Friday, July 31, 2009
Hence the bombs of Wednesday and Thursday aimed at the Guardia Civil were no surprise – expect another big bang today or soon.
There are certain facts that have to be stated.
The Basque region of Spain enjoys all the rights and privileges bestowed on the Spanish people.
In addition it has its own freely elected autonomous government.
The Basque people overwhelmingly reject the form of nationhood that ETA wishes to impose upon them.
Whilst one in four Basques would like to see their own nation they roundly condemn achieving it through bloodshed and slaughter.
So the only thing left for ETA is to terrorise, maim and kill more often than not amongst the very people it seeks to “liberate”.
For Britons living in Spain the majority of us view the terrorism with stoicism. Our parents survived the blitz; we have lived through IRA bombing campaigns, so whilst ETA might shake us we won’t be stirred.
The Spanish people are also made of sterner stuff. A nation that within living memory experienced the horrors of a bloody civil war and a lengthy dictatorship are not going to be cowed by a bunch of masked terrorists.
So ETA will bomb away never comprehending why they are pariahs and not liberators.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
However that is not the view of all in Spain who argue that what was created after the death of Franco was not democracy but a new regime that is just as authoritarian as the old.
On the blog ‘Voto en Blanco’ Francisco Rubiales argues that to be a democracy a nation has to honour seven or eight golden rules and these he maintains do not exist in Spain.
So what are they?
The separation of the basic powers of State – whereas such powers are held in Spain by the parties who even appoint the judges.
The right to freely elect their representatives – but in Spain you vote for a party list which is selected by the politicians.
The citizen should be sovereign and the controller of the system whereas in Spain the voter is marginalised and excluded from the decision making process.
All should be equal under the law. However Francisco Rubiales quotes the former Minister of Justice Mariano Fernández Bermejo. He resigned in February after hunting without a licence with Judge Baltasar Garzón who was about to open a corruption investigation involving the opposition Partido Popular but in the past said - the interpretation of the law should be soft on friends but rigorous and lethal for opponents.
Society should serves as a counterbalance to the State but in Spain society is occupied by the political parties that control everything from trade unions to the media along with universities, religious organisations, associations and even companies.
A free press capable of controlling and criticising the powers of the State. As an esteemed journalist Francisco Rubiales believes the media in Spain is not meeting its mission to democracy to tell the truth at all costs, to criticise and monitor the powers of government in order to curb its authoritarian tendencies.
Francisco concludes by stating that he could go on to list many other shortcomings such as the tyranny of the parties, corruption, institutionalised lies, arrogance and the start of the hatred of politicians especially amongst the more literate sectors of society. He adds that he regrets to say that there are still many Spanish democrats who believe they live in a democracy but they need to have a good reality check to open their eyes to the tyranny of the political parties working under the guise of democracy.
Now I would hazard a guess that whilst many Spaniards, especially those who are part of the political system, would strongly object to Francisco’s views in contrast many Britons (and Northern Europeans) living in Spain would nod their heads in agreement. This may be democracy – but not as we know it – yet we accept it because we take the view that Spain is a young democracy recovering from decades of dictatorship so allowances should be made. Of course it falls to Spaniards such as Francisco to say “this is not good enough” and demand the changes to bring democracy to a level of acceptability. However Britons more than anybody will know that whilst they pride themselves in living in a true democracy all is far from well with that nation’s body politic and the same can probably be said for all countries that describe themselves as democratic.
(Photo: Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and opposition PP leader Mariano Rajoy)
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
We are all used to seeing forest – summer fires on TV, sometimes vivid pictures from California - but everybody who has lived in rural southern Spain will have been confronted by this terrifying seasonal spectacle. Mercifully the infernos are often quickly brought under control by brave fire teams both on the land and in the air...but not always, as was the Mojácar experience.
Firemen were recently killed in Spain when engulfed by the flames. I experienced a horrific close escape in South Africa. Whilst staying with friends about 30 kms from Jo’burg a fire started on adjacent land. We all rushed out to try to stem the blaze in a nearby field when suddenly the wind changed direction and sent the flames roaring towards us. We literally escaped by inches as the inferno raced past engulfing all in its path.
Lenox is the great grandson several times over of Lord Napier who amongst other distinctions was a Governor of Gibraltar. He has lived in Spain for many a year and was the publisher of the much lamented “Entertainer” – one of the most popular newspapers on coastal Spain in the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed it was back in 1993 that I started penning my Gibraltar column for “The Entertainer” – and Lenox kindly gave me a book about the Rock which I use as a reference to this day.
I shed a tear for the lost of Lenox’s peacocks, birds which I happen to adore, but also join him in lamenting the loss of the first ten years of archive copies of “The Entertainer” that sadly lie amongst the ashes of one of his outhouses. A little bit of publishing history is lost for ever.
I bring you a photo of the Mojácar fire from Lenox’s own website but you can read all about it in graphic detail at:
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
As the swine flu call centre finally opened for business with staff who wouldn’t know a common cold from foot and mouth Britain’s Premier Gordon Brown, who looks as if he is suffering from both, went on TV to assure the nation that it was the first of its type in the world. For all the wrong reasons that is probably true but what the public in the UK haven’t been told is that Swine Flu is now largely a British problem. As Britons ask – is it safe to go abroad? – the answer is - its much safer – to which should be added – please stay at home.
I got a shock yesterday as I prepared an article on swine flu precautions in Spain. Here safe guards are in place but without all the panic that seems to have engulfed the UK. Now I know why.
According to data issued by the EU as of July 22 there were around 18,000 cases of swine flu in the nations that make up the community. I was staggered to learn that over half, 10,649 to be exact, were in the UK. Across the Channel in France there are 628, in Belgium 126, in Holland 21, Italy 258 and Ireland a mere 172.
Germany has the second highest total with 1,818 and Spain is in third place with 1,486 – which is hardly surprising given this country’s close association with Mexico where it all started.
So the main threat to Europe’s health appears to be Britain and of course right now millions of Britons are heading off on holidays to the Continent. They will bring with them swine flu – or as it now should be called – British flu - because a nation that is happy to sneeze all over each other on the train, the bus, at the shops or in the street isn’t going to hold back when faced with Johnny Foreigner.
Trouble is with the economic crisis still biting hard the holiday venues of France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal badly need British tourists and sterling. However come the autumn and winter I would argue that we should pull up the draw bridge and put Britain, the sick nation of Europe, in to total isolation.
Monday, July 27, 2009
I opened the obit section of the Daily Telegraph (which although printed in Spain only arrives in Ronda on Sunday) to find that John Ryan had died on July 22. Now John Ryan – author, illustrator, animator - was a childhood hero of mine because he was the man who brought us Captain Pugwash.
It was back in 1957 when I first sat down before my TV as the Black Pig sailed in to sight with Captain Pugwash in command, Tom the cabin boy, Willy and Master Mate all aboard waiting to do battle with their sworn enemy Cut-Throat Jake. Over nine years 58 of these shows graced our screens all in black and white although later shows were in colour.
Now the memory can play strange tricks because in 1991 Ryan took two British newspapers to court for libel and won. They had reported that Captain Pugwash was taken off the air by the BBC because of the risqué names of some of the crew – Master Bates, Seaman Staines and Roger the Cabin Boy, which I have to admit when I first read them they sounded true enough. Not so - they were the creation of students in the 1970s for university ‘rag mags’ but became established as an urban myth.
What I didn’t know till I read John Ryan’s obit was that the voice of Captain Pugwash was that of the celebrated actor Peter Hawkins. Now although Peter had started out treading the boards after the Second World War, having survived the sinking of HMS Limbourne, by the time I met him in 1968 he was well established as Britain’s top voice artist and was a truly lovely man.
Whenever the advertising agency I then worked for had a script to present to a client we called in Peter to record the track because there wasn’t a voice he couldn’t do and more often than not he did all the voices together in one take.
It amuses me now because I then though Peter was incredibly old – well he was 44 – and in those days anybody over 30 was past their prime. What I didn’t know till I found his obit on-line (he sadly died in 2006) was that Peter had also been the original voice for the Daleks and wait for it, Weed in Bill and Ben (BBC 1952-54). Now only true connoisseurs of early Children’s TV will delight in memories of Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men – and if the mention of them has you scratching your head –then you are just too young - so “flobbadob”!
Saturday, July 25, 2009
The airline has carried out a poll that shows that more than 80,000 passengers, 66 percent of those polled, would be happy to stand during one-hour flights.
Ryanair’s head of communications Stephen McNamara said: “With 120,000 passengers voting and 80,000 saying they would stand on board, Ryanair will continue to explore the concept of 'fare free standing' flights with Boeing and the relevant aviation authorities in the US and EU”.
The airline is proposing that passengers would lean on a stool or ledge and wear a seatbelt during take off and landing.
I keenly await the next Ryanair poll telling us that passengers would be happy to stand on the wing.
Friday, July 24, 2009
I decided to see what my esteemed colleague Francisco Rubiales had to say on the subject on his excellent blog – Voto en Blanco – required reading for those who want to know what is on the minds of thinking Spaniards. You don’t have to agree with their views but you should engage with them.
I reproduce Francisco’s words below but the gist of the blog was that Moratinos was forced to go to Gibraltar by the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – who leads the worst Spanish government since Fernando VII – the criminal king.
There is also the feeling that Zapatero does not listen to the views of his people, the visit was an indignity for Spain and in some way implied Spain’s recognition of Gibraltar’s sovereignty. I am not sure I agree with that entire thesis but it is none the less valid for that.
What is a fact is that Gibraltar is physically part of the Iberian Peninsula.
Another fact is that all the major Spanish political parties share the view that Gibraltar is part of Spain and that one day the nation’s sovereignty will be restored. A view Moratinos was keen to publicly state this week in both Spain and Gibraltar.
The people of Gibraltar voted over 99 per cent against Spanish sovereignty in the referenda in 1967 and again in 2002 – so no change in views there.
As for Britain it has given its word, enshrined in the Gibraltar Constitution, that it would not return the Rock to Spain without the clear consent of the Gibraltarian people. However I don’t think there is any doubt that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office would hand over the Rock to Madrid tomorrow if it thought it could get away with it.
Hence Gibraltar is fundamentally a problem for Spain and the people of the Rock. However the two mind sets are poles apart and it will take a lot of jaw-jaw to sort out this political and sovereign war-war.
“El jefe de la Diplomacia española, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, siguiendo órdenes expresas del presidente del gobierno, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, llevará a cabo este martes la primera visita de un ministro español a Gibraltar desde que los ingleses ocuparon el territorio en 1704. Es el fin de una línea de dignidad y firmeza que España ha mantenido durante más de tres siglos, ininterrumpidamente, compartida por todos los gobiernos.
“El entreguismo, la cobardía y la indignidad en el asunto de Gibraltar es otra herida que abre a España Zapatero, el peor gobernante de la Historia de este país desde los tiempos de Fernando VII, el rey felón.
“La visita de Moratinos ha levantado una tormenta política de rechazo en España, ante la cual, como es su costumbre, Zapatero permanece insensible, manteniendo su tesis de que el gobernante debe gobernar incluso en contra de la opinión mayoritaria de los ciudadanos, una concepción del poder más totalitaria que democrática.
“Desde que se supo que Moratinos se desplazaría al Peñón para participar en el III encuentro ministerial del Foro de Diálogo creado en 2004 por los Gobiernos de España, Reino Unido y Gibraltar con el objetivo de avanzar en la cooperación local, el PP ha convertido la visita en otro caballo de batalla contra el Gobierno de Zapatero. Sus principales dirigentes piden la suspensión de una reunión que consideran "un insulto a la dignidad de España, como país soberano". Estas son palabras del secretario general del Partido Popular andaluz, Antonio Sanz, que argumenta que "lo más grave de la visita es el rango de quien la realiza, lo cual supone un reconocimiento a Gibraltar como país soberano".”
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Earlier this week in the respected Gibraltar Daily ‘Panorama’ its editor Joe Garcia wrote: “Superficially, the visit to Gibraltar of the Spanish foreign minister will be remembered as the day Miguel Angel Moratinos came to Gibraltar for lunch, almost like any other tourist, spending a few hours on the Rock and then returning to his native Spain.”
I take his point but it wasn’t Miguel Ángel Moratinos who was the day tripper but Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband and in his relaxed demeanour it showed. Parliament is now on its summer hols and Tuesday’s meeting of the Tripartite Forum was a chance for the perhaps future British Prime Minister to press the flesh with Caruana and Moratinos, have a nice lunch, go to the top of the Rock, see the apes (I hold my tongue here) and then home again.
For Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, and Spain’s Foreign Secretary, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, it was an historic occasion because it was the first time a Spanish government minister made an official visit to the Rock since it became a British colony.
Britain wants to see good relations between Spain and Gibraltar and the Córdoba Agreement signed by Britain, Spain and the Rock underpins the Tripartite Forum. However the fact is that the nitty gritty of these talks does not affect Britain at all.
The issue that nearly scuppered these talks before they started – Gibraltar’s territorial waters – does concern the UK because it claims the internationally accepted three mile limit. None-the-less it would prefer Madrid and Gibraltar to sort it out amongst themselves.
The other key issues such as the airport, ease of access across the border, pollution and management of shipping in the bay, cancer studies, co-operation between Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar are all parochial matters far from London and more importantly do not affect votes in British elections.
Which really only leaves the issue of sovereignty. I do not believe that the current British Labour Government would have any objections to Gibraltar becoming Spanish or as a first step holding joint sovereignty. After all it was that very agreement the former Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to impose on the people of the Rock. Britain will uphold the right of the people of Gibraltar to decide whether they remain British or join Spain – but the Foreign Office, of which David Miliband is the head honcho, would be very happy for the Union flag to be hauled down or at least share the same pole. So it is hardly surprising that Miliband had a relaxing day away from the Westminster village on the Rock whilst Caruana and Moratinos got down to business with cat calls from their respective opposition parties ringing in their ears.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Today Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, welcomed Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, to the Rock Hotel where they were joined at the Tripartite Ministerial talks by Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband. It was historic because it was the first official visit by a Spanish minister to Gibraltar since it became a British colony.
Dr Joseph Garcia, the leader of the Liberal party who are in coalition with the GSLP observed: “The view of the Minister, who is a lawyer, was that the equalisation of the age of consent in Gibraltar was a legal obligation. The Chief Minister, who is a QC, maintained that it was not necessarily a legal obligation.”
Today I want to take a closer look at the two individuals involved here – Caruana and Feetham.
Like us start with Daniel Feetham. Now I am sure that in the real world he is a greatly loved man both by his family and his friends. I say this because I suspect that in the political world the opposite is true. If there is one quality politicians like in their colleagues it is loyalty whereas Feetham is a carpet bagger.
Daniel Feetham is a highly skilled lawyer. He returned to Gibraltar from the UK where he had been a member of New Labour and promptly joined the GSLP. His father Michael, is renowned on the Rock for being a civil rights activist, helped found the party in 1979 and later was a minister in Joe Bossano’s GSLP administration. The problem was that Daniel Feetham is a man in a hurry and Joe Bossano who is strictly Old Labour was in his way. Now the GSLP was and to an extent still is a Bossano fiefdom so there was only going to be one winner in that tussle. Hence our young lawyer stomped out the door with some supporters and formed the Labour Party which he led in to the 2003 elections.
Predictably the Labour Party failed to win a single seat. I then wrote several columns in which I predicted that the Labour Party would not survive to fight the next election or certainly not with Feetham at the helm. This earned me several angry emails from Daniel in his Lion’s Den insisting that he and the Labour Party were forever so taking me to task for doubting his word.
Come the next election in 2007 there was no Labour Party and Daniel Feetham was a candidate for the governing GSD. He had angered the GSLP, had no friends in the Liberals, had let down his colleagues in Labour and now caused a split in Caruana’s GSD because he was seen as both a threat and an opportunist. Keith Azopardi, who had been deputy chief minister, left the GSD in disgust with fellow member Nick Cruz and formed the PDP. Curiously the chief minister, Peter Caruana, had courted Feetham by consulting him on various issues, using him as a bag carrier on overseas trips and finally appointed him as his minister of justice.
Now Caruana seems not to attract affection either except from members of the GSD. He has been called a small town lawyer who is interested in only speaking to the British and Spanish foreign ministers and accused of ignoring the leaders of the Campo de Gibraltar. However he has won four elections on the trot so even his political rivals have to doff their cap.
In the debate on the age of consent Feetham brought a private member’s bill to Gibraltar’s parliament seeking to equalise the age at 16. It was a private member’s bill because whilst Feetham argues that it is a legal obligation his boss says it isn’t and anyway he couldn’t vote for it on religious grounds. Hence the move was defeated with Caruana voting against Feetham’s bill but now the matter is being sent to the Supreme Court for a definitive ruling.
Now the court is either going to back Feetham or Caruana so one will be the victor and the other the vanquished. I admire Daniel Feetham for one thing – he is determined to be chief minister and doesn’t care which party he leads to achieve that goal. He could be very successful in the role. In contrast Peter Caruana is already a four times winner and seems to take the view that his God will tell him when its time to step aside. Presumably that God is the same one that states that lowering the age of consent for homosexuals hasn’t got a prayer and that God certainly isn’t Daniel Feetham. So what we are seeing here is a tussle between the pretender and his lord and master. It will be interesting to see if Feetham has learnt anything from his battle with Bossano because Caruana will go at the time of his choosing and there are other GSD heavyweights lined up to succeed him.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Recently Gibraltar’s Minister of Justice brought a private member’s bill to parliament that would have made the age of consent for homosexual sex, which is currently 18 years, the same as for heterosexual sex at 16.
The bill was defeated with the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, along with several governing GSD MPs voting against their own minister’s bill. It was brought as a private member’s bill rather than a government one as Caruana had signalled he could not support it on religious grounds. Obviously he couldn’t vote against his own government’s measure.
Now the Gibraltar Government in a statement has said: “It has been said by some that this difference in the age of consent constitutes unlawful sexual discrimination contrary to the European Convention of Human Rights and the Gibraltar Constitution. Both the European Convention of Human Rights and the Gibraltar Constitution bind and oblige the Government, regardless of its views or policy on a particular matter. Given the contrary views that are expressed on this question, and the importance of ensuring that Gibraltar is not seen to be in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights, a situation that would reflect badly on Gibraltar, the Government will itself seek a Declaratory Ruling from the Supreme Court as to whether the present position under our laws is or is not in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights and/or the Gibraltar Constitution.”
It continues: “If having different ages of consent turns out to be unlawful, the Gibraltar Government intends to consult the people of Gibraltar in a referendum as to the various options available for the elimination of differences in the ages of consent, in accordance with the possibility signalled by the Chief Minister in his New Year Address in 2008 to consult in referendum on such matters. The Government expects to initiate the Court proceedings during the next few weeks.”
Now this has not gone done well with the GSLP/Liberal Opposition. Liberal leader, Dr Joseph Garcia said: “The news that the Government is to seek a declaratory ruling from the Supreme Court on the equalisation of the age of consent is a reflection of the seriousness of the split that exists between Government Ministers on this issue.”
On the recent farce in Parliament Garcia observed: “The view of the Minister, who is a lawyer, was that the equalisation of the age of consent in Gibraltar was a legal obligation. The Chief Minister, who is a QC, maintained that it was not necessarily a legal obligation. Mr Montiel, the Minister for Employment, said that he trusted Daniel Feetham’s interpretation of the law and he therefore voted against Caruana.”
He added: “The decision to spend public money in seeking a ruling from the Supreme Court to settle the legal argument between Caruana and Feetham will raise eyebrows in many circles, particularly among those who think that such funds could be better spent elsewhere.”
The opposition says the court’s ruling will have no bearing on its policy on the issue. “We remain fully committed to the principle of implementation of legislation that does not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. Therefore our policy is that the age of consent in Gibraltar should be the same for all citizens irrespective of their sexual orientation.”
Final word to Dr Garcia: “The only point on which there is room for debate and discussion, as we have already made clear, is at what age such equalisation should take place and that is why the community-wide consultation process that we called for is required. It beggars belief that Mr Caruana, who criticised our call for wider consultation on this specific issue, should now be prepared to call a referendum to settle the matter depending on the ruling of the Court.”
I will return to this subject tomorrow picking up on one of the points made by Dr Garcia.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Today I take you to Germany where prosecutors in Nuremberg have launched an investigation into whether an artist’s gold-coloured gnome giving a stiff-armed Hitler salute violates the country’s strict laws against the use of Nazi symbols.
The offending gnome standing 35 centimetres tall is one of 700 made by German artist Ottmar Hoerl. Nuremberg prosecutors are investigating after a complaint to local police.
Wolfgang Traeg, who is a spokesperson for the Nuremberg prosecutors (wouldn’t you just know his name would be Wolfgang) stated: “We’ve asked both the artist and the gallery owner to explain what the intention is. It’s not a crime if it can be proved that the artist was being critical of the Nazis.”
Apparently the golden gnome has an impish grin and was one of 700 used in a 2008 exhibition called “Dance with the Devil” in the Belgium city of Ghent. The gnomes were also displayed without objection in Bolzano, Italy and Aschaffenburg, Germany.
However giving the outlawed Hitler salute or using Nazi symbols is a crime in Germany. It is punishable by up to three years in prison hence the Nuremberg involvement.
For my part I do not find a gnome giving a stiff-armed salute offensive but I would give a stiff finger to all who inflict gnomes on us. Indeed three years in prison for each of the 700 gnomes created by Ottmar Hoerl would strike me as pathetically lenient – not stiff enough by half!
Friday, July 17, 2009
This blog has a tragic outcome but not the one that people were expecting.
On December 29 2006 María del Carmen Bousada de Lara, just a week off her 67 th birthday, gave birth at a clinic in Barcelona to two twins.
She had lived in Cádiz for many years of her life and cared for her mother who passed away aged 101.
Despite having the menopause 18 years previously, no sexual relations for ten years and being unmarried she was desperate to have children.
She sold up some properties and made several trips to the USA finally finding a clinic in Los Angeles to give her fertility treatment. She said nobody asked her age but the doctor who treated her said he felt defrauded – the legal age for such treatment is 55 years.
So it was that Pau and Christian came in to the world. The births created headlines around the globe. Carmen argued that as her mother lived to be 101 she expected to see her grandchildren.
The question everybody asked was how could a woman who would then in her mid to late 80s cope with teenage twins?
It was the wrong question.
Tragically this week Carmen died from cancer. The twins, two and a half years old, are now orphans. It is understood that a nephew of Carmen’s will raise them.
The question now is how will these mites fair in the world without a mother – a mother they could have barely known?
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Despite my many years my body is still a temple. By comparison Prospero is long of tooth but has a keener eye thanks to his bifocals. Hence whilst I chomped on my mollete con jamón y tomate he espied two men, one with a camera and another with a microphone.
By chance as we left the bar so did they. It was then that we noticed that the microphone was that of Antena Tres, one of Spain’s major TV stations. As they headed for Antonio’s Bar with Prospero in hot pursuit I went off to buy a bottle of sheep dip for the dogs – don’t ask!
In due course my phone rang – it was Prospero with the full story. Apparently they were on the hunt for the former mayor of Marbella, Julián Muñoz, who was rumoured to be on the prowl in our neck of Los Alcornocales national park.
Needless to say there is more to that side of the tale but I shall leave it to the ‘prensa rosa’ to bring it to you. ‘La prensa rosa’ is Spain’s answer to the News of the World and Sunday People except in also takes in magazines and various TV programmes on the major channels.
So who is Julián Muñoz? Well if you don’t already know let me explain.
Julián was a GIL councillor in Marbella when the corrupt Jesus Gil y Gil ruled that roost. When the fat man stood down he pushed Muñoz in to his place until he was disposed by Marisol Yagüe before soon after the corruption shit hit the judicial fan.
During his spell as mayor Julián started a public dalliance with the celebrated singer Isabel Pantoja. He then dumped his wife and set-up house with Pantoja in a property that yet may be revealed to have been acquired illegally.
Now Muñoz is a convicted criminal having been jailed for various town planning offences whilst a GIL councillor or mayor. I believe there are another 100 such cases in the pipeline although the prosecutor is desperate to do a deal so that the courts won’t be clogged up to kingdom come. He is currently a third level detainee, which allows him to spend most of his time out of jail and Julián has a job as the manager of a beach bar in San Pedro de Alcántara close to Marbella.
Early next year the court case surrounding the Malaya corruption scandal at Marbella town hall will start in Málaga at the Palacio de Justicia. This will be the largest such case in Spain’s history and many of the procedures installed in Madrid for the March 11 terrorism trial will be used in Málaga.
In the dock will be Juan Antonio Roca, the former director of town planning in Marbella, who is the alleged mastermind in the case involving hundreds of millions of euros, international money laundering, bribery, fraud –you name it. One of those in the dock with Roca will be Muñoz who if convicted will be washing dishes for many years to come in prison and not glad-handing the public on Marbella’s seafront.
Why is Muñoz’s presence in Jimena bad news for the small rural community? Well when Roca was arrested it was at one of his many houses – this one being in Jimena that as it turned out had been illegally built. So apart from the fact that Muñoz is a convicted felon he is a reminder of the times when certain people in power in Jimena flirted with the black money bags on the Costa del Sol and would have sold their souls (and our green and pleasant land) for a crock of fool’s gold.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
However there was a time when I had a bit of a thing going with Our Lady of Carmel or the Virgen del Carmen in Spanish.
I think the probable appeal was that she was a local girl. According to tradition she appeared to St Simon Stock in Cambridge on Sunday July 16, 1251. He asked her for help for the Carmelites who were having a rather hard time of it and she gave him a scapular which gave certain benefits.
Indeed I remember a replica scapular handing on my dressing table mirror.
We lost touch so you can imagine my joy when I moved to Spain and discovered the Virgen del Carmen – “la estrella de los mares”.
Spain is one of the countries with the most devotion to Our Lady of Carmel where she is the patron of fishermen and the Spanish Navy. Many coastal communities will have a shrine to the Virgen del Carmen on the seafront especially near fishing ports.
On July 16 in fishing communities throughout the country a statue of the Virgen del Carmen is carried through the streets and more often than not taken out on a boat to sail around a harbour or land on a beach. The purpose is of course to seek safety for all those who earn their livelihoods from the oft treacherous sea. In true Spanish style such devotion is also accompanied by much singing, dancing and festivity. Curiously a number of inland towns and villages have also adopted the virgin as their patron including Jerez de la Frontera.
So tomorrow when we’ll all praising “the star of the sea” – raise your glass to her and pray for safety for all those that go down to the sea!
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Sadly I fear that we may have to wait a while for that historic day. Gibraltar’s chief minister, Peter Caruana, made it clear in Madrid last week after the technical talks that before the go-ahead for the ministerial meeting could be given important issues over Gibraltar’s waters had to be sorted out.
There are two key issues here. First the EU has given Spain responsibility for the waters of the Rock in environmental matters. Secondly there have been incursions by Guardia Civil patrol vessels into those same waters. Both these issues have to be sorted out to Gibraltar and Britain’s satisfaction. Here were have the crux of the problem for under the Treaty of Utrecht Spain argues that Gibraltar has no waters other than those of the harbour whilst Britain and Gibraltar insist that under international law it has a three mile limit.
There have been reports that the Guardia Civil were in Gibraltar’s waters again over the last weekend. This has led the Gibraltar Government to sternly state that only it and Britain holds jurisdiction there and if vessels are ordered to stop by the Guardia Civil or any other Spanish authority they should ignore the request and summon help by firing a flare.
Now step forward Senator José Carracao. He is a former mayor of Jimena, ex-president of the association of Campo de Gibraltar town halls but now has special responsibility on relations with the Rock so knows more than a thing or two about matters Llanito. On this issue he suspects he smells a ship’s rat.
Carracao is adamant that the Guardia Civil would only have entered Gibraltar’s water to pursue drugs or cigarette traffickers with the knowledge and agreement of the Royal Gibraltar Police. “I am sure of that. They have not acted to provoke anyone.”
Rather the senator believes that the heightening of tensions is a ploy by Gibraltar’s chief minister: “which shows that he has not had the same political courage that Moratinos has had with him. This is a strategy to halt the talks. With such an attitude it will be difficult to continue to open new paths. I hope there is still a margin to have an agreement. There is an international expectation that we should avoid incidents like the New Flame.”
Carracao, who is a socialist, believes that Caruana is feeling the heat from GSLP leader and former chief minister, Joe Bossano, who is also a socialist, on the territorial waters issue. He could be right but with any issue relating to Gibraltar nothing is ever simple and even if it is – somebody would find a way of complicating it.
Will the talks take place next week? I suspect not but your guess is as good as mine.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Of course you have to be very careful how you answer that question because if you believe that Britain’s politicians are 600 or so people sitting on leather benches in the Westminster chamber you’d be very wrong.
I would guess there are at least one million people active in British politics and every Tom, Dick and Harriet of them are in their own way politicians just as much as Gordon, Dave and the other one.
Grass roots activists have a deep seated political belief in the party they support. They give up their time to run the local party machine, to campaign, to fund raise. They certainly are not on the take. In fact they are expected to pay money in to the local party to finance its day to day expenses and election campaigns – so no big time corruption there.
My mind goes to Barbara who lives in my former village. After years giving much time and effort to her party she was persuade to stand for election on what is the lowest rung of office – a parish councillor. Parish councillors are usually independent of party – in our village they aren’t – but all are involved in the nitty gritty day to day issues that matter to residents such as the local pond, allotments, street lighting and so on. Not much dosh to be had there either.
Today Barbara sits as a District Councillor, so deals with much wider weightier issues such as town planning. Her role is duplicated many times over throughout the country in town, borough, county and various other types of councils.
Now if you ask me are there corrupt councillors – the answer is of course there are. Councillors are human beings hence if you gather 100 councillors or come to that 100 priests, nuns, doctors, lawyers or dustmen together you’d find a few bad apples in every barrel. That is the way of life. However all the councillors I have ever met have been like Barbara, hard working dedicated individuals whose crowing glory is to one day to be elected mayor or chairperson of the council. Corruption does exist but it is the exception rather than the rule.
Then we arrive at Westminster – the national stage. If you are a crook, if you are determined to rake in a lot of cash, then politics isn’t for you. To become a MP you first have to be selected by your local party – no easy task. Then you have to be elected – and with few safe seats in this day and age even if you do managed to win – your tenure is guaranteed for no more than 4 years. So now you are in the House, an outsider amongst over 600 MPs. You first have to slowly make your mark, acts as voting fodder and of course there is no guarantee your party will be in power at any time in your political life.
For the sake of this argument let us say it is – but even in that situation only about 100 people enjoy the trappings of power be it as Prime Minister or as a ministerial bag carrier. So the opportunities to pocket big cash are remarkably few.
Now I accept that too many MPs have been shamed by double dealing over their mortgages, having their moles dealt with at the public expense or providing an island home for their ducks. Yet even this is small beer when it comes to real corruption.
I believe some MPs are guilty of stupidity, of attempting to line their pockets but I believe their greatest sin is their contempt for the British public – the very people who elected them to office. MPs seem to have forgotten they were voted in not to rule but to serve...which is a very different kettle of fish.
By the next election the majority of Britain’s bad apple MPs will have departed the scene – either they will be deselected, opt not to stand, be voted out – some may even be in jail.
The British public are rightly angry over what has been uncovered. However I assure you that that anger is no more keenly felt that amongst the party activists, by the Barbaras of this world. They are betrayed voters and tax payers too but they are also politicians who have had their honest hard work and dedication devalued by a group of grubby MPs (like the outgoing Hogg) with their snouts firmly stuck in the Westminster trough.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
A man, believed to be in his 30s, tied a rope to a lamppost and the other end around his neck before driving off in his black-cab in Southwark, London, on Friday.
His body was found by police slumped in the car with his severed head yards away. Police are treating the driver’s death as suicide.
Officers were called to the horrific scene in Great Suffolk Street after the car had crashed into a pillar.
A Metropolitan Police spokesperson stated: “Officers attended and the driver was found dead inside the vehicle. The death is being treated as non-suspicious.”
Officers are keen to determine if the dead man was a genuine black-cab driver.
Easy enough – if the head is still talking – he was!
(Photo: Black-cab humour - the much loved Sid James as a London cabbie).
Friday, July 10, 2009
Many years ago I visited a matador who had retired after he found he fell in love with the bulls. At his home he had a giant bull that he had rescued when it was just months old. It was tame or as tame as an animal with an inbred sense to kill that is the size of a very large car with giant horns can be. With Pepe I could stand alongside it, stroke it as he talked to the beast like a loving father, which he was. I certainly wouldn’t have gone near it alone.
I saw my first bullfight within weeks of arriving in Spain. It was at the small Mijas bullring that some say is the oldest in Spain but there are many other rivals for that title. I was determined to see for myself what all the fuss was about and sadly it was rather a grim affair. One of the bullfighters was the well-known Antonio José Galan, now like the bulls he faced sadly deceased, who carried out his task with skill and finesse. The other matador was a butcher, had the crowd howling with anger and was finally escorted from the tiny ring by Galan with his protective arm around the dejected man’s shoulder.
My second and last bullfight was just a few weeks later when the legendary Manuel Benítez Pérez, “El Cordobés”, appeared at the Málaga bullring. Some 25 years earlier Spain had given him a medal for tourism, he had become a film actor, bedded some 4,000 women and sired 30 children and still found time to become the country’s most internationally famous matador. I wanted to see this fascinating character before he left the stage and having done so have not visited a plaza de toros since.
However neither have I sided with either entrenched group of views on the ‘fiesta nacional’, as in religion I am an agnostic. Those who argue that if tourists stopped going to bullfights it would rapidly die are talking bull. The whole mystique of the ‘toros’ is deeply engrained in the Spanish character and there are those who would only rush to their TV sets when a bullfight is on – especially the celebrated events surrounding the major events such as Las Ventas in Madrid. The Spanish King does watch ‘corridas’, the Queen (who is Greek by birth) doesn’t. There are devotees and there are ecologist groups who would have it banned tomorrow. It can dominate television schedules; it is avoided by many like the plague. The plaza de toros is the central location in many towns but as in Puerto Banús this weekend the sands will not be stained with blood but the sweat of Spanish and German tennis stars as they compete in the Davis Cup.
One day, one day, the bull fight in Spain will perhaps die a natural death. However that will be after my hopefully peaceful passing, the slaying of many more bulls, the goring of numerous matadors and not before the aficionados of the ‘fiesta nacional’ put up a fierce fight to the death.
(As I wrote this news came in that the famed running of the bulls in Pamplona’s San Fermin festival had claimed the life of one of the participants. Around four and half minutes after the bulls were released a man was gored to death whilst nine others were injured. The festival was made internationally famous by Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises – and this is the first death since 1995 when 22-year-old American Matthew Tassio was gored.)
Thursday, July 9, 2009
It is alleged that thousands of politicians, business people, show business names and sports stars were also targeted in this way. Furthermore News Group Newspapers - part of Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire which publishes the News of the World - paid out more than £1 million to settle cases that threatened to reveal evidence of journalists hacking into telephones...so this goes right to the top.
Of course News Group Newspapers and News International is a massive empire that takes in the Wall Street Journal, New York Port, Fox News and in the UK The Times and The Sun. Also Murdoch owns Sky News and on its morning shows the journalists were clearly embarrassed and keen to stress the political angles of the case. Andy Coulson, Conservative leader David Cameron’s director of communications, was deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World when journalists were using the private investigators but resigned when Clive Goodman was jailed.
Now by chance I was going to write about journalists today because there have been recent sackings of staff at Europa Sur in Algeciras as well as at Diario Sur in the port town. This is a subject I have covered oft times before and in the case of Europa Sur relates to the disgraceful actions of the Joly media group in dumping staff piecemeal whilst at the same time organising lavish banquets to celebrate its anniversary.
Journalists and newspaper staff are under threat throughout the world because of the economic crisis and unscrupulous employers. Honest journalists are laying their lives on the line every day in trouble spots such as the Middle East, Iran, China, South America, Russia and closer to home with coverage of the ETA and IRA terror groups.
However in the public mind this will count for nothing. As in the House of Commons expenses scandal all politicians suffered even those who were whiter than whiter. So too in the world of journalism the abused, those who work under the threat of death will be tarred with the Murdoch brush and the perceived value of our collective work will be further diminished.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I spent a day with a young lady from Chess – Janus records who in the evening took me to Greenwich Village to see the many bars and clubs that were by then internationally famous as the breeding ground of the new generation of folk singers of whom Bob Dylan was just one.
We ended up in a club that struck me as being somewhat odd. No drinks were served. You sat on church like pews. It was so dark they had to help the singer on to the stage. Then it hit me that the singer was in fact blind – it was Stevie Wonder.
Now Stevie and I are of an age. As I watched him yesterday at the Michael Jackson Memorial Service my mind went back to that night.
I had no great expectations of the Jacko Funeral Experience. Singing and dancing round the coffin is not my style – but hey, they were in Los Angeles. Politicians and activists using the setting of mourning to boost their egos was par for the course. Even the moving words of Paris Michael Katerine as the lights faded were no more than you’d expect from the powerful machine now in charge of the Jacko legacy.
Just one thing stuck in my craw. It was the suggestion that Michael Jackson was more than a pop star with the implication that without him the door to generations of black singers and performers, Tiger Woods, even Barack Obama would have been firmly shut.
What utter nonsense these reverends and black caucus activities uttered.
For just one Stevie Wonder was a child star at 13 and is a singer, musician, producer and song writing legend. He is also a civil rights activist. He was famous long before Jacko was even thought of... and is also celebrated around the world. He achieved what he has achieved despite being black and blind because he is superbly talented.
As he introduced his song Stevie Wonder observed that he never thought he would live to see this day. Being blind I guess he didn’t.
Now this final Jacko performance is over – please – can we all rest in peace. Amen.
(Heaven Help Us All was a US hit for Stevie Wonder in 1970).
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
However the scheduled pow-wow has already caused ructions. Whilst Britain has assured Gibraltar that any talks about the Rock will be held on a strictly tripartite basis there have been suggestions that Moratinos and his British counterpart David Miliband could also meet bilaterally.
A spokesperson for Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, immediately stamped on that suggestion: “There is no question of a Miliband - Moratinos bilateral in Gibraltar or about Gibraltar.”
One can understand Gibraltar’s sensitivities on this issue. If there are talks in Gibraltar or about Gibraltar then they want to be there. Equally Spain would welcome a bilateral if only to demonstrate that in the end the issue of Gibraltar’s sovereignty is from a Madrid viewpoint a matter for the two governments.
However it could be also argued that as Miliband and Moratinos are meeting face to face it is only natural that they want to slip off and discuss the many other issues that concern the two EU nations. Logical maybe but not from the Gibraltarian standpoint – so any such chinwag will have to take place in a hotel bedroom wardrobe or across the border in a La Línea bar.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Now I have to admit that my vices (and opportunities) have markedly decreased but I certainly list enjoying wine amongst them.
In my day I have enjoyed my drink. Beer – as drunk in Britain certainly – but very much the black stuff, preferably Guinness but a Murphy’s or Beamish would more than do. Now it’s strictly cero – cero, sin alcohol, and not much of that.
My days of sipping spirits are gone but I do enjoy wine albeit mostly with a meal. If I down a bottle then I’m pushing it – certainly a change from when I drank bottles for starters.
Living in Spain I have a great love of the nation’s wines which I believe are underrated by many of the experts. However I was surprised to learn that Spain has more hectares under vine that any other country in the world.
On that basis my future supplies seemed assured but there is a threat from the climate. The Spanish environment ministry has warned that a third of the country faces “severe” desertification and that has serious implications for the wine trade.
Vines lap up the sun but it is too much heat that harms the ripening of the grapes. Hence the major wineries and the Spanish Wine Federation are looking into a project, called Demeter, in an effort to face the challenge of climate change.
Spanish vintners say the choice will be between an early harvest that produces wine with the right amount of alcohol but is still “green” or a later one in which the grapes produce a better quality wine but have more alcohol.
Juan Francisco Cacho, a wine expert at the University of Zaragoza, stated: “The wineries prefer to wait... So much that the wines produced today are often are 14, 15 or even 16 percent of alcohol compared to 12 previously.”
One possible solution being explored relates to altitude. At a higher level, vines suffer less from the heat; the nights are cooler, which allow the grapes to ripen better.
Juan Francisco Cacho confirmed this trend: “The vineyards are at a maximum of 800 metres above sea level. In 15 years, they will have to plant the vines at between 800 and 1,000 metres and the great winemakers are already buying land at higher altitudes.”
On that basis getting high on wine will have a totally new meaning.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Children rule o.k?
As a Briton I must admit to being full of admiration of a nation not only with a true sense of family but who adore their children. It is not unusual to see a teenage girl or boy abandon their moto, run across the street to embrace and kiss a grand parent. In England you’d duck in to a doorway until they pass hoping they hadn’t spotted you.
So you have to accept that any public place, especially restaurants, will have their full quota of children in attendance. Last Saturday I went to an outdoor restaurant for dinner where lots of the tables had children. Well in fact they didn’t because number one rule is that when the adults are seated the children are sent off to play – preferably around your table.
Right now my village is holding its international music festival. In my experience classical music concerts and children do not mix. I watched with interest as a Spanish couple with two children under ten arrived asking to hear the Manuel de Falla orchestra.
The woman in charge of admittances asked did they have invites to what was the inauguration to the festival. They said they hadn’t but explained their children really wanted to listen to the orchestra.
The two boys were attractive with shoulder length blond hair, a style more normally associated with wealthy parents but I doubted this was the case. I some how suspected that they were not aficionados of Haydn or the cello – but hey, what do I know?
They were duly admitted and seated two rows in front of me. The family had the entire row to itself and soon one of the boys was examining the door on to the cloister. During the performance they wandered up and down, played with their parents, smiled at those around them but the cello of Cesar Jiménez Muñoz passed them by.
At one stage the mother had both boys on her lap as she stared daggers at her husband. When the couple in front finally abandoned their seats the father left the mother to it and moved up a row. For the 90 minutes that the orchestra played away, they played around.
There were other youngsters in the audience and to a lesser extent they were bored to tears and no doubt we and they wondered why they were there. I recently went to a cello recital in Ronda where an obnoxious girl ran up and down the isle whilst her mother listened in wrapt attention to Bach’s work.
I must admit the higher the prices the less chance of parents forking out for their little ones to play off tune. However as one who believes that classical music should be accessible to all I am left in a dilemma – suffer the little children to come unto me – or just suffer in silence their performance.
Friday, July 3, 2009
I also certainly knew of the concept of gun boat diplomacy. That was when the natives were restive so you sent a gun boat up their river, fired a volley across the roofs of their huts, they promptly took the missionary out of the cooking pot and all was peace and harmony.
Least that was the theory although I have to say I couldn’t give you one instance where I was taught of any such incident.
Now the chief minister of Gibraltar, Peter Caruana, has hinted in the Rock’s Parliament that he is thinking of buying bigger patrol boats to scare off Spanish marauders from the local waters.
To set the scene here Gibraltar claims under international law a three mile limit. There are many who argue that under the same international law the Rock could claim 12 miles but Britain who is responsible ultimately for such matters has declined to do so.
On the other side Spain says Gibraltar has no waters at all except those of its harbour. It was under the Treaty of Utrecht that Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity and under the terms of that now faded and tatty document the Rock had no waters granted to it.
In recent weeks there have been instances were Guardia Civil launches have strayed, accidentally or deliberately, in to the Rock’s waters. Patrol boats of the Gibraltar Squadron controlled by Britain’s Royal Navy and others belonging to the Royal Gibraltar Police have been sent in to action to escort them beyond the three-mile limit. There was also another instance involving a Spanish Fisheries Protection vessel described as a frigate.
Now the governments in Madrid, London and Gibraltar have played down these incidents. So the decision of Caruana to up the ante is rather surprising. As he has no control over the Gibraltar Squadron it has to be presumed it would be the RGP who will get the super boats.
There two major problems here. First, if Gibraltar wants to play my gun boat is bigger than your gun boat diplomacy Spain’s answer could be to station an aircraft carrier in the bay. Then either Britain would have to respond on Gibraltar’s behalf or Caruana back down. Second, rather than escalate the problem the answer should be to seek a peaceful solution and as every school boy and girl knows that won’t be achieved by pointing a gun at anybody’s head...however big your boat.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
I wasn’t - but her email caught my interest so today I am highlighting this disgraceful ‘tradition’.
Now I have met only a few Danes in my life and I have to say they were all decent people. However my ancestors in England and Ireland would probably have a very different take on the habits of that marauding nation.
As a meat eater I am going to be careful not to also be a hypocrite. Only yesterday a friend told me how she had shared dinner with an American family. The daughter burst in to tears causing a scene as her granddad had ordered the rabbit. However she happily munched away at her chicken whilst her brother chomped on pork.
So I accept that one man’s rabbit is another man’s seal and one’s woman’s dolphin is another woman’s halibut.
None-the-less there is a major difference between killing and eating an animal, bird, fish or mammal because of necessity and an orgy of death and blood in the name of heritage and virility.
Sadly the annual slaughter of whales and dolphins has been going on since the 10 th century – around the same time as Danes were raping and pillaging through ancient Britain. Greenpeace and many other environmentalist groups have protested at the blood fest in which 17 villages take part in this licensed massacre. Faroe Islanders defend their annual rite as part of their identity and culture.
I’m sorry Faroe Islanders but such practices have no place in modern Europe and if Denmark doesn’t act then the wider community of nations must. If this slaughter is part of your identity and culture then its time to seek new values for your people to follow because you shame your nation and offend common decency.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Brought up with coughing sparrows as neighbours I can now sit on my roof terrace and look eyeball to eyeball with a passing vulture. Before I moved in to the village one of my happiest pastimes was to watch a pair of ospreys who lived close by as they went about their daily routine. However the highlight had to be the evening when at least 100 storks descended on the trees around the house for the night. I understand these birds do not fly once the sun has set and as the first light of day entered the valley they took off again in a great cloud.
My favourite sight must be the thousands of pink flamingos that most years come to the salt lake of Fuente de Piedra in Málaga province to breed. This year the drought broke and hence from April some 31,000 birds are reported to have arrived at the lake to breed. Now with the on set of summer the waters are receding but Manual Rendón, the director of the natural reserve of the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra believes that around 12,000 adults are still in residence.
They in turn are caring for 6,000 flamingo chicks. Although the waters of the lake are ideal for breeding at present food is getting low and so the adults are making round 200 km trips to gather food for them. They will remain on the lake till they have reached the age of three months and then they will all fly off to other locations.
This year marks the 25 th anniversary since the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra was declared a nature reserve. On July 18 one of the great environmental events in Europe takes place when researchers and volunteers gather to ring the chicks. Not surprisingly this lake land paradise is one of the most visited nature reserves in Andalucía – and I feel privileged over the years to have been amongst those numbers.