Friday, December 31, 2010


Oxtail stew is a well known dish in Britain. However my mother never cooked it, I have never been served it by friends nor have I eaten in a restaurant where it was on the menu. Hence I never ate it.

All of that change when I came to Spain, where in Andalucía at least, it is cooked in many a home and is a common item on menus from the best restaurants to country ventas. Indeed I am now an aficionado of rabo de toro or cola de toro and search high and low for the best in Andalucía and wider Spain.

The best I had tasted was in a venta just outside San Pedro de Alcántara on the road to Ronda. It was a magnificent dish which I ate often but the owners would never tell me the recipe other than to say anis was a vital ingredient. The venta still exists but I won’t tell you the name for it was sold over a decade ago and sadly the superb rabo de toro was not part of the deal.

Over the years I have eaten many rabo or cola de toro sadly good at best more often than not poor – some a disaster. Many of these were in restaurants in the town of Ronda which claims rabo de toro as a signature dish. This is largely because the town of the Tajo sees itself as the home of the modern bullfight with the oldest bullring in the country. However the bullfights only occur at the Plaza Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Ronda over the Pedro Romero feria and the number of bulls slain would not keep a busy restaurant in tails for more than a day or so. So the rabo or cola comes not from the ring but the slaughterhouse.

Now if you had asked me up till this week where you could find a truly magnificent rabo de toro I would have said only at the Venta San Juan in the Genal Valley between Algatocín and Jubrique. It is consistently a delightful feast with a rich sauce that is sublime.

So what has changed? Well on Thursday I ate at the famous Jerez restaurant – Gaitan. Cola de toro a la Jerezana was on the menu and what a treat it was – but was it better that the Venta San Juan?

The meat in both restaurants is excellent, softly just clinging to the bone. The Venta San Juan has a rich country sauce – again the owner would not tell me the ingredients – it’s a secret she said –but red wine plays a major part. In contrast Gaitan has a much clearer, more sophisticated sauce created from the wines (Sherries) of Jerez. It was not an easy decision but I have to say I now think Gaitan serves the best cola de toro in Spain with the Venta San Juan following closely on its hooves.

However I am happy to be proved wrong so will continue my search but for now I toast the Restaurante Gaitan and its talented kitchen for – el mejor rabo de toro en España.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


The Córdoba businessman, Rafael Gómez, is bidding to be the next mayor of the city at the 2011 municipal elections in May. Córdoba, as many readers will know, was once the capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba and al-Andalus from where the Muslim rulers reigned over much of Spain. It was home to the Great Mosque (now the cathedral) and housed the largest library in the world with some experts saying it contained one million volumes.

A distinguished historic past – but what of Rafael Gómez, the man who would rule this ancient provincial capital? Well amongst his companies was Arenal 2000, which collapsed leaving many property developments in financial chaos and with it the lives of those who hard purchased homes or were in the process of doing so. He also owned the Tivoli World entertainment park and the Xanit hospital in Benalmádena on the Costa del Sol before being forced to sell them.

Rafael Gómez is more widely known by his nickname, Sandokán. Perhaps appropriately Sandokán was a pirate, Emilio Salgari to be exact, who operated out of Malaysia. Gómez took on the name because of his resemblance to the actor Kabir Bedi who played the part in the popular TV series in the 1970s.

So whilst Gómez’s business empire is a disaster zone that seemingly does not bar him from being the number one citizen in his home city. However one major hurdle he will have to overcome before he becomes mayor - it is not with the voters but the courts. He is one of those implicated in the Malaya corruption case – the largest in Spanish history - currently being tried in Málaga and involves his dealings with Marbella town hall and its then head of town planning Juan Antonio Roca.

It is unlikely that the Malaya trial will be concluded before next May. If Gómez was found guilty the prosecutor is demanding an 18 months jail term plus a 1.2 million euros fine. However as the prison sentence is under 24 months he would not serve it but could he still be mayor?

If he does get to stand then Sandokán will be the candidate for mayor of the Union Córdobesa which aims to win a majority on the city council. Gómez says he has been waiting for this opportunity for 20 years and if elected promises that tackling unemployment and affordable housing will be his two main priorities.

However the three parties on Córdoba council – far left Izquierda Unida, centre right Partido Popular and socialist PSOE – have been scathing over Sandokán announcement. Current mayor, Andrés Ocaña, of the IU says economic crises throw up candidates who through some magic formula say they have a solution to everybody’s problems. He also spoke of the Costa del Sol which had independent candidates such as Gómez who had not found solutions but had only increased the municipality’s problems.

Ocaña went on to liken Gómez with the now deceased mayor of Marbella, Jesús Gil, who brought the one time jet set resort to its knees. Of course it was under Gil’s mandate that the Malaya town planning corruption scam took place for which Sandokán is in the dock.

So will Sandokán become mayor? Only in Spain you might mutter!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


In recent months some strange stories have emerged from La Línea what with the antics of the mayor Alejandro Sánchez - who wanted to impose a toll to enter or leave Gibraltar - but the latest to hit the headlines is a true story of our times.

Now pork is high on the political agenda in the USA where the term applies to add-ons to various bills from the Senate and Congress. These give financial benefit to organisations, businesses or the authorities in the Districts or States which the Congressperson or Senator represents. Whilst many Americans object to this practice I have yet to hear of a Muslim, American or otherwise, taking offence to the term pork.

So let us go to the Menéndez Tolosa school in La Línea where a teacher was trying to demonstrate various forms of weather and climate to his class. As an example he referred to the cold climate to be found in Trevélez in Granada province. Now Trevélez is famed for its cured hams which are dried and cured in the cold mountain air.

It was at this point that a Muslim pupil in the class stood up and asked the teacher not to talk about hams as it was offensive to his religion. Your first reaction may have been the same as mine, a wry smile, then dismissing the interruption as ridiculous.

Ridiculous it may be but at the end of school day the pupil went home and told his parents what had happened. They have now reported the teacher making an official legal complaint against him for amongst other things racism and xenophobia.

The CC.OO union’s educational representative in the Campo de Gibraltar, Sebastián Alcón, is upset that a teacher with a 20-year career behind him should be dragged over the coals in such a manner. Not surprisingly the teacher is said to be fed up with the situation.

However the family is intent on receiving its pound of flesh – although presumably not pork. They say the official complaint is being processed and they are awaiting an apology. They have also asked for a change of school for their son to avoid “more problems” and have also accused the teacher of calling their son “useless” and telling him to “go back to your own country.”

The case will rest with the prosecutor who handles cases involving minors. It remains to be seen whether the prosecutor takes further action or decides to leave the matter to hang out to dry like a ham in the mountain air of Trevélez.

(I should add that in recent days the Muslim association in the Campo de Gibraltar has stated that there is no problem with pork being mentioned before Muslims or by Muslims - they are simply, like Jews, not allowed to eat it!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

PICARDO’S CHALLENGE - And will there be a challenge to Picardo?

There are no certainties in politics. When I started writing my Gibraltar Viewpoint column back in 1993 it was in the last years of the Bossano Government. The chief minister Peter Caruana first won power back in 1996 so when the election is held next year many of the first time voters will only have been aware of his GSD administrations.

If you’d asked me back then who were likely future chief ministers I would have said Keith Azopardi and Peter Montegriffo – indeed their days may yet come. Despite his recent horrific injuries at the hands of a knifeman Daniel Feetham may still aspire to and achieve the top job in Gibraltar politics. In contrast Fabian Picardo’s arrival as a potential leader of the GSLP and hence after the next election the Rock’s Chief Minister is by contrast a recent affair.

Joe Bossano has stated both to the electorate and his party that he will not lead the GSLP in to the next election. If that is the case then a new man or woman must be at the helm by the time the GSLP goes to the polls. The seeming front runner is Fabian Picardo – yet politics has a habit of seeing the front runner fall at the last fence.

If I asked you early this year who would be leading the British Labour Party after the defeat of Gordon Brown I wonder how many would have come up with the name Ed Miliband. Certainly not his brother David - the former foreign secretary and heir apparent.

Currently the opinion polls show wide spread support for Fabian Picardo as the next GSLP leader and a coalition co-led by Dr Joseph Garcia would offer a strong challenge to the GSD and an exciting alternative for the voters. It worries the GSD as can be clearly seen by their attempts to rubbish it this early in the game.

So why did Fabian Picardo throw his hat in to the ring? He explained: “I decided to say publicly that I felt I was ready to stand when Joe Bossano confirmed last year to the AGM that he would not be seeking the post of leader this year when the post is due for re-election. I have had only encouragement since then from members of the party and its executive and a vicious response from my political opponents who have not passed up any rumour in an attempt to denigrate my candidature.”

So is he looking to step in to the job or fight off an opponent or opponents in an election?

“I don’t believe in coronations and would very much welcome a contest for the leadership of the GSLP.”

The problem for observers like me is it is difficult to see where the challenge would come from. One name that has been mentioned in the past is Gilbert Lucudi although of late he has slipped out of the public eye and down the opinion poll ratings. However his hat could still be in the ring. Lucudi told me: “Under the GSLP constitution, the leader has to stand down every two years. We did not have the election of a leader at our AGM at the beginning of this year. This means that there will be a leadership election in the New Year. Our constitution requires that this be the case. I have not yet decided whether I will be putting my name forward for this leadership election.”

Joe Bossano has been a colossus on the Gibraltar political stage and of course was the founding father of the GSLP so I asked Picardo how he thought this transition should be handled. He told me: “I have no doubt that whoever becomes the next leader of the GSLP will be respectful of the contribution that Joe Bossano has made and I know will continue to make to the GSLP and to Gibraltar generally.

“Not even Mr Bossano’s detractors can deny the massive contribution he has made already and will make in a new GSLP/Liberal administration as we put our common energy and fresh ideas at the disposal of the people of Gibraltar. The "transition" will be no more than a generational evolution at the top of the party that will consolidate its policies for another generation.”

(The above appeared in the Monday December 20 edition of Panorama).

Saturday, December 18, 2010


There is widespread chaos in the UK on Saturday. It has snowed so roads and airports are closed – trains are disrupted.

This is a major problem because apparently it’s the big get away weekend with many Britons heading for foreign climes for Christmas and the New Year.

Many of these will be going skiing or to snow resorts.

So explain this to me!

How come Britain is snowed in whilst the ski resorts of France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and even Spain – which have serious snow – are operating normally?

The roads are open. Trains are running. Flights are landing. People are a-skiing.

As for me - “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones we used to know!”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


When I arrived in Spain with my BBC language course safely installed in my brain I was horrified to find that the staff in my local shop seemed to be speaking a different tongue altogether.

My first thought was the BBC had palmed me off with Mexican Spanish but of course they hadn’t it was good Castilian. The problem was I was in Andalucía where they slash the ends of their words – you can add to the confusion the numerous village accents and slang.

So the news that a 37-year-old man who was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and now lives in London has landed a job as a Geordie dialect translator did bring a smile to my face.

Geordie is the patois spoken in England’s North East and as baffling as Andaluz to anybody from outside those regions. King’s College graduate Paul Davy will now decipher Geordie for clients of a London translation company.

By coincidence on the same day as I heard about our Geordie Boy (Alan Price – Jarrow Song - 1974) there was a letter in the Daily Telegraph about a range of Christmas Cards for the Essex town of Colchester with the greeting in Welsh! They were not selling very well!

Today the lingua franca in Essex is Estuary English although if you delve in to the small rural villages you will find accents and phrases that would be a foreign tongue to Dagenham man and woman.

As we say in Newcastle: Ye knaa what ah mean leik.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


During the height of the economic crisis when Britain’s Labour government was in power the Lib Dem spokesperson on financial affairs, Vince Cable, earned himself a lot of praise because of his sage advice and stance during those troubled times.

When the general election neared and a coalition between the Lib Dems and either the Conservatives or Labour seemed a possibility Cable was spoken of as a Chancellor of the Exchequer in waiting.

Well the Conservatives won the most seats, the Lib Dems agreed a coalition and Prime Minister David Cameron was not prepared to sacrifice his close friend George Osborne so Vince Cable ended up as Business Secretary instead.

Now this week the House of Commons will vote on the coalition bill to increase students’ university fees. The bill was drawn up by Vince Cable’s department but he’s flip flopped – first he said he would abstain when it came to a vote, then said he’d back the bill, then opted to abstain again and God only knows what he will do on the day.

Of course the one thing he should do is resign. If you are the head of the ministry that is bringing forward the controversial university fees bill and you do not support it one hundred percent – you resign.

Vince Cable is now damned by both sides. Those who support the bill cannot back a minister who brings to the parliament legislation that he is reluctant to vote for. Those who oppose the bill were told by Cable during the election campaign that he would not support an increase in student fees – he lied to them because he has.

Therefore he has no option but to resign. He has no credibility left.

Ah, but wait a minute, he’s a Lib Dem minister – so let’s be frank honour for him doesn’t come in to it! The last time the Liberals were in government there was hardly a car on the road so a ministerial limo is not to be given up lightly.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Hundreds of thousands of Moroccans marched on Sunday in Casablanca to protest against criticism by Spain’s Partido Popular of alleged human rights abuses in the disputed Western Sahara. Waving Moroccan flags and banners, the protesters led by Prime Minister Abbas el Fassi chanted: “Popular Party, enemy of Morocco.”

I say hundreds of thousands, one report I read said three million. If there is a demonstration in Spain the organisers may say 5,000 took part, the National Police 3,000 and the local police 1,500.The truth lies between the highest and lowest figure. There certainly was a major demonstration in Casablanca – as to how many were there – well your guess is as good as mine.

I have reflected on this for a couple of days because the protest wasn’t against Spain or the Spanish government but the Partido Popular. The curious thing here is that the PP is not the Spanish party of government but is the opposition. I can’t think off hand of any other mass protest against a non-ruling party. However opinion polls point to the centre-right party triumphing in the March 2012 general election – not only in Madrid but perhaps also in the regional government in Andalucía, the nearest part of Spain to Morocco.

In statements over recent months the PP has made it clear that if it wins the 2012 general election in will be much tougher with its neighbour across the Strait of Gibraltar. It has accused the PSOE government of weakness towards Rabat, is angry over the EU accord with Morocco that will hit Andalucía agriculture and fisheries and has been outspoken in its support of the security forces in Ceuta and Melilla – the two enclaves that Morocco views as occupied territories.

Indeed in August the former Spanish PP premier, José María Aznar, broke off from his holiday in Marbella to visit the Melilla border where tensions were running high between the enclave and Moroccans. Morocco had accused the National Police and Guardia Civil of acting in a racist manner towards its citizens and a food import blockade had been imposed. Needless to say the visit of the strutting Aznar did nothing to calm these troubled waters. That was left to the Spanish monarch who has close ties with his Moroccan counterpart.

Now we have to add to that mix the Western Sahara which is normally the sole preserve of the left. The PP took part in a rally in Madrid last month alongside socialist, far-left and trade union groups to denounce Morocco for allegedly abusing human rights in Western Sahara. PP activists were also present in Valencia last week to show their support for Saharan refugees who had first locked themselves in the PSOE HQ as they are furious over the socialist government’s inaction on the issue. When evicted they staged an on-going protest in the street outside.

So on reflection it is no surprise that Fassi’s Istiqlal party and 15 other political groups issued a joint statement attacking the PP for its “unbridled activism against Morocco.” They argued the party had swayed last week’s vote of European lawmakers in favour of a United Nations-backed probe into violence in the former Spanish colony.

Moroccan security forces and pro-independence protesters clashed on November 8 in the disputed territory, which was annexed by Morocco in 1975 after Spain withdrew from its former colony. Several members of the security forces and civilians are reported to have died. The violence, amongst the worst in years, prompted the Polisario Front which wants independence for the territory to call for an independent UN investigation.

With the centre-right is in the ascendancy in Spain you can expect tensions with Morocco and the British colony of Gibraltar to increase if the Partido Popular comes to power. It is also a depressing prospect for socialists, the far-left and the unions in Spain because whilst the country has suffered in the economic crisis under the socialist government the medicine to come will be far bitterer under Mariano Rajoy’s PP than it ever was under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's PSOE.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I am grateful to my esteemed colleague Francisco Rubiales for pointing me to reports that the Frente Polisario in the Western Sahara may have been targeted by Al Qaeda.

Francisco, apart from being a much respected journalist, was the EFE correspondent in Cuba, Central America and Italy as well as being an advisor to the UN. Currently he also writes the very interesting Voto en Blanco blog.

Francisco reports that because of the frustration the Frente Polisario is suffering in its campaign for independence for the Western Sahara from Morocco and the lack of support from major nations it could be driven in to the hands of Al Qaeda.

Apparently some experts and think tanks dedicated to world politics in the USA and France have been discussing this possibility which if it happened would be a drastic and dangerous change in the Maghreb. It would also increase the instability in that part of the world that is of great strategic value.

Currently Al Qaeda is not a major force in the Maghreb. Its activities are confined to areas of Mali and Mauritania where it has staged a number of kidnappings – perhaps because it is short of funds. Naturally if it were to team up with an armed force such at the Frente Polisario that limited influence would be greatly increased.

Francisco says that many sectors of the Polisario and the people of the Western Sahara are now calling for a restarting of the armed struggle against Morocco. If it was a conventional war then Morocco would easily outnumber its opponents however if it because a conflict for which Al Qaeda is famed – guerrilla attacks, kidnappings and major strikes to attract the attention of the rich countries then the results could be terrible for Morocco.

Movements amongst Saharan veterans and reservists have already been detected. They have experience of past conflicts which would be invaluable in a renewed armed conflict with Morocco. Experts place the strength of the Polisario at around 70,000 – insignificant in a conventional war but scary if used in insurgency and guerrilla warfare.

The Polisario representative in Spain, Bucharaya Beyun, has declared before the media they have weapons and combatants sufficient for a war and many sections of the population in the Western Sahara are putting pressure on the organization to return to fighting Morocco.

Up till now the people of the Western Sahara have placed their hopes with the UN and the good offices of Spain and the USA to resolve the conflict. However if Morocco continues with its campaign of repression against El Aaiún and refuses to agree to a negotiated solution which allows for the self-determination of the Western Saharan people then the outcome could be terrible indeed.

Interestingly Abdeslam Maghraoui, a political science professor at Duke University who specializing in terrorism in North Africa, says there isn’t any indication that Morocco is a strategic priority for the Al Qaeda. According to the professor it has two minor networks in the country: the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group responsible for the 2003 Casablanca attacks and the 2004 metro bombings in Madrid; and the Salafiya al Jihadiya, which operates in medium-sized Moroccan towns.

However it appears Abdeslam Maghraoui agrees with the assessment of Francisco because he has stated that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb might find non-ideological support among disenchanted Sahrawi militants in Tindouf who don’t see an end to the dispute over the Saharan region.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Today, November 25, is the international day against domestic violence.

My view on this is very simple: I have zero tolerance for anybody, male or female, who inflicts violence on their partner or ex-partner. I believe men have a special responsibility to take a stand against this blight to our society. In the majority of cases, not all but the majority, it is men who inflict the violence. Hence it is the men in society who have to put a stop to it.

I live in Andalucía and according to the regional government there are 73 reports of domestic violence every day. The data formed a report for region’s parliament which shows there were 26,838 such complaints last year. This figure amounts to a 7.8 increase over 2008.

In 2009 the courts in Andalucía issued 5,287 protection orders. The Andalucía minister of equality and social welfare, Micaela Navarro, says it is vital that women in this situation report their cases so that help and assistance can be given.

The ministry has also published the provisional figures that show 15 women have died in Andalucía so far this year from domestic violence – more than the total in 2009. At the time of writing there have been 63 deaths in wider Spain.

Since the laws to offer the sufferers of domestic violence protection the nation has been stunned by the number of cases and the violent deaths. Ironically whilst such violence has always existed it has been behind closed doors. Now the suffers come forward and all too often their partners react by killing them. The laws have simple not kept up with developments. In many cases the problems have been caused by the laws that are meant to offer protection. Nor are these crimes restricted to the young or middle aged – what has surprised me more than anything is the cases involving men and women in their 70s or 80s.

It is true that many of the deaths from domestic violence involve immigrants to the country. In many areas the number of cases of abuse involving non-Spaniards exceeds those of nationals. In Algeciras there is a major problem with Moroccans who form a large immigrant group – on the Costa del Sol I am ashamed to say that Britons and Northern Europeans feature highly in the number of court cases.

It is not a Spanish problem it is an international problem hence the holding of this special day. Yet in essence it is a male problem and so we men have to solve it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It was two weeks ago on Tuesday that the Frente Polisario press agency, SPS, alerted the world to what was taking place at the Gdeim Izizk protest camp close to the Western Saharan capital of El Aauín. We are not sure precisely what happened, how many were killed, injured or disappeared because it would be wrong to merely rely on the word of the SPS and Morocco has banned all Spanish journalists, politicians, Euro MPs and international observers from going to see.

This Tuesday in the early hours of the morning I received a message Guillermo O William. He said that as he wrote four Policía Nacional vans had arrived at the PSOE office in Valencia at 24.10. They had sealed the windows and cries could be heard from the 16 protestors inside. He added the police wanted to silence the activists who had been holding a peaceful sit-in protest in the PSPV office (PSPV is PSOE in Valencia).

Moving in at the dead of night is a usual Policía Nacional tactic. Many years ago I saw squads of baton waving officers clearing hundreds of Moroccan cars blocking the road to Algeciras port. The cars packed with families of Moroccans travelling home for the summer holidays from their jobs in Northern Europe had been kept out in the boiling sun all day as they waited for a ferry home. Many had collapsed in the heat, some died, so they protested by blocking the road. After the events of that year a new system of moving the million of Moroccans through was introduced that treats them in a civilized manner.

Since the current crisis erupted in the Western Sahara refugees from the region have been holding a series of weekly protests outside the Moroccan Consulate in Valencia. The Tuesday demo was the fifth and then the protestors marched to the PSPV-PSOE office to team up with the Western Saharans who had previously occupied the building and were not encamped outside.

The PSOE office protest was against the “silence” of the socialist government in Madrid both over what was happening in the Western Sahara and Morocco’s embargo on media, political and observer visits. The spokesperson for the activists, Nadira Mohamed, said there were now 150 protesting at the doors to the socialist’s office with a heavy police presence.

Mohamed explained the weekly protest at the consulate has the objective of “denouncing the constant violation of the human rights that Morocco is carrying out in the Western Sahara.” Now to this has been added anger at the “passivity” of the Spanish Government before the “violence” of the Moroccan army on the Saharan people that came to a head “with the assault on the Gdeim Izizk camp on November 8.”

Whilst the SPS has warned of civil war in the Western Sahara it is PSOE in Spain which is being torn apart over the issue. Activists are at angry odds with their government. There is widespread dissatisfaction with Madrid’s response to the dismantling of the ‘Campamento Dignidad’. Whilst many party members are openly challenging José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his new foreign minister, Trinidad Jímenez, the party baron’s are also unhappy but have confined their anger to mumbling under their breath.

More open with its protests is Izquierda Socilista that is demanding the government responds with “determined action” making a “firm and explicit condemnation” of the actions of Morocco since 1975 when the dying Franco regime withdrew hastily from its former colony. Zapatero has tried to defend the actions of his government but the ante is being upped by the centre-right Partido Popular.

The PP is no friend of Morocco and has stated that should it come to government in 2012 it will deal with its neighbour across the Strait of Gibraltar in a firm manner. This would include agriculture and fishing policy but especially in its defence of the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla – which Morocco views as occupied territories.

The Western Sahara and support for the Frente Polisario has been a touch stone for socialists and those on the far left in Spain and wider Europe. Hence it is ironic that the PP is now able to use this issue to drive another nail in to PSOE’s electoral coffin and at the same time to put pressure on Morocco’s monarch and government.

Monday, November 22, 2010


The Polisario Front has spoken of its dismay at the lack of support from the Spanish premier, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which it described as “minimal”. It also accused him of having “little interest” in the situation in the Western Sahara capital of El Aaiún, after the violent dismantling of the protest camp at Gdeim Izik on November 8.

In statements to Saharan journalists the prime minister of the self proclaimed RASD government, Abdelkader Taleb Omat, considers that Zapatero had ignored in his declaration at the NATO summit in Lisbon the serious situation existing at El Aaiún under Morocco’s control.

Taleb Omat spoke of his surprise that the Spanish government had not demanded an urgent independent international investigation as to why Morocco will not lift its blockade on the free access to the region of Spanish journalists and international observers to the Western Sahara. He added this would save lives and would protect the Saharans from the Moroccan policy to exterminate them.

The RASD premier also deplored the fact that Zapatero did not raise fundamental questions on a referendum for self-determination and the respect for human rights.

Now you’d probably rightly say what’s to laugh about in that? The answer is of course nothing especially as we have no idea just how many have died, been seriously injured or have disappeared. If the situation wasn’t so serious the humour would be in the political fall-out in Spain.

The Western Sahara was a Spanish colony and was literally dumped in to the hands of Morocco and Mauritania in the dying days of the Franco regime. Now the centre right opposition Partido Popular is turning up the heat on Zapatero and intends to raise the subject in the Spanish Upper House, the Senate. The PP says it will condemn “the serious violation of human rights” on the part of Morocco in the Western Sahara. It also wants Spain to return to its former position of openly supporting the decolonisation process.

PP Senator Alejandro Muñoz Alonso has presented a motion that calls on the government “to condemn the serious violations of human rights that have been produced” and also the controls that have impeded press freedom and the activities of professionals in the media. The PP also wants the mandate of Minurso, the UN force in the region, to be changed to give it competence over human rights to allow it to stop the violence.

Of course support for the Polisario Front in Spain and elsewhere has always been the fiefdom of the centre left and far left. Izquierda Unida has been outspoken over the disaster that is taking place in the Western Sahara but the PSOE government seems intent on pretending it simply isn’t happening. This has caused outrage amongst many PSOE activists who are pressing their government to change it stance. They are engaged in a series of demos, sit ins and protests – not against Morocco but their own government in Madrid.

As the old saying goes – laugh – I could cry but in the meantime the people of the Western Sahara are dying!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


My esteemed colleague Brian Reyes earns his daily crust reporting on the news for the Gibraltar Chronicle. He is also a talented photographer and keen foodie. He has a blog – My Mediterranean Diet – which is both engaging and interesting.

Brian recently penned a series of articles first dealing with a bullfight in Algeciras and then following it up with articles on the meat as a dish. I suspect we have both bought our ‘toro de lidia’ from the same butcher in the Algeciras market and what surprised me was that beef from a prized bull is only fit for the stewing pot.

Now Brian’s first article with a graphic description and photos of the killing of his future meal has caused outrage amongst some readers of the Dscriber website that is based in the USA. I certainly think his piece has been amongst the most read and has certainly drawn probably the most comments, the majority highly critical.

Maybe Brian was brave or naive in writing the series and I do not intend to enter the fraught argument here for or against bullfighting. The only comment I will make is to those who doubt the bravery of the matador. Stand beside one of these bulls as I have and tell me he is a coward. You do not enter a field where these beasts graze or pass by one on foot if it has escaped – the chances are it will try to kill you!

The majority of the bulls that enter the ring have been bred on farms where they have roamed free and been extremely well cared for except for their final day or so. No other animal comes to the table via the ‘fiesta nacional’ but is the process they go through any less humane? I somewhat doubt it.

Anybody living in rural Spain will have come across the ‘matanza’ where the family pig is tied live to a frame, has its throat cut and then bleeds to death. The blood is used for morcilla and over the next day or so every part of the pig will be butchered and prepared in to some dish or another. It will then feed the family for many months to come. Before you point and say here is another example of cruel Spain of course the same method of slaughter is used by the Jews and Muslims as part of their dietary laws.

I have driven behind a big truck as dawn breaks as it brings in live chickens to the factory where I believe they are gassed. Some break free – the odd one escapes, others are run over by a following vehicle, some break their legs and wings and land in a bloody heap on the tarmac.

Cattle, pigs and sheep who rarely enjoy the lifestyle of the bullring bull are crowded in to trucks then shipped off to the abattoir for a humane death. They say it is quick and painless. Sorry but it isn’t.

Of course we could choose to eat fish which are pulled from the sea in giant nets and then drown – gasping for water in the air of the trawler's deck.

Now all of this is a good argument for not eating meat or fish but I do both as do the majority of people and I have no intension of changing. For when I sit down at my table or in a restaurant I eat the tasty dish that is set before me and do not give a thought on how the creature got there. Yet also I am not so foolish as to believe it was a painless end for the animal or fish concerned. We are what we eat – but the majority don’t care how we kill it!

Brian’s blog:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A row has erupted in the Spanish lower house of parliament, Congress, over the money to finance the royal household and the supposed wealth of the monarch – King Juan Carlos.

It took place during the debate to approve the State Budget for 2011. The MP for Esquerra Republicana, Joan Tardá (Joan is a male name in Catalan by the way), wants the monarch to have his funding allocation reduced by 15 per cent in line with government cuts and for the monarch to receive the same salary as the Spanish premier, José Luis Rodrízguez Zapatero. In addition any short fall in the monies required by the royal household says Tardá should come from the monarch’s own wealth.

The Republican left would always dispute the need to fund the monarch and the royal family but the issue takes on an added bite at this time of economic crisis when millions of Spaniards are on the dole queue. Shouldn’t the king and his family be setting an example to the nation the ER would ask?

The socialist PSOE government and the centre right Partido Popular opposition – the latter being staunch monarchists – dismiss the ER’s arguments. They say if the party is not happy with the way the royal household is paid or its standing in the country then it should seek to change the Spanish Constitution but adds – it would be outvoted.

The two main parties also point out that the allocation of funding in the State budget is for the financing of the overall Royal Household and not money given to the king.

In addition PSOE and the PP point out that the Spanish monarch comes cheap at the price. The cost of maintaining the nation’s head of state and the Casa Real costs each Spaniard just 18 céntimos a year. In contrast each German pays 35 céntimos to pay for its president, the Greek head of State comes at the cost of 52 céntimos, Sarkozy costs every French person 1.64 euros to maintain the Elysée Palace and the Italian president chews up 1.80 euros of the people’s pasta.

That may be so but the Esquerra Republicana is angry that the Spanish Parliament refuses to control the spending of the Casa Real. In addition it begs the question what has happened to the Borbón millions? According to Forbes magazine Juan Carlos de Borbón has a personal wealth of 1,790 million euros, which if that is true, should be more than enough to keep him and his family in the manner to which they are accustomed without the 18 céntimos from each of his fellow country people.

Of course the same argument could be used in the case of the British Royal Family. However until that nation gets the celebrations for William and Kate’s wedding out of its system it will be a question that no loyal subject would dare ask.

(Joan Tardá was in trouble in December 2008 when he called out “¡Viva la Republica, muerte al Borbón!” – “death to the Borbón”. The ERC later explained he was not calling for the death of the king but it was a traditional phrase dating back to the War of Succession against Felipe V.)

Friday, November 12, 2010


If you have been following the news over the last week you are probably aware of the desperate situation that exists in the Western Sahara. The Moroccan army has been violently dismantling the protest camp at Agdaym Izik. Many of those living there have fled in to the desert or the town of El Aaiún. The people of the Western Sahara are being persecuted by gangs of Moroccan settlers, encouraged by the Moroccan Government with support from the army.

Please help by acting now!

As a matter of urgency please send a letter to your Euro MP or Euro MPs asking that the European Parliament demands that the Moroccan Government immediately ceases its violent campaign and honours the human rights of the people of the Western Sahara. (Readers in the USA and elsewhere please contact your elected officials) Send a letter in your own words – it is far more productive that just adding your signature to a letter which had been signed by hundreds of other people.

The people of the Western Sahara need your help!


Como sabréis, recientemente el ejército de Marruecos des mantel violentamente el campamento saharaui de protesta de Agdaym Izik. Muchas de las personas que permanecían allí han huido por el desierto y la mayoría han vuelto a la ciudad de El Aaiún. La población saharaui está siendo perseguida por cuadrillas de colonos armados y agitados por el gobierno marroquí y el ejército de ocupación.

Estamos lanzando una acción de presión al Parlamento Europeo para que se haga cargo de la responsabilidad que le corresponde y se posicione, intentando de este modo que se detenga la violación de los derechos humanos en el Sáhara Occidental. Mandar tu propio correo personal pidiendo a los/las representantes de tu país en el europarlamento que actúen. El objetivo de la acción es que cada persona envíe un correo personal, no "copiando y pegando" textos, sino con sus propias palabras (mucho más efectivo que recibir el mismo texto 100 veces).

Ayúdanos a parar esta barbarie.


Over the last year I have reported on the missing babies of La Línea. These were babies who supposedly died shortly after birth in the municipal hospital or two private hospitals in the border town in the 1960s and 1970s. Their burial was said to have been taken care of by the hospitals but now there is no trace of them in official records or at the cemetery. It is suspected they are amongst – Franco’s babies – of whom Judge Baltasar Garzón believes there were 30,000 during the dictatorship. Babies who their mother’s were told had died but were in fact passed to adoptive parents. The Algeciras prosecutor has taken up the cases in La Línea and recently called in the National Police to investigate. To those files can now be added the disturbing case of the Algeciras mother who opened her child’s tomb to find it empty except for just a t-shirt.

It was back in 1972 that María Rodríguez was travelling with her husband and five children in a car when they were involved in an accident. They were all taken to La Línea hospital as the collision took place within the boundaries of San Roque which is served by that medical centre. In the car with María and her husband were their children aged nine, seven, five and four years plus their baby boy. None except the father had been seriously hurt.

María and her husband were later transferred to hospital in Algeciras and were told their children would follow them as their injuries were light. However when her sister went to La Línea hospital the next day she was told the baby had died.

Apparently the baby was entered in a niche in Algeciras cemetery but María never knew who had paid for the funeral. She says her daughter has always wondered whether he died or not because the baby was perfectly healthy. On the death certificate the child was named as José María with the cause of death stated as a fracture of the skull with massive damage to the brain. Yet the accident report of the time said all the family had been only slightly injured even though María’s husband subsequently died.

In 1992 she decided to have the remains of her son moved to the same niche as her husband. However when they opened his tomb it was empty except for a t-shirt. She says it was a yellow t-shirt which she has kept to this day as she has nothing else of her baby son –no casket, no remains.

That year was a traumatic one for María for when José María would have been 20 and eligible for his military service she received notice of his call up. She said she burst in to tears because how it was possible they called him up after he supposedly had been dead for 20 years?

It was recently with the news of all the families with the missing babies in La Línea that María decided to contact the others involved. She is also going to testify before the Algeciras prosecutor. María has visited the Archivo Histórico de La Línea that records all the admissions to La Línea hospital in that period. There is no record of any member of her family having been treated there.

A desperate story which leaves María’s with just one wish: “I want to know if my son died or if he is alive.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


The Spanish State television channel, RTVE, wants no unpleasant surprises in the artists or song for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest. It intends to select a separate artist and song - the formula last followed in 2007 – to keep out the “frikis”.

I think the very sober and staid RTVE is missing the point here. The “frikis” is what the Eurovision Song Contest is all about. The Gay community holds party nights around the show as it is broadcast but they’ll soon be gone if it becomes a “friki” free zone.

The corporation has started a casting process to seek the artist or artists to represent the nation. RTVE is establishing a new filter that will select the candidates, a responsibility which has largely in recent years rested in the hands of the public. Obviously Madrid feels they can no longer be trusted!

Now the public will only enter the process in the second phase once the unworthy artists have been weeded out. There will be a television vote in conjunction with a professional jury.

It has been the selection of “frikis” performers that has caused RTVE to act. Amongst these are my favourite Chikilicuatre plus Antonio El Gato, Chimo Bayo, John Cobra and Karmele Marchante.

Whether the chosen safe artists will avoid the dreaded “nil point” from the international juries during the Song Contest itself remains to be seen. But sorry – no “frikis” – and it will be “nil point” from me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Currently Spain’s centre right Partido Popular has a clear lead over the PSOE administration in the opinion polls and would govern with a clear majority. However the general election is not expected before March 2012 and a week let alone 17 months is a long time in politics.

None the less if as predicted the PP takes power then the country is in for a profound culture shock. Since Zapatero’s socialist government came to power it has followed an extremely liberal agenda upsetting those on the right and the Catholic Church along the way. Now the president of the Partido Popular, Mariano Rajoy, has signalled he intends to pull Spain back to the straight and narrow.

In an interview with El País on Sunday Rajoy said that he is considering annulling the law that allows Gay marriages should his party win the next general election although the measure has been approved by the Constitutional Court.

Rajoy pointed out his party had appealed before the court in 2005 to have the law rejected. It recognised homosexual marriages along with the normal adoption, pension and inheritance rights bestowed on heterosexual marriages for same sex couples. He added that he believed the legislation distorted the social and legal institution of marriage.

The law that puts homosexual and lesbian couples on the same footing as heterosexuals was introduced by the socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. It was opposed by various conservative sectors headed by the Catholic Church yet opinion polls at the time suggested the measure was supported by the majority of Spaniards.

Rajoy said if he became premier he would listen to the Constitutional court and to the people but made it clear he did not favour Gay marriages and believed them to be unconstitutional.

Asked by El País would he repeal the law if the highest Spanish court insisted it was legal Rajoy answered “no”. However it is clear that if the PP takes power not only would Gay marriages be under the spotlight but Rajoy’s government would also revisit the new abortion law which it believes does not sufficiently protect the right to life.

Rajoy told the newspaper: “I am absolutely in disagreement with two things: first, that a girl of 16 years can have an abortion without the knowledge of her parents; and second, I am against how they treat the right to life in this law because it allows total liberty in the first 14 weeks.”

Monday, November 1, 2010


A third of Spanish men have admitted to having used a prostitute.

Presumably not the same one!

Monday, October 25, 2010


Just days into the job and Trinidad Jiménez, Spain’s new foreign minister, is coming under flack in the Spanish press because she apparently doesn’t speak English.

I find this very amusing as nobody questions whether a British Foreign Secretary speaks French, Spanish, German or any other tongue. Whether David Miliband did or William Hague does has never been an issue – being British means you presume people on the international stage speak your language.

French used to be the language of diplomacy and by all accounts Miguel Ángel Moratinos spoke it well and could get by in English. Indeed it was said that Zapatero left much of the international liaison to his foreign minister because he is not gifted in the language department.

Poor Trinidad - there have even been those in Spain who have questioned whether she could speak Castilian having tagged her as pure Andaluz in accent and phraseology.

What is sure is that when she sits down with the chief minister of Gibraltar she will have no problem communicating as he of course like all Gibraltarians speaks Spanish. I have even heard it whispered he too has an Andaluz accent. William Hague can always rely on Caruana to translate for him when the three meet – which opens up the possibilities of all kinds of mischief if the chief minister was to twist what Trini was saying – and visa versa. As if!

It has been suggested by one publication that Trinidad Jiménez is an example of Peter’s Law – that a person is promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. It goes on to say that many of those in Zapatero’s government weren’t sufficiently qualified for the job.

I am curious that the Spanish media believes it foreign ministers and indeed premiers should be able to speak English, especially given that Spanish has long overtaken French as the second international language after English excluding Chinese.

However Zapatero was ridiculed for having gone to the Davos Conference in January where he had to have a translator at his elbow to translate what was said in English – the international language of all the politicians and business leaders gathered there. Indeed not only was Zapatero ridiculed it was said Spain had been humiliated.

It is obvious that the media have been digging in to Trini’s past as El Confidencial Digital has unearthed the fact that she twice suspended taking the exam to be admitted to the diplomatic school in 1986 and 1988. Well whether that is fact or fiction has yet to be established – but the minister’s press team have so far remained silent on the matter.

Previous blog on Jiménez and her Andaluz accent:

PS: the government reshuffle also saw the exit from the ministerial ranks of Bibiana Aído. I wrote about her in February when she allocated over 26,000 euros to a project designed to explore the delights of a woman’s clitoris. I was tempted to say that now she is no longer a minister she will have time to put her own finger on it. Prospero, who is older and wiser than me said I shouldn’t, so I won’t!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


In Panorama on Monday Joe Garcia gave a fine forensic analysis as to why the chief minister might be opting for calling an election either before Christmas or shortly afterwards. Caruana is a wily fox and he would indeed be mad if the options laid out in that article were not being considered by him and his fellow GSD members.

Over the last year I have discussed the pending GSLP leadership change with members of the party. I have been assured that it will happen in the early part of next year so the new leader can be installed before a general election at the end of the year. But what if Caruana goes early I keep asking? To date I have yet to receive a satisfactory reply.

Joe Bossano signalled at the last election he would not contest another as leader and I believe him. However if the chief minister announced an election now the GSLP would be in turmoil. It would either have to have an internal election before turning its attention to the general election, a new leader could be shoe horned in – hardly an ideal solution - or Joe would carry on at the helm to after the election and then stand down, sometime.

Whenever the election is called the main issue should be the stewardship of Gibraltar’s affairs by the GSD since 1996. The public if the opinion polls can be believed had had enough of Caruana and the GSD and want a new government. The GSLP – Liberal alliance led by Fabian Picardo and Dr Joseph Garcia would offer the Rock a young yet experienced partnership. Equally another parliamentarian such as Gilbert Licudi could win the GSLP crown but the offering to the voters would be the same. If the GSLP went outside its MPs then we would have to see who was chosen to lead.

If it is Picardo or Licudi partnering Garcia then Caruana and the GSD would have their work cut out. The electorate has presumed that Bossano would be yesterday’s man by polling day so when asked who they would vote for have factored in his departure yet they still opted for the GSLP – Liberal coalition.

Bossano becomes an election issue if the chief minister moves quickly and leave the GSLP in turmoil with him still at the helm. Then Bossano and not the GSD’s record will be under the spotlight and that could prove fatal for the opposition coalition. I can see no reason why the GSLP cannot elect a new leader now - but if need be Bossano could lead the parliamentary team until the new man or woman has his or her feet under the table.

The GSD’s record in government has to be the issue and the attempts by the chief minister to wrap himself in the flag should fail miserably. First the GSLP and Liberals have been more outspoken than he in defending Gibraltar’s independence from Spain. In addition Caruana’s whole period in office has been dedicated to seeking accommodation with Spain through the Córdoba process and Trilaterals – that initiative now lies in ruins so trying to out Bossano Bossano won’t work.

Turning the heat on the Bossano issue would also deflect from the major problems within the GSD. Should Caruana run again or not? Will Montegriffo return? How many of the present government team will stand? Then there is the Feetham factor but that would take a whole article on its own.

(The above article appeared on October 20, 2010 in Panorama).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Last Friday the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, travelled to Morocco to meet with his counterpart Taib Fasi Fihri. The visit came two months after the incidents at the border between Melilla and Morocco which heightened tensions between the two countries.

Moratinos and Fasi Fihri held a working dinner to discuss the events of August in Melilla. A spokesperson said that following this encounter they had been able to smooth over their differences.

At the time Morocco accused the National Police on border duty of racist attitudes and violence against its nationals, a claim that Madrid strongly denied. The troubled waters were not smoothed when the former PP premier, José María Aznar, broke off from his Marbella holiday to go to the frontier in support of the National Police and Guardia Civil.

Last month Moratinos saw Fasi Fihri at the UN in New York when they discussed a bilateral conference to be held in Morocco early next year. This was days after the Spanish premier, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, had also been at the UN and met with Morocco’s King Mohamed VI in another effort to restore relations.

Fine! Morocco lays claim to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla so tensions will always be present. In addition Spain seems to pussy foot around Morocco over the rights of the people of the Western Sahara having abandoned the territory in the dying days of Franco. But what about Jorge and Juan?

The two men from Los Barrios have been detained in Morocco since June 5 when a Moroccan patrol came to their aid after they drifted close to its shoreline in bad weather. They were first held for having entered the country without the required paperwork then found themselves on trial for drug trafficking and sentenced to three years in jail plus a hefty fine.

The Spanish consul in Tangier agrees there is no evidence to link the two to the drugs. The Spanish coast guard knew the identity of the owner of the Jet Ski that was found near the hashish but refused to hand over the information to the Moroccan court – because it would break the disclosure of information laws. The Andalucía ombudsman described the rejection of their appeal as an “outrage” and the politicians and people of the municipality – Los Barrios – are united in believing in their innocence and demanding their release. Perhaps crucially the ombudsman, José Chamizo, suspects the arrest and jailing of Jorge and Juan is politically motivated!

So I ask again the question – did Señor Moratinos raise the issue of Jorge and Juan with Taib Fasi Fihri?

The indications are he didn’t – which is a crime in itself!

Friday, October 15, 2010


A reader in France sent me this email:

“Scientists have been researching how best to deter insects from being attracted to wind turbines, because they in their turn attract birds and bats. It appears that too many are flying into the blades and dying. Search has now shown that insects are attracted by different colours; they prefer yellow, then the white of the turbines, but are almost totally indifferent to purple.

So how would Sancho explain these purple giants to Don Quixote?”

Hmmm – a difficult one this. We all know that Cervantes' book is definitely not purple prose because he wrote in black and white.

So I think one would have to sing him part of the chorus of that wonderful song “The Windmills of Your Mind” (Les moulins de mon cœur). The music was by Michel Legrand with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. For those of you old enough to remember it was part of the soundtrack of the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair. Noel Harrison (Rex’s boy) sung the lyrics which won an Oscar in 1969.

The lines go:

When you knew that it was over
Were you suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning
To the color of her hair?

That should do the trick.

But, “hey” you cry – “the colour was purple!”

How true – but surely Dulcinea del Toboso was punk!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


When I was young, which I admit was long ago, Spain was considered one of the most devout Catholic countries in Europe. Franco was at the height of his power and as church and state were intertwined no doubt devotion to the Church of Roman was one way of showing your equal devotion to the Caudillo – the chief.

In the intervening years, especially since democracy was introduced, there has been a major shift from dominance by the church to a more secular society. True Spaniards still show great devotion to the Semana Santa processions at Easter and to the celebrations for their local patron saint but they have little to do with organised religion.

Now according to data issued by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) there has been a major shift in how Spaniards get married. In 2009 more people tied the knot in a civil ceremony rather than the Catholic Church.

Last year 94,993 weddings were civil compared with 80,174 officiated in a church. In 2008 the church held 99,104 wedding services (19 per cent more than last year) whilst the civil total was 94,170. In 2009 there were also785 services involving “other rites” which is inline with previous years.

Since 2000 the number of civil weddings each year has increased whilst at the same time the number of church services have collapsed. In that year there were 163,636 church weddings whilst those carried out by judges, mayors, councillors and authorized people stood at just 52,255.

The senior professor of Sociology and professor of investigation of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientifícas, María de los Angeles Durán, says the explanation is the general process of secularization in Spain and the effects of the economic crisis.

Indeed the state of the economy may have speeded up the trend to secularization but whilst it is true that the Catholic Church is the major religion in Spain it is equally true that Spaniards are no longer devout Catholics.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


On Monday evening the people of Los Barrios gathered at the town’s cinema to form an action group to work for the release of Jorge Cano and Juan José Ramirez Ruíz.

On October 5 an appeal court in Tangier confirmed their three year jail sentence for drug trafficking plus a fine of 170,000 euros. The Andalucía Ombudsman José Chamizo called the court’s decision an “outrage” as there was no evidence against the pair. He added there was also evidence proving their innocence and suggested the conviction was politically motivated.

The Plataforma Cívica de “Libertad para Jorge y Juan José” has been set up by the residents of Los Barrios with the specific purpose of achieving their release and return home. The pair have been held since June 5 when their boat was rescued by a Moroccan patrol after they had got lost whilst fishing in fog and drifted to the North African country’s shoreline.

The group will organize and co-ordinate all actions and demonstrations on behalf of Jorge and Juan and ensure their legality. They will lobby the Spanish government as well as all competent authorities and diplomats to step in and secure the release of the pair.

In their manifesto the action group states: “the members of the civic collective…maintain our absolute and total confidence in the innocence of Jorge and Juan José, we have no doubt as to their honesty and the honour of both.” It also stresses they are not linked with any political or other interest group they just want their family, friends, neighbours freed.

Every day people are arrested on drugs charges especially in the Campo de Gibraltar. some come from Los Barrios, La Línea, Algeciras, San Roque, Tarifa, Castellar and Jimena, but the administrations or residents never rally to their support.

In stark contrast the full council of Los Barrios passed a motion declaring their innocence, the mayor and all party spokespeople travelled to Tangier to show their solidarity but most telling is the support of the people of the municipality who now will fight to have Jorge and Juan José freed.

Friday, October 8, 2010

THEY SEEK HIM HERE...And no I’m not Karina Pau’s father

Great excitement in Jimena de la Frontera on Thursday morning. Just 30 minutes before this photograph of the popular Cuenca bar was taken the former mayor of Marbella, Julián Muñoz, was sitting outside sipping coffee. Within minutes a TV crew from Antena Tres had descended on Jimena trying to catch a sighting of Muñoz with his girlfriend Karina Pau who lives in the municipality and interview them.

Suddenly Muñoz disappeared, where to only he and Karina knows. Karina’s parents are Gibraltarian and recently Muñoz applied to the court to be allowed to visit them on the Rock on a monthly basis. Not surprisingly as Muñoz is currently in the dock in Málaga in the Malaya corruption trial – the largest of its kind in Spanish history - the judge refused to let him leave Spain.

Muñoz is alleged to have received 162,000 euros from the Malaya mastermind, Juan Antonio Roca, who was Marbella’s director of town planning. However the former mayor is also standing trial on a case linked to Malaya. It involves the famous singer Isabel Pantoja, who was his one time lover plus his former wife Mayte Zaldívar.

The case revolves around the time Muñoz was mayor of Marbella and the anti-corruption prosecutor accuses him of having siphoned off over 3.5 million euros of municipal funds for his own use. First he used his then wife, Mayte Zaldívar, to help launder this cash and once she was dumped the task fell to his then lover, Isabel Pantoja. It is alleged that Pantoja utilised the money to acquire an apartment in the Guadalpín Hotel and her house in Marbella, Mi Gitana.

If found guilty Isabel Pantoja faces three and a half years in jail plus a fine of 3.68 million euros. Julián Muñoz could be sent away for seven and a half years and have to hand over 7.6 million euros. His ex-wife Mayte Zaldívar would be handed a three and a half year prison term and a fine of 2.6 million euros. They each have to pay this money in to court ahead of the trial.

Given the large number of court convictions that are staking up against him it is no surprise that Muñoz is taking time out to enjoy a coffee in convivial surrounds whilst he can. There was one surprise yesterday. As I took a photograph of the Antena Tres cameraman I realised he was filming me. I later heard from my fellow journalist in Jimena, Alberto Bullrich, that they had rushed up to him demanding to know – “was I Karina Pau’s father?” Well you know that I am not, but hush, and let me enjoy my 5 minutes of Spanish TV notoriety.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Since early June I have been reporting on the plight of José Cano and Juan José Ramírez, two Los Barrios men who have been held in Morocco on drug’s charges.

Now the Tangier appeal court has confirmed the three year jail term which brought an immediate response from the Andalucía Ombudsman. He described the sentence as “unjust” and called on the Spanish government to act in this “outrage”.

That may well now be the case. Senator José Carracao, who is a friend of one of the family’s said last month that the Spanish government was acting prudently as it was a judicial and not a political matter.

However he stressed that the Spanish Ambassador to Morocco and the Consul in Tanger were working to ensure justice for the men. Now their appeal has failed it is likely that the ministry for foreign affairs and its counterpart for the interior, who have kept a watching brief, will become more involved.

On June 5 the two men had gone fishing off Tarifa with Jorge’s son, David. They got lost in the fog, strayed to near the Moroccan shoreline, called the Spanish coastguard for help but were detained by a patrol from Morocco.

Initially they were held for entering Morocco without the necessary paperwork and David was sent home. Then as a consignment of eight bales of hashish was found in the area of their rescue along with a Jet Ski they were charged with drug trafficking and sentence to three years in jail plus a fine.

The Andalucía Ombudsman, José Chamizo, called the sentence “unjust” and said they had proof of the innocence of Jorge and Juan. He said the men’s defence lawyers had given the court the name of the person who owned the Jet Ski that had been transporting the hashish. Initially the Spanish Coast Guard had refused to give this information to the Moroccan court as it said it would break the data protection act.

Chamizo is certain that the sentence of the court is a reprisal by Morocco for what it sees as the unjust sentences handed down to its citizens in Spain. Indeed the arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between the two countries over the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Chamizo said the appeal court’s decision could only worsen relations between the two nations.

The Ombudsman also criticized the Spanish Government for its inaction over the arrest and trial of Jorge Cano and Juan José Ramírez. However if Senator Carracao is correct that could now see a dramatic change. Certainly the people of Los Barrios are in no doubt over the innocence of their two fellow ‘barreños’. The council has passed a motion supporting them, the mayor and political leaders of all parties have travelled to Tangier to show their solidarity and the people of the municipality have held a 2,000 strong protest. This action will now intensify until the men are set free.

Monday, October 4, 2010


In his respected blog ahead of the result being declared in the UK Labour Party leadership election Iain Dale wrote: “I am still at a bit off a loss to explain the reason why the Labour leadership contest has bored most people rigid - even those who have taken part in it. Most of my Labour friends say it has inspired no one and been a total letdown. The only explanation I can think of is that Labour is now in the position the Tories were in 1997 - no one’s really interested in what they’ve got to say.”

Few would disagree with that view but what happened after the result was announced with Ed Miliband defeating the New Labour favourite, his brother David – who then quit frontline politics, for now - was certainly exciting stuff. Bored rigid we weren’t.

Now all eyes turn to the next Labour Leadership contest – not in the UK but in Gibraltar. For in 2011 the leader of the GSLP, Joe Bossano, is due to stand down ahead of the general election with a new man (or possibly woman if one comes forward) leading the troops and their allies in the Liberal Party in to battle with the governing GSD.

The GSLP is a Gibraltarian animal yet its very roots are within the British Labour movement. The party was formed by Joe Bossano who had been a member of the old Labour Party in London before returning to the Rock and leading the TGWU. The actual creation of the GSLP took place with the guidance of a stalwart of the Labour Co-operative movement in London, Alf Lomas. Joe Bossano became leader of the GSLP, led the party in to the 1978 election, has been at the helm ever since and chief minister twice.

In his recent speech the chief minister, Peter Caruana, snipped at the coming leadership changes in the GSLP. Caruana is no fool; you do not get to be leader of your party over such a long term and win four consecutive elections, if you are not surefooted and rule with a rod of iron.

The GSLP is vulnerable to criticism over the long tenure of Bossano and that is something the outgoing leader and the party will have to address as the next election nears. However Caruana’s lampooning of Bossano has as much to do with deflecting questioning of the future stewardship of his own GSD as that of the GSLP. In addition his targeting of Fabian Picardo disguises the fact that the potential heir to the GSLP throne has inflicted a bloody nose or two on the chief minister in their battles across the floor of Gibraltar’s parliament.

Caruana is probably also wrong in his view that the new leader of the GSLP, if he or she won the election, would be a mere proxy for Bossano as chief minister. That may or may not be the intention of Bossano but once you step down the balance of power shifts and in its place would be a young double team of the new GSLP boss and Joe Garcia, the Liberal leader. Unlike the UK where the coalition rocks this relationship is tried and tested. Hence if Picardo wins the crown it would be very solid because both he and Garcia are from the same root stock.

I will refrain here from suggesting Fabian Picardo will be the next leader of the GSLP because as with Gordon Brown (1994) and David Miliband it was a case of heir today, gone tomorrow. There are other politicians in the GSLP parliamentary group and the wider party who might also throw their hats in to the ring and I think it is important that they should.

I believe the GSLP should have a leadership contest rather that an election by acclaim for two reasons. First the new leader would be strengthened by being the choice of the majority of the party rather than being the only anointed kid on the block. Second it is important that he or she shows they can win an election albeit an internal one.

Yet the chief minister is right in one aspect – it is vital that the GSLP under its new leadership redefines what it stands for –staying true to its founding principles but a new look socialist party for a new generation.

(Photo: Joe Bossano and Fabian Picardo at UN)

(Above article appeared in Panorama on September 4 2010)

Thursday, September 30, 2010


On September 28 the Tangier court that convicted the “Tangier Two”, Jorge Cano and Juan José Ruiz, met to consider the appeal against their drug trafficking conviction.

Whilst the court upheld the previous verdict it also admitted new evidence and will give its definitive ruling on October 5. Key to that decision making will be a report from the Spanish Coastguard – Salvamento Marítimo – which knows the identity of the owner of a Jet Ski that is key to this case. However the organisation would not initially release the information to the Moroccan judge because it insisted it would infringe the data protection act.

The case of the two men from Los Barrios has been covered here before but to recap they went fishing off Tarifa on June 5. In thick fog they drifted to the Moroccan coast and when they found they had no fuel radioed the Salvamento Marítimo for help. It was a Moroccan patrol boat that appeared on the scene and took the two men and Jorge’s son, David, in to detention as they had entered Morocco without paperwork.

David was duly released and it was thought the two men would follow him in days but then the Moroccan authorities said they had found eight bales of hashish close to where they were rescued along with the Jet Ski. Despite there being no evidence to link them with the drugs they were arrested, tried and found guilty largely because the Salvamento Marítimo would not release the information to the court on the Jet Ski’s owner, even though it had spoken to this person after it had broken down.

There has been a huge show of support in Los Barrios for the two men. The mayor and political spokespersons for all the political parties at the town hall travelled to Tangier to visit Jorge and Juan to show solidarity. The council passed a unanimous motion declaring its belief in their innocence and over 2,000 people gathered on the steps of Los Barrios town hall on September 20 to call for the men’s release. The Spanish ambassador to Morocco has been busy on Jorge and Juan’s behalf along with the Spanish consul in Tangier. Senator José Carracao, who is a friend of one of the families, told me the ministries of the interior and foreign affairs in Madrid have kept a watching brief although they point out prudence is the watchword as it is a judicial and not a political matter.

So now Jorge, Juan and Los Barrios wait for October 5 – their date with destiny. It is to be hoped that justice will finally be done. The good news is that the court, whilst confirming the original sentence on the basis of the evidence it had, will not lose face by overturning it having considered the new submissions. In Morocco saving face is important especially with regards to Spain which explains the softly, softly approach of that country’s politicians.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


On Monday September 27 the Malaya corruption case centred on Marbella town hall was brought before the Málaga provincial court. It was over four years ago that the first arrests hit the head lines and in the dock will be 95 people in Spain’s largest corruption case in the history of the nation. Indeed a special annex has been built on to the Palacio de Justicia based on that used in Madrid for the “March 11 2004” terrorism trial.

The man said to be the mastermind behind this massive town planning scam is Juan Antonio Roca. He was the director of planning at Marbella town hall and the prosecution will attempt to prove that mayors, councillors, officials and businessmen were all involved in his web of corruption.

It is estimated by investigators that Roca personally received over 33 million euros between 2002 and 2006 from his illicit deals. He had been in the post since 1992, brought in by the late disgraced mayor Jesús Gil, and was there to his arrest in March 2006.

The 33 million euros is said to have come in payments to Roca from property developers over that four year period. Many of them will be alongside him in the dock. Five million of this total was passed on by Roca to various councillors at Marbella town hall.

Of those said to have benefitted most from his largesse the former mayor, Marisol Yagüe, received 1.8 million euros – the largest amount handed out. Former mayor Julián Muñoz is alleged to have received 162,000 euros whilst the deputy mayors Isabel García Marcos and Carlos Fernández pocketed lesser sums.

However whilst Roca is known to have received 33 million euros from property developers the prosecutor believes he had the opportunity to misappropriate another 200 million euros from1997 to 2005. In reality the true total will probably never be known. He money laundered vast amounts of cash to hide their origin and in the process bought estates, a boat, an aircraft, a helicopter, hotels, houses and works of art.

Missing from the dock will be three people. The aforementioned deputy mayor Carlos Fernández was walking the Camino de Santiago when the first arrests were carried out – and kept on walking. He is said to have entered Argentina on his own passport with Tunisia and Chile as his most likely resting places. Former councillor Francisco Javier Lendínez was last spotted in Tarifa and is believed to have fled to Portugal or Morocco. Finally the more shadowy figures of José Manuel Llorca Rodríguez who is also said to be involved in the Ballena Blanca money laundering case and the Fórum Filatélico stamp investment scam. Nothing is known of his whereabouts.

A quick guide to the story so far:

March 29 2006 – The town hall was raided with 21 people including Roca were arrested.

June 27 2006 – Judge Torres ordered a second wave of arrests with 31 detained.

November 13 2006 – The last major arrests with 11 held including the former wife of Julián Muñoz, Mayte Zaldivar and her brother.

May 1 2007 – Arrest of the famous singer Isabel Pantoja, the former lover of Julián Muñoz who now faces a separate money laundering trial.

March 29 2008 – Judge Pérez releases Roca from jail after two years of preventive detention which caused a huge row as he demands his job back at Marbella town hall.

April 23 2008 – a high court judge reactivates the Saqueo 1 case and sends Roca back to jail.

March 4 2009 – Pérez processes the case against 20 people and enlarges the charges against Roca and Muñoz.

October 15 2009 – The first pre-trial hearings are held.

September 27 2010 – The trial proper starts.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I am not a great film fan. I rarely go to the cinema. When I do I hope the seats are uncomfortable so I won’t nod off. I snored through Lawrence of Arabia in London's West End -probably the best thing. Yet with every rule there is an exception or a number of exceptions.

For instance I have seen Cabaret twice in the cinema and numerous times on TV. I saw Clockwork Orange four times, once in French in Paris. Yet the record of my viewing has to be Mad Dogs and Englishman – the film of Joe Cocker’s tour. I don’t know how often I saw it, but it was usually with the Wend in tow, and included at least one late night showing at the cinema in Surbiton in Surrey. So keen I was.

Although the film revolved around the Joe Cocker tour the star for me was singer-songwriter, pianist and guitarist Leon Russell. He’d previously written Delta Lady which was a hit for Cocker in 1969.I revered Leon Russell bought his ‘Leon Russell’ album with ‘A song for you’ and also 1972 album ‘Carney’ which featured the number ‘This Masquerade’.

Now here’s the thing. In the film Mad Dogs and Englishmen Russell wore a top hat and had silvery grey hair. The same on his album covers. Hence as a trendy young man about Chelsea (and Swiss Cottage) I presumed he was an old timer hanging on.

So today I thought I had better check him out to see when he passed away. Well it was a pleasant surprise to find he is still with us but a might shock to learn he is only seven years older than me. Seven years! And whilst yes I did have premature designer grey hair (thanks again to the Wend and the all-star hairdresser Winston) he seemed to be wearing less well than me at the time.

Over the years Leon Russell has worked with the who’s who of musicians and singers Joe Cocker, The Carpenters, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Eric Clapton, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Badfinger, Frank Sinatra, The Band, Glen Campbell and The Rolling Stones to name but a few.

Last year Leon Russell wrote songs with Elton John and Bernie Taupin which was recorded in February and will be released about now. I will buy it!

But, come on, seven years!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I hope to bring a smile to your face although this is a very serious subject. Actually it is James Machin who will wiggle your facial muscles and not me.

I first met James many moons ago at GBC, Gibraltar’s broadcaster, when he was producing a series of science films for schools.

Some years later and I met James again when he arranged to send me some information on “peak oil” which he was promoting on the Costa del Sol and in Gibraltar. At that time “peak oil” was a potty theory promoted by batty environmentalists of which James was proud to be one.

Times have indeed moved on and “peak oil” is one of the current buzz phrase used by financial analysts and politicians. “Peak oil” has gone from being an ecologists’ rant to the mainstream of political and economic thought and has been joined by “Peak food” and no doubt “Peak water” is lurking in the wings.

James has also been behind the movement to form Transition Towns in Spain creating with members of Ecologistas en Acción “Estepona – Ciudad de Transición’.

Now James has a new and rather exciting project the YouTube Channel Win, Win TV. He told me: “I launched a YouTube channel recently that is promoting “Transition” and is featuring Coín in Málaga province. It is also offering participatory food growing projects - primarily to city dwellers. The first project - Working with a Worm Gang is up.”

Indeed it is and if you are up for it – click here! I promise you will smile!

If you are interested in learning more about the important Transition Towns project which will become a main steam political theme in the future you can visit the UK website – click here