Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Transparency International has issued its world corruption league table for 2008 and Somalia comes bottom of the list. It will be no surprise to learn that Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe are close rivals for this dubious honour.

The least corrupt country is Denmark with the UK coming in at 16 and the USA at 18. Spain slips from 22 to 28 in its rankings sharing that spot with Qatar plus Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which sounds like a 50s pop group.

TI indicates that corruption is widespread in Spain. It affects most the political parties followed by the private sector, then Parliament, the media and lastly public employees and the legal system.

TI says its Global Corruption Report 2009: Corruption and the Private Sector (GCR) shows “how corrupt practices constitute a destructive force that undermines fair competition, stifles economic growth and ultimately undercuts a business’s own existence.”

In the case of Spain it is the town planning scandals that have seen its rating drop – a situation that will surprise few Spaniards or foreign residents living in the country. This was confirmed by Jesús Lizcano, TI’s president in Spain who singled out town planning as the principal cause of corruption in his country.

In presenting the document Lizcano said that some laws had been introduced to help in the fight against corruption but conceded there were still major deficiencies. He pointed to the 2007 law on the financing of political parties that had progressive measures prohibiting secret donations.

However he added that local parties were not sufficiently integrated in to the accounting system of the central organisations so illicit payments could still be made at that level.

In addition the law governing the issuing of contracts in the public sector had not yet incorporated the new directives laid down by the European Parliament and Council. Indeed the system of adjudicating contracts for works, services and supplies needed global reform in Spain.

It should be stressed that it was not all negative news. Towards the end of 2007 the Guardia Civil formed a special unit to tackle town planning crime and its investigations are bearing fruit. TI also recognised that Spain was improving its legal capacity to tackle corruption and this was largely due to international accords although it was noted that Spain had not yet ratified its civil and criminal conventions on corruption brought in by the Council of Europe.

To visit the TI website and to view the league table click here.

Monday, September 28, 2009


After a period of ‘internal reflection’ the Basque terrorist group ETA announced on Sunday that it is violence as usual – no surprise there then. It reaffirmed its use of violence to achieve its separatist aims but said it also remained open to a political solution.

In a statement released in the pro-independence Basque newspaper Gara, a usual mouthpiece for ETA, it declared: “We reaffirm our commitment to continue with arms in our hands while our enemies opt for repression and denial.”

It continued: “But at the same time we say that ETA’s desire has always been to find a political solution to the political conflict...desire and total readiness to take that path.”

In July ETA marked its 50th anniversary with a series of terror attacks in Spain. It has been blamed for the deaths of 828 people in its campaign for an independent Basque homeland in parts of northern Spain and south western France – a campaign that is rejected by the vast majority of people living in the region.

The news that it is violence as usual will surprise no one. In 2007 ETA called off a 15-month-old truce following a deadlock in tentative peace talks with the Spanish government. Since then Spain’s Socialist government has taken a hard line, repeatedly ruling out new negotiations. There have also been a series of successful operations by Spanish and French police that have weakened ETA by seizing key personnel and arms supplies.

The ETA statement came as security authorities in Northern Ireland warned of the serious threat posed by dissident republican groups there. This followed an upsurge in attacks in the province for which the Real IRA claimed the credit.

It is a chilling reminder that at a time when our political leaders point to Afghanistan as being the cradle of terrorism the most real threat to our safety is on our own doorstep and comes from our fellow countrymen.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I have been reading a report in the Gibraltar Chronicle on an interview the veteran leader of the GSLP Joe Bossano gave to Andalucía Información.

Now the 72-year-old politician had announced that the last election would be his swan song as leader so a new talent has to step forward. The Chronicle quotes him as saying that a future new leader of the GSLP will be responsible for the decisions that he takes, just as he himself is now, but points out that if at any moment that leader “takes a crazy decision, it will be good that there is somebody with experience to advise him.”

Well the most likely inheritor of Joe Bossano’s crown is the opposition big beast Fabian Picardo although Gilbert Lucadi and others may dispute that. However Joe Bossano’s remarks seem to conjure up the spectre of him hovering at his successor’s shoulder giving “helpful advice”.

I am of the school that believes that when a political leader leaves the stage he or she should not sneak off to the prompter’s booth or heckle from the stalls. Going should mean just that - going. The majority of Britain’s party leaders of the past half century managed the feat with the exception of Ted Heath who haunted Margaret Thatcher like the Ghost of Christmas Past to his dying day.

There is however a problem with the GSLP. Gibraltar’s socialist party is very much the personal fiefdom of Joe Boss, its founder. There is a large percentage of people on the Rock who would never vote for the GSLP because they cannot abide Bossano. Equally there is another chunk of the population that votes GSLP solely because he is the leader. The day he is taken out of the equation it is difficult to know which way the voters will jump.

It will help the next leader of the GSLP if him or her can win the general election and hence become chief minister. Although Joe Bossano led the government in the late 1980s and early 1990s he has lost four elections on the trot. If Picardo or others can snatch the Rock’s top job Joe Boss can be shoved in to the background. Fail and he will be at their shoulder till his dying day.

When I passed the GSLP HQ the other day I am sure I heard the faint rattle of chains.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I have been writing a weekly column on Gibraltar for around 16 years. I try my hardest to reflect matters relating to the Rock rather than any opinion of my own. I have only one mantra I believe in the right of the people of Gibraltar to self determine their own future be it British, Spanish, joint sovereignty, independent, some federation within the EU – whatever.

As a former British colony and now I presume a British territory I believe the people of Gibraltar should have the right to expect frequent visits from the Royal Family in the same way that the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa are visited by Spain’s Royal Family.

I have seen the Red Arrows numerous times, I first went to a Battle of Britain air show at Biggin Hill in 1956 when memories of the encounter were still fresh in people’s memories and I am proud to have served in the auxiliary wing of the Royal Air Force.

So why am I telling you all this. Simply because I was “uneasy” over the display by the Red Arrows and British military aircraft over the Rock last Saturday. Please note I was “uneasy” not disgusted, alarmed or appalled but just “uneasy”.

Now there has been plenty of air shows in recent weeks in Málaga and Cádiz and true I was not “uneasy” about them. But as I drove on the road above Torreguadiaro yesterday and looked towards the Rock and Europa Point I was left with an “uneasy” feeling about how the display must have been seen from nearby Spain.

I fully understand the jubilation in Gibraltar at both the Red Arrows and other military aircraft taking to the skies to celebrate the Battle of Britain. I appreciate the feeling of pride that seeing the red, white and blue smoke spread across the sky must have engendered in the people of the Rock, a people who are denied all too often the basic visits from British Royals that their history and loyalty deserves. None-the-less I was “uneasy” - but not disgusted, alarmed or appalled but just “uneasy”.

The air display generated a predictable response from José Ignacio Landaluce, the opposition Partido Popular MP for Cádiz which includes the border region with Gibraltar. He said the air show was a “warning” from Gibraltar adding “Gibraltar and the UK get together to make our country feel inferior, making it clear who gives the orders in the colony.” He also told the Spanish Parliament that Spain had to stand first against “the expansionist pretentions of Gibraltar”.

Señor Landaluce is an idiot.

However I was still “uneasy” - not disgusted, alarmed or appalled - but just “uneasy”.

Photo: Panorama – for Gibraltar’s online reports on the air display and other news click on “Panorama” in the links box.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Words such as ‘sándwich’ and ‘nuggets’ have been accepted in to the Spanish language but when Spaniards want to hold a conversation in English in can easily result in Spanglish.

Or so says the Oxford University Press that has created http://www.100spanglish.es/ – a website where it is possible to view videos and practice English with the objective of avoiding the mistaken construction of sentences such as “I am very preoccupated” or “I have give a shower”.

According to the OUP Spain is at the tail in Europe in learning English with only 20 per cent of Spaniards capable of maintaining a conversation in a different language against the European average of 44 per cent.

In http://www.100spanglish.es/ there are videos of well known Spaniards such as José María Aznar, Emilo Botín and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero speaking in English albeit rather badly. OUP say users can vote for the most amusing with the rankings currently topped by Franco with “Aiguanmuviman” – although when I viewed he’d slipped to number 5.

The prize for the best users of Spanglish is an English course entitled “My Oxford English” which has been prepared on-line by Oxford University.

The OUP reports that only 9 per cent of Spaniards between 18 and 55 study English. They do so to travel (35 per cent), for work (50 per cent) and for personal satisfaction (15 per cent).

Twenty-nine per cent of this age group have never studied English and of the 71 per cent that have two out of three have attained a low or medium low level.

I believe the term Spanglish was coined in the USA for the language developing where the Spanish and English speaking communities coincide. Spanglish was later used for Spain especially in the coastal areas where the same mix takes place. I have read it could apply to Gibraltar – but that patois is Llanito which is a far more fluent mix of the two languages. Certainly the Spanish workers in La Línea who work on the Rock have created their own slang – Linense – using English or corrupted English words and phrases learnt from their work mates. I would also argue that the British community in Spain, which doesn’t speak Spanish per se, is also developing a patois by dropping English words and inserting basura, ayuntamiento and so on.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Even when I was young –and that was many moons ago – the British Empire was on the wane. There were plenty of red bits still on my school atlas but that could well have represented the bloodshed of some self-determination battles. For today’s younger generation The Empire is a cinema on Leicester Square but the cost of Britain’s former domains is still coming home to roost.

The Guardian recently ran an article stating that Britain could be forced to bail out one or more of its offshore tax havens at huge cost, according to a Treasury report. The document, still in draft form says the economic crisis has wrecked their finances.

In October off-shore expert Michael Foot will set out a number of options to government ministers. Britain already has a huge mountain of debt from fighting the financial crisis but there is anxiety over the health of Britain’s overseas territories and crown dependencies.

According to the Guardian the 1988 collapse of Barlow Clowes and the Spanish pensions problem prompted a select committee of the House of Commons to commission the National Audit Office to investigate contingent liabilities arising because of responsibilities for off-shore centres and territories whether from financial or even natural disasters.

The Guardian reports that early drafts of Foot’s report suggest that the government may need to make provisions for the financial failure of British tax havens. Experts suggest the failure of a major tax haven could potentially cost the UK tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds.

So how does this affect Gibraltar? When I first started writing my Gibraltar column in 1993 the finances of the Rock were still a hot topic. However times have moved on with a healthy financial centre and internet betting companies boosting its economy. There is apparently in the draft nothing to suggest that Gibraltar is at risk but had the Rock been defeated in the EU tax case that sought to deprive Gibraltar of its fiscal independence the situation could be different. Indeed there is concern as Spain is challenging that decision from the Luxembourg-based court.

I asked Fabian Picardo MP, who speaks on financial matters for Gibraltar’s Opposition in the Rock’s parliament what his party’s take on this issue was. He told me: “There are no circumstances in which the Opposition would wish to see Gibraltar once again have to rely on hand-outs from the UK; something the GSLP weaned us off in the late 80’s. The most basic economic management would now make such a scenario unnecessary. In any event, Gibraltar is quite different to the other offshore territories which are being referred to as we do have a tradition of personal and corporate tax payable by residents.”

However there could be a cloud on the Rock’s horizon. The Guardian suggests there is an ongoing government review of on-line gambling sites, such as those based in the Isle of Man and Gibraltar. London may seek to impose more stringent regulations on them, which could threaten their off-shore futures.

Friday, September 18, 2009


The current world economic crisis has hit Spain hard. Like Britain it will probably be one of the late to emerge from recession, a recession which some believe is already over in France, Germany and Japan.

In Spain the economy has been smashed and there are lengthy dole queues. At some time the economy in the future will recover but it is the Spanish body politic that is in danger.

There is a lot of disquiet in the country over the socialist government of José Luis Zapatero Rodríguez. There are those who would argue that he is the worst “ruler” of the nation since Ferdinand VII who was basically a crook.

However it is not Zapatero that is the problem but the Partido Popular opposition of Mariano Rajoy. Whenever an election comes in Spain the voters can throw Zapatero and PSOE out on their ears – if they so wish. The only alternative government is the PP led by Rajoy. The Spanish opinion polls show the true extent of the problem where basically PSOE and the PP are running neck and neck despite the economic turmoil.

Contrast that to Britain where the discredited Labour government are and have been for months ten or more percentage points behind the Conservatives and have suffered humiliating by-election defeats. For Gordon Brown the writing is on the wall.

The PP is wracked with corruption scandals. What’s worse is that Rajoy and his party have willed that Spain is overcome by economic disaster as he and they see that as the most likely way to regain power. They promote the nation’s destruction rather than its salvation but the voters’ dissatisfaction with this ploy is plain to see as they haven’t rallied to the PP cause.

In recent days, Juan Rámon Quintás, the president of the nation’s savings banks, has said that unless an accord can be reached between the political and social sides then the best thing for the nation would be an immediate general election. Then the newly elected leader would have the required mandate to lead Spain out of the crisis. However it is not an economic but political crisis that faces Spain and the decisions facing the voters are tough because neither Zapatero nor Rajoy have won or deserve their trust.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


As the date for the British General Election starts to approach Sky News TV has been pressing the leaders of the three main parties – Labour, Conservative and Liberal – to enter in to a live TV debate.

Sky News has even started an on-line petition and at the weekend they kept proclaiming it had received 10,000 signatures. I haven’t counted the UK population recently but let’s say it is 60 million plus so 10,000 is hardly a ringing endorsement for the TV extravaganza.

Of course trial by TV is established practice in the USA. However that nation is the size of a continent so TV is an important electoral tool but to be honest just being an observer of the debates surrounding the Primaries and then Presidential contest has left me talked-at to death.

In Spain there are TV debates, two I think, between the leaders of PSOE and the Partido Popular ahead of a general election. I know they cause a lot of excitement for the media but whether they sway voters one way or the other I have no idea. I suspect they don’t.

The German General Election is shortly with us. They had a TV debate last weekend and Sky News gave it ample coverage telling us this was how our elections should be conducted. In the event it was a damp squib, boring in a very German way – indeed you’d get more excitement watching a man dance in Lederhosen.

So Sky News (the sister station of Fox News in the USA) backed by the Murdoch media empire of The Sun, The Times and the Bromley Bugle (ok I made the last one up) is pushing for the first General Election TV debate in the UK.

My view on this is very simple.

Yes to the TV debate – No to it being aired on Sky.

The whole essence of the three political leaders – Brown, Cameron and Clegg - going to head-to-head is that the British voters can watch, judge and decide.

Therefore the debates should be on free to view services such as the BBC or ITV.

Democracy is too valuable for it to be assigned solely to Sky subscribers. Nor are our politics yet another tool in the Murdoch armoury for increasing his empire’s viewers and profits.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


This morning I chewed the cud with my good friend Prospero.

Actually we chewed a mollete filled with jamón serano y tomate in the Bar Vecina – but same difference.

I have often said that Prospero is wiser than his years. As of today, his birthday, he is a year older and therefore the two are probably on a par.

Certainly Prospero is older than me – but he still has his own teeth. If they are not his teeth then his denture maker has a cruel sense of humour.

Prospero is the chronicler of all that happens of interest in Jimena de la Frontera – and on frequent occasions records events that are of no interest at all but, yes its one of my buts – he makes them sound fascinating. Journalism, cerveza cero cero and cafe con leche are in his blood.

There is a very curious thing about birthdays. I remember at my first job in London being bemused when it was a person’s birthday – and they had to buy the cakes!

Come my 21 st birthday, which was many years ago, I found myself paying for numerous rounds at the Coach & Horses in Soho before I was finally thrown out for squirting the soda siphon over one and all.

Now I always thought that this perverse ceremony of the birthday boy or girl having to pay was some weird English tradition.

Not so.

For this very morning Prospero insisted that he had to buy the birthday breakfast – in the Spanish tradition.

Sadly soda siphons are now museum pieces just like Prospero - and I guess me too.

But I have to tell you that at 10.40 this morning a pig flew over the Bar Vecina.

Read all about it in Jimena Pulse.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


With the autumn rains fast approaching Spain’s specialist fire teams of Infoca could be excused for slapping themselves on the back after another summer without any major blazes in Málaga province. Then the Estepona fire struck and destroyed more land than has been burnt in wild fires in the province in the last three years.

The fire started in the area of the San Isidro Labrador municipal park in Estepona last Wednesday and quickly spread thanks to the strong winds in the direction of Casares. It was not till Friday that Infoca declared the fire was fully controlled although operatives stayed on duty to ensure there were no flare ups.

Initial estimates suggested the fire had burned 600 hectares of scrub and tree covered hillside but that was later revised down to 520 hectares. The over calculation is easy to explain because of the difficult terrain, the same problem that hindered fire teams in tackling the flames.

In the last three years around 500 hectares has been burnt in wild fires in Málaga province so the Estepona fire exceeded that large area. It was also the third worst fire in the last decade after Cortes de la Frontera in 2006 which destroyed 660 hectares and Mijas in 2001 which burnt 1,100 hectares.

The Brigada de Investigación is working on the theory that the fire was started deliberately in the San Isidro Labrador park after receiving information from a worker who saw somebody leaving the area hurriedly just before the blaze took hold. On visiting the scene it is plain to see how the fire started near the shrine and then took off with the wind towards Casares.

There were major concerns that the inferno would damage historical and valuable environmental sites in the fire’s path. The 5,000 year old Megalithic Necropolis at Corominas in Estepona has not suffered structural damage from the flames and fire fighters were on standby to protect the Monte del Duque, an area of high ecological value in Casares, but the inferno passed it by.

Now what has this got to do with a dog turd I hear you cry?

Well as I walked across the burnt out land I happened upon said turd. It was not a common style doggie doo but shaped so that it had a finger like protrusion pointing towards heaven. It had survived the raging inferno, was certainly baked but now held firm. A sign surely that whilst devastation may be all around us we can still cock our leg at life.

Is he barking mad?

Woof, I reply!

Stop Press: on Thursday it was announced that an Estepona woman had been arrested on suspicion of starting the fire. Police tracked her down after acting on information supplied by eye witnesses. She has appeared in court and been released on bail as the judge did not believe she would flee. The mayors of Estepona and Casares have stated they will demand the full weight of the law is brought to bare on any person convicted.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Before the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown took the top job he had already established a reputation for always distancing himself from trouble.

As Chancellor of the Exchequer he and his minions had got the ploy of ensuring Gordon was not linked with any scandal or disaster down to a fine art.

Nothing has changed.

World economic crisis – nothing to do with Gordon – he was just in charge of Britain’s finances in the critical run-up to the fiscal melt down.

Murky dealings surrounding the repatriation of Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi to Libya – nothing to do with Gordon – it was those stupid Scots.

Problem is Mr Brown is head of Labour’s Scottish mafia and he likes to spend time before the cameras eating sheep’s whatnots with Gadhafi in his desert tent.

Now we have the fiasco of the botched rescue of British journalist Stephen Farrell from his Taliban captors in Afghanistan.

When the news first broke there was Gordon praising the action and happy to let everyone know it was him that gave the orders.

Then the whole episode turns sour so the valiant leader back tracks and explains that it was Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth who issued the order and not him. He was merely consulted.

It wasn’t me guv, honest – is the bleating from 10 Downing Street. Sadly honest is a phrase that sits uncomfortably on Mr Brown’s shoulders.

If life and the week weren’t bad enough Mr Brown also had to endure a telephone conversation with President Obama. The President is nobody’s fool so whilst the Prime Minister might think he can hoodwink the British people Barack Obama gave it to him straight telling the dour Scot of his “disappointment” over the bomber’s release. Oh I bet he did!

Well at least President Obama got his “disappointment” off his chest.

The British people have to wait to the next general election to tell “honest” Gordon of their “disappointment”. But tell him they will!

Since I penned the above it has been revealed in the Daily Telegraph that the British SAS are training Libya’s Special Forces. This has caused wide-spread resentment and anger amongst the elite troops as it was Libya that supplied the IRA with weapons that killed and injured SAS personnel in Northern Ireland. Of course Gordon Brown knows nothing of that.

To make matters worse The Sunday Times has suggested that Britain reached a deal three years ago with Libya to drop any investigation or prosecution in to the death of PC Yvonne Fletcher. The London “Bobby” was killed whilst on duty outside the Libyan Embassy in 1984 by a shot fired from inside the building. Despite a police siege of the embassy nobody has ever stood trial. The reports suggest that Justice Secretary Jack Straw was the key figure in agreeing this deal tied to trade with the Libyans – the same Mr Straw who has his fingerprints all over the al-Megrahi release – but of course the Prime Minister would never have been consulted, would he?

And the beat goes on, and on, and on...

So it does! On Friday the British Government confirmed that police officers - including a senior officer from Northern Ireland - had been sent to Libya to train its own police. That's a senior officer from a force that bore the brunt of the IRA attacks - with arms and explosives sent from Libya. Needless to say the surviving victims and the families of those who perished are appalled. So am I - but not surprised.


Regular readers of my blog will know that from time to time I dip in to the blog ‘Voto en Blanco’ for inspiration. This week my esteemed colleague, Francisco Rubiales, under the title “Señora ministra de Sanidad, escúcheme usted” has reproduced an open letter from the Spanish daily newspaper “El Mundo” addressed to the country’s Minister for health. It was penned by Monica Lalanda, a medical specialist in emergencies.

Amongst the topics that Dr Lalanda picks up on is her thanks to the minister for selecting medical staff such as her for inoculation against Swine Flu because they are essential workers. She states: “suddenly I am valued as a national asset” then adds “but come and see my contract or those of the rest of doctors in this country. The vast majority work with contracts that would be a shame in the rest of the old Europe.”

Dr Lalanda also begs the question – why are Tamiflu stocks being kept under custody by the Spanish army? Many medics worldwide say that “the effectiveness of the antiviral against this flu is dubious” and only reduces the duration of symptoms and side effects for a short while. The doctor says that Tamiflu should be freely available in pharmacies as too should other rival products which are currently not freely available so “there are no panics from restrictions.”

However it is the doctor’s last paragraph that interests me most. It is not unknown for governments, specially the monarchs of the days of old, to start a war to divert the populace’s attention from the dire situation at home. Indeed in recent times “security threats” have been used as an excuse to reduce or take away our basic freedoms in the name of the “national good” or our presumed need of “protection”.

Dr Lalanda sees the Swine Flu campaign as a “smoke screen” now that the economic crisis continues in Spain with unemployment at historical high levels with taxes rises to combat the low GDP.

I agree. This winter normal flu will take more lives than Swine Flu but that statistic will not be mentioned. Instead governments around the world will tackle the quasi-threat of Swine Flu in the hope it diverts our attention from the real problems that blight our lives - problems they are failing to cope with.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


It has been drawn to my attention that the Greek God Priapus had mislaid his penis.

As he is the God of Fertility and supposedly the protector of male genitalia that must have been some handicap and a tad embarrassing.

A Brazilian art restorer found it under several layers of paint. Regina Pinto Moreira spent eight months restoring the Nicolas Poussin work “Hymenaeus travestido durante un sacrificio a Príapo”, which was painted between 1634 y 1638 – and out it popped.

The report I read said the work is to be “exposed” at Sao Paolo’s Museum of Art – but I guess they mean “displayed” – or perhaps they don’t.

Apparently the restoration supervised by the Louvre cost 150,000 euros – I’ll leave it to you to work out how much that is per inch.

Over the years the picture has had several owners and is now in the possession of the Spanish Royal Family – so it is unclear who touched poor Priapus up. However as most images of him show a large, permanently erect penis - hiding it seems to me to be defeating his entire object in life. After all with Priapus – what you see is what you get.

You can see and judge for yourself on the restored picture above.

As for me I have to say that if I didn’t know otherwise I’d have said it was his pet hamster peaking out over his low-slung garland.

Monday, September 7, 2009


By the time I was born World War II was finished by a couple of years so I had to wait to the Cuba crisis before I had the very real sense of fear of pending war.

At the time I was at boarding school in Lancashire and I remember standing outside in the dark getting some air after the evening meal. We were all fully aware of the pending nuclear Armageddon as we scanned the night sky wondering if the small light passing overhead was an aircraft or the first of the missiles that would signal our end. Would our world still be there in the morning?

Well that was a long, long time ago - for it was in 1962 that the USA imposed stinging sanctions against the Castro regime under the Trading with the Enemy Act and they are still in place to this day. They totally failed to bring down the Cuba government and in 2009 do more political harm to the USA than the Caribbean Island. Indeed given the evils we face in this modern world there can be no justification for the on-going crusade against Cuba.

On September 14 President Barack Obama is due to renew these sanctions. Amnesty International is calling on the president to take the first step towards dismantling the US embargo against Cuba by not renewing them.

Amnesty has just published a report – “The US embargo against Cuba: Its impact on economic and social rights”. In it the human rights group concludes that the sanctions are particularly affecting Cubans’ access to medicines and medical technologies and endangering the health of millions.

Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Irene Khan said:

“This is the perfect opportunity for President Obama to distance himself from the failed policies of the past and to send a strong message to the US Congress on the need to end the embargo.

“The US embargo against Cuba is immoral and should be lifted. It's preventing millions of Cubans from benefiting from vital medicines and medical equipment essential for their health.”

Amnesty International states that Cuba faces severe restrictions in importing medicines, medical equipment or technologies from the USA or from any US company abroad because of the embargo. The sanctions also limit other imports to the island and restrict travel and the transfer of money.

Products patented in the USA or containing more than 20 percent US-manufactured parts or components cannot be exported to Cuba, even if they are produced in third countries.

Further more according to data from the United Nations, Cuba’s inability to import nutritional products for consumption at schools, hospitals and day care centres, is contributing to a high prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia. Some 37.5 per cent of Cuba’s children under three years old are affected according to UNICEF.

Children's health was also put at risk by a decision from US syringe suppliers to cancel an order for three million disposable syringes made in 2007 by UNICEF’s Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation when it became known that the units were destined for the implementation of a programme in Cuba.

Similar situations have affected the implementation of UN programmes to prevent and fight HIV/AIDS on the island.

Irene Khan continued:

“Although responsibility for providing adequate health care lies primarily with the Cuban authorities, governments imposing sanctions such as embargoes need to pay special attention to the impact they can have on the targeted country's population.”

Amnesty International in Spain, where for historic reasons the plight of Cuba has a higher profile than in the UK, is asking people to urgently add their signature to a letter to President Obama. You can do that by clicking on this link:


As a human rights organisation Amnesty International is not blind to nor has it been silent on the abuses that have taken place on the Caribbean island. However two wrongs do not make a right and viewing Cuba as “the enemy” has no place in the modern world.

(Photo of medicine rationing queue in Cuba - Amnesty International)

Friday, September 4, 2009


You have to be thick skinned to be a politician and unsavoury attacks come with the turf. However the accusation that Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, had exercised censorship came not from a local political rival or hack but a respected TV journalist and was aired on Channel 4 TV in the UK.

The man making the accusation was Channel Four’s Kwame Kwei-Armah who accuses Caruana of attempting to “exercise censorship in the programming” of “On Tour with the Queen”. The last of the four episodes were broadcast on Monday night and the programme retraces the steps of Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 Commonwealth Tour.

This episode dealt with the Queen’s visits to Libya, Malta and Gibraltar. Channel Four argues that Spain saw the Queen’s visit to Gibraltar as a deliberate provocation. This sparked anti-British riots in Spain, started Franco’s campaign against the Rock culminating in the closure of the border with Gibraltar for 16 years in 1969.

Kwei-Armah had arranged to interview the chief minister but when he announced he was going to interview a Spanish journalist to get a view from the other side, the chief minister’s office called him to say that if he wanted to speak to a Spaniard, he would not be able to interview Mr Caruana.

Hence Kwei-Armah referred to the threat in the programme observing he had been all over the world, including some African countries, and the only place where any attempt at censorship had been made was in European Gibraltar.

The Opposition says Caruana is being accused in the Channel 4 programme of placing pre-conditions on a journalist in order to agree to be interviewed over the events of 1954. It observes: “His attempt at curtailing the freedom of the press led the journalist to openly state, when the programme was aired, that there exists in Gibraltar censorship of the press.

“The journalist from Channel 4 thought it might be a good idea to interview someone in Spain who was around at the time, but was categorically told that if he did this, Peter Caruana would refuse to be interviewed. The journalist also claims that by co-incidence, two other people from Gibraltar who were to be interviewed cancelled their appointment when this happened. He clearly thinks they were got at.

“This time, Peter Caruana's bullying approach towards the media in order that his views alone get covered, have been seen for what it is. He has given Gibraltar the image of a banana republic and in one stroke helped the campaign against Gibraltar orchestrated by sections of the Spanish media which already depict us as if we were a banana republic. It appears that because he gets away with pressurising some journalistic institutions locally, something the Opposition has already highlighted on innumerable occasions, he thinks he can also do this to professionals coming from abroad who are experts in recognising the kind of despotism displayed by Peter Caruana.”

The Chief Minister of Gibraltar is always the alpha male ape on the Rock. The problem is that when the tactics used against local political rivals and the media carry over in to the wider world respected international journalists will go bananas leaving the Chief Minister of the day in danger of looking a stupid monkey.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Across the Spanish border from Gibraltar lies La Línea. The mayor, Juan Carlos Juárez, has called on the Trilateral Forum between Britain, Spain and the Rock to explore the creation of a bilingual cross-border university that will tap the region’s “rich and unique linguistic characteristics”.

In a statement Juárez said the university could draw on the backing of higher-education establishments in both Spain and the UK. “The unique circumstances of La Linea and Gibraltar offer a multitude of areas that could be promoted, for example higher education.”

All very true but when Juárez says bilingual what languages does he mean?

In La Línea they speak Spanish (Castilian), Andaluz and those who work in Gibraltar a dockyard patois of both Spanish and English plus Linense. In Gibraltar they speak English, Spanish although more often than not Andaluz and the Rock’s own language, Llanito.

So which two did he have in mind?

As they say in Gibraltar – “Esta tomate”.