Friday, October 31, 2008


Recently the film “Che: El Argentino” was released starring Benicio del Toro in the title role. The movie is yet to make it to Ronda but when it does I want to see if for two reasons. The first I am interested in the subject – Che – but also because part of it was filmed near to where I lived in San Pablo de Buceite.

However I am too long in the tooth to believe that a modern movie would do anything in the case of Che other than paint a romantic picture that bears little relationship to the real man.

I was therefore interested to read a recent article by respected journalist Francisco Rubiales who in his long career was the EFE correspondent in Cuba for two years from 1977. At that time Che was already dead but Francisco says that he was able to verify that he was a “violent, insensitive and trigger happy man, addicted to murder, and not at all like the romantic and idealistic fighter” who appears in the film. I suspect that neither you nor I are surprised by that.

Francisco continues: “I arrived at Cuba in 1977, aged 28 years, as the EFE correspondent, and remained two years. I arrived admiring the Cuban revolution, like so many young people of my generation, and that I left the island having verified “in situ” and personally that the famous “Revolution” was a figment of the imagination with little freedom, equality or justice.”

“I dedicated much of my time to following in the footsteps of the old comrades-in-arms of Fidel, to Camilo Cienfuegos, Hubert Matos, of Che, Gutiérrez Menoyo and others. I interviewed many of the companions in the revolutionary fight of the ‘Argentinean’, including a his father, Ernerto Guevara Linch, with whom after an interview I passed a memorable time in the Hotel Habana Libre, and with Jorge “Papito” Serguera, who was also a commander and, along with the Che, presided over the judgments over Batiste. After my investigations, the solid conclusion was that Che was a dangerous and uncomfortable radical, trigger happy, that he hindered all in Cuba, including Fidel, Raul and the rest of the commanders of the revolution, the elite of Castro Cuba.”

One special point of interest is when Francisco talks of the testimony of Dariel Alarcón Ramirez, “Benigno”, who was one of the oldest and faithful comrades-in-arms of Che Guevara. He survived the guerrilla war in Bolivia, and has been a political exile in France since 1996. He says that Che personally ordered the executions and then seemed to enjoy the spectacle. As “Commander-in-Chief” of “La Cabaña” prison, a post he held from January 3 1959 to that July, and latter in charge of the ‘Comisión Depuradora’ Che issued the order to carry out nearly one hundred and eighty death sentences. Indeed Francisco remembers that Che stood before the United Nations and said the famous phrase “we have shot; we shoot and we will continue shooting”.

Francisco points out that the Steven Soderberg film ignores all the brutality of the revolution and instead praises the idealism. The danger is that many people, young, middle aged and old will accept the fiction proclaimed in the film as fact. I will certainly still see the film but I also urge you to read Francisco’s fascinating blog in full at:

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Red seems to be the theme of this week. I’ve written about communism, the Izquierda Unida mayor of Puerto Real and now the colour red and its sexual implications.

According to a study in the USA, where else, it appears that the sight of women in red drives men wild. I was going to say that given the current financial crisis the academics of the University of Rochester might have more pressing things on their minds. Then I remembered the economy is in the red too!

Professor of psychology, Andrew Elliot, confirmed that red was the colour of romance used for years in the creation of Saint Valentine cards and by the purveyors of lipstick. It appears that men’s association of the colour red with love and passion is a primitive instinct. I think most women knew that.

Research shows that male baboons and chimps share the same fascination with the colour red. The boys are attracted to the girls when they exhibit the colour red. It indicates that the female baboons and chimps are nearing ovulation and the male of the species finds this irresistible.

According to a telephone interview with the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Elliot stated: “It is an automatic tendency most profound and with a biological base to respond to the colour red with an attraction can be seen to come from our evolution inheritance.”

One hundred men, mostly university students, were shown photographs of women and asked to evaluate them in terms of beauty, whether they wish to kiss or have a sexual relation with them. Given my knowledge of male students I am not sure how sexually discriminating they are – but let’s press on.

The students were shown the same picture but with backgrounds of various colours – red, white, green and grey. It was the picture of the lady in red that proved to be the most attractive. The skirts were digitally changed so that some were red and others were blue and again red scored (pun intended). The researchers noted that the colour red was only associated with attractiveness and not with other emotions such as pleasantness, intelligence or affection.

Interestingly females were show pictures of women of the same beauty and were asked to rate them but the colour red had no impact on their decisions.

Apparently homosexuals and the colour blind were excluded from the study.

The colour blind makes sense. And homosexuals – “Somewhere over the rainbow...”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I have written recently about Peak Oil and Peak Food. These are both linked to Transition Towns. This movement started in Ireland 4 years ago and now numbers some 600 communities throughout Europe. On November 4, Spain’s first Transition Town will be launched in Estepona.

Pioneering local environmentalist James Machin is very much the inspiration behind the launch of this project. He and others have been warning for some time that we are living at a crucial stage in human history.

James explained: “Humanity is at the point of a quantum structural change. This change will commence when the worldwide demand for oil exceeds supply. This moment is immanent, due to the phenomenon known as ‘Peak Oil’. Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.”

“The decline in oil availability will lead inevitably to a lower-energy, more localized future, in which we move from being consumers to being producer/consumers, where food, energy and other essentials are locally produced, local economies are strengthened, and we start to live within our means.”

During the transition period there will be problems, and so to prepare for these times, the ‘Transition Towns’ are coming into being. Hence James and other environmentalists have organized the ‘Transition Towns’ initiative in Estepona. The inaugural meeting will be held at the Centro Cultural Padre Manuel on November 4 at 20.00. (For further information contact James on 952 796124 or email

The primary objective of Transition Communities is to develop an ‘Energy Descent Strategy’ for the community. To achieve that three questions will be asked:

1. How will we experience oil shortfall in our community?
2. What does our community have that will work for us in a future with less oil?
3. What can we do as a community to prepare and respond?

James said: “I’m promoting the event using my donkey cart, which I've modified temporarily to be pulled by the bike. I'm leaving it in various key places around Estepona with the press release and a poster displayed. I ended up at Tolones in Ciudad Real the other evening when I chatted to the kids. They love the idea of Transition Town coming to Estepona.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


As I write this the Izquierda Unida mayor of Puerto Real, José Antonio Barroso, is preparing to face a court charged with criticising the Spanish monarchy. The far-left firebrand says he has no regrets about the opinions he expressed about the Spanish monarch, Juan Carlos, and his father despite the possibility of being sentenced to jail.

The prosecutor has decided to take the matter to court because of what the mayor said in Los Barrios on April 14 at an event to commemorate the proclamation of the II Republic. During his speech the outspoken Barroso cast aspersions on the King and his father. He accused the monarch of being “corrupt” because of some of his business associations and said he was the “hijo de crápula”, accusing his father of being a libertine.

José Antonio Barroso insists that he spoke “under the umbrella of the constitutional right to free expression which all Spanish nationals are supposed to have” and that he was expressing his political convictions. However the judge in the Spanish High Court, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, on Monday refused to file the case saying that he considered the verbal attack on the King was “disproportionate” and beyond the bounds of free speech.

As a Briton I am free to criticise our Royal Family and I find it alarming that in a country where free speech is enshrined in the constitution the Spanish monarchy is placed outside of the law. I also believe that only a Spaniard is qualified to say whether King Juan Carlos and his family are a force for good or bad. As a foreign resident I would say “good” but as Barroso rightly argues, it should be the right of all Spanish nationals to voice their genuinely held views, be they political or otherwise, without fear of prosecution.

I wonder what King Juan Carlos makes of all this. At various conferences for journalists he has defended strongly the freedom of the press and the right to free speech. Surely the Spanish monarch does not believe that applies to all except him?

Whether what Barroso says about the King and his father is true or not – it is his personally held view and therefore in my book he has the perfect right to express it. Freedom of speech is after all a basic human right recognised and defended by the United Nations.

I think it was Voltaire who said – “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” Let’s hope the prosecutor and the judge take note.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I have always been bemused by the view that you couldn’t be a Catholic, or a Christian and a Communist.

Communism was defined in my Catholic childhood as being an evil regime rooted in the Soviet Block and hence coupled with that other ism, atheism. The two were indelibly linked.

This contrasted with the view that Christ was the first communist.

That socialists were often very strong Christians and indeed that many of the socialist parties had non-conformist church roots.

That despite Soviet rule the deep faith of the Russian people in the Orthodox Church was not diminished.

That the Eastern Block countries such as Poland had a strong Catholic belief as did the people of East Germany in the protestant church. Indeed the current Pope and his predecessor hailed from West Germany and Poland.

This subject was brought to mind yesterday when I read an interview in La Opinión de Malaga with Pedro Moreno Brenes.

Now Pedro Moreno Brenes is a communist, the leader of the Izquierda Unida party at Málaga town hall, a lecturer in law at Málaga University and a Catholic.

Nor is he a closet Catholic but practices his faith alongside his political beliefs that he has held since adolescence.

He is quite clear as to how his religion co-exists with his political leanings. He says that the IU respects all beliefs and that for him there is no conflict whether he is invited to a religious or civil event. He added that he was pleased to accept all invitations should they be from the Muslim or Jewish communities or indeed atheists.

Asked about the antagonism between the IU and the Catholic Church Pedro Moreno Brenes is quite clear. “The party, for example, proposes that there shouldn’t be any tax privileges for religious entities. It is compatible in the respect of - and the separation of - public and religious life.”

So was Christ the first Communist? Pedro Moreno Brenes is in no doubt that the Christian message of “love one another” is much the same as the communist belief in fraternity and equality.

I agree. I see no barriers to a person being a Christian, a socialist or a communist. Indeed one could argue that those alignments are more natural than a person being a Christian and a supporter of the far right. However, in the recent past, the waters became far more muddied when organisations such as the Catholic Church or the Communist Party imposed their rigid discipline and dogma over a person’s core beliefs. To be a ‘christian’ and a ‘communist’ was one thing, to be a Catholic and a member of the Communist Party was far more difficult.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Back in 1971 or 72 I made my first visit to New York. It was the time in the UK when the introduction of commercial radio was top of the media agenda. I went first to New York and then to Toronto to talk to and to learn from some of the broadcasting giants.

I formed a very close relationship with NBC in the Big Apple and when I visited New York on a more frequent basis in the early 1980s I discovered NBC TV and adored the fantastic Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. NBC has always had a special place in my heart ever since.

Like many Britons in Spain I signed up with satellite station Vía Digital in the late 1990s because it carried BBC Prime. Sadly, nay tragically, that was later ditched and Vía Digital merged with Canal Plus.

One of the delights of the foreign stations carried by Canal Plus is CNBC. This is a business news station but at the weekends loosens its tie and brings entertainment programming. I say delights because I suddenly discovered that on Saturday and Sundays nights at 21.00 I could watch recent episodes of The Tonight Show now hosted by Jay Leno. This is followed by the wacky Conan O’Brien with The Late Show.

Now make no mistake NBC is one of the giants of the broadcast world but when it transmits its weekend programming C-NBC becomes C-RAP.

It broadcasts travel shows that were made in 2002 or 2003 so the facts and prices are basically meaningless.

If I see Marie Helvin one more time on a tour of Tokyo (five times in recent weekends) I will commit hari-kari.

Why as NBC owns the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a programme that is transmitted nightly, are the shows at least two weeks old and in the past fortnight the same one has been repeated for the last two weekends? And probably will be shown again tonight!

On its business programming C-NBC prides itself as being “required viewing”. Unfortunately at weekends this major broadcaster is becoming a complete waste of air space. In short, C-RAP.

Friday, October 24, 2008


This week we have discussed anorexia, exorcism, the pain of flamenco and the world financial crisis - now for something light hearted.

I am sure you’ve seen the news story that a plant in Japan is now writing its own blog.

They say that the Prince of Wales is a bit dotty because he talks to his plants but maybe he knows something that we don’t.

The plant in Japan largely seems to make comments about the weather which given the Royal small talk when meeting the hoi polloi – “Have you come far?” - suggests to me at least that the Prince and his plants are on a fairly equal footing.

I suspect the Queen believes her son to be a bit dotty too. How else can you explain why at the age of 82 she’s hauled her 87 year-old hubby off on a State visit to Slovakia? Obviously she daren’t let poor old Charles loose even now he’s turned 60. She probably fears that he’ll make his speech to the flower arrangements on the banquet table rather than to the invited guests.

Meanwhile “Midori-san”, the 40 cm high plant, is sitting in a café in Kamakura near Tokyo thinking how it is going to end its week of blogging. The plant has sensors attached to it and his waterer, Satoshi Kuribayashi, says that electrical pulses are sent from the plant to a computer that translates the data in to words. If you want to know what the plant is saying go to: - it’s probably writing more sense than I am.

“Midori-san” apparently means green in Japanese and the plant certainly seems green when it comes to the art of blogging. “It was cloudy. It was a cold day” is just one of its postings. I suspect Prince Charles is analysing those words for a deeper meaning. Sir Laurens Van Der Post was his mentor so poor Charles is probably frantically thumbing through his copy of “The Seed and the Sower” as you read this.

Kuribayashi says in the future “Midori-san” will make more precise statements. As I understand the plant is a type of cactus – some prickly comments might be in order. Of course the Duke of Edinburg would be your man for that!

(Since writing this I’ve checked out the blog of “Midori-san” and I have to say it doesn’t look like a cactus to me – but then what do I know. The plant asked me to tell you: 今日は雨が降って、寒い一日でした。 今日の占いは、…まあまあだったけど、みんな良かったです! あとブログからいっぱいの光をもらえてうれしい! そんな今日は、ほどほどに楽しんだ一日です。
If you are stuck over a word or two my good friend Alberto Bullrich will be happy to give you an instant translation.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Fr José Antonio Fortea is one of five exorcists in Spain and one of only two recognised by the Vatican in this country. He is in the news now because he has just published a book – “Memorias de un exorcista” which I think translates easy enough.

According to the good father Galicia is the region in Spain that has the most cases of exorcism. He explains this by saying it is “because the magic is very widespread”. In contrast Castilla and Valencia is a bit boring for a person in his line of work as the majority of people practice their religion, presumably Catholicism, and hence cases of old Nick possessing folk are rather thin on the ground. Indeed they have the least exorcisms in Spain.

Fr Fortea was taught his profession by Fr Gabriele Amorth of the Diocese of Rome. It was Amorth’s theory that both Hitler and Stalin were possessed. However Fortea observed: “I do not think that there are only politicians or people in public life who are possessed. Possession is an extraordinary phenomenon that doesn’t have to be reflected in the moral life of the person.”

The symptoms of the “clients” of Fr Fortea are a change of voice, convulsions, trances, blasphemous cries, the use of languages the person was not known to have and an aversion to sacred things.

In my life I have certainly ticked off some of those but I think the cause was another type of evil spirit. Whisky.

The treatment for a possessed person varies and includes the ordering of the demon to leave the person. The sessions can last between half an hour and three hours and in some cases the victim cannot be cured in a single visit so the treatment can last months.

Fr Fortea has been an exorcist for 15 years but doesn’t know how many people he has treated because he says he doesn’t keep count. “Memorias de un exorcista” is based on his diary and experiences since his ordination. He is now preparing a further theological book on the spiritual aspects of exorcism.

I must admit to finding this subject fascinating especially as in all my long years, including those as a practicing Catholic, I have never heard of a case of exorcism or possession. Then perhaps if you have been possessed by a demon you keep quite about it.

What it does do is reinforce my strong belief in a spiritual element in our lives that with many other examples cannot be explained away as mere mumbo jumbo.


My life has always been dominated by weight – either putting it on or taking it off.

When I was a child I was incredibly thin. So much so that various nuns who took responsibility for pupils’ health fed me copious amount of milk and cod liver oil to boost my size. It failed to work and hence school children being cruel I suffered by becoming the butt of jibes and worse.

When I became around 23 I ballooned in size. Maybe the cause was metabolic or perhaps it was my discovery of draught Guinness (nuns please take note). I have a cartoon from 1975 by Jon Donohoe that was created to go with an article I’d written for the Irish Press that shows me decidedly low-chested. Over the intervening years I have ballooned and deflated and am now at my fighting weight, but sin Guinness.

Hence the trials and tribulations of those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia strike a chord although I have been inflicted with neither.

This week the prosecutor’s office in Guipúzcoa in the Basque region of Spain announced that it had closed down three websites that were visited by girls aged between 12 and 18 years that were related directly to anorexia and bulimia showing them how to drastically loose weight.

The prosecutor ordered the closure reporting that “between 1,500 and 8,000 girls regularly visited the sites and that 60 per cent of them were in the first phases of these illnesses and 23 per cent were at an advanced stage.”

According to the technical investigation unit of the National Police the websites organised competitions between users to see who could loose the greatest amount of weight the quickest. The prosecutor decided to act when it appeared that the ultimate conclusion could be suicide.

Whilst when I was a child my lack of weight caused me much pain these girls are urged to be thin to become “group leaders”, are assured that it is a form of “social success” and wait for it – told to tell their parents to order a coffin no more than 40 centimetres in width.

As a journalist and a liberal I strongly believe in the freedom of expression and object to any form of censorship. The prosecutor justifies the decision to close down the websites because they were not a mere forum for spreading information amongst sufferers but actively promoted being thin and anorexic amongst minors.

A tough call then.

I have to say that I view anorexia as a disease of our modern society and it will not be solved by simply closing down a couple of websites.

When I was young “Guinness was good for you” so much so that it was poured out in hospital for pregnant mothers and offered in Ireland to blood donors.

For my part I wished I’d discovered the miracle brew when I was a child and given it up in my 20s. Then the shape of things to come may have been very different.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I would not describe myself as an aficionado of flamenco but I certainly enjoy it and have a number of CDs in my music collection.

I firmly believe that to perform flamenco in music, dance or song you have to be Spanish and preferably of gypsy stock but equally the raw power and passion is accessible to all.

Hence several years ago when Falete was amongst the performers at the Jimena International Music Festival I made sure I was there.

Now I’d always presumed that Falete was a man but as he came on to the stage I embarrassed myself by shouting – that’s a woman, that’s a woman –to those about me.

Well Falete is a man and a mighty fine flamenco performer as well but it has to be said that he performs in the style of a female artist.

Falete appeared in the news recently to announce his wedding to his “novio”, 24-year-old José Isaac Roffe Silva. The same sex coupling was due to take place in his native Sevilla on December 12 and all were invited.

On Monday October 13 José Isaac was the alleged victim of a kidnapping attempt at knifepoint at 5.00 in Sevilla’s plaza de la Alfalfa. He claimed that two kidnappers had forced him into a car, demanded money and released him several hours later. The same day he reported what had supposedly happened to the police.

Falete reacted with anger to the suggestion that the kidnapping had been staged as a publicity stunt to promote his records.

Then a week after the kidnapping the police arrested José Isaac who is accused of making up the kidnap attempt. Officers say they were suspicious when he first gave evidence and that subsequent enquiries have shown the incident to be a sham.

The following day, Tuesday October 22, Falete announced that his “engagement” to José Isaac was off and there would be no wedding. He stated that what had happened was “distasteful” and “painful” but promised he would honour all his forthcoming performance commitments.

Falete is indeed a true talent but one can’t help suspect that in the hard world of flamenco he has been dealt more than his fair share of knocks. Whether the kidnapping was a publicity stunt that went wrong or an attempt to defraud Falete, who knows?

On his new disc "¿Quién te crees tú?" he sings of pain: in this instance it is real.


I doubt if there is much French kissing going on in the Spanish corridors of power – spitting blood, very possibly.

The French president who is also the current president of the EU, Nicolas Sarkozy, has announced that he is calling a meeting of European leaders to prepare for the world conference on reforming the international finance system - but he hasn’t invited Spain.

Spain represents the fourth largest economy in the EU block and its government was angered when it wasn’t invited to a previous top level meeting as the financial crisis broke.

Obviously no nation likes to be snubbed in this way. On the other hand, thank God, Spain has largely been spared the financial mayhem that has been visited on France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and other EU countries.

As several British banks have been rescued by Spain’s largest bank, Santander, which also pumped money in to the market to help liquidity – it could be that Zapatero’s presence would be an embarrassment.

It would have been nice to be asked though.

Mind you Sarkozy has even rubbed his friends up the wrong way. German’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has admitted that she doesn’t like the touchy, feely ways of her French counterpart. She says its nothing personal – it’s just that Germans prefer to shake hands whilst the French kiss.

I reckon Zapatero has got off lightly!

Monday, October 20, 2008


I am a firm believer in the saying “What goes around, comes around” especially in the world of politics.

I have dwelt here in past weeks on the fact that for politicians the only thing that matters is achieving power and then holding on to it. They might justify their deeds by saying they are selling out on their supposedly deeply held principles in our interest but we are not as stupid as they are and know better.

Last week I came across the news item that PSOE in Ronda had elected Isabel Aguilera as its spokesperson. The socialists are in coalition with the Partido Andalucista of Mayor Antonio Marín and she is the councillor in charge of the municipality’s finances.

Now Marín presides over a PA that is split down the middle. Until earlier this year he was in coalition with the Partido Popular and the socialists were bitter opponents and critics. Marín then took everybody by surprise, including members of his own party and especially the PP, by throwing them out of his administration.

The PP then went through every conceivable manoeuvre to woo back Marín and would have done anything to restore the pact. Marín refused and then entered a coalition with his previous detested foes, the socialists of PSOE.

So Marín now has a divided PA on his hands and bitter opponents in the PP.

Marín came to power in 2004 when he led his party in to coalition with the PP and the former GIL councillors. They brought a no confidence motion against the then ruling socialists and threw out the mayor who had only been in the job a number of months.

Isabel Aguilera came to the post of socialist spokesperson after Ana Fuentes, a national MP, resigned from the council because of the demands of her Madrid-based job. Aguilera is not new to such high profile posts. Indeed she is a former mayor of Ronda – the one that Marín was instrumental in kicking out in 2004!

So let’s review this again. Marín leads a divided PA, has made firm enemies of the Partido Popular and his coalition partners, who just months ago were his bitter opponents, are now led by Isabel Aguilera who he ejected from power four years ago.

If there are any long knives in the town hall I hope that Marín keeps them firmly under lock and he has the key.

Friday, October 17, 2008


It has not been a good week for opposition Partido Popular leader Mariano Rajoy. He has been embarrassed twice, both times at the hands of the media.

In the first instance last Saturday he told a party colleague that on Sunday he had to go to a “damn parade” not realising that the microphone was open. The “damn parade” was the annual national celebration for Spain’s military on October 12 where the hapless Rajoy would have to stand alongside both the king and prime minister in Madrid.

It was even more embarrassing for him as a year earlier, as the election season neared, he urged his countrymen to fly the flag with pride on that special day. Damn parade! Damn microphones!

Now the embattled party leader has been called a clown on the channel La Sexta’s news. The station has apologized saying it was a technical and human fault and not an attempt to humiliate Rajoy.

The unfortunate incident happened during the showing of a clip concerning racism amongst soccer supporters at Atlético Madrid who have been disciplined by UEFA. The voice over referred to trouble breaking out as a banner showing the Nazi symbol of a skull was removed. At the moment the commentator said “la imagen de un payaso” – “the image of a clown” Mariano Rajoy appeared.

It appears that the clip of Rajoy entering the State parliament was started early by a technician and hence coincided with the offending “clown” phrase.

La Sexta says it was just bad luck that Rajoy appeared at that moment.

The PP’s vice secretary of communication and spokesperson, Estaban González Pons, called on La Sexta to be held to account for “a serious error”.

The fact is that few people would have seen La Sexta’s gaffe. Now thanks to the PP’s outrage everybody knows about it, including you.

No word to date from Rajoy. He probably doesn’t dare speak in case a microphone picks up his angry words but he may well have sobbed in private – the tears of a clown.

(See Tuesday’s blog – “It’s Not What You Say, It’s What The Microphone Picks Up”)

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Yesterday I blogged on the subject of “how Catholic is Spain?” with the results of a survey carried out for the Vatican.

Today I bring you the up till now secret news that a Catholic priest tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II. Again the source is the Vatican and comes from the memoires of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was a close advisor of the pontiff for almost 40 years including his 27 years as pope.

In May 12 1982 Pope John Paul II visited the Catholic shrine of Fatima in Portugal to give thanks for surviving an assassination attempt on May 13 of the previous year. That is when the Turk Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pontiff in Saint Peter’s square.

An ultra-conservative priest, Juan Fernández Krohn, took the opportunity to stab the pope. The priest was overwhelmed by those around the pontiff and subsequently arrested. The pope was rushed to safety but the stab wound had drawn blood. However his attempt to kill Pope John Paul II has remained a secret until now with the publication of Dziwisz’s memoires, ‘Testimony’.

Yesterday I touched on the role that the Catholic Church in Spain played as an integral part of the Franco regime. Although Pope John Paul II is perhaps perceived as “conservative” in the wider world he started his papacy very much as a “liberal” hence, no doubt, this ultra-right priest’s attempt at a deadly intervention.

Although the Catholic Church is seen as the ‘Church of Rome’ Spain has played a major influence in its affairs. The Jesuits, with their church within the church, are of Spanish origin. The infamous Borgia dynasty came from Valencia supplying two popes, Calixtus III and Alexander VI, as well as a saint, but is best known for its corrupt rule of the papacy in renaissance times. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”, that was for Monty Python fans, and of course today, we have the ultra-conservative and secretive Catholic organization, Opus Dei, that was brought to the public’s attention in the Da Vinci Code. It was founded in Spain in 1928 by the Roman Catholic priest José María Escrivá who ironically was made a saint by - John Paul II.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I was brought up a Catholic and although now largely non-practicing they say once a Catholic always a Catholic.

When I grew up in England two countries struck me as being strongly Catholic – Ireland and Spain. On reflection, 50 years later, I guess that the same could have been said for France and Italy.

With regard to Spain those were the Franco years when the Catholic Church was part of the State. From the history I have read of the pre and post Civil War years I personally do not feel my church served the people of Spain well but I view that matter from a left of centre prospective. Others will think differently.

That having been said I was interested to see that the Vatican has just published the results of a survey in to attitudes to matters Catholic in 11 different countries.

So here are some of the findings for Spain:

73 per cent of people say they pray, 37 per cent every day.

77 per cent of Spaniards believe in God but that figure is dropping, it used to be 86 per cent.

74 per cent of Spaniards say they participate in some religious rite but only 20 per cent do so on a weekly basis. I suspect Semana Santa and local processions are included in the first figure.

Only 20 per cent of Spaniards have read the bible in the past year. This places Spain at the bottom of the chart along with France (21 per cent).

61 per cent of Spaniards have a bible in the house.

41 per cent believe the words of the bible are inspired by God but do not have to be interpreted to the letter.

34 per cent of Spaniards say it’s an old book of legends whilst 17 per cent believe it is the direct word of God.

The Spanish and French are almost at one on this next one. Forty eight per cent say the bible is difficult, 31 per cent easy, 60 per cent say it’s interesting and 21 per cent find it boring.

27 per cent think the bible should be studied in schools, 22 per cent are totally convinced it should but the rest totally disagree.

By the by the citizens of the USA are the most frequent people to pray (87 per cent) and also have the highest readership of the bible (75 per cent). I am sure that tells us something about our American cousins but I will leave it to you to say what.


My granny used to tell me – “It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it.” To this she might have added: “And make sure that the microphone is turned off.”

Hence a very red face this weekend for the Partido Popular leader, Mariano Rajoy. He was due to attend the “12 de octobre” military parade in Madrid as part of the nation’s celebrations of its armed forces on Sunday.

However on the day before, whilst attending a PP event in La Coruña, he told an aide “Mañana tengo el coñazo desfile” not knowing that the microphones were on.

Politely translated it means “tomorrow I have to go to a damn parade” which he indeed did. His words were taken as an insult to Spain’s military, not a happy position for a right wing politician to find himself in.

You can only imagine his embarrassment as he stood alongside the Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and King Juan Carlos, who no doubt enjoyed the spectacle all the more.

It was even more unfortunate for “Papa Smurf” Rajoy as the year before in the run up to Spain’s general election he had tried to wrap himself in the nation’s colours. Then he had called on his fellow countrymen to celebrate this national fiesta by “showing with pride” the Spanish flag.

Not that Rajoy is alone as both his predecessor José María Aznar and current premier Zapatero have been caught out by live microphones.

However pride of place must go to José Bono who in January 2004, when president of Castilla-La Mancha, called “gilipollas’ to the then British prime minister, Tony Blair. Unfortunately Bono’s aside was captured on live television. Given Blair’s popularity at the time I am not sure whether to be called a “cock sucker” was an insult or a compliment.

But I know what my granny would have said!

Sunday, October 12, 2008


The current economic crisis and the photographs of embattled traders on the floors of stock markets around the world brought my mind back to the day when I too shook up the market.

It wasn’t the stock exchange but the floor of the world’s oldest insurance market Lloyd’s of London.

In those days when I and the world were extremely young I worked for the “intelligence department” of that august body. Technology such as faxes and the internet had not even been thought of yet alone invented. However we did have a bank of telex machines giving instant access to the Lloyd’s agents worldwide and machines spewing out reports from various news agencies.

There modern technology stopped. The telexes and news stories were edited by our seniors and betters and a team of oiks like myself then wrote out the news in longhand script on individual foolscap sheets of paper. Several times an hour a waiter, a term dating back centuries to when Lloyd’s was a coffee house, would take these sheets down to a notice board on the floor where they would be pinned up. The brokers would then gather round to read the latest news.

The Torrey Canyon tanker went down off the Cornish coast in 1967 whilst I was thus employed but I staked my claim to fame when a building caught fire in Bombay with a huge claim for the property and stock. I duly wrote up the tragic tale that was pinned on the board then minutes later was hurriedly returned by the waiter from a panic stricken trading floor.

Had a whore house really burnt down in that Indian city and was Lloyd’s involved in insuring such establishments and its stock in trade? I am sure that one way or another it does insure such buildings but its stock, probably not. However I had to hurriedly rewrite the piece as it wasn’t a whore house at all –but a warehouse!

Hence 20 minutes later the trading floor returned to a state of calm, brokers loosened their stiff collars with relief and the Lutine bell remained silent for another day.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


As the wind and rain howled around my zone of Spain yesterday the power kept going off. Rather like the world finance markets I guess. To keep in touch with the economic trends, as power was restored for a few minutes, I’d zap around the TV stations – BBC World, CNN, Sky News and Fox.

I was rather puzzled that every time I arrived at Fox the economic crisis didn’t get a mention. Instead it was concentrating on that day’s theme – is Barack Obama linked to terrorists? They even dragged out a retired cop who gave us his view of world terrorism no doubt as seen through the bottom of a glass in a Bronx or Brooklyn watering hole.

There too was Sarah Palin revealing the low down on Obama’s alleged links to radical professor William Ayers.

This morning it all became clear. Turning on Sky News it reported that an Alaska ethics inquiry had found that Governor Sarah Palin had abused her authority by pressuring subordinates to fire a state trooper involved in a feud with her family.

Fox, bless it, was merely laying the ground in a clumsy attempt to divert our attention. Unfortunately it was “off-message” because on the same day McCain was desperately trying to back track assuring his bewildered supporters that Obama was a "decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States."

Fox prides itself on being “fair and balanced”. Of course it is – all shades of Republican views are catered for. Democratic views aren’t worth a dime, which puts them slightly ahead of the US economy.

Meanwhile actress Penélope Cruz has said in a magazine interview that Barack Obama has to win the Presidential election – he is “intelligent, prepared and open.” Just why a Spanish film star was giving her views on US politics to an Italian magazine I’m not too sure – but that’s the global village for you!

Penélope is affectionately known as “Pe” in Spain, which is rather unfortunate when given the Anglo-Saxon pronunciation. She says that if the McCain and Palin ticket win the elections – she will cry for hours. No doubt Hollywood will at last reward her with the long lusted for Oscar! However in the coming days be preparing for the “Pe” to be taken out of Palin, but not on Fox.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


It is accepted as general practice that opposition politicians from democratic nations do not criticise their governments when travelling abroad. Hence you can only have total sympathy for Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, when this week he bitterly criticised Opposition Leader and former chief minister, Joe Bossano, for taking local political differences to the international audience at the UN.

Both politicians were in New York to address the UN Fourth Committee which deals with decolonisation. If ever a united front was called for this was it.

An angry Caruana stated: “I was very disappointed with Mr Bossano’s speech. It was an embarrassment to the Government and it was outrageous. He seems to be playing at the UN the same party politics as he plays in Gibraltar.”

The chief minister continued that the purpose of Bossano’s speech was to “undermine and rubbish the arguments and the position of the Gibraltar Government to tell the Fourth Committee that the views of the Gibraltar Government do not represent the views of Gibraltar because we only won by 300 votes, that is not true. He has to understand that Governments govern and represent the country abroad. And oppositions, especially oppositions that have lost four elections in a row do not. He cannot come here to undermine, rubbish and embarrass the Gibraltar Government’s position as if this was Parliament in Gibraltar. The place for Bossano to rubbish my foreign policy is in Gibraltar not here. Here I come as Gibraltar’s formal representative not as the leader of the GSD to be contradicted by the leader of the GSLP. He does Gibraltar a huge amount of harm.”

In some instances Gibraltar takes itself too seriously but here is an occasion when it has not taken itself seriously enough.

In the near on 15 years that I have written a weekly column about Gibraltar I have been careful to try and reflect the views of the Rock rather than my views on matters Llanito. However I have in the past been critical of Bossano’s desire to go show boating before the UN and can only repeat my distaste now. If he has a role to play before the Fourth Committee it is to stand shoulder to shoulder with his Chief Minister. If he can’t do that then he should stay away.

With some 18,000 voters the Rock is in world-terms a village, and a small village at that. Gibraltar’s inability to present itself before the UN speaking with one voice has made it a laughing stock in the international corridors of power. And for that the ball of blame is firmly in Bossano’s court.


In recent weeks some informed discussion websites have taken up the theme of is Spain in need of another Franco?

In many ways this is a discussion solely for Spaniards and really the key input has to come from those who lived under ‘Franquismo’. In the same way that a debate in Italy on the need for another Mussolini has to be confined to its nationals.

For instance in Britain we say that Mussolini could be credited with making the trains run on time. However only an Italian who lived through those years could say whether that was fact or fiction.

The debate on strong leadership normally comes when times are difficult such as now. When the going is easy the people have other less weighty matters on their mind.

There has always been those on the far right in Spain who yearn for the discipline of ‘Franquismo’ whilst those on the far left call for a return of the ‘republic’ regime. In normal times the vast majority of voters sit in the centre and hence keep their nations on the democratic straight and narrow. However these are not normal times and the swing in Germany in the 1930s behind Nazism should be held in mind.

Whatever nostalgia may remain in Spain for Franco and ‘Franquismo’ we have to remember its counterpoint when the Guardia Civil was feared by one and all with repression the key to keeping power.

The current level of corruption in Spain at a government and institutional level is one factor that has those who favour ‘Franquismo’ yearning for the past. Don’t be fooled, the Franco regime thrived on corruption, the only difference is that it was applied by just one section of society but today is enjoyed across the political spectrum.

As Britons we’d be fools to believe we are above such underhand dealings. In the 2008 Corruption List produced by Berlin based Transparency International the UK slipped to 16 th with a score of 7.7 with Spain 28 th on 6.5.

Chandrashekhar Krishan, Transparency International’s Executive Director, points to Britain’s ‘wretched and woeful record’ in prosecuting businessmen who pay bribes to foreign politicians and officials to win contracts. Sounds all too familiar to me. Bring back Churchill I say.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I had been vaguely aware that the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth, had recently complained that she needed more money to make ends meet.

The news raised a laugh from the crowd in a recent edition of Jay Leno’s ‘Late Show’ on NBC when he suggested that she needed the dosh to buy another “dowdy handbag”.

I wasn’t aware till now that the Spanish Royal Family is also to receive more money in the State budget for 2009.

Now I have to say I am a great fan of the Spanish Royals who I think compare more than favourable with the members of the House of Windsor. I also have to admit to having a schoolboy type crush on the Reina Sofía who is actually Greek by birth.

Of course the suggestion that the Royal households in Britain or Spain use the cash to buy another “dowdy handbag” or a fine “pata negra jamón’ is far from the mark. The “households” are little more than government departments with buildings, staff and expenses.

None-the-less when all about them are feeling the “credit crunch” it doesn’t do to be caught nibbling at the luxury chocolate of the same name currently being flogged by Selfridges.

During the World War II Blitz the British King and Queen endeared themselves to Londoners by staying at Buck House whilst the bombs fell about them and indeed even scored a hit. That was in the days before spin doctors or image makers but George and Elizabeth got it spot on.

A little of their savvy wouldn’t go amiss in these troubled times with both the British and Spanish Royal households.

It is an age old truism that at times of crisis those at the top have to align themselves with those at the bottom. Not to do so invariably ends in tears. 1792 and the guillotine comes to mind.

Monday, October 6, 2008


The financial crisis is well and truly here with many people in the developed world faced with losing their homes and worrying about where the next meal will come from.

Now enter the famous London store Selfridges which is selling a luxury chocolate called ‘Credit Crunch’.

The no doubt very pleased with himself Ewan Venters, Selfridges’ director of food and restaurants, simpers: “Although people might be looking to spend a little less at the moment, they still want to treat themselves to the best in terms of quality and luxury. Quality chocolate is the ultimate solution, being relatively inexpensive, instantly satisfying and really helps lift your mood.”

Welcome to the real world Mr Venters.

In Spain, Europe’s fourth largest economy, there are three levels of poverty. Moderate being those households with an annual income of less than 6,869 euros, ‘pobres medios’ where the disposable income is 4,572 euros a year or less and ‘pobreza extrema’ with less than 3,219 euros who suffer from extreme poverty. These groups account for nine million Spaniards – 20 per cent of the population.

On the wider stage on October 17 many countries will hold the World Day for the eradication of poverty. It is estimated that 3,000 million people live on less than two dollars a day; 1,200 million are starving whilst 30,500 children under the age of five die every day from hunger.

With two dollars you wouldn’t even buy half a bag of ‘Credit Crunch’.

But then those 3,000 million don’t shop at Selfridges.


Those of you who are old enough to remember Brian Rix’s famous farces where the participants rushed in one door and out another or exited by the window or hid under the bed will appreciate fully the political shenanigans taking place in Gaucín.

Gaucín, a small village inland from the Costa del Sol, has been in political crisis for many a month but now it has descended in to farce.

To start at the beginning the mayor up till the last local elections was the Partido Andalucista’s Francisco Corbacho. He then faced court proceedings alleging that he had misappropriated town hall funds. His three fellow PA councillors also have question marks hanging over their involvement in town planning deals.

After the local elections left wing PSOE and right wing Partido Popular formed an unlikely coalition to keep Corbacho and the PA from power. Corbacho was then found guilty, barred from office, but as he is appealing the decision remains a councillor and PA leader.

This year the PP split from the coalition but indicated that it would continue to support the PSOE mayor Teodoro de Molina and his minority administration. That was till August when one of the PP councillors broke ranks. A vote of confidence followed, De Molina was ousted, with PP rebel Francisco Ruiz taking power with the votes of the four PA councillors.

So now Ruiz is mayor, Corbacho and his fellow PA councillors are in power - then comes the final twist, at least for now.

Step forward the PSOE spokesperson on the council, Felisa Carrasco. She announces that she is to become the mayor’s secretary and announces her resignation from the socialist party although she would have been pushed if she hadn’t jumped. This has left the socialists, and many other observers, wondering how the former PSOE spokesperson can become the right-hand woman of the right of centre Partido Popular mayor. In Gaucín all things are possible.

José María de Loma writes in his El Palique column in La Opinion de Málaga: “Cambios de chaqueta han existido toda la vida en este país, con larga tradición de rojos con camisas de Falange bien guardadas de antaño y por si acaso; de fascistas oportunistas afiliados a la UCD o al PSOE de la primera hora de la transición.”

This is a theme I have touched on before in this blog and we all have to accept that to a politician power is everything and political parties are merely a route to achieving that goal. So if one party fails to provide then there are always plenty of others. It’s only us, the poor old voter, who stays loyal to our convictions and beliefs.

(For my previous blogs on this subject click on – Corruption a Real Threat to Spanish Democracy – and – Party, Party, Party at: ).

Friday, October 3, 2008


The ‘Casa de los Duques de Alba de Tormes’ is Spain’s most noble family. It can trace its roots back to the 14 th century and I believe that it is far more ‘royal’ than the British ‘House of Windsor’. In a quick glance through the family’s assets I see listed four palaces, two castles and a handful of houses and estates. I can see you connecting with them immediately!

The present head of the family is María del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva or Cayetana to her friends. By my calculation she is 82 years of age and by all accounts was a bit of a girl in her day.

Today as she is wheeled out for events my heart sinks. Because of her ‘royal’ status the media hoard crowd around her firing questions hoping that she’ll mutter a quotable gem. Believe me it is not a pretty sight.

There have been recent rumours that the Duquesa is seriously ill. So I was surprised when this week she came out fighting. She insists “I am in good health” and wait for it “don’t rule out my getting married.”

According to Cayetana in an interview with ‘Hola’ her legs are now a problem but that does not stop her leading a normal life, or what passes for normal in the ‘Casa de Alba’. She insists that she loves Alfonso Díez, the feelings are very intense, they have corresponded for over 30 years and wedding bells may well ring in the near future.

Which just goes to show you are never too old especially if you are a Duquesa.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I last wrote about domestic violence on August 25. It will be a subject that I return to many times in the life of this blog.

I make no apology for restating that I believe in zero tolerance for any person who is violent to their partner. Indeed I also believe that it is not sufficient for men to stand up and be counted but we have to act rather than spout pious words.

Back on August 25 I wrote: “Instances of domestic violence have become major news stories in Spain because in recent years the government has introduced tough laws to protect women from abusive partners. This had led to far more women coming forward to denounce their partners and to seek protection but sadly society’s ability to keep them safe has not kept pace.

As a result we now see regular grim reports of the violent slaying of a woman by her husband, boyfriend or ex. I do not believe that men in Spain have become more violent merely that our awareness of these cases is now heightened.”

However there is something rather strange about the Spanish statistics.

I was aware that in the “domestic violence” court established in Algeciras a majority of the cases do not come from Spaniards but Moroccans. There is a large immigrant population in the port town and traditionally the view of Maghreb men to the rights of women are very different to our own.

Before you, perhaps as a European, get too smug over this fact let me give you another uncomfortable truth. In the special courts set up on the Costa del Sol the number of domestic violence cases involving non-Spaniards, including my fellow EU citizens and yes Britons, also out number those for Spaniards.

On Sunday September 28 a 25-year-old Argentinean, Cecilia Natalia Coria Olivares, was brutally stabbed to death as she opened up a bar where she worked on Nerja’s Balcón de Europa. Her slayer was her 29-year-old former boyfriend, a Moroccan, who had a court order baring him from approaching her.

This tragedy rang a bell in my brain because it appeared to me that many of the cases of such violent deaths involve not Spaniards but foreigners living here. I made a mental note to email the Ministry of the Interior to get a break down of the 48 violent deaths so far this year. However I was saved in the task by Maribel García Revilla.

She is the president of the “asociación de mujeres progresistas Victoria Kent”, that on the last Tuesday of every month holds a silent protest against domestic violence in the plaza Alta in Algeciras. This Tuesday, just days after the Nerja killing, she pointed out that around 50 per cent of these violent murders involve foreign women, with their slayers invariably non-Spaniards.

García Revilla recognized that many of these women were here illegally but urged them to come forward to the courts, to associations such as hers for help as the most important thing is their life and not their legal status.

Previously I stated that whilst Spain had introduced progressive laws on domestic violence the protection of women under threat had not kept pace with the current situation. García Revilla also addressed this point relating it to the recent assault of a woman in Los Barrios. She had a court order barring her partner from approaching her, but not a pulse alarm she could use in an emergency. “Pues la orden de alejamiento es papel mojado”, in other words the legal paper was no protection at all.