Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Parody Travel in Gibraltar and the San Roque tourist office have combined to offer a joint programme of tours. The project was launched at the FITUR travel fair in Madrid at the end of January and is historic in itself, because it is the first time that the Rock and San Roque have co-operated in this way.
History tells us that in 1704, when the Rock was taken for England, the majority of the Spanish residents fled. Many went to San Roque, their traditional place of pilgrimage, and it is in the church and museums of the municipality that you will find many of the artefacts dating back to the days when Spain held the Rock.
For visitors to Gibraltar there is the Original Rock Tour that is carried out by a minibus with a guide and lasts around 90 minutes. Sites visited include Europa Point (where the Mediterranean & the Atlantic meet), entrance to The Upper Rock, St. Michaels Cave and the Famous Barbary Apes. In addition there is the highly recommended optional visit to the WWII Tunnels. This is a guided walking tour taking around 45 minutes.
Back in San Roque there is the “Monumental” tour. This is a guided walk around the historic centre of the town and also takes around 90 minutes. This includes the old quarter of the town: Saint Mary the Crowned Parish Church, The Governor’s Palace, The Bull Ring, typical Andalusian streets and squares, as well as 3 local museums. Here there are two optional extras. You can visit the Punic-Roman Carteya archaeological site, again duration around 45 minutes or the take the now famous tapas culinary experience.
In addition to the above tours there are also visits to Gibraltar’s Museum or to see the Dolphins in the Bay. For further information you can contact Parody on 00 350 20076070 or the San Roque Tourist Office (which has English speakers) on 956 694 005.
As Easter is upon us I should also remind you that San Roque has a week of major processions. However the ‘Pièce de résistance’ is/are the Good Friday processions that have been declared of national tourist interest by the Andalucía government. This is a stunning spectacle, with Roman soldiers on horseback but of special interest is the fact that many of the figures carried through the streets were taken by the Spanish population as they fled Gibraltar back in 1704. Details of this event that starts on Good Friday afternoon can be obtained from the San Roque tourist office.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Cuando asqueados de la bajeza humana,
cuando iracundos de la dureza humana:
Este hombre solo, este acto solo, esta fe sola.
Recuérdalo tú y recuérdalo a otros.
Luis Cernuda, 1936
Saturday, March 28, 2009
For years they have lived in pitiable conditions with no rights a situation no doubt based on the belief that people from a third world country were third class.
The Moroccan Workers Association has represented its fellow nationals in recent years but now the TGWU/Unite union has stepped in to battle on their behalf.
Gibraltar’s Employment Minister Luis Montiel says that the conditions of the Moroccans on the Rock are better than they were in 1996. Sadly that isn’t saying much.
The TGWU/Unite district officer, Charlie Sisarello, stated: “Moroccan workers are imprisoned in Gibraltar and what Minister Montiel is saying is that they are prisoners with better conditions than in 1996.”
Only the Moroccans directly employed on the Rock are allowed to live there. Therefore they are separated from their families who are not allowed to visit them.
In Gibraltar they largely live in a government hostel. Sisarello describes it as being “unfit for human habitation”. I have seen these facilities and his description is spot on.
The union leader went on to describe the plight of the Moroccans: “The fact remains that they are stranded in Gibraltar and cannot cross the frontier to catch a ferry in Algeciras to see their families or attend to a family emergency. They depend on a highly unreliable ferry service. The situation can be described as nothing short of scandalous.”
Sisarello has also raised the issue of Moroccans receiving Gibraltarian naturalization. He has asked the Gibraltar Government to state whether there is one policy for EU nationals and another for Moroccans adding: “It is unacceptable that there should only be 20-30 naturalisations of Moroccans per annum. It is equally unacceptable that it is only in the case of Moroccans that the Government refer to the procedure being manageable.”
It is sad and tragic that in 2009 people are still treated as being an underclass – even more so as they are vital to the operation of many businesses and services on the Rock. Sad and tragic may be – but not unbelievable!
Friday, March 27, 2009
I write these words because the British Medical Journal has just published research by Iranian scientists that suggests that if you drink very hot tea you can provoke throat cancer.
Well let me tell the BMJ something for nothing – if you drink very hot tea you can also burn your mouth, tongue and throat – all of these are much more likely - and I’m not even a scientist!
For Britons tea has a very strong place in our national identity. My grandmother’s and parents’ generations survived the blitz of the Second World War by knowing the calming values of a good cup of tea. With a doodle bug hovering over your head you sipped your Rosy Lee slowly in the certain knowledge that it would pass you by. You certainly didn’t expect to get zapped by throat cancer – and nor were you!
You can be certain that for every food or drink warning issued – they’ll be conflicting data in a year or so time.
I will drink my red wine, enjoy a plate of egg and bacon, even a mug of tea – knowing as my grandmother taught me – a little of what you fancy does you good and all things in moderation!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
By the time I reached the fifth year, now at a Comprehensive School, one of the lads boasted to the class about his sexual prowess. He told us that he used the rubber that formed the ink reservoir inside his fountain pen as a condom. The rubber tube was about the width of a pencil and a third of the length. What I find incredulous now is not that he made the claim but we all believed him.
We went on to be the generation of the Swinging Sixties – the age of free love or more correctly free sex. I have to say that nobody in my circle had an unwanted pregnancy or indeed an abortion… the pill ruled O.K. Yet I am not as naive as to believe it didn’t happen – after all this was also the generation of “Up The Junction” (1963 book, 1965 TV and 1968 film) and back street abortions.
On today’s UK news there is much angst over the problems of teenage pregnancies and abortions – how Britain leads the league table in Europe. In my blog of last week I gave the annual figure for abortions in Spain and mentioned the government’s policy to allow 16-year-olds the right to have an abortion without informing their parents.
Whatever the cause of this boom in unwanted pregnancies is it is not lack of knowledge. If you repeated the above stories to a first or fifth year pupil at senior school they would look at you in disbelief. Whilst for my generation sex education is what you did behind the bike sheds (when you weren’t smoking) today it’s on the curriculum. Contraception of all types is freely available. So the boom in teenage pregnancies is not down to lack of knowledge or the availability of protection – so what is the cause?
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Dr Joseph Garcia mentioned in his comments here on the Genoese of Catalan Bay that ‘Calentita’ is the national dish of Gibraltar. Well the ‘Calentita’ who carries on a regular conversation with her friend on the hot topics of the day on the Rock is with doubt also a “National Dish”.
About 15 years ago when I was recording an episode of “If It’s In The Press, It’s Got To Be True” I gave a copy of ‘Calentita’ to Lola Castaños to read out during the show. As her name suggests Lola is Spanish but speaks English fluently, indeed she teaches our language in school. She studied the script intently and then looked very puzzled. “I know all the words,” she said “but what does it mean?” Well that’s Llanito for you, a mix of Spanish and English but with a Gibraltar twist.
You might think that is challenging enough but to fully appreciate the ‘Calentita’ column you also need to know what’s happening on the Rock as it’s very topical. Anyway, have a go, and enjoy!
“EL CLAIM TO THE CAMPO, LA PATUCA THAT NEVER WAS Y UNA BONBILLA
Blimey when I heard that the Bishop was trying to regain lost ground, I thought que he had joined our campaign to claim the Campo de Gibraltar, porque let's face it, el Campo must have belonged to our Gibraltar when it was acquired.
Que agudo, mi querida Cynthia. I was less ambitious, y me crei que the claim was for the Neutral Ground.
Pues mira, our claim should start with el Neutral Ground, although I don't know como queda eso después del airport agreement.
No me hables del airport, que mira lo que se armo en el Parliament entre el Chief Minestra y el Picapiedra when a question about el airport was asked.
Verdad, hablaron de unos spherical balls and who had the biggest ones. Yo pense que estaban hablando de la patuca de la Caleta y cosas de esa, pero me puse mas colorada que un tomate cuando alguien me dijo que it was something else.
De colorao nada, my dear, mira lo que le paso a un tal Fava, según dijo el ex yanito Minister of Defence quite frankly.
Piano, piano, or should we say piani, piani?
Speaking about matters of defence, el Shoemaker has now upset al Oh!Bama, saliéndose de Kosovo at full speed.
A lo mejor es que se entero que Gibraltarian soldiers have been there, y le ha caido mal, who knows.
It shows que nosotros estamos con NATO and if the Spanish Governation is not, I imaginate que that gives us some Brownie points, verdad?
Claro que si. If I were the Chief Minestra I would invite Oh!Bama to visit us, lo mismo que Eisenhower did during the Second World War.
That would be a great idea, porque after la princesa we need a President to come here, porque no?
Como se entere el SinLuce le entra un patitu, valiente tío otra vez he has been attacking our Gibraltar.
Yo le mandaba una bonbilla para que se ilumine, y una copia our plan to claim the Campo de Gibraltar.
Oh well, cómprate un military helmet porque no vaya a estallar el Third World War. Ta, ta for now.”
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
By coincidence last week also saw the first visit to Africa by Pope Benedict where he stated: “[AIDS] cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”.
Now the furore that surrounded the Pope’s comments on condoms and AIDS completely obliterated the strong message he delivered to the people of Angola decrying the “clouds of evil” over Africa that have spawned war, tribalism and ethnic rivalry that reduce poor people to slavery. It should have been that theme that was remembered by the world but instead we have to contemplate the damage the Pope has done to the fight against AIDS, a battle by the way in which many Catholics, laity and clergy, play a major role.
Today I received an email from the human rights group Avaaz seeking support for its campaign on this important issue. I have featured the work of Avaaz on this blog in the past and I will certainly do so in the future.
Avaaz states: “The Pope’s statement is at odds with the research on AIDS prevention, and a setback to decades of hard work on AIDS education and awareness. With powerful moral influence over more than 1.1 billion Catholics in the world, and 22 million HIV positive Africans, these words could dramatically affect the AIDS pandemic and put millions of lives at risk.
“This is not a religious dispute, but a grave public health concern. Personal beliefs of Catholics and all people should be respected, and the Pope's advocacy for a culture of fidelity and respect could be effective in AIDS prevention if condom use were not also discouraged. The Catholic Church engages in a vast amount of social service work, including the care of those living with AIDS. But the Pope’s claim that condom distribution is not an effective AIDS prevention mechanism is not supported by research. It’s untrue, and if it diminishes condom use, it will be deadly.
“The fact is, HIV and AIDS are prevented by condom use. There is no easy solution to the spread of this tragic disease, but condoms and education are the best known prevention combination and have not been found to increase risky sexual behaviour. That is why even priests and nuns working in Africa have questioned the Pope’s statements.
“We may not be able to ask the Catholic Church to change its broader position, but we are asking the Pope to stop actively speaking out against prevention strategies that work. It’s important that people of all beliefs, especially Catholics, call on the Pope to exercise care in his leadership on this issue. Sign below then spread the word to your friends and family - this petition could actually save lives.”
Of course both the laity and clergy in the Catholic Church, who have to deal with the daily reality of life and death, have often taken a different stance and action to those who spend their lives secluded in the Vatican Palace. Those of us who are Catholics, lapsed or practicing, have a special responsibility in this regard to make our voices heard and to ensure they do not fall on deaf ears.
Please support the Avaaz petition.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Now it appears that the chief minister of Gibraltar, Peter Caruana, is not only a VIP but a VEP as well – a Very Expensive Person.
According to figures produced by the Gibraltar daily newspaper, Panorama, the chief minister pays up to £1,000 to fly to the UK and back. Well that’s more than I’ve ever forked out flying Monarch or EasyJet but then he does fly British Airways Club Class.
However that is the least of it. The Gibraltar tax payer also has to fund an extra £1,586.26 per trip so that he can use the VIP lounge.
Apparently if he is summoned by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to see a Government minister it picks up the tab. Now that the lounge is available on a commercial basis, well there is a recession on, he uses it on every visit.
I know that gin and tonics come at a prohibitive cost at the Gatwick airport bars but you have to down a lot of Gordon’s to hand over £1,586.26. So what else does this exorbitant charge give the chief minister? He still has to show his passport but he is excused flashing his toiletries at a security official and bearing his feet. At a guess I suspect there is less chance of Caruana being embarrassed by having a hole in his socks than the likes of me, one of the hoi-polloi, so that little ritual should cause him no grief.
The chief minister is the elected leader of Gibraltar but not the head of state. That honour goes to the Queen and her representative on the Rock is the Governor. I wonder how much he pays to fly back to Blighty?
I also understand that if you are a leader of a small nation you might feel the need to have your status recognised. However it is the people of the Rock who elect their leader and not the waiting staff in the Gatwick VIP lounge who are used to looking after really important people. I wonder how this excess goes down with the residents of the drab apartment blocks in Gibraltar? Ah, but they probably didn’t vote GSD!
On the numerous flights I have taken from Gibraltar on the budget airlines I have frequently rubbed shoulders with the great and good of the financial services sector. On one occasion I espied a British multi-millionaire with his wife and mother flying Monarch and sharing the rubber ham sandwich and indifferent coffee with the rest of us. Then I guess that’s the money-saving savvy that made him a rich man. If the people of Gibraltar are paying the bill – why worry?
There is one other expense the chief minister has to face in the UK – getting from the airport to London. That apparently is solved by paying a chauffer £150 each way. It is common practice for British politicians, from the Prime Minister down, to let the train take the strain by travelling first class. However I hesitate to suggest this mode of transport to the chief minister as I suspect the Royal Train isn’t for hire and if it is, it comes at an enormous cost. But then of course - it isn’t him that’s paying!
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Regular readers of my blog will know that at weekends I tend to try and cover a lighter topic and in a sense I am going to do so today. I have already made my personal view on abortion clear so I will not restate that. However I did also voice my support for the ecologists who took offence at the poster.
The theme of the poster is offensive to me on two counts. First it muddies the waters in the real fight to protect a very endanger Spanish species - the Lynx. Secondly it is published by a church that in the past has spoken from the pulpit that wildlife is not important because, unlike humans, animals do not have souls. Therefore the juxtaposition of the baby and the Lynx could be a throw back to that primitive message.
Soulless? I don’t know about you but I’d rather have the affection of a cat rather than a deviant cardinal and the companionship of a dog rather than that of a paedophile priest. I take the view that all life is sacred.
Now I have to chuckle because it emerges that the Lynx on the poster isn’t the Iberian variety at all. Experts have identified it as a Lynx Boreal or Euro Asian breed that doesn’t exist in Spain. Indeed whilst the Iberian Lynx is in danger of extinction, with only about 200 of these cats in the Sierra Morena and Doñana national park, its Boreal cousin is far more widespread and numerous.
As the row raged over the poster it was announced that three Lynxes had been born under the Doñana breeding programme to Saliega and Almoradux. If the local bishop acts quickly perhaps he’ll be allowed to take a photo of them.
(The photo above is of the three Lynx kittens born in Doñana. Scroll down for the Baby – Lynx poster).
Friday, March 20, 2009
I admit I tell this story second hand but the person who informed me about it was a journalist not given to exaggeration.
I believe it took place in the 1980s on the outskirts of a village in the mountains behind Marbella.
A Scandinavian national, who lived alone in the house, was brutally murdered at night although he had a shotgun that was also found at the scene. At the time he had a young Briton staying with him who was not there that night and although he initially fell under suspicion he was released as long as he stayed with a designated family for the course of the investigations.
The murder scene was horrific so he had not been killed by chance during a break-in or robbery, indeed there was nothing missing. The Guardia Civil headed up the murder investigation but it later petered out without anybody being charged and the Briton was free to leave.
A year or so later my informant met the Spanish lawyer who’d acted for the Briton in Marbella and asked him what happened.
“La ley del pueblo,” he replied. It is his belief that the man was murdered by a person or persons from the village. Although he lived alone, he employed local women to clean and care for the house. It is presumed that he, shall we say, caused a nuisance and hence the boyfriend, husband or family dealt out their own form of justice.
Remember these were the days when a woman of a village on the road would not accept a lift from a man as word would soon spread that she’d been seen in a stranger or so-and-so’s car. Shame would be hers.
And what about the Guardia Civil? In a small community like this village they knew the locals and the locals knew them. ‘La ley del pueblo’ – ‘the law of the village’ held sway over and above any court of justice and the locally based officers would have interfered with that at their peril.
Those events were only just over 20 years ago and the mentality is ingrained in the Spanish character especially in small communities. So when horrific crimes are committed in Spain today, especially in rural areas, and you are looking for a motive never forget ‘la ley del pueblo’.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
It has produced a poster that states that the lynx, one of the world’s endangered species, has more protection under the law in Spain than the foetus.
Now this has caused ridicule and anger amongst those who support the extension of the abortion laws in Spain. It has also infuriated ecologists.
In the latter case I share their ire. There is a big enough battle as it is to defend our endangered species and flora without the issue being clouded in this way. I also remember full well that one of the reasons cruelty against animals is so prevalent is that the Catholic Church of old in Spain preached that the lynx and other creatures were not important –because they had no souls.
I am also willing to accept that a woman has a right to an abortion if her life is endangered, because of a medical condition or she has been raped.
But, and oh yes there’s always a but here, I do not accept that because a couple copulated and the girl ended up pregnant or whatever other circumstances prevailed she has the right to end a life just to benefit hers.
I differ from the Catholic Church over contraception plus many of its attitudes to sex but by and large I accept its argument on abortion.
It is estimated that 120,000 foetuses – babies – people like you and me - are aborted in Spain each year. Now the Spanish Government wants to allow girls aged 16 to have an abortion without having to tell her parents.
I am all for human rights. I am all for the rights of women. I support the protection of our flora and fauna. However, isn’t it time we offered protection to the foetuses – the unborn children – because if we don’t speak for them – who will?
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Over the years I have spoken out on the right of Gibraltarians to determine their own future be it remaining British, becoming Spanish, joint sovereignty, a federation within Europe or total independence.
I also do not accept that a decision on the future of Gibraltar can be imposed on the people of the Rock. If any talks take place between London and Madrid then Gibraltar must be fully involved and have the final say.
On that point Peter Montegriffo and myself are agreed. Montegriffo, an eminent lawyer, is now out of politics but many in Gibraltar believe he is merely biding his time until the chief minister Peter Caruana steps down and then he will throw his hat in to the GSD ring that he once graced. Given that when the two big beasts of Gibraltar politics, Caruana and Bossano, step down the leadership of the Rock will be in a state of flux, it would be a brave man (or woman) that rules Montegriffo out of the top job. His views should be listened to.
However I am curious by what the former GSD minister says in an interview with Campo de Gibraltar newspaper, Europa Sur. If he is quoted correctly he stated the time is not ripe for a sovereignty solution. He says that adequate conditions must first be created before embarking on sovereignty talks...but then goes on to say he believes that a future agreement on sovereignty can be reached.
I should add that he fully backs the tripartite process and closer links with the Campo de Gibraltar. However co-operation is one thing – sovereignty is quite another.
So why future talks?
Unless I am wrong, and I frequently am, the Spanish Government’s position is clear – it believes that Gibraltar should be an integral part of the nation and even joint sovereignty would only be a stepping stone on the road to that eventual goal. All the major parties are agreed on that stance.
In contrast the people of Gibraltar have indicated in two referenda that they totally reject any sovereignty deal with Spain. Hence we have two set positions – surrender and no surrender.
If Spain’s ambitions for Gibraltar and Gibraltarians ambitions for the Rock are totally at odds with each other - surely there is nothing to discuss.
Therefore unless Gibraltarians collectively are willing to go along the Spanish route talks can achieve nothing. Indeed you can’t have talks on sovereignty when sovereignty for Gibraltarians isn’t an issue.
Spain, or rather its government, isn’t going to change its stance – so is Gibraltar?
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Once the statue of Franco comes down there will be no more commemorative figures left in the nation’s streets to the man who ruled the country from the end of the Civil War in 1939 and his death in November 1975. The last statute on the mainland, in Santander, was removed last December.
Daniel Conesa, spokesperson for the Melilla regional government, said the statue would be kept in storage then transferred to a military museum.
The North African enclave of Melilla is removing the statue of ‘El Caudillo’ to comply with the controversial Law of Historical Memory. Under the 2007 law local authorities must remove symbols of the dictator or his supporters such as statues or plaques and change road names associated with the regime. But many right-wing local authorities have resisted attempts by campaigners to force them to comply with the legislation.
General Franco had close associations with North Africa and Melilla had refused to take down the statue of claiming it was erected in 1975 as a tribute to the “commander of the Legion of Melilla”, not as homage to the dictator. Franco fought in the Spanish Rif war against Moroccan tribesman and, in 1921, led a partial victory in Melilla. Of course he also launched his attacks at the start of the Civil War from North Africa.
I had my doubts about the Melilla claim until I saw the statue. I have to admit that unless I had read the plaque I would not have recognised the young Franco as the famed dictator.
My view has always been that how Spain deals with the memories of the Civil War and dictatorship is for Spaniards alone to decide, especially those who lived through those times.
I admit that my basic sympathies are with the left and those who suffered under the Franco regime. However I also recognise that many in Spain supported the Nationalist ideals and do so to in some degree to this day. What worries me is that in the drive to balance the books of history their legitimate ‘historic memory’ is being denied and swept away as if it never happened. It did and has shaped the Spain of today.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Supporters of the renewable energy industry say this just shows its importance to Spain and the need to match sometimes unpredictable power supply with demand.
According to the National Grid at around 11.00 on the Thursday Spain’s windmills were producing 11,203MW – the highest output ever – equivalent to 29.5 per cent of the nation’s demand at that time. For much of the day, wind was Spain’s single largest source of electricity. Before dawn, when demand was low, wind turbines contributed up to 42 per cent of electricity supply.
Luis Atienza, Red Eléctrica’s chief executive, stated recently that wind power generation no longer played a minor role in meeting Spain’s energy needs. Over a 12-month period, wind already supplies about 12 per cent of Spain’s electricity, more than hydropower and with the expansion of wind parks that share will increase.
Spain’s Iberdrola is the world’s biggest wind energy generator by installed capacity. Last Thursday it reported that this winter had been produced strong winds that contributed to a 37 per cent increase in the company’s domestic electricity production from this sector.
The European Wind Energy Association said that in 2008 more wind power capacity was installed in the European Union than any other power source. Of the 23,851MW of new EU capacity, 36 per cent was wind, 29 per cent gas and 18 per cent solar photovoltaic cells.
In a blog in January I reported that the Asociación de Promotores y Productores de Energías Renovables en Andalucía (Aprean) believes that in the next five years some 105,000 jobs could be created in Andalucía over and above the 25,000 that already exist through the creation of wind parks. Hence wind power could both be a major source clean energy and employment.
I was once told that the strong prevailing winds that blow through Almería are known as the “suicide winds” because they caused severe depression amongst the local people. If that is indeed true then we shall have to re-evaluate that ill wind.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
The events of those times are rarely spoken of, especially to strangers, and equally it is not a topic you raise with Spaniards.
Over a decade ago I wrote a play on the last days of La Pasionaria – Dolores Ibarruri – one of the most famous figures of the Civil War. I lived at the time in a secluded valley where one of the houses had a small bar where locals would gather. In passing I happened to mention the play and was stunned that the news was greeted with shock and disbelief. I quickly changed the subject but suspected that the wide family of farmers that had lived there for generations had been supporters of Franco and the Nationalist cause. One of the younger residents of the valley did tell me later that in his village of San Pablo de Buceite there had lived a man named “the butcher” because of his deeds during the Civil War and he had only in recent years gone to wherever assassins go.
There is a lovely driver from Jimena de la Frontera to Ubrique via the Puerto de Galiz with its famous ‘venta’ bar-restaurant. En route you pass the hamlet of La Sauceda which is now a campsite and popular with walkers. Just pass Puerto de Galiz you come to a large house with a chapel – Marrufo. This was the scene of a bloody slaughter in 1936 which lives on in the local memory to this very day.
At La Sauceda, which had been inhabited from the 16 th century, was a community of communists and Republic supporters. They were attacked by a force made up of Franco’s Nationalist troops, Falange, the Guardia Civil and Militias. The captured women and children were then taken by lorry to Marrufo and the men followed on foot. Once there they were held captive in the chapel – many of the women were raped – then finally they were shot and dumped in communal graves.
There is an opportunity to learn more about those troubled times when Jimena hosts ‘I Jornadas de Memoria Histórica’ between March 27 and 29. It is being organised by the Izquierda Unida and Communist parties, the UGT union with the backing of the ecologist group Agaden, the province of Cádiz and Jimena town hall. Respected experts will discuss the tragic events of those years. In addition there will be a discussion on the slaughter at La Sauceda. For me, and I am sure many others, the most poignant moment will come on the Sunday with a visit to La Sauceda and a commemoration ceremony. I know many people would prefer that this period in Spain’s history was left to rest. However too much injustice exists to this day with many of the dead laying in unmarked graves beside roads and down gullies. Before we move on we must at least honour and understand the dreadful wrongs of the past – on both sides of the Nationalist & Republican divide.
Friday, March 13, 2009
If you scroll down this page you will come across my blog of a week ago on the tragedy and intrigue in San Roque after the sudden death of the mayor, socialist José Vázquez.
Well ten days after he was laid to rest the council met to elect a new mayor. It was a day of drama that saw the centre right Partido Popular take back power. The PP’s Fernando Palma was the most voted for candidate in the 2007 local elections so perhaps there was a sense of justice in that he regained control of the municipality as mayor.
Palma was ousted in 2003 after the local party, the USR, joined in coalition with PSOE and then renewed the agreement after the 2007 elections. He had been mayor between 1999 and 2003 when he took control after a vote of no confidence in José Vazquez.
If Palma and the PP are winners then the socialists are heavy losers. Not only has PSOE lost power but the party is left bitterly divided.
Regina Cuenca was the second candidate on the PSOE list at the last elections and by right could have stood as mayor. However she declined leaving the way open for Juan Carlos Ruiz Boix, the socialist spokesperson on the council.
As I explained in my last blog Ruiz Boix had been sacked by José Vázquez and stripped of all his portfolios. This opened up major rifts in the local socialist party. As a result when it came to the mayoral election socialist Rosa Macías, a supported of Vázquez, abstained and will now probably be expelled from the party.
The USR under José Antonio Ledesma also broke ranks with the socialists and failed to back Ruiz Boix for the top post. This was certainly payback time as the Ruiz Boix faction in PSOE wanted him to act as mayor during Vázquez’s absences in receiving cancer treatment and not Ledesma.
The Partido Popular can now govern in its own right or seek a coalition with the USR, PSOE or other parties. If as expected Rosa Macías is expelled from PSOE for not backing Ruiz Boix then she can throw her support behind the PP.
For the politically uncommitted it is a wonderful example of politicians at work doing what they do best – scheming and plotting. If there is life after death then I am sure José Vázquez is sitting on a cloud somewhere having a good old chuckle as he sees his socialist foe Ruiz Box denied the very post he lusted after – mayor of San Roque.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Although Gibraltar’s strategic importance has declined over the years it still plays a major role in the security of one of the world’s most major and busiest waterways – The Strait.
ABC is suggesting that Britain, France and Morocco are gaining greater influence in the area of the Strait of Gibraltar at the direct expense of Spain. Needless to say the USA is at the heart of this with part of the blame for the current situation placed on the icy relations that existed between Spanish premier, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the previous US president George Bush.
According to Panorama: “Reports … suggest that Britain is to install modern missiles at Gibraltar. The plan has the support of NATO which has always considered Gibraltar as a key point for its Mediterranean defence strategy…Sources consulted by the paper indicate that something is brewing, pointing at the Americans having decided that the control of the southern coast of the Strait should be in the hands of the Moroccans and the northern control should be retained by Britain from Gibraltar.The paper suggests that Morocco, with the support of France, may be playing a fundamental role, taking advantage of the state of relations of Spain with the USA.”
There is a heavy NATO presence in the Med with particular concerns over security in the Strait because of the narrow waterway and the ability of Al Qaeda linked cells in North Africa to launch an attack on vessels from the Morocco coastline. The Spanish SIVE electronic surveillance system is used to monitor traffic leaving Morocco in case it should represent a clandestine attempt to smuggle drugs or immigrants in to Spain. Without a doubt the same system has a wider security element and one presumes it is duplicated by similar British military monitoring capability in Gibraltar. It certainly is by NATO patrols in the area. Hence it makes sense to get Morocco on-side and involved as the friendly local power on the south of the Strait.
I recently wrote that attempts to bounce Gibraltar in to a joint sovereignty deal with Spain engineered by Tony Blair and his henchman, the startled rabbit Jack Straw, floundered on the outright opposition of the people of the Rock. However the vital sticking point was the refusal of the Ministry of Defence to lose total control of the military installations and probably the USA’s concerns over joint Spanish jurisdiction of those bases. It remains to be seen whether the new Obama administration in Washington melts the chilly relations with Madrid – but even if it does there appears to be a basic mistrust of Spain on the part of the USA’s military and Defence Department.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I don’t think ‘Pancake’ is a person you’d want to bump into on a dark night. Come to that you wouldn’t want to cross his path in daylight either.
The drug trafficking gang led by ‘Pancake the Scouser’ and hence bearing his name is top of the hit list for the police on the Costa del Sol. The drugs and organised crime squad (Udyco) of the National Police believe Pancake was involved in two of the three shootings in Marbella last summer.
As his name suggests ‘Pancake’ has drawn the majority of his gang’s members from Liverpool although others are also from Manchester. They are said to run a world level operation, smuggling drugs, carrying out selective shootings with an organised hierarchy structure.
Apart from drug trafficking the Udyco says the gang is involved in the extortion of businesses on a habitual basis. More than that, investigations have linked ‘Pancake’ to the shooting at Nikki Beach Nightclub on August 23 of last year and the shooting of an Irishman in a bar in Aloha Gardens a day later.
In the case of the Nikki Beach Nightclub shooting it involved a brawl between around 30 people. The man who is said to have fired the shots and his accomplice are being held by the police on attempted murder and the illegal ownership of weapons charges. Officers have indicated the person who fired the gun is Pancake or a member of his gang.
The shooting 24hours later of the Irishman who run the bar in Nueva Andalucía was carried out by a masked gunman. However the police believe the gunman, whilst not the person involved in the Nikki Beach fracas, was also sent by Pancake. There was a third shooting at the end of August when a Briton was gunned down after leaving Solly’s Bar in Puerto Banús. Although gang related the police have yet to link this with the Scouser outfit.
Given the Scouser penchant for violence you can imagine I gave a start when I read the headline ‘Man killed by Pancake”. Reading on I found that whilst it was in no way related it was as equally gory.
The winner of a pancake-eating contest in Russia dropped dead while accepting his prize for gorging on 43 of the banana and cream stuffed desserts. Boris Isayev, 48, died on stage moments after winning the competition to mark the end of Butter Week. The contest, which took place in the town of Chernyakhovsk, is to celebrate the last week before the start of Lent.
Witnesses say Isayev was “the most active participant in the contest” adding that he “ate all the types of pancakes on offer and won fairly”. One witness stated: “He had really enjoyed the pancakes but then he started foaming at the mouth and went down like a sack of stones.”
Hmm. The end result sure sounds like “Pancake the Scouser”.
My niece, who is studying criminology at Uni and who is therefore wiser than her years, wanted to know how he got his name. I have no idea. Merseyside Police certainly know him and referred to him by his real name. SOCA, the serious crime agency, just roared with laughter. I guess if you are a hardened criminal to be laughed at by the old Bill is the greatest possible insult.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
In the Salamanca hamlet of Zarza de Pumareda a row has broken out between its 80 or so residents over a storks’ nest.
The birds currently nest on a tower on the church roof. A common place to find storks living. The problem is that some local people have paid for the church roof to be repaired and hence do not want the birds messing it up with their droppings.
They don’t want the storks to leave the village either. After all with an aged population of just 80 people living there they need all the residents they can get. So they have erected a stork pole with a nesting area on top for the birds to move on to.
Sadly the storks were not consulted about this. They have lived on top of the church for years and do not feel inclined to move. Storks mate for life and unless a nest is destroyed will return to it year after year or depending on the climate, simply stay put.
The mayor for the area is doing a fine imitation of a bird himself and has decided to sit on the fence in this row.
Now red letters have appeared on the side of the church reading – “Cigüeña sí”.
My thoughts entirely! Indeed –there but for the grace of God fly you and I!
Monday, March 9, 2009
On Saturday, surprise, surprise, we were of like minds.
He cited the extraordinary decision of Prime Minister Gordon Brown to announce in his speech to a joint assembly of the US Senate and Congress that Ted Kennedy was being honoured with a knighthood.
As the conferring of this honour was not publically discussed in the UK ahead of the event I can only presume it was for US consumption and designed to grease Brown’s path to receiving a rousing cheer from America’s elected representatives.
Now Ted Kennedy is one of the three brothers that made such a mark on US Politics. Alongside JFK and Bobby he is the youngest and the least. Their father, Joseph, was a “bootlegger” then US Ambassador to the Court of St James in the years leading up to World War II and was no friend to Britain.
Ted was expelled from Harvard for cheating in his Spanish exam and later on the night of July 18, 1969, Kennedy drove off a bridge in Chappaquiddick Island after attending a party for women who’d helped in Bobby’s election campaign. In the car with him was Mary Jo Kopechne. I am sure you remember as well as I that Ted escaped and swam to safety, but Kopechne died in the car. Kennedy left the scene and did not call authorities until after Kopechne’s body was discovered the following day.
I accept that in the intervening years Ted Kennedy has distinguished himself in public service in the USA. I also felt sorry for him when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. However, as Simon Heffer rightly points out, Teddy was a staunch supporter of the Republican cause during the 1980s and 1990s during which period he welcomed IRA assassins to numerous St Patrick’s Day parades. So somebody explain to me, please, why Kennedy has been honoured for his contribution to US-British-Irish relations?
As the US has painfully learnt since 9-11 terrorism is no laughing matter especially when it strikes at the heart of one of your major cities. The honour for Teddy Kennedy on that citation is an insult not only to the victims of the IRA but to every one of us. We shouldn’t be surprised that Gordon Brown insults our intelligence but with two British soldiers gun-downed in cold blood this weekend, by the same IRA gang that Kennedy supported in the past, the Prime Minister owes us yet another apology.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
The ministerial order overturns a medical restriction that has been in place for the past 20 years. I wonder how Franco handled this?
The associations of Gays and transsexuals have welcomed the decision because they say, no doubt correctly, that the law was an indignity and violated the rights of the individual.
The situation reached a head some months ago when a young transsexual of 29 years denounced the Armed Forces because it refused to allow him to enlist because he lacked the necessary male equipment.
Transsexuals who in the past have kept their penis and testicles were able to enlist, whilst those who didn’t, couldn’t.
Of course in days of old all they were interested in was that you could aim and shoot and nobody worried whether you were packing a piece or not.
However I must admit that if a kilted force – the famous ladies or in this case the lads from hell - who traditionally wear nothing under their skirts, attacked then raised their hems to reveal nothing underneath, it might, just might, have the enemy running off faster than you’d imagine.
Unless of course... no don’t go there
Friday, March 6, 2009
In Spain things are very different. The mayor is all powerful and with a lot of patronage to spread round is usually loyally supported by his party and coalition members.
Now if you are a student of political intrigue, especially at the local level, I urge you to closely follow events in San Roque where a master class in the subject is taking place.
First the tragedy:
The mayor of San Roque, José Vázquez, died in the early hours of last Sunday morning at the University Hospital in Málaga. He suffered a heart attack whilst on the operating table undergoing treatment in his long-running battle against lung cancer.
José Vázquez Castillo was born in 1939 in Tetuán but spent most of his life in San Roque where he was involved with the family business. At the end of the 1960s he joined the progressive socialist party of Enrique Tierno Galván. Such parties were illegal under Franco and had to operate on a clandestine basis until the dictator’s death. Tierno Galván’s party then merged with PSOE and it was as a socialist that Vázquez was first elected as a councillor in 1979. He became mayor for a brief period in 1999 and has ruled San Roque in coalition with Ledesma’s USR since 2003.
Now for the intrigue:
After Vázquez’s death was announced cartoonist Ricardo Tejeiro issued an incisive drawing of one of the lion’s that guards the entrance to San Roque. The lion asked whether the noise he could hear was the church bells tolling or the sound of succession knives being sharpened at the town hall?
Photographs of the funeral show the great and good of the socialist party paying homage to the deceased mayor. Yet you knew that in their grief they were plotting and foremost in their minds is who would succeed him?
The socialist party in San Roque was in turmoil before Vázquez’s death. He became mayor in 2003 (and again in 2007) on the back of a coalition agreement with the local USR led by José Antonio Ledesma. The deal was simple – Vázquez would be mayor for two years and then Ledesma for the final two. After two years Vázquez decided he liked the job as mayor, so he refused to stand down, leaving Ledesma little option than to like rather than lump it.
The deal was renewed in 2007 but the then ill Vázquez decided to allow Ledesma to stand in for him during his frequent absences. This caused tension in PSOE as many in the party felt that socialist Juan Carlos Ruiz Boix, also a deputy mayor, should have been given that role.
Then last year Vázquez acted by stripping Ruiz Boix of all his portfolios. This essentially split the local party in two with Vazquez backed by Regina Cuenca on one side and Ruiz Boix leading the rest. A poignant photograph shows Ruiz Boix looking on at the funeral of his former political master – one can only wonder what thoughts are passing through his head.
Next Thursday San Roque will appoint a new mayor. The councillors of PSOE will have to choose between Regina Cuenca and Juan Carlos Ruiz Boix as their candidate. Whoever is chosen will leave open wounds in the other half of the party. Watching on will be José Antonio Ledesma wondering what the future holds for him and his USR. The opposition Partido Popular are likely to put forward their spokesperson and former mayor Fernando Palma. Palma ousted Vázquez in 1999 in a vote of no confidence and will be looking to exploit any divisions in the ruling coalition.
As they say – we live in interesting times.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Of course I cannot view Carracao’s statements as a Spaniard – although Spain is my home, nor as a Gibraltarian – although I have written a weekly column about the Rock for 15 years. My opinions have to be as a Briton and hence it leaves me some what uncomfortable.
First he states that Britain’s interest in Gibraltar is purely military. Here I have to agree. Britain took the Rock in a military assault in 1703 and it was under the later Treaty of Utrecht that Spain ceded Gibraltar to what is now the UK in perpetuity. It is only in very recent years that the Governor of Gibraltar has ceased to be a military commander and the Rock has basically been a military fiefdom with little British interest in the rights of the native Gibraltarians. Indeed it is only now that the Rock has been freed from its colonial status, although views differ on that.
The importance of the Rock as a military base has decreased over the years but suddenly becomes strategic again when an emergency breaks out from Argentina to the Near East. However it did not stop British Premier Tony Blair along with his then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw seeking to do a deal with Spain by forcing the Rock to accept joint sovereignty. Certainly the opposition of Gibraltarians carried some weight but the real clincher was the Ministry of Defence that would not accept its bases being under a joint flag – and one has to wonder what input the USA made on this issue given that its nuclear subs and warships are frequent visitors.
Britain wants normal relations with Spain in the EU and is frustrated by the Gibraltar problem constantly rearing its head. If it hadn’t been for the military importance of the Rock the British Government would like to dump Gibraltar like a shot and to hell with its 30,000 inhabitants.
Although there is much song and dance about Princess Anne visiting Gibraltar this week, she was also there in 2003; the Queen and the Duke have stayed well clear. This is a British colony but there is simply no way its monarch would visit or rather be allowed to – compare that with the actions of the Spanish Royal Family who frequently visit Ceuta and Melilla and cock a snoot at the anger of Morocco.
Carracao then goes on to say that he believes Britain is acting cynically in defending Gibraltar’s right to self-determination when it handed over six million Hong Kong residents to China in 1997 and moved 3,000 people forcible from Diego García in 1972.
On Hong Kong he is wrong because unlike Gibraltar where the Treaty of Utrecht gives the Rock to Britain in perpetuity the hold on Hong Kong was purely on a lease basis. The lease was up, so that was it. On Diego García Carracao is right – Britain behaved disgracefully towards its inhabitants, as it has towards the Ghurkhas and as it has in the past towards Gibraltarians and would again if the population wasn’t European and street wise enough to haul the British Government over some very hot coals.
It could be that Gibraltar’s long term future lies not with Britain or Spain but with Europe. The move in that direction will come from Gibraltar’s new wave of politicians who are waiting in the wings to take over in the coming years. However it was that wily old fox, the former chief minister and current leader of the GSLP, Joe Bossano who first pointed me in that direction. Several years ago he told me that he thought the long term future of Gibraltar might lay in a Europe in which Spain had divided on regional lines – the Basques, Catalans etc. As Joe Boss has indicated that he will step down sooner rather than later it will be left to his successors such as Fabian Picardo and the leader of the European looking Liberals, Dr Joseph Garcia, to tread that path.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The State Department in a report on the global drugs menace has stated that organised criminal networks have turned Spain into a major gateway for illegal shipments of cocaine and cannabis.
The report went on to state that Spain is the principal stepping stone for Europe-bound shipments of hashish from Morocco and Algeria, adding that Gibraltarians are involved in this trade. “Hashish trafficking is controlled by Moroccan, British, and Portuguese smugglers and, to some extent, nationals of Gibraltar and the Netherlands.”
At the same time Francisco Mena of the anti-drugs organization Alternativas has warned of a marked increase in smuggling activity over the past few months. In an interview with El Faro newspaper he stated that tighter controls in other areas coupled to the impact of the economic crisis was prompting smugglers to focus once again on the Campo de Gibraltar and its surrounding areas.
The Guardia Civil reported an increase in seizures of hashish in the area covered by the Algeciras Command last year, including significant amounts confiscated in the ports of Tarifa and Algeciras. Mena believes that the figures for 2009 will also be high.
It is the view of Alternativas that many people were returning to smuggling as a means of riding out the economic downturn and rising unemployment. Mena explained: “The economic crisis that we are currently living through means that trafficking drugs is often seen as a way out. People are returning to this as a means of earning a living.”
Of course there have been century long traditions of smuggling both in Gibraltar and the wider Campo area. What started out as tobacco smuggling has now generated in to hashish and harder drugs. Fishing communities have also often sought to increase their income by using their boats and knowledge of the sea to bring in illicit goods.
You could have a healthy debate (pun intended) on whether tobacco or hashish was better for you and your health. Today drugs go hand in hand with organized crime. Yet it would have been a brave man or woman who attempted to stop a tobacco mule train as it headed from the coast along the back tracks to inland Spain.
In books I have read on Jimena details are given of smugglers going down to La Línea, staying overnight in ‘posada’ on the calle Gibraltar and returning next morning with the mules loaded up with tobacco. The residents of Jimena would then keep a watch for them and cause a diversion for the Guardia Civil if they were seen in the area.
I lived in an old house on one of the back lanes between the coast and Gaucín and there were four holes in the wall for shotguns to be poked through to ward off bandits. Antonio, who lives further up that lane, bewitched his teenage daughters one day by telling them his grandmother had been the local “Godmother” of the smugglers!
Which just goes to prove that old habits die hard.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
He stated that history is often made up of mundane facts and attributes Napoleon’s decisive defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, not to the skill of the Duke of Wellington and his allies – but to haemorrhoids.
“Napoleón habría perdido la gran y definitiva batalla de Waterloo precisamente porque necesitaba refrescar su imperial trasero y de no haber tenido que estar sentado en una bañera para calmar los terrible dolores que le impedían subirse a su caballo, tal vez su estrategia militar hubiese sido otra.”
No so much – my kingdom for a horse – as – oh, my ass!
However what caught my eye most was the fact that La Pasionaría was not the author of the phrase “No pasarán”. It pre-dates the Spanish Civil War by some 20 years. It was used by troops at Verdun in the First World War who used the battle cry – “Il ne passeron pas” or “No pasarán” in Spanish – they shall not pass! I was intrigued because some 13 years ago I wrote a play about La Pasionaría - Dolores Ibarruri Gómez – in which I made her deliver her famous “No pasarán” speech.
Curiously it is also a theme taken up by my doctor. He assures me that red wine is good for me but cries whenever I leave him – “No pacharán”
(Pacharán is a wonderful strong Spanish spirit – around 25 to 30 per cent proof – made from sloes, with the best varieties coming from Navarra).
Monday, March 2, 2009
“Was Catalan Bay once populated by Genoese fishermen? Yes, most certainly. One of the apartment blocks is, of course, called Genoa House. When I pop round the East side to take lunch from time to time I invariably have a chat over a pint with my friend, Vincente, who lives there. He’ll probably be in his sixties but he tells me that in his childhood there were still Genoese (not Italian) speakers in the village.”
This was intriguing so I contacted Dr Joseph Garcia for some answers. Joseph is the leader of the Liberal Party that sits in opposition with the GSLP in Gibraltar’s Parliament. However it would be no good running to him with your back pain because his is not a medical doctor but has a doctorate in history and wrote the excellent book: “Gibraltar - the making of a people.” I put Mr Wilcox’s points to him and he replied:
“For example, a count of civilians able to bear arms was taken in 1721. This revealed that 45 were English, 96 were Spaniards and 169 were Genoese. A register of 1753 shows that the civilians numbered 1816 persons of whom 597 were Genoese, 575 Jews and 351 British inhabitants. The first real census taken in 1777 showed that the civilian population has grown to 3201 of whom 1832 were Roman Catholics and the rest were British Protestants. The majority of Catholics were classed as natives (845), Genoese and Savoyards (672) and Spaniards (134).
“This Genoese element has therefore played a fundamental role in the formation of the Gibraltarian identity that we have today. It is reflected in some of our cooking including Calentita (chick-pea flour pancakes), the "national dish".
“I recall reading somewhere that Genoese persons living in Catalan Bay were mistaken for Catalans at that time because of the clothes that they wore. It is therefore very possible that what your reader says is accurate and that a few elderly Genoese speakers remained.”