Bravo, the spokesperson for the CGPJ, insisted that the judicial authority saw the offence as “serious” and could not agree with the “very serious” category. Fourteen members of the CGJP voted to maintain the fine whilst seven supported the suspension call. The prosecutor now has to decide whether the decision should be appealed in the Spanish High Court.

The Mari Luz case has caused widespread debate because of the judicial errors that allowed Santiago del Valle to remain free. He has admitted kidnapping Mari Luz but says she died accidentally. However had he been serving his allotted jail term for the two paedophile offences, one against his own daughter, then he would not have been free to take Mari Luz.

The father of Mari Luz, Juan José Cortés, called the decision by the CGPJ a “national disgrace” and accused the judges of supporting their own. He told the media: “An organisation such as the Consejo General del Poder Judicial cannot be permitted to make this type of decision as they only listen to the side of the judicial system.”

The Spanish government has made its concern over the CGJP’s decision known. The minister of justice, Fernández Bermejo, has stated that he fears that the authority has let what it sees as alack of resources in the judicial system affect its decision.

The CGPJ was unlikely to change its original decision on appeal as that would be admitting it was wrong in the first place. It would also not wish to be seen to be bowing to government and public pressure. The Spanish High Court will now probably be the final arbiters in this tragic tale. Justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. Whilst nobody can bring Mari Luz back at least her parent’s should know that those responsible for her death are being made to share their pain.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


At a time when the shops are packed with parents buying toys for Christmas and ‘Reyes’ the “Comité de Seguridad y Prevención de Accidentes de la Asociación Española de Pediatría” has released a timely report on the effects the colours of toys have on children.

Dr Jordi Mateu says that red toys encourage dynamism and the initiation of movement in children and are thus recommended for those who are tranquil and need activity.

In contrast blue is a relaxing colour and helps with sleep so it is best suited to very active and irritable little ones.

Toys that are yellow improve concentration and the development of intelligence whilst orange is a happy colour. White promotes rest and relaxation.

The AEP’s child psychiatrist, Dr Paulino Castells, adds that in the first years of life children should be encouraged to play with dolls, bears and other animals. To promote mobility they should play with balls, pedal cars and construction games. Whilst sensitivity and expression is best achieved through musical toys be they string, wind or percussion.

So if you are buying a drum this Christmas - and want a season of peace and goodwill - you should choose a blue and white one that will promote rest, send the enthusiastic young player to sleep whilst leaving your nerves intact.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Last week Marbella council approved changes to the boundary with Benahavís that appeared to tidy up some anomalies with various urbanizations in the zone.

Now it has emerged that the mayor of Marbella, Ángeles Muñoz, has given herself an early Christmas present. Before the lines were redrawn and approved the mayor’s home at Cerro del Colorado was in Marbella and illegal because the zone is non-urban under the 1986 PGOU. However by moving her home in to Benahavís it has been included in a zone that is for urban development as set out in that municipality’s 1992 local development plan.

This is a manipulation of the town planning boundaries that would have made Marbella’s notorious former mayor, the late Jesús Gil y Gil, proud. It must also leave a bitter taste in the throats of the residents of Marbella whose illegal homes could face demolition or uncertainty in 2009 whilst their mayor has overnight moved from illegal to legal home status.

The deal to redraw the boundaries was hatched between Muñoz and her Benahavís counterpart Antonio Mena, both members of the Partido Popular. When the new boundaries came before Marbella’s council for approval it received only the votes of the Partido Popular who have a controlling majority.

Needless to say the measure has been met with anger and disbelief by the socialist opposition. Marbella’s councillor for town planning, Alba Echevarría, tried to explain it away as being a problem that the two municipalities have faced since 1874 that has now been tidied up.

An act of municipal housekeeping or making an illegal urbanization legal? The opposition already has its view and it now remains to be seen how the news goes down amongst the people of Marbella, especially those who bought illegal homes in good faith but face the future with fear and uncertainty.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


When I was an infant at school one of the first Christmas carols I learnt was “Away in a Manger”. Today – Away with the Manger – holds true in the Spanish State Prosecutor’s HQ.

Last week the country’s finest legal minds clashed in Madrid over whether a Belén nativity scene should be displayed in the entrance hall of the State prosecutor’s office.

Lawyer Olga Sanchez decided to place the small display in the hall but hours later top judge Pilar Barrero objected to its presence – on constitutional grounds. She argued that placing a religious symbol in the entrance violated Spain’s 1978 constitution, which ensures the separation of Church and State.
Some lawyers came to the Belén’s aid arguing that a nativity scene was a cultural tradition rather than a religious one. However the number two at the prosecutor’s office, Juan Martín Casallo, was not convinced and ordered its removal.

Yesterday I saw an enormous Belén that appears every year in the Convento de Santo Domingo in Ronda under the aegis of the town hall. On the days after Christmas there is a Belén Viviente, a living nativity scene, along with a market in Ronda’s old town. In the exhibition hall of the Unicaja saving bank there is an annual display of various Belén scences that the financial institution arranges in many of the towns and cities of Andalucía.

Whilst there may be a separation of Church and State under the constitution the fact is that regional and municipal authorities still arrange or host Belén events, many of which such as the Belén Viviente in Arcos de la Frontera and Ubrique are also major tourism attractions.

Symbols of Catholicism remain prominent in public life 30 years after the end of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco who had raised Catholicism to the level of a "state religion." Spain’s Socialist government is preparing a law on religious freedom that aims to give greater respect for religious diversity and secularism. I have mentioned in this column before my belief that the Zapatero administration is seeking to establish Spain as the most liberal nation in Europe, not because the new laws are needed, desired or right, but purely as an antidote to the Franco era.

Tampering with a nation’s core beliefs and traditions does not work as can be seen in Russia where after generations of adherence to atheism the Russian Orthodox Church has returned stronger than ever.

Spain may be becoming an increasingly secular nation but that is not lessening its devotion to local patrons, Semana Santa or the Christmas traditions. Any government that attempts to interfere in those devotions does so at its peril.

Friday, December 19, 2008


A Madrid judge has ordered broadcaster Telecinco to pay 240,000 euros to former Spanish premier, José María Aznar and his wife Ana Botella, for falsely reporting that the couple had separated after supposed infidelity by the former leader. The couple married in 1977 and have three children.

The claims were made in November 2007 on the popular daily gossip show 'Aqui hay tomate', which has since been taken off the air.

Aznar, 55, who served as prime minister for two terms between 1996 and 2004 as leader of the Partido Popular, called the reports "false" and "degrading" and insisted he would take legal action against any media outlet repeating the slander. Ana Botella is a PP councillor in Madrid and has not commented on the rumours.

In its ruling the court said the couple had suffered “illegitimate interferences regarding their fundamental rights to honour and personal and family privacy”.

Fair enough.

They say there is no smoke without fire although I find it hard to envisage anybody getting the ‘hots’ for José María. Yet earlier this year there were scandalous rumours that emanated from Morocco that Aznar was the father of the French Minister for Justice Rachida Dati’s love child.

I know that power is meant to be an aphrodisiac but even so. Please, can somebody tell me what Aznar has got apart from 240,000 euros.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Although Gibraltar is surrounded by water it is not blessed with large beach zones. So those areas of sand it does have are very popular with residents and tourists alike.

This week the following letter appeared in the Rock’s daily newspaper ‘Panorama’. It read: “My husband and I have lived in Gibraltar for almost two years in an apartment at Both Worlds.

During this time, many people have told us about how beautiful Sandy Bay used to be, describing the large beach, the restaurant and the paddling pools.

We have been told that it was the best beach in Gibraltar to spend summer holidays. I saw it advertised in a brochure at the Tourist Office as, "one of Gibraltar’s secrets".

It now has a secret of a different kind. One that brings shame on those responsible for maintaining the beaches in Gibraltar. Since the October storm, the concrete walkways have been smashed beyond recognition and raw sewage is seeping onto the beach and into the sea.

Despite many calls to the Environmental Health department and the Tourist Board, nothing has been repaired. A hand made sign has been erected by an unknown person stating, "welcome to Beirut Beach ", which pretty well sums up the state of the beach. Why spend money sending the Gibraltar Regiment to train abroad, when they have what looks like a war zone area on their doorstep.

The Tourist Office tell us that they have nothing to do with the beach areas in the winter months but you only have to see the volume of tourists on Main Street to know that Gibraltar is an all year round tourist attraction. Many people staying at the Caleta Hotel enjoy a stroll along the promenade to Both Worlds. They are shocked at what they see.

We have only lived in Gibraltar for a short period but we take great pride in this lovely place. Surely those in authority should take as much, if not more pride in preserving the beach areas for present and future generations to enjoy. We have seen so many people in suits, looking and taking photographs but then nothing happens.”

Pretty grim stuff but is it true? I asked my man on the beach for his reaction and I was staggered to find that the situation is worse than even this letter suggests.

Seething with anger he told me: “This is not an exaggeration, they are spot on and there has also been raw sewage pouring on to the beach. You should see the state of Catalan Bay beach in the winter too. Catalan Bay beach is more visible to the tourists than Sandy Bay. During the “off season” times the beaches are just strewn with litter after a storm. There is a container still on the beach from the October storm. The official bathing season starts somewhere around June 16 and nothing is done up until then even after all the “crap” which is brought ashore on stormy days. I believe the Government has blamed the lack of funds and or manpower during the winter months for not attending to the beaches. Unfortunately our neighbours across the border in La Línea could show us a thing or two about cleaning beaches!”

There was a time when the overall state of Gibraltar was deplorable. A lot has changed in recent years and in the majority of cases it really is now a beautiful Rock. Gibraltar’s beaches should be one of its prized assets as its tourism is a year round business and there should be no “no go” areas for Gibraltarians or visitors. Tragically all they now see is the worst of Both Worlds.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I stay today on the subject of corruption.

Yesterday I touched on the ‘Astapa’ scandal in Estepona. Today I move one municipality to the east and arrive in Marbella home to the “Ballena Blanca”, “Hidalgo” and “Malaya” corruption and money laundering cases.

The biggest of these is “Malaya” and it is also the most important as it involves the defrauding of the town hall and the people of Marbella rather than just common or garden fraud, money laundering etc.

Now the alleged mastermind behind the “Malaya” scam is Juan Antonio Roca – the one time director of town planning at the town hall. The judge in the case, Óscar Pérez , has decreed that the money raised from the sale of the 415 works of art held by Roca can be used to pay off his huge 6.3 million euros debt to the tax authority, Hacienda.

Two things concern me about this.

First, not being an art expert, I know that valuing and establishing the authenticity of a painting or sculpture is a very difficult business. Indeed works of art that Roca owned that were deemed priceless now turn out to be copies. So how does the tax authority know it is actually getting value for its owed money?

Second, and far more fundamental, is the fact that these art pieces were probably purchased from Roca’s ill-gotten gains from the town of Marbella. Therefore if they are to be sold off surely the money should go towards paying off Marbella’s huge debts that are crippling the town.

The legacy of the GIL, post-GIL and alleged Roca corruption will be with the people of Marbella for many years to come. Thousands are living in homes bought in good faith that are deemed illegal –some will even be demolished. If there is any money to be recouped (and there is any justice) it should first go to easing the burden on the people of Marbella – the government can wait its turn, but it won’t.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Politicians sadly come way down the scale in the public’s esteem. Whilst it is one thing to not particularly believe what a politician promises or says – to view them all as crooks is another.

Already Barack Obama is back tracking on pledges he made on the campaign trail. That the pundits tell us is pragmatism and is therefore acceptable. Nobody, as of yet, is suggesting that the new president is a corrupt man.

However the real problem comes when people do not know where to turn because corruption is all around them.

I am not going to dwell on Marbella which has gained an international reputation for corruption through the GIL and post GIL eras. That municipality has been brought to its knees in public debt so the legacy of that criminal era will not only be witnessed by jailed councillors and businessman but in the very daily lives of its residents.

Today I cast my gaze on Estepona, Marbella’s neighbour to the west. On June 16 the National Police raided the town hall and town planning office and duly arrested the socialist mayor, Antonio Barrientos, on corruption and money laundering charges. Held in jail with him till last week when bail was agreed were his chief of staff and two councillors from PES (formerly members of GIL) that had been his coalition partners up till the local elections in May 2007.

Currently 63 people are implicated in the ‘Astapa’ town planning corruption case who are now awaiting trial. The number is largely made up of councillors and businessman. Estepona is deeply in debt and is struggling to make ends meet. The new socialist mayor is David Valadez, a staunch opponent of Barrientos, and who therefore is not implicated in his alleged crimes.

None the less councillors from the socialist PSOE, PES and Partido Andalucista are caught up in the ‘Astapa’ scandal. The only parties not tainted are the Izquierda Unida and the opposition Partido Popular. The IU says its will back Valadez’s administration but the PP has refused insisting on fresh elections as it says the current coalition is not above suspicion.

Well that is fine as far as it goes except now the Málaga prosecutor is seeking a jail term of 21 months for the PP president in Estepona, Ignacio Mena, at a court hearing that started today.

The complaint was laid by a local businessman and dates back to the time when Mena was himself the councillor for town planning between 2001 and 2003. The prosecutor claims coercion on the part of Mena and relates to the construction of an apartment and his alleged paralysation of permissions at the town hall to the benefit of another businessman. If convicted then Mena, the former GIL councillor Víctor Sánchez Pinacho and another businessman face jail terms.

Whilst there is nothing to link the PP to ‘Astapa’ if Mena is convicted then it drags the local party in to the corruption mire. So then who do the local people trust?

On January 16 the action group representing the people of Estepona has called a new street protest. They are angry that the town hall has taken no action to reduce or halt the major rises in local taxes and municipal charges and believe that only a major demonstration will keep the pressure on the councillors to act.

The group made up largely of local residents’ associations say the new charges for rubbish collection and water are simply too high. In addition they are facing major increases in the IBI property valuation tax. In a statement the action group pointed to “the precarious situation of many families and the poor situation of businesses and industry” in these times of economic crisis and their inability to meet this new financial burden.

They too are demanding fresh elections but that was before news of Mena’s court case broke. So it could be that the socialists, PES, PA and PP would all go again to the polls with councillors either in prison or facing trial. Only the IU and Estepona 2007 minority parties would be seemingly clean. So the question then for the people of Estepona is - who do you trust? Who do you vote for?

The January 16 march will undoubtedly be peaceful as have the demonstrations of the past. However when people feel their case is hopeless, that they are being taken for fools, then violence can easily surface. We only have to look at the present crisis in Greece.

The situation in Estepona is a tragedy for the local people. Yet Marbella and Estepona are not isolated cases for this scenario is played out in too many town halls, which endangers the very bedrock of democracy in Spain.

Monday, December 15, 2008


If you ask a Spaniard or a resident of Spain what is the greatest terrorism threat to the country and they would probably reply ETA. After all it is home grown and hardly a week goes by without an attack, arrest or the terrorist group gaining more than its fair share of news column inches.

If you go to Spain’s southern most coastline in Tarifa and stand on the hills you feel that you can almost reach out and touch Morocco – the very continent of Africa. As you gaze at its imposing mountains it is a staggering thought but you are also looking at an Al-Qaeda stronghold – here on our very doorstep. Suddenly this terror group which knocks ETA in to the shade is not far away in Pakistan or Afghanistan but on our doorstep.

In recent days the news has broken that Moroccan police have arrested several Islamists on suspicion of links to Jihadist cells. This news will have been studied with keen interest by the security forces in Spain and elsewhere in mainland Europe. The Moroccan Ministry of the Interior stated that some were suspected of plotting bank raids to finance the purchase of weapons.

It is estimated that Morocco already holds more than 1,000 Islamists in its jails on terrorism-related charges. The Government says it has broken about 60 terrorist cells since 2003, after a chain of suicide bombings in the commercial capital Casablanca.

Those terrorist bombings on May 16, 2003, killed 45 people, including the 12 suicide bombers. One of the main targets was a Spanish restaurant and social club, and four of the victims were Spaniards.

Whilst much relating to the latest arrests remains secret we do know that they were made in several cities throughout the country. Five of the arrested were suspected members of a jihadist cell which was preparing to set up a guerrilla training camp and plotting bank raids to fund arms purchases.

Spain’s leading anti-terrorism judge, Baltasar Garzon, has made it clear in the past that Europe’s biggest terrorist threat comes from Morocco. Security experts say it is the base for as many as 1,000 Al-Qaeda adherents capable of suicide attacks and skilled at slipping through the continent’s southern gateway, especially the port of Algeciras where there have been a number of terrorism related arrests.

Most of the 17 suspects jailed after the March 11 bombings in 2004, which killed 190 people on the Madrid railway system, are Moroccan. On the threat posed by the Morocco based cells Garzon stated: “They use every means and mechanism, and their activity can even be initially perceived as ordinary delinquency. In my opinion it is the gravest problem Europe faces today with this kind of terrorism.”

Those of us who live in the Campo de Gibraltar view Morocco as our closest neighbour. Ferries ply across the Straits at high speed, most of us have at least visited Tangier and the relations between Moroccans and the people of this area are very close. Yet the reality is that it is also home to the most feared terror group, whose murderous actions are not just restricted to events on TV, but have been witnessed on the streets of Madrid and one has to ask – where next?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


In this week’s Gibraltar Viewpoint column I look at the recent study by researchers at universities in Spain and the UK that revealed whilst from the 15th century on Spain’s Jews were mostly expelled or forced to convert, today some 20 percent of Spanish men tested have revealed a Sephardic Jewish or North African ancestry.

The teams from the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and the University of Leicester and the Wellcome Trust checked the Y chromosome, a stretch of DNA carried only by men and passed down with little change from father to son. Mutations in this gene can be used to trace ancestry, and some have been clearly linked to Sephardic Jewish as well as northern African populations.

One of the reports authors, Francesc Calafell, from the evolutionary biology faculty at Pompeu Fabra University stated: “The genetic composition of the current population is the legacy of our diverse cultural and religious past.”

Whilst Elena Bosch of the University of Leicester added: “The work shows that religious conversions and subsequent marriages between people of different lines had a significant impact on modern populations both in the Balearic Islands and in Portugal.”

One of the most surprising findings is the percentage of Spanish genes whose origin can be traced to Sephardic Jews, although Spain had a relatively small Jewish population compared to its Moorish population. Some of these genes may pre-date the Sephardic Jewish culture as the Phoenicians also share some of the genetic characteristics.

The Moors invaded the Iberian peninsula in 711 and remained until defeated in battle by the Reyes Catolicos in 1492. Moorish influence is still very noticeable in Spain's language, architecture, music and other aspects of its culture. Jews lived in Spain before the Moors arrived and although small in number played a significant cultural and economic role.

Hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from Spain in various repressive moves, started by the Catholic Monarchs. The study suggests many Jews converted rather than face repression. Some Sephardic communities to this day speak Ladino, which is similar to medieval Spanish and can be understood by present-day Spaniards.

I find the history of the Sephardic Jews fascinating and just happen to know a person who is an expert in this field. Gibraltar has a strong Jewish community and William Serfaty draws his surname from his Sephardic heritage. I asked him to comment on the reports findings and he told me:

“I would say I have a difference with the numbers quoted for the population of Jews in Spain at the time of the expulsion. I think the population of Spain (known as "Cordoba" in 1250) was about 1 million. The number of Jews expelled between 1270 (the fall of Toledo) and 1492 (the fall of Granada) could not have been “several hundred thousand”, as the article says. Nevertheless the number of Jews was a substantial percentage of the total population of Spain and Portugal in 1492.

“It is therefore unsurprising that the number of Spanish men carrying Jewish genes is very high.
“My article "The Pillars of the Phoenicians" in comes from a talk I give by the same name which mentions the handover of land in northern Judaea by King Solomon of Judaea in payment to Hiram King of Tyre for the construction of his Temple at Jerusalem (595BC, First Book of Kings or Book of Obadiah). These northern Jews inhabitants of what is now the Cabul in southern Lebanon, the inhabitants of 20 towns probably 10 per cent of the population of Judaea in 595bc, became "Canaanite" "overnite" excuse the pun please!

“These Jews may have travelled on Carthaginian and Phoenician ships as far as the East Coast of Spain and settled there on Phoenician land-bases from 595BC (construction of the Temple) to 250BC (fall of Carthage). So the article is quite right about Jewish genes being in Spain well before the Romans brought the population of Palestina to Spain in exile for their rebellion against the "Deity" of the Roman Emperor (from 60BC to 129AD) in 129AD.

“Another matter to bear in mind when speaking of genes in ancient populations is that the tribal distinctions we portray today may not be accurate. Canaanites and Jews may have been descended from the same root peoples notwithstanding the Biblical contention (and perhaps narrative simplification) that they were simply "enemies". Ergo "Phoenician" genes and "Jewish" genes may be one and the same thing. So modern Spaniards descended form either group will display the same gene mutations etc., present in Spain on two arrivals, the Phoenician trading arrivals with Jews in 1500BC approx, and the Jewish arrival in Roman times at the second Diaspora in 129AD.”

Friday, December 12, 2008


Unless I am mistaken, and I often am, there does not exist in Spain the long tradition of sending Christmas cards at this time of year as we suffer in the UK.

I do receive greetings from such diverse bodies as the Guardia Civil and the Patronato de Turismo de la Diputación Provincial de Cádiz but they come via email, so are not the old style card.

Indeed Christmas seems to have come early this year as I already have had email felicitations from Vicente Peña Romero and the Partido Popular in Benalup-Casas Viejas as well as the Cámara de Comercio del Campo de Gibraltar.

All very nice but it seems that I will not be receiving a Christmas card from Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Peter Caruana – not that I ever did in the past.

The chief minister has announced that he will not be sending Christmas cards this year. Instead, he is saving the taxpayer’s money and £1,949 will be donated to the breast cancer charity.

Unless I have read this wrong, and whilst I am pleased that breast cancer will benefit from his decision, the tax payer will not actually save any dosh as instead of having a card printed and buying stamps Peter Caruana is simply writing a cheque.

Given the low price of postage on the Rock to have spent £1,949 the chief minister must have sent a card to every resident - perhaps he did.

However his decision will leave many people disappointed and an empty space on their mantle piece where the Caruana card used to proudly sit.

Over the years I have received cards from MPs, government ministers, even the odd head of state. I used to put them safely away after the festive season and if I was ignored the following year, dust them down and bring them out again.

I suspect that this festive season the great and good of Gibraltar are frantically searching to see if they can find an old Caruana card to put on display.

And shame on the loyal members of Gibraltar’s opposition parties who have defaced their cards from the chief minister by drawing horns and a beard on his hallowed image.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


The Spanish book “Código Sexual” which is “El manual práctico de los maestros de la seducción” is set to take China by storm in its Mandarin version.

The editor of the book, Santos Rodríguez, said they attended last year’s Peking international book fair with zero expectations of scoring a hit – as is the case in most seductions.

However the writer of “Sex Code”, Mario Luna, must know a thing or two about these arts because not only has the book sold over 80,000 copies in Spain and Latin America but is also clocked up major sales in China.

China was chosen because there are 119 men for every 100 women with the large migration from the countryside to town and cities in search of work. Therefore there is a hunger amongst these men for an exhaustive bible on female psychology.

Obviously these explanations are less long winded in Mandarin than in Spanish as there are 416 pages in the Chinese edition compared with the 672 in the original.

Apparently it is only a bible as far as seduction is concerned ... if you strike lucky then the sex part is down to you!

Those of you wishing to dip in to this manual of seductive arts can do so at:

But be warned –next time you go to a Chinese takeaway, don’t ask for a 69 in Spanish!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


There are two cases of politicians and the Spanish monarch Juan Carlos I that have been taken up by the nation’s prosecutors.

Already involved in the trial process is the Izquierda Unida mayor of Puerto Real, José Antonio Barroso. Now the prosecutor of the Cataluña high court (TSJC) is investigating alleged remarks by the ERC MP Joan Tardá.

At an event in Los Barrios on April 14 to commemorate the proclamation of the II Republic the outspoken Barroso cast aspersions on the King and his father. He accused the monarch of being “corrupt” because of some of his business associations and said he was the “hijo de crápula”, accusing his father of being a libertine.

Last Saturday it is said that Tardá, whilst addressing the youth section of his party in Barcelona, called for “muerte al Borbón”.

Both remarks caused outrage but I believe they are markedly different.

Barroso insists that he spoke “under the umbrella of the constitutional right to free expression which all Spanish nationals are supposed to have” and that he was expressing his political convictions.

Quite so.

In contrast Tardá seemingly called for the death of the King.

Now he tries to explain that away by saying that “muerte al Borbón” was a phrase used in 1714 and is a Republican proclamation with a long tradition.

Sorry Joan that cuts no ice. They are weasel words spoken by a political rat!

To voice an opinion about the monarch or his family is one thing. I do not believe that the State should be involved in prosecuting Barroso for his genuinely held views. The King should either turn the other cheek or take legal action on his own account.

However to call for “death to the Borbón” at a time when our streets already run with too much blood is simply outrageous.

It would be legitimate to call for the King to go, for a Republic to be established – but death?

Today marks the 60 th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It should be remembered that monarchs have human rights too – exactly the same ones as you and I enjoy. A monarch should be as open to criticism as any other national leader – kings and queens are not a protected species. However in a democracy to call for their death is beyond the pail.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


It has been revealed that the Chief Minister of Gibraltar earns just under £100,000 per year.

Each of the Rock’s MPs in the new Parliament that has replaced the House of Assembly receives £26,042 per annum.

The Chief Minister receives £26,042 as an MP plus an additional £71,179 for his head of government role, making a total of £97,221 per annum.

Ministers, i.e. all the MPs on the governing GSD benches, now earn in excess of £74,000.

That may sound a lot but the Chief Minister, the Minister of Justice Daniel Feetham and opposition shadow minister Fabian Picardo are just three of the top lawyers in Gibraltar’s Parliament. As their fee for taking a client’s phone call is probably around £26,000 you might consider they come at a cheap price.

Chief Minister Peter Caruana certainly thinks so. He told Gibraltar’s Parliament: “I think the Chief Minister's salary represents excellent value for money for the taxpayers of Gibraltar.”

Well he was hardly likely to say "I think you are all being ripped off", was he?

Of course it is for the people of Gibraltar to say whether they think their politicians are value for money or not. However they do preside over 30,000 people and a vibrant economy.

Now take the mayor of Gaucín Francisco Ruíz. He is proposing that he should be paid 64,719 euros a year for running a small village.

The Partido Popular councillor took over the post with the support of the Partido Andalucista in September after a vote of no-confidence in socialist mayor Teodoro de Molino.

For his part De Molino says this figure is ridiculous for a village with 1,732 residents.

Indeed it is – but if Caruana and his gang get whiff of it they might consider they come at too cheap a price and then they’ll want a pay rise too!

Monday, December 8, 2008


There are many people in the State security forces in both Spain and France who now believe that the time is right to carry out the final strike against ETA.

They argue that the terrorist organization is divided, demoralized and has little support in the Basque region.

However there seems a reluctance to act on the part of Zapatero and his government. Even the proposal to kick ETA supporters out of the town halls they control in the Basque region has not been acted upon.

One theory is that Zapatero wants to end his second term with the signing of a peace document with ETA. Hence to achieve that aim the terrorist organization has to be kept alive.

Having been in London and then Dublin at the height of the IRA and Loyalist campaigns of the 1970s, which included the assassination of the British Ambassador to Ireland, I have experienced at first hand what living in the midst of terrorism means.

One thing is for certain. Terrorists by their very nature do not observe the same laws and norms of behaviour that we do.

People that can slaughter innocents in the name of an ideal that has little popular support are not capable of negotiating a peace with anybody. They have only one objective and that is victory, a bloody victory that will create a Basque nation under their control.

Ah, you may cry, but look at Ireland and what has been achieved there under the peace process!

True those republicans and loyalists who have seen fit to follow a democratic path have come together in a power sharing initiative, even though that path is far from smooth.

However the reality comes from the British security services. They report that the main threat to Britain comes not from Islamic terrorism but from the remnants of the IRA and other Republican terror groups.

The simple truth is you cannot make peace with terrorists – you have to eliminate them before they eliminate you. To believe otherwise is pure folly.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Never mind the world economic recession Italian business leaders know what is important in the world. Hence that nation’s edition of Playboy magazine has voted the Spanish Premier, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, as the fourth sexiest political leader in the world.

Barak Obama is now getting used to topping the polls and the Italians voted him as the sexiest leader with 58 per cent. He was followed by France’s Nicolas Sarkozy with 44 per cent and Italy’s own, Silvio Berlusconi, with 40 per cent.

Zapatero smiled his way in to fourth place leaving in his wake Russia’s Vladmir Putin and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

In the same poll the business leaders were asked to rate the sexy political leaders of the past with Napoleon coming first followed by John F Kennedy and then the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini – well it was an Italian poll.

Surprisingly 81 per cent of those polled said they were attracted by State and Government leaders and the factors that drew their attention most were power (63 per cent) and the attention they give to public opinion (58 per cent). The Playboy survey was taken amongst 180 business leaders and generators of opinion in Italy.

Curiously Britain’s jowly prime minister, Gordon Brown, was not listed and one can only wonder how Mariano “Papa Smurf” Rajoy would have scored in this poll of polls.

Friday, December 5, 2008


There is an interesting blog on the ‘Voto en Blanco’ website entitled: “España: demasiados periodistas al servicio del poder dominante”. It argues that journalists in Spain are no longer free and that they have abandoned the pursuit of truth and instead have become “"propagandistas", "publicistas" or "agitadores" for the political commissars.

It is difficult for a Briton, from a nation that has enjoyed freedom of speech for centuries, to envisage what freedom of the press means in Spain where a dictatorship decreed what you could say well within living memory.

But what is freedom of the press?

Certainly in British terms a newspaper has a right to say what it likes within the bounds of the laws governing State security and liable. However nobody is foolish enough to suggest that journalists enjoy independent freedom other than which their masters wish them to employ.

For instance a journalist writing for the Daily Mirror knows that the paper is heavily slanted to supporting socialism and a Labour government as a hack on the Daily Mail will be expected to take a pro Conservative line.

Broadcasters who work for Fox News and Sky TV and journalists on The Times and in The Sun are in no doubt that at the end of the day they will reflect the views of Rupert Murdoch on major issues.

As long as the wider public is aware of this then no great harm is done and in general it is Labour supporters who read the Daily Mirror and Tory voters who buy the Daily Mail.

Those who want to plough a more independent furrow have to revert to the free world of blogs or start their own publication.

Certainly within the confines of writing in Spain I am aware that the majority of local English language newspapers will not report negative reports on some financial advisors even though too many ex-pats have been ripped off by them leaving their lives in ruin. They have been big advertisers and hence that money has bought silence.

An international radio station run by Onda Cero that is now defunct has carried numerous commercials over the years for the same suspect financial advisors as well as those hawking investments in ostriches or promising miracles cancer cures from crystals. Many listeners suffered whilst Onda Cero pocketed the income from the ads with no guilty conscience.

I know of one English publication, now also defunct, that barred any criticism of ETA because it was convinced the terrorist organisation read its news and would exact revenge if it spoke out against it.

That is the reality that journalists, who might wish to expose financial corruption or show ETA up for what it is, have to work in. We live in a free society but the freedom of journalists is dependent on the limits that their employers place on them.

So yes in Britain and Spain journalists, publications and broadcasters do enjoy freedom of speech but the bounds of that freedom are set not by journalists but by their employers and those they sympathise with.

This is in stark contrast to countries where there is no freedom of expression for anyone and the lines of press freedom are demarked by the bullet from a gun.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


On Tuesday I was researching a report on Julián Muñoz when I came across a photograph of him leaving Alhaurín de la Torre prison. Next to the disgraced former mayor of Marbella was a larger than life character who I’d seen often on television but had no idea who he was or what he was doing there.

As I know more about Julián Muñoz than most men do about their wives I decided to concentrate my attentions on the imbecile next to him.

I had presumed he was promoting a newspaper as he always appeared when news cameras were around and had a front cover pinned to his coat. No luck there because when I Googled the name of the newspaper – something Colectivo – all I learned was that Colectivo is the largest bus company in Argentina.

In the latest photo I also noticed he had a copy of Tu Barrio with his picture on the cover plus the headline – Mocito Feliz. Surely that couldn’t be his name – but it is!

Actually the real name of Mocito Feliz is Enrique Jiménez and he comes from Málaga where he was born by all accounts at an early age. His great claim to fame is that he can sing 20 songs in a minute. The reason I couldn’t track down El Colectivo is that it is a newspaper in Almeria which many years ago printed a detailed interview with Mocito Feliz. I have no idea whether the newspaper still exists but Mocito Feliz has his copy wrapped in plastic and proudly displays it wherever he goes.

Watch out for him on TV news clips or programmes such as RTE’s ‘Gente’ and you will see him appear in the background of interviews with famous personages such as Muñoz, Pantoja and Ortega Cano. He’s usually dressed the same, although sometimes as Father Christmas – Papa Noel, always has a happy smile on his face and knows where the cameras will be.

One mystery is how he manages to afford to be in the right place at the right time given that he has no obvious means of income. I have read that it is rumoured that he has sold his body for medical research after his death – but given the number of places he pops up in they must have paid him a fortune for his eventual remains.

According to Telecinco his ambition is to be better known than “Manolo el del bombo”. I think he’s probably already there. He’s certainly more fun - so watch out for him on a Spanish TV screen soon – you can’t miss him!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


If a “top secret” document leaked to the Spanish newspaper El País is genuine then it appears that the US sought permission from the Spanish Foreign Ministry in 2002 for rendition flights.

The Spanish government has always denied that “secret stopover” flights by CIA planes transporting terror suspects to the US military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, landed on the nation’s soil.

Now it appears that in early 2002 a request was communicated to Spain’s then foreign minister, Josep Pique, hours before a CIA flight landed at Moron airbase in Sevilla. It is further claimed that the government of José María Aznar recommended that “discreet” airports could be used for the stopover of rendition flights.

Aznar was a strong ally of the US in the war of terror. It was during his term of office that the secret flights allegedly started. The former prime minister is on the record as having denied any knowledge of the stopovers.

Spain’s current foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, stated on Sunday that the socialist government of which he is a key member, which came to power in March 2004, had not been informed that these authorisations having been given. He insisted: “We have nothing to hide,” and ordered an internal investigation stressing that Spain had a strong commitment to human rights.

The inference therefore seems to be that the CIA flights took place during Aznar’s watch and not Zapatero’s. However the president of the Partido Popular, Mariano Rajoy, insists that during the Aznar reign he was not involved in any discussions on the flights to Guantánamo. Furthermore he added that two of these flights took place in the Aznar era but nine under Zapatero.

Rajoy also stated that the minister of defence has stated that these flights were: “legal and based on treaties between the USA and Spain”. So did Aznar and Zapatero know about the flights or where they sent via US bases in Spain such as Moron or Rota without the Spanish government’s knowledge? Also, why has US President George Bush been cold-shouldering Zapatero when it would appear the socialist premier’s administration allowed these controversial flights – or did they?

Certainly the Council of Europe now appears vindicated. It published a report in June 2006 that named Spain as one of 14 European countries allegedly in collusion with the CIA to transport terrorist suspects on secret flights to third party countries for interrogation but these claims were hotly denied by Madrid.

A report approved by a European Parliament committee in 2007 said more than 1,000 covert CIA flights had crossed European airspace or stopped at European airports in the four years after the 9/11 attacks. It now remains to be seen how many of those were in or via Spain – and who knew about them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Her party may have very little electoral support but Rosa Díez is currently the most valued politician in Spain. The leader of the recently formed UPyD records 5.1 in a poll by Público compared with 4.7 for Prime Minister José María Zapatero and 4.3 for the Partido Popular’s Mariano Rajoy.

Rosa Díez was the former leader of PSOE in the Basque region. Her party received just 1.9 per cent of the vote at the last election but is now recording 4 per cent.

However it is far from bad news for Zapatero and the socialists. It seems that despite the economic crisis PSOE is back in the lead. If an election was held now it would romp home with 41.3 per cent compared with 39 per cent support for the PP.

Of course different soundings give difference levels of support. La Rázon for instance gives the PP a winning percentage of the votes and more seats than the socialists.

Two things are clear though – a politician of a party with little chance of winning power is more popular than any mainstream opponent and even with the country and the world in economic turmoil Mariano Rajoy and the PP have still to convince people that their present and future would be safer in their hands. One wonders what calamity has to befall the country before Spain swings behind Rajoy.

Rosa Díez is surely a happy woman today – but the real smile must be on the face of Zapatero.

Monday, December 1, 2008


There is an intense debate in Spain over the Catholic Church, religion and religious freedom.

Those on the far left take a very strong stand against Christianity and the Catholic Church.

Those of the right in general and within the Partido Popular in particular would seem to stand with and speak for that same church.

The Andalucía government has banned from schools all items that could impinge on religious freedom yet Christians would feel that this hits at them rather than other faiths such as Islam.

The Catholic Church certainly sees itself and its core beliefs being under siege from the present socialist government and those further to the political left.

If you go back to the Spanish Civil War and post-war dictatorship you can see the roots of this conflict when the Catholic Church largely sided with Franco and the right whilst those on the left were seen as the agents of Communism and hence atheism. Those chickens are now rushing home to roost.

The only other country I have lived in with a civil war in living memory and a strong Catholic background was southern Ireland. However whilst that bloody conflict is reflected in the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael parties of today both sides were always essentially Catholic so it did not evolve in to a religious divide. You have to look at the wider Irish nation for that.

Although I was brought up a Catholic it was in England where followers of my then faith were in the minority and to this day the established Church of England holds sway. So the Catholic Church was unable to influence and control society in the same ways as it once did and still attempts to do in Spain or Ireland. Indeed in Britain Catholics are still barred from taking the throne and in my lifetime faced restrictions in many other spheres.

I have long since ceased being a practicing Catholic and in Spain, which is now my home, I find a great personal unease with that church’s not too distant past. If I had to describe myself now I would class myself as a Christian with a small ‘c’ but certainly spiritual.

However I have a total tolerance of all faiths and of people who have none. I have a very limited tolerance of organized religion and see in it many of the ills that affect the world today.

I believe we should all be free to practice our religion but would equally argue that it is essentially a private matter and hence my or your core beliefs should not be inflicted on one another.

Christianity and Islam have brought to the world much of the elements that underpin our cultures and cultural life. At the same time they still form the great divides that separates peoples, nations and continents often in bloody confrontation.

If the west is to be tolerant of all religions then it is only right that so too should the east...but that is far from the case.

Sadly the divisions created over the years in the name of religion can be seen all too plainly in modern day Spain and in northern and southern Ireland. The foundations of these and wider conflicts are based on centuries of abuse and mistrust and I have no doubt it will take centuries to right these wrongs all carried out in the name of God – whoever that God may be.