Friday, April 30, 2010


Now here’s a sad yet curious tale. Agapito Pazos Méndez died last Saturday at the splendid age of 83 from a heart attack. Yet from the age of three years till he breathed his last he was the resident of the Hospital Provincial in Pontevedra.

He lived permanently at the hospital because when aged three years he was abandoned inside a large box at its doors. He had serious handicaps and so the hospital kept him in its care.

Medical examinations showed he had spina bifida plus other infirmities which prevented him from walking. None-the-less Agapito was integrated as one of the workers at the hospital and assumed responsibility for guarding the keys to the medicines and store room which he did with great professionalism. He also kept watch over other patients initially in groups of 20 and then just one other.

Officials at the hospital stressed that Agapito was serious ill and they frequently expected him to die.

During his 79 years at the hospital he only left it once when he went in the company of another worker to the beach at A Lanzada de O Grove. This trip to the sea took place when he was 60.

He was a popular figure at the hospital and shared the trials and tribulations of its patients and their visitors.

His only major blow in life was when a patient stole the box in which he kept his few savings. The distraught Agapito was comforted when a doctor bought him a more secure box with his own money.

He passed his entire life in a wheel chair and finally left the hospital on Monday for his funeral.

May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


One of the areas of specific interest to me and on which I blog frequently is domestic violence. Although I have expressed my concern about the small number of people – men and women – who are falsely accused as acts of revenge – make no mistake I have zero tolerance of any such acts of violence.

That out of the way I was interested to read some statistics released by Spain’s judicial authority – the Consejo General del Poder Judicial. It shows that half of the 55 women who died at the hands of their partners or former partners in 2009 were 35 years old or younger. Furthermore 38 per cent of all such deaths were amongst non-Spaniards.

Living in the southern part of Andalucía the majority of domestic violence deaths that I write about are amongst immigrants. In addition in the special courts set up in Cádiz and Málaga provinces to try cases of domestic violence the number of foreigners tried outnumbers Spaniards. In Algeciras there is a large Moroccan community who have different views on sexual equality from out own. On the Costa del Sol Northern Europeans including Britons often feature.

The study was produced by the Observatorio contra la Violencia Doméstica y de Género. The CGPJ says it is concerned that the findings show that in seven out of ten cases the victim had not reported their partners for previous acts of violence.

If there is good news in the report it is that there was a drop last year in the number of women murdered compared with 2008 when there were 75 although the percentage of foreign women remains very high.

Of the 2009 victims eight were under protection orders at the time of their deaths – obviously their protection wasn’t adequate. Seventy per cent of the slayings took place in the home of the victim or aggressor. In 24 per cent of cases the aggressors committed suicide, in 13 per cent they attempted to kill themselves and in 39 per cent of cases they were detained by the authorities.

I have always taken the view that whilst women account for the largest number of victims men are abused as well. In 2009 nine men died at the hands of women, one was murdered by another man but in two of these cases the male victim had previously been denounced for violence against the woman.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Spain’s campaigning judge, Baltasar Garzón, has provoked fury amongst those on the right of the nation’s politics as well as the remaining supporters of the Franco regime. His decision to investigate the crimes committed during the dictator’s era has opened up not just one but several cans of worms as those opposing the judge have sought to have him brought before the courts.

On Saturday it was the turn of his supporters to take to the streets. In Madrid thousands marched from the Puerta de Alcalá to the Puerta del Sol. Another four thousand were reported to have gathered in the plaza de Sant Jaume in Barcelona.

In Sevilla the demonstration was attended by the mother and sisters of the judge – the family come from Jaén in Andalucía. Others gathered in various towns and cities including Málaga, Córdoba, Zaragoza, Murcia, Cáceres, Valladolid, León, Palma de Mallorca, Las Palmas, Santander, Valencia and Gijón.

It was also an international protest. Leading newspapers around the world such as the Financial Times and New York Times have questioned how a judge can face trial for essentially doing his job. So it is no surprise that the Spanish Embassy in Lisbon was the scene of a protest as were the French cities of Paris, Pau, Montpellier and Burdeos with people in Brussels, Buenos Aires and Dublin scheduled to show their support.

It is not only in the case on the crimes of the Franco regime that Garzón has gathered enemies but also in the Gürtel corruption scandal that embroils the opposition Partido Popular. To counter this demonstrators carried banners calling for “democracy” and “justice” in support of the judge as well as demanding more judges like him – plus a hearing of all the evidence in the Gürtel trial.

It is significant that in opposition dozens of people gathered at a Falange Española de las JONS demonstration held at the same time in Madrid – where amongst other claims against Garzón he was accused of being a “mason” who should be sent to prison.

The day after the demonstrations the main political parties in Spain entered the arena. The secretary general of the centre right Partido Popular, María Dolores de Cospedal, accused people who are very close to the socialist government of putting democracy at risk. The PP has again called for the resignation of the Secretary of State for territorial co-operation, Gaspar Zarrías, for supporting one of the previous meetings honouring the judge.

In response the minister of public works and vice secretary general of PSOE, José Blanco, accused the PP of giving “oxygen” to the Falange. Blanco added that whilst the PP defended the independence of the judiciary when it came to the Gürtel case “it persecutes the judges and accuses the police of falsifying evidence” in an effort to escape justice itself.

So now the Garzón case that already had worrying implications for justice and democracy has widened pitting left against right. You don’t have to have a very long memory to know that this is turf Spain had trod before with disastrous consequences.

Friday, April 23, 2010


I make no apology for today returning to the campaign in support of the Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón. Below I repeat a message from Avaaz – and I urge you to sign the petition and urge your friends to do likewise. There are also numerous pages in support of Garzón on Facebook!

Thank you to my readers who have also copied me this Avaaz plea for help. At the end of the message from Avaaz are various articles in major newspapers from around the world that have spoken out in the judge’s defence. I would also urge you to click on the side bar link to the Alexander Bewick blog – where AB talks eloquently of the case facing the judge.

To sign the petition will take minutes. Inaction can affect us all.

Dear friends across Spain, The news is in -- Judge Garzón is to be tried on charges that could end his career, inflicting a fresh blow to the credibility of our justice system. A decision on whether to suspend his license is expected imminently.

The main charge, brought by extreme right lobby groups, is that he violated the 1977 Amnesty Law by investigating crimes against humanity -- including the disappearance of tens of thousands of people, during the civil war and its aftermath. But crimes against humanity cannot be amnestied under international law.

The Supreme Court now faces a historic choice: uphold the rule of law, or allow ideology and impunity to triumph over justice. They are under enormous pressure to bring Garzón down, but a massive public outcry could tip the balance. More than 70,000 of us have already raised our voices for democracy and universal human rights -- let's deliver a 100,000-strong petition to the Supreme Court and the General Council of the Judiciary this week. We have only days left -- take action below and forward this email widely now.

Whatever we think of Garzon, he has gained a reputation for his relentless efforts to seek justice, pursue brutal dictators, terrorists, drug mafias and corrupt politicians.

But the Supreme Court has admitted three complaints against him, two of which could impact on two crucial investigations for our democracy: the case of crimes against humanity, and the Gürtel case, one of the largest bribery and corruption scandals in our recent history.

The crimes against humanity case is straight forward -- these crimes are of such gravity that international law does not permit accused perpetrators to hide behind national amnesty laws, even if this law played a role at the time of our political transition.

If the court removes Garzon's license it will be undermining their commitment to universal human rights and with it our faith in the judicial system. This petition is about all of us, beyond our political or party allegiances, defending our democracy, which is already weakened by an acute economic and political crisis and a plague of corruption. Only through bold citizens' actions can we ensure that our political leaders and institutions work for the common good. This is our moment! Forward this email widely now:

With determination,

Luis, Alice, Benjamin, Iain, Ricken, Paul and the entire Avaaz team.

More information:

The New York Times, "An Injustice in Spain":

The Financial Times, "Garzón at bay":

The Economist, "Judge Not:

The Globe and Mail, "Political storm over Spain's most famous judge":

Crimes of War Project: "Spain's Memory War: Judge Halts Attempt to Enforce Justice for Franco's Killings":

Thursday, April 22, 2010


The Spanish government’s delegate for domestic violence, Miguel Lorente, has confirmed a list of those who have mistreated their partners could be published. He said the objective was to have them rejected by society but stressed that whilst the proposal was being studied it implementation would not be immediate.

Speaking to the TV channel Telecinco he said there was always a series of turns in the evolution of the crime of domestic violence. He was referring to the 36.8 per cent rise in the number of deaths so far this year compared with the same period in 2009.

Lorente also criticised the recent concentration on false reports made against people for acts of domestic violence blaming a section of society that is against social equality. He said that according to figures presented by the judicial body, CGPJ, these accounted for just two per cent of reported cases.

Readers of my blog will know that I am 100 per cent against domestic violence – no ifs, no buts. However the legislation that was passed has served a purpose but is not perfect and needs adjusting. The battle lines have been drawn – you either support the legislation and social equality – or you highlight abuses of justice which means you are a reactionary harking after the male macho society. Oh if life was so simple!

A couple of years ago I reported on a meeting held in Algeciras attended by men and women who had been unjustly accused of domestic violence largely as an act of revenge by their former partners. I have also reported on recent protests by those who have been held in jail or separated from their children after being falsely accused. Lorente says they only account for two per cent of cases as if that justified the errors. It does not.

Those two per cent are as much victims of domestic violence as the people who suffer at the hands of their partners. The law needs to be amended to protect all threatened by “violence” of this type. By his remarks Lorente shows himself to be part of the problem, not the solution.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I have often heard the expression – did the earth move you? – used in the context of sexual encounters.

Now it appears it is a fact rather than an ecstatic state of mind.

According to the Iranian ayatollah Kazem Sedighi the increase in the number of earthquakes around the world is due to illicit sexual relations.

The Imam made his remarks during Friday prayers in Tehran and they were duly reported the following day in the Iranian newspaper Aftab.

Sedighi told the faithful “the natural catastrophes are the result of our own comportment. Many women are badly dressed, they are corrupting the young and the increase in illicit sexual relations has seen the growth in the number of earthquakes.” He singled out young Iranians in Tehran and the country’s other major cities for not respecting Islam’s strict code of dressing.

So now we know.

The earth has only moved for me once. I was in bed in Fuengirola when my apartment shook in the early hours of the morning. I was not sure whether it was the disco in the basement or the reported rumbling in the Sierra Nevada – but now I know illicit sex was to blame. Sad to say I wasn’t involved!

Friday, April 16, 2010


Spaniards are the Europeans who most use antibiotics to fight the symptoms of flu. However flu is a virus and hence this type of medication has not effect whatsoever. These two facts are highlighted in a report by the European Commission that is concerned over the abuse of antibiotics.

The report shows that 32 per cent of Spaniards mistakenly use antibiotics when they have flu with Austrians close behind them on 31 per cent and Cypriots with 28 per cent. The average European misuse of this medication is 20 per cent.

The EC wants to highlight the risks of misusing antibiotics in this way. Not only do they have no effect but it also builds the patient’s immunity to these drugs making them less effective when prescribed correctly.

Spaniards fair better in the use of antibiotics to fight the common cold. Whilst 24 per cent use them so do 40 per cent of Rumanians, 32per cent of Bulgarians, 30 per cent of Lithuanians and 27 per cent of Greeks and Cypriots.

Sixty-three per cent of Spaniards as against 53 per cent of Europeans wrongly believe that antibiotics can kill a virus whilst 61 per cent of Spaniards – 47 per cent of Europeans believe it can combat the effects of the flu or a cold.

In the antibiotic consumption league in the EU Spain comes third after Italy and Malta whilst the Germans, Slovaks and Swedes consume the drug the least.

To learn that popping antibiotics indiscriminately does more harm than good may be a bitter pill to swallow. But not as bitter as discovering that downing antibiotics for the correct illnesses does not work in the future because these drugs have been abused in the past.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The Andalucía minister for education, Francisco Álvarez de la Chica, has stated that his department is to ask the senior prosecutor in Andalucía to investigate possible cases of fraud in obtaining places for children at schools. He has insisted that any instances should be treated as criminal instead as administrative offences as at present.

Speaking at a press conference Álvarez de la Chica explained that at the meeting with the chief prosecutor Jesús García Cañderón they had spoken about this and the ministry of education did not discount the possibility of following this course of action.

The minister stated that there were official reports that pointed to the possible falsification of documents by families who wanted to secure a place at a specific school or college for their children.

The situation at present is that the falsification of public documents to obtain an illegitimate advantage over other families in the process of seeking school places for their children is deemed to be an administrative offence. However the minister argues there should be greater consequences and hence it could be made a criminal matter.

The reason for this strong action said the minister was to make examples of those who tried to cheat the system. He stressed that it was important that the process of registering children for school was “one hundred per cent” clean.

Fair enough but readers in Britain will know that the situation there has already moved on. Now we have councils using covert surveillance and even evoking laws that were meant to combat terrorism to track down and prosecute parents who cheat the system.

School discipline for parents is the order of the day – but should they be legally caned or made to stand in the administrative corner?

Monday, April 12, 2010


News reaches me this Monday that in Denmark the brewer Carlsberg has a strike on its hands.

Apparently it wants staff – including the delivery drivers – to reduce the amount of free beer they are allowed to drink at work.

At present the workers are allowed to drink the brewery’s products all day long. Carlsberg wants that restricted to just lunchtimes. The thirsty Danes are having none of it.

Now my alcohol intake is just wine with meals. However I certainly remember through the haze the days of downing four pints of Guinness in the snug of Doheny & Nesbitts in Dublin over a liquid lunch with my media colleagues.

But all day drinking - as part of the job – for free – that is a sobering thought! Especially if a tanker carrying Carlsberg is hurtling towards you down the road.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


In January a large statue of Saint Rafaela was installed in one of the niches by the entrance to the Vatican apartments in Rome. Amongst those making the journey was the sculptor Marcos Dueñas who crafted the saint’s image out of an 8000 kilo block of marble. He was accompanied by his British partner Kate Finlay, their three-year old son Marco and Kate’s mother Mary – all of whom were received by Pope Benedict XVI.

Saint Rafaela María del Sagrado Corázon, to give her her full religious title, was born Rafael María Porras Allyon in 1850 in Pedro Abad in the sculptor’s native Córdoba. She was one of 11 brothers and two sisters and after the death of their parents the two sisters passed to the care of an order of nuns and these sisters later formed the Esclavas del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús – the Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Saint Rafaela was the first Mother Superior but at the age of 43 was unjustly forced to leave the sisterhood and became a menial at the order’s house in Rome until she died in 1925. This does not explain why Pope Pius XII beatified her in 1952 or why Pope Paul VI made her a saint in 1977. Nor do the few biographies of her life go in to any great detail.

However Mary Finlay did some reach in to what happened and said: “I have found out that it was her sister who did the dirty on her and she ended up being sent to Rome spending the rest of her life in household chores. She was made a saint for her forbearance in accepting the wrong she had been done instead of fighting back, thus causing her convent embarrassment.”

Now whilst the story of Saint Rafaela might end there the tale of her statue certainly doesn’t. It was commissioned from Marcos Dueñas by a businessman well established in Córdoban life, Rafael Gómez. He is popularly known as “Sandokán” because he resembles the Indian actor Kabir Bedi who played the part in the 1970s.

Well Marcos Dueñas had acquired his 8000 kilo block of stone and had been chipping away for two years at what would be a 5.5 metre high statue when “Sandokán” became embroiled in all sorts of mess. His Arenal 2000 construction company went bankrupt leaving many British buyers in the lurch. He was also arrested on June 27, 2006, in the ‘Malaya’ town planning scandal in Marbella. He was held in prison for three days being released when he’d posted 300,000 euros in bail. This case comes to court later this year and will be the biggest corruption trial in Spain’s history.

The result is that having commissioned the statue “Sandokán” now withdraws his support leaving Marcos Dueñas with a huge block of stone, the sisters in Rome without a statue and the Vatican with an empty niche. Luckily the Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are a resilient order. They raised the money for the statue to be finished then transported to Rome by selling replicas and no doubt some well practiced religious arm-twisting.

So Saint Rafaela stands in all her glory in the Vatican – a marked contrast to her raw deal in life. “Sandokán” awaits trial but will be judged by God over the statue fiasco. Meanwhile the sculptor Marcos Dueñas, who in the past has created works for the Royal Palace in Madrid and his native Córdoba, hopes to craft statuary and decorative items for the new cathedral in Madrid. I am sure as he works Saint Rafaela will be smiling down on him.

(Photograph is the copyright of Marcos Dueñas)

Monday, April 5, 2010


As regular readers will be aware I try to meet up with my good friend Prospero every week or so over breakfast in the Vecina Bar in Jimena to chew the cud. Last week our conversation turned to the Catholic Church and the sex abuse scandal. Both of us were raised Catholics, both of us are now well lapsed but as they say, once a Catholic always a Catholic, and whilst that is far from true in our cases we have a shared experience of being educated within the Church.

Whilst my experiences were from England and Prospero’s from Argentina we were both interested in knowing how the church in Spain would tackle the issue. Therefore I was interested to read a recent blog on Voto en Blanco from my ‘compañero’ in the media Francisco Rubiales.

Francisco believes that the Spanish church should as a matter of urgency follow the example of the Archbishop of Vienna and president of the Episcopal Conference, Christoph Schönborn. He is top dog collar in the Austrian Church and has made a public apology whilst praising the victims who have broken their silence by coming forward to denounce the cases of abuse.

Francisco has called for the Spanish Church to also seek the faithfull’s pardon and that of the victims. He would also like to see an office opened as a matter of urgency where the thousands of Spanish victims of paedophile priests, monks and brothers can report the abuse and seek justice. He writes: “The epoch of forced silence has passed and justice demands that the cancer of paedophilia, that corrodes the heart of the Catholic Church and affects thousands of Christians of the church, is brought to light and treated with urgency.

The signs are not promising. The Bishop of Tenerife, Bernardo Álvarez, has given an interview with Radio Club Tenerife in which he said that some of the abuse cases in Spain were committed 50 years ago and are only now being aired in a “diabolical” attempt to harm the church.

Yet Francisco urges the Catholic Church in Spain to seize the opportunity to open the office to accept reports of abuse because if it doesn’t then he believes the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero will. He also argues that Zapatero will be motivated not by a desire to seek justice for the crimes of paedophilia (whether committed 50 years ago or not) but because of his hatred for the church. He believes the sections of the media that support the socialist cause will have a field day putting the boot in on the church and in the process taking some of the economic heat off the government.

He also writes of the complicity of the Franco era where the abuses of the clergy in the dark decades of the 50s and 60s were covered up by the power of the church. It was only in the 1970s that these cases started to emerge but even then to denounce the church came at a very high personal price.

I have been horrified by the attempts of certain Catholic spokesmen for the Pope who have come forward over the Easter period to suggest, like Bishop Álvarez, that the paedophile scandal is nothing more than an attempt to harm the church. I suspect many Catholics present in Rome for the Easter services were stunned that the Pope took no opportunity to speak out on this issue.

Until such time as all the abuse cases are uncovered, until justice is handed down in courts of law to both to the offending clergy and those who helped cover these crimes up, until the Catholic Church accepts the terrible wrongs that have been carried by its priests, monks and brothers – then those who are enemies of the church will have an open target. Furthermore those Catholic spokesmen who attempt to defend the indefensible will be treated with the utter contempt they deserve.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


This week I received the following email. I have deleted the name of the newspaper and sender but the message still stands.

“Reading this week’s newspaper I came across an article headed ‘Don’t buy in Spain.’ I don´t know about you but I am getting pretty fed up, sad tho’ it is, of hearing about the poor sods who are about to lose everything they own through inept and greedy lawyers, slick tongued developers and estate agents who do little or no research. I feel genuine sorrow for them, don’t get me wrong, but just for once could somebody with some clout speak up for the thousands of happy purchasers in Spain?

“These disasters are such a small minority but the bad publicity has spread like a cancer through Europe and is doing this country a great deal of harm. I for one have had to close my office, having not made a sale for 15 months, in a town that once thrived on tourism and foreign money. No doubt there are many more towns in dire straits out there.”

That property buyers foreign and Spanish have suffered in Spain is not in doubt – indeed the European Parliament, backed by Spanish MEPs, highlighted the injustices of the coastal law just last week. None-the-less as the above email rightly points out the vast majority of Britons who have purchased in Spain are completely happy.

In addition although some have fallen foul of Spanish property frauds there are many more who have been tricked out of their hard earned cash by property investment deals, time share scams or financial disasters peddled by British conmen or women. If you want to read some real horror stories go to the Costa Action Group website.

When I asked another ex-pat about the article mentioned in the email she told me she no longer read the newspaper because of its negative approach to the news. Well bad news might move newspapers but it certainly does little good to the image of Spain... a country both I and many others are now proud to call our home. Don’t get me wrong – wrongs should be highlighted but news should be fair and balanced to give an accurate overall view.

Another story given a negative twist was the fact that sixty per cent of Spaniards do not speak English. Look at it another way, forty per cent, probably fast moving towards fifty per cent do. Now ask yourself how many Britons in the UK speak Spanish – the world’s third most used language? Or how many Britons in Spain speak Spanish? Or how many Spaniards who have made their homes in Britain speak English. I don’t have the stats for these answers but I can make a shrewd guess – as I am sure can you too.

Half empty or half full?