Friday, February 26, 2010


Every year on February 28 Andalucía celebrates its national day. The region also pays homage to Blas Infante – the father of the modern Andalucía. He died for his belief in a federal Andalucía for as the military coup took hold in 1936 he was rounded up by the Falange and shot. It was four years later – June 1940 – when a judicial death sentence was handed down to justify his assassination – a verdict that still stands to this day.

Blas Infante Pérez de Vargas was born in Casares on July 5, 1885. Today Casares is a small inland village on the Costa del Sol but back then the majority of the population lived in abject poverty. Blas’ father – Luis Infante Andrade – was licensed in law and was the secretary of the Casares court. His mother – Ginesa Pérez de Vargas – was from a family of farm labourers.

Blas studied for his ‘bachillerato’ in Archidona till 1899 when the family suffered badly in the economic disaster of 1898 that saw the country loose its colonies in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines after the Spanish – American War. This forced Blas to leave college with his final course in his ‘bachillerato’ uncompleted. From 1900 he worked as a secretary at the court in Casares and at the same time studied with the faculty of law at Granada University travelling there in June and September to take his exams before finally becoming a lawyer in 1906.

From 1910 he worked as a notary in Cantillana which allowed him to make contact with the intellectuals living in Sevilla where he started to develop his ideas on Andalucía especially with the members of the Ateneo de Sevilla. The hard conditions of the agricultural labourers who worked on a daily basis made a major impact on him forging his socialist beliefs.

It was during the reign of Alfonso XIII that Blas Infante’s political thoughts developed along Republican and federalist lines. He believed in the defending of Andalucía as a Spanish region different from the rest of the country – furthermore he wanted to see Andalucía reconstructed as part of the wider regeneration of Spain.

Around this time he wrote: “My nationalism, before being Andaluz, is human. I believe that by birth nature signals to the soldiers of life the place where they have to fight for it. I work for the cause of the spirit of Andalucía because that is where I was born. If I was born elsewhere I would fight for that cause with equal fervour.”

By 1915 he had set out his personal vision of the history, identity and problems of Andalucía in his most important book ‘Ideal Andaluz’. In 1918 he was present at the Assembly of Ronda, where inspired by the Constitution of Antequera of 1883, it set out the bases for ‘Andalucismo’ in order to obtain political autonomy for Andalucía. The assembly adopted the design of the flag and coat of arms of Andalucía proposed by Blas Infante.

In the 1918 elections Blas Infante attempted to stand in the district elections for Gaucín and a year later there again and in Sevilla but the strong presence of the ‘caciquismo’ – local bosses who protected the political and economic elite - prevented his success. On January 1, 1919, he signed along with other members of several Centros Andaluces the Manifesto Andalucista de Córdoba that defined the concept of Andalucía as a historic nationality within a federal Spain.

When the Second Republic was proclaimed in 1931 he took the post of notary in Coria del Rio where he built a house called ‘Dar al-Farah’ or ‘House of Happiness’ inspired by the architecture of Al Andalus personally overseeing its decoration. He presided over the Junta Liberalista de Andalucía which presented candidates for the Partido Republicano Federal. It did not win any seats in parliament but its manifesto repudiated centralism for federalism, sought a solution to the ‘caciquismo’, the reform of the electoral, economic and justice systems and promoted the freedom of expression amongst its beliefs. He ran for parliament again in the elections of November 1933 for Málaga for a coalition Izquierda Republicana Andaluz formed by the Partido Republicano Radical Socialista and the Izquierda Radical Socialista but its failure left Blas Infante a disillusioned man.

In 1933 Blas Infante proposed that the melody of the hymn Santo Dios, sung by the workers when they finished for the day should become the Himno de Andalucía. After the elections of 1936 and the victory of the Popular Front the Andalucista political movement received a boost. During a conference in Sevilla on July 5 Blas Infante was acclaimed as the president of honour of the future Junta Regional de Andalucía. Just days later the military coup led to the start of the Spanish Civil War. Various members of the Falange went to Blas Infante’s house in Coria del Rio and he was taken away to be shot without any trial or sentence being handed down. His assassination took place on August 11 along with two other prisoners at km 4 on the Sevilla to Carmona road. It was not till four years later on May 4 1940 that the Tribunal de Responsabilidades Políticas, created after the end of the Civil War, condemned Blas Infante to death and also ruled that his heirs should pay a fine.

It is ironic that whilst the Junta de Andalucía formed after Spain’s return to democracy has adopted the flag, coat of arms and national anthem created by Blas Infante – no steps have been taken to reverse the judicial sentence handed down years after his death. This rankles with many so perhaps amongst this year’s celebrations for the 125 th anniversary of his birth the father of Andalucía might finally receive justice.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I have to file nine main news reports for the newspaper each week on the area from Fuengirola to Manilva and inland to Ronda. That is no problem – there is plenty of news about. What is a problem is that there are so many town hall corruption reports on Marbella and Estepona alone - largely in the Malaya and Astapa cases - that many weeks they could take up my full quota.

In recent months I have written many a report of the trials and tribulations of Estepona’s town hall and how that affects the residents. Schools have had no toilet paper or bleach. The fire brigade has most of its vehicles off the road as the town hall can’t afford to repair them. Municipal offices have had their phones and internet links cut off. The local police have had no fuel for their patrol cars. And so on because Estepona is bust.

Given that scenario I suspect the residents of Estepona, some of whom read this page, will be delighted to learn that over ten million euros of what they might consider as their money is sitting in a bank account in Andorra.

The funds are said to be those of the former director of town planning in Estepona between 2003 and 2007, Pedro López. It was hidden in accounts in the name of his family. According to the National Police the money comes from constructors who paid “commissions” to the town hall in order to have building licences granted. The accounts have now been blocked by the Andorra authorities.

Ironically López appeared before the Estepona court investigating the ‘Astapa’ town planning corruption case on Monday. The purpose of his visit was to enlarge on the testimony he gave on first being arrested on June 17, 2008. It would be interesting to know if he commented on the discovery of the Andorra funds. For now we will not know as judge Jesús Torres is maintaining the secrecy clamp down so we will have to wait to the case finally comes to trial.

There is a backlog of corruption cases waiting to be heard in the Málaga provincial court. First up is Ballena Blanca, then Malaya this April or May – the latter being the biggest corruption case in Spain’s history, which is saying something. So Astapa will have to wait its turn – but for the people of Estepona seeking justice for their embattled town that day cannot come soon enough.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The middle finger or ‘dedo corazón’ in Spanish was much in the news last week. The former premier José María Aznar was seen to show his at the University de Oviedo to those protesting at his visit. However what has caught the public’s imagination is that the minister for equality, Bibiana Aído, should allocate 26,597 euros to its more effective use.

Veterans of the political world suspect this is the first time that the word clitoris has appeared in the official State bulletin (BOE). History was therefore made with the notice that 26,597 euros was being given as a grant to a project named as “Elaboración de un mapa de inervación y excitación sexual en clitoris y labios menores.” I suspect for the majority of readers no translation is required.

It seems that scientists may know what lies on the far side of the moon and we can click on to images of Mars. However as of yet there has been no mapping of the clitoris so Bibiana Aído has taken it upon herself to come up with a solution. Also by putting her finger on this apparent problem the ‘dedo corazón’ will get to the heart of the matter.

One may question that at this time of economic crisis is it a national priority to know the layout of this most intimate of bodily parts? Obviously the minister believes it is. Although I dare say that the macho men of Spain will declare that the clitoris has no hidden zones for them and they know the G-spot as well as the palms of their hands.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Make no mistake the furore surrounding the arrest of two of the three brothers who headed up the Marrache & Co law firm in Gibraltar has sent shudders through the financial services and legal sectors. The Financial Services Commission was the first to act to withdraw the licences it had issued to Marrache’s allowing it to take clients’ investment funds.

However the financial arm of the law firm was probably the least well known and it is as a legal practice with offices in Spain, Portugal and the UK – as well as the Rock – that had made Marrache’s famous. Indeed up to two weeks ago they would have been rated at least by those outside the legal beagle world on the Rock as one of its top firms. Whether its fellow lawyers had any inclining of what was afoot we are yet to find out.

Last week Benjamin and Solomon Marrache, the two brothers facing multi-million pound fraud charges, were refused bail and remanded in prison by the Magistrates Court. Stipendiary Magistrate Charles Pitto said there was a high risk of the two men fleeing Gibraltar as the police probe into the affairs of Marrache & Co intensified. Attorney General Ricky Rhoda, QC, said the scale of the alleged fraud appeared to be larger than investigators first thought. If convicted it is said the brothers could spend up to 10 years in jail, presumably on the basis of the charges they now face. I would guess that if more wrong doing is discovered then their future lives behind bars may be extended.

Benjamin and Solomon appeared in court last week jointly charged with falsely accounting $5.6 million Canadian dollars and 2.1million euros belonging to Malory Holdings and Remus Enterprises. That is in addition to the charges of falsifying documents to conceal 1.8 million euros of missing money belonging to another client they already face. Prosecutors claim they falsified ledgers to show that they held the clients’ money when in fact it was missing.

Initially they had been granted bail on hefty sureties but now Mr Pitto has sent them to a cell in the Moorish Castle instead. The defence lawyers had sought to highlight the defendants' strong local ties but that argument is weakened by the absence of the other senior Marrache partner – Isaac, brother to the jailed duo. He was out of the country when his siblings were arrested and seems reluctant to return. An international arrest warrant is probably in the offing. The case is similar to that of Marbella’s former deputy mayor Carlos Fernandez, who at the time of the ‘Malaya’ town planning corruption case arrests was walking the Camino de Santiago – and has kept walking to this very day.

The company’s and clients’ affairs are now being handled by a committee made up of the four senior partners of Hassans, Isola & Isola, Triay Stagnetto Neish and Triay & Triay – the Rock’s four other major firms. The committee is overseeing the distribution of live cases to other local lawyers in order to protect the interests of Marrache clients.

What I find strange about cases such as this was the certainty that they would be found out. If you were a fraudster you could set up a fake investment account, attract gullible investors, then make off with 1.8 million euros of dosh, assignment completed! However the Marrache’s have allegedly misappropriated nearly ten million in Canadian dollars and euros – their misdeeds covered by a few flimsy pieces of forged letters so assuring that sooner rather than later their legal house would come tumbling down.

Also a rogue father, son, mother or daughter has in the past often brought down or shaken the very foundations of the family concern. Here it appears we have three suspect brothers who if proved guilty presumably colluded in the fraud. This is behaviour more akin to the mafia. In which case one has to ask the question – are there other people in Marrache’s who were involved?

Once this case comes to court the proverbial will hit the fan and it will be spread over Gibraltar’s legal and financial sectors. Their very integrity will undoubtedly be questioned because if you can’t trust Marrache in Gibraltar terms who can you trust? What is certain is that future students of law and human nature will study the proceedings of the Marrache case with keen interest.

(In case you were wondering the photograph at the top of this page was sent to me last year by Marrache’s amongst much fanfare announcing their sponsorship of this race car. Whether the driver behind the wheel is Isaac making a quick getaway I know not.)

Friday, February 19, 2010


The economic crisis that started in the banking sector in the USA quickly spread around the world and engulfed the majority of nations. However it affected different countries in various ways. For instance one of the most visible signs in the UK was the collapse of the banks whereas in Spain the financial institutions have remained fairly stable.

Make no mistake thought the financial crisis in Spain has been severe and it is the only major EU economy still in recession. Unemployment is also the highest in the EU whilst the worst hit sector has been the construction industry.

So it is no surprise that the Spanish socialist government is having to look at drastic ways of dragging the country out of the downward spiral that threatens the financial and political stability of the nation. What has come as a surprise is that the PSOE government has chosen to put pensions in to the forefront of that battle. It has caused a rift between the socialists and those on the far left of Spanish politics in Izquierda Unida.

One major difference between Britain and Spain is that whilst centre right and centre left parties predominate the far left in Spain plays a major role whereas in the UK it occupies the fringe. There are IU councillors, town halls and provincial administrations as well as MPs at regional, national and European level. So when the IU decides to mobilise it matters.

At present the pension age in Spain is 65 and to qualify for a State pension you have to be in the scheme for 15 years. What the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is proposing is that the age should be moved to 67 with the suggestion that workers should be in the system for 25 years. That forms part of the PSOE government’s financial rescue plan to be presented to the European Commission in Brussels. If implemented it would affect every worker below retirement age, immediately.

The IU case is quite simple. The pension age should remain at 65; the qualifying period should stand and the current system whereby the value of pensions is maintained because they rise with the inflation index (IPC) should not be altered.

The rise from 65 to 67 is the tip of this iceberg. If the qualifying period was increased from15 to 25 years that would leave many people now at the end of their working lives without any hope of qualifying. Also it has always been accepted that apart from any increases awarded by the government of the day the pensions would keep pace with inflation with the IPC linked annual rise.

In a report on the issue the Secretaría de Economía y Trabajo of the federal IU argues that the socialist government’s policy will benefit the nation’s banks who market private pension schemes. It believes that if State pensions are to be low and difficult to obtain then workers will want to contract with a private pension instead. Is it not ironic that to solve a crisis started by the banks it is those selfsame financial institutions who would benefit at the expense of the workers? Has it not always been so?

The Zapatero government argues that the changes are necessary because currently State pensions account for 8 per cent of PIB (Britain’s GNP). It points out that in Italy pensions account for 14 per cent of PIB but there are no plans to increase the qualifying age whilst in France where the qualifying age is 60 there are no plans to alter the qualifying period. In Spain the pension system is in good shape with an 8,500 million surplus in 2009 – the year the financial crisis was at full force.

The IU is to take to the streets to make its case. It was 11 years ago that the party collected a petition of 500,000 signatures and presented it to the Spanish lower house of parliament, Congress. This action allowed its proposal for the working day to be reduced from 40 to 35 hours to become an Inciativa Legislativa Popular (ILP). Now the federation of leftist groups is to take the same action to keep the pension age at 65 through the ILP voice of the people.

Gaspar Llamazares, the IU spokesperson in Congress, did not mince his words. He stated: “If the Executive does not withdraw this proposal there is no possible negotiation. This cannot be negotiated. The president must appear in Congress and withdraw this measure that breaks the pact with the parliamentary left and the workers.”

The IU is not alone and the main Spanish unions, the CC.OO and UGT, have called for demonstrations that will run from February 23 to March 6 in all the major cities. The battle lines have been drawn.

Now back to Britain. At some stage in the not too distant future the British Government of the day is going to have to tackle the financial chaos. Nothing is going to happen before the next election. However once a government is returned the socialists, conservatives or a coalition who then have a mandate to rule will act. How they act will be governed by their political perspective but act they will and it could well be the State pensions that are in the firing line.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Pope Benedict XVI summoned the Irish Cardinal and bishops to Rome to drag them over the coals of hell fire on the child abuse issue.

A Vatican statement told us:

“The Holy Father observed that the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image.”

Actually it’s a heinous crime and a grave sin regardless of a person’s age.

For 99.9 per cent of the population of the world the Pope was stating the bleeding obvious regardless of a person’s race or creed.

What needs to be explained is why one Irish Catholic priest abused over 100 children.

Why this is not only an Irish problem but one that is to be found in all countries with a large number of Catholic clergy.

Why the Catholic Church has been a refuge for paedophiles and whilst paedophiles felt safe in the bosom of the Church of Rome.

It is all very well to know that Pope Benedict can talk the talk – the church has been doing that for over 2,000 years.

What the world –and especially the victims - is waiting to see is if the Catholic Church can walk the walk.

I’d say at present it’s at the crawling stage!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


It is a lamentable fact but Andalucía is at the tail of the reading league in Spain. Furthermore the number of readers in the region has dropped sharply from 55 per cent in 2000 to just 50 per cent in 2009.

To find the nation’s booklovers you have to travel to Madrid. There 64.4 per cent of people say they are habitual readers, well above the national average of 55 per cent. Indeed La Rioja (58.4), Aragón (58.3), Cantabria (57.8), Navarra (57.7), the Canary Islands (56.9), the Basque region (56.8), Cataluña (55.6) and the Balearics (55.3) all beat the Spanish norm.

There have been three major initiatives in Andalucía since 2000 to boost the numbers and habit of reading but these seemed to have failed. The experts say the reasons are “historical” pointing to the socio-economic depression and culture to explain away the low Spanish reading rates, a problem that is especially acute in the south of the country.

So who is the typical Spanish reader? Well that reader is female, young, university educated and an urban dweller. She prefers to read novels and in Spanish. However the largest group of readers are children aged between 10 and 13 where a 91.2 per cent rating is recorded.

The most read book in Spain in 2009 was “El niño con el pyjama de rayas” by John Boyle. However Steig Larsson leads the classification of the most read and bought author.

The high reading rate amongst the very young at school level is seen as a possible hope for the future. Also the development of new technology with the ‘e-book’, which the experts believe will capture the imagination of young people who will increasingly live in a digital society. They hope it will encourage them to read.

Is that our last hope?

Friday, February 12, 2010


As St Valentine’s Day fast approaches Today Translations in London spoke to some 320 linguists to see what was the most highly rated way to "talk the romantic talk".

“Amour” was voted the most romantic word in the world.

It won easily over “Amore” its Italian equivalent – but Italian was deemed the most romantic language.

The Italian word “Belissima” came in third in the romantic word chart followed by “Tesoro” in fourth – a word that is also Spanish and means treasure.

French was deemed the second most romantic language followed by English then Spanish.
So what are the most romantic phrases? The experts chose "watakushi-wa anata-wo ai shimasu" – which apparently is Japanese, followed by "rydw i'n dy garu di" – yes, it’s Welsh and in third place is “qaparha” – klingon - the language used in movie Star Trek.

Needless to say I don’t know what any of them mean!

But just remember next time you are confronted by Chewbacca on a dark night, romantic or otherwise, the word is – “qaparha” – or at least I hope it is!

Thursday, February 11, 2010


The anti-terrorist experts have issued an alert on the new and lethal development in Al Qaeda – the use of western looking men and women, who live habitually in Europe or the USA and who act alone without any link to Islamic cells who are “practically undetectable”.

This is the stark warning from a conference in international terrorism organized by the UN in which members of the Guardia Civil Grupo de Análisis de Terrorismo Trasnacional participated. It has resulted in the issuing of an alert to the activities of what are called “free radicals”.

The Guardia Civil terrorism specialists along with their counterparts in the rest of the western world were alarmed by the frustrated attempt to bring down the flight over Detroit and the massacre at Fort Hood in which a lone terrorist shot dead 13 soldiers. This has led them to hunt for this new category of Al Qaeda operative – the solo Jihadist.

These terrorists are self financing and are equal to the small Islamic cells that have been dismantled in recent years in Spain. They have been dedicated to small time crime such as thefts or drug trafficking in order to raise the funds for their activities.

They do not receive training in the camps in Afghanistan or Pakistan but instead use the internet where they can link up with Jihad websites and receiving training in terrorist methods.

Second generation immigrants in to Spain who have been hit hard by the financial crisis and unemployment can be easily indoctrinated into radical Islamic ways. The difficult economic times can also hamper their integration in to their new homes in Spain or other western countries.

The spotlight on these new terrorists has been centred on Spain – the Al Andalus of the Islamists - who have used this name as their trade mark to spread Al Qaeda propaganda especially in the Islamic States across the Strait of Gibraltar in North Africa.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Last Friday marked 25 years since the re-opening of the border between Gibraltar and Spain. The Spanish media headlined the anniversary with the words “sin advances”. True the over 300 year problem of the Rock’s sovereignty has not been solved to Spain’s liking but there are also those in Gibraltar who see the tri-partite forum as no advance at all.

The border was closed on June 8 1969 in a protest by General Franco who was angered that the people of the Rock had voted overwhelmingly (12,138 to 44) in a referendum to maintain the link with the British Crown.

The closing of the gates caused hardship for many people in the Campo de Gibraltar who had worked or done business on the Rock. It also saw Gibraltar meetings its labour needs across the Strait in Morocco instead of from nearby La Línea.

The frontier remained closed after the death of Franco and the introduction of democracy in Spain. Indeed it was not until December 12 1982 that the PSOE premier, Felipe González, decided to open the barriers so that pedestrians could pass.

We have to move on to February 5 1985 when the border was finally re-opened to pedestrians, vehicles and freight traffic. This was two months after the Spanish and British Governments had signed the Brussels Declaration which set out the basis for renewed discussions on sovereignty.

However no such talks took place till 2002 when the British administration of Tony Blair tried to bump Gibraltar in to a joint sovereignty accord with Spain then led by José María Aznar. A second referendum was held on the Rock in which the people rejected a break with Britain with the same force as they had in 1969 – with 98.97 per cent saying no.

On that occasion the Partido Popular government in Madrid did not follow Franco’s example although those crossing in and out of Gibraltar were subjected to major delays from the early 1990s onwards.

It was in 2004 that the Spanish Government of current PSOE premier José Luis Zapatero Rodríguez opted for a different approach towards Britain and Gibraltar. This lead to the forum of dialogue and the Córdoba Agreement that has seen the governments of Spain, Britain and Gibraltar talking at the same table – a concept bitterly opposed by the Partido Popular who believe that the Rock should not have its own voice.

Various agreements have been reached, the joint use of the airport is in the offing, cross border access is now much easier – but there is still much to be done. Of course there are those in Gibraltar who believe that the Córdoba process has given too much to Spain – whilst the Partido Popular believes the Spanish Government is too soft in defending Spain’s interests.

At present Spain’s centre left PSOE government has opted for dialogue and co-operation with Gibraltar’s centre right GSD administration. It could be that in the near future both governments will change with centre right Partido Popular ruling in Madrid and centre left GSLP on the Rock. In that case opposites will probably not attract. Britain could soon have a Conservative government with policy on Gibraltar unlikely to change but a tougher line with Spain could follow. What is certain is that the next 25 years are likely to be as fraught as the last.
Historical note: England took Gibraltar in 1704 and in 1713 Spain ceded the Rock to Britain in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht. However the land granted under the Treaty is very different from the land the Rock holds today. In 1815, with Spanish permission, Britain set up a hospital camp on no man’s land because of an outbreak of Yellow Fever. When the scare was over Britain did not withdraw then occupied more land in 1854. In 1908 the ‘verja’ border fence was put up – by Britain – in response to the negative reaction of the government of Alfonso XIII to free trade. Apart from a historic claim to Gibraltar itself Spain also disputes Britain and the Rock’s right to the reclaimed territory.

Friday, February 5, 2010


According to Reuters, so it must be true, one of the world’s oldest dialects, which traces its origins back over tens of thousands of years ago, has become extinct. The last person to speak Bo, 85-year-old Boa Sr died on a remote Indian island last week.

Survival International says there are now only 52 members surviving members of the tribe, which is thought to have lived on the Andaman Islands for as many as 65,000 years, making them descendants of one of the oldest cultures in the world.

I read this news as I listened to the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, address a press conference on the latest accord over police and justice in Gaelic.

I say he spoke in Gaelic, actually he spoke a sentence or two before switching to English as few others in the room and the wider world outside would have understood what he was talking about. Indeed he looked a bit unsure of the Gaelic himself.

When I lived in Ireland I remember Cork University having a seat in Welsh. The blind leading the blind.

The Irish and Welsh language are spoken by a handful of the residents living in each country. However, it would be a fool that suggested these two ancients nations didn’t have a living and vibrant culture based on its historic roots.

To have knowledge of these languages certainly enriches the lives of Irish and Welsh people – but then they have to deal with the real world.

Being English I pride myself that the world speaks my language – of course it doesn’t, it speaks American English. As my second tongue is Spanish it could well be that before long it is not Castilian but American Spanish that rules.

My son was born in Ireland, passed his early years in Scotland and speaks Estuary English –and oh yes, Andaluz.

Some would say he is totally unintelligible in two languages. I wonder if he could learn Bo.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


It is “probable” that the US President Barack Obama will not attend the USA – EU conference to be held in Madrid between May 24 - 25.

This will come as a genuine disappoint to Spaniards as they were very much looking forward to seeing Obama in the flesh visiting their country. Whilst the US President might be under siege at home – internationally - he is still very popular and it could be that the more he is seen to be at odds with the “Fox Conservatives” in the Republican Party the higher his standing will rise.

The news will also come as a major blow to the Spanish premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as the presence of Obama would have been the icing on his EU presidency cake.

The US seems to be aware of the major disappointment in Madrid and that country’s ambassador to Spain moved quickly to state the importance of the alliance between the two nations.

For Zapatero the EU presidency that runs from January to June is turning into a disaster. He has been ridiculed over his lightweight standing amongst the major European leaders. At home he was called a “cateto” – “country bumpkin” because a meeting at Davos World Economic Forum had to be halted whilst a translator told him what was being said –as he was the only person present who didn’t speak English. Mind you Spain’s opposition leader, Mariano Rajoy, doesn’t speak English either!

Make no mistake Zapatero badly needs to be walking in Obama’s shadow to sure up his popularity at home as he battles the economic crisis. Indeed both leaders may have had a lot to chat about behind the scenes as they use “socialist” policies to tackle the collapse in employment and business confidence.

Unless Obama has a profound change of mind he won’t be in Madrid or indeed Europe this spring. However, as of late, changing his mind has become an Obama trait there is hope yet. Zapatero will hope so!

Monday, February 1, 2010


Politicians are so often caught out by open microphones letting the world known their private thoughts that by now you would have thought their number one rule would be ‘check the mike’. Apparently that is not so as Esperanza Aguirre, the Partido Popular president of the Madrid regional government can testify.

On Friday she was sitting alongside her number two Ignacio González at a meeting of mayors in Becerril de la Sierra. She commented to him about the situation at the Caja Madrid savings bank – where politicians play a leading role at board level. It is not entirely clear who Aguirre was talking about but she called a former counsellor with the bank a “hijo puta” – “son of a whore”.

Such a term may sound shocking to Anglo-Saxon ears but of course it is common parlance in Spanish albeit insulting. Aguirre would not be drawn as to who she was speaking about and safe in the knowledge that we didn’t know she told the daily newspaper “El Mundo” she was sure “he” was “a saint and his mother as well.”

However she did move quickly to reassure the media that had recorded her words that it was not Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, the mayor of Madrid. Although both are key members of the Partido Popular, in the region’s politics, they are fierce rivals with the Caja Madrid having been a recent battleground.

Premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Mariano Rajoy the leader of the opposition, former premier José María Aznar and the former president of Congress Federico Trillo have all fallen victim to the open microphone in recent years.

However none more so than socialist José Bono. In November 2008 when president of Congress he called some fellow members of parliament “hijos de puta”. His most famous gaff came in January 2004 when he was president of Castilla-La Mancha. A microphone caught him in a private conversation when he called the then British ‘New Labour’ premier, Tony Blair, “un gilipollas” or “dick head”, although I have heard more profane translations.

I suspect many members of Britain’s ‘Old Labour’ would have been nodding enthusiastically in agreement with Bono’s words.