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)