Thursday, September 30, 2010


On September 28 the Tangier court that convicted the “Tangier Two”, Jorge Cano and Juan José Ruiz, met to consider the appeal against their drug trafficking conviction.

Whilst the court upheld the previous verdict it also admitted new evidence and will give its definitive ruling on October 5. Key to that decision making will be a report from the Spanish Coastguard – Salvamento Marítimo – which knows the identity of the owner of a Jet Ski that is key to this case. However the organisation would not initially release the information to the Moroccan judge because it insisted it would infringe the data protection act.

The case of the two men from Los Barrios has been covered here before but to recap they went fishing off Tarifa on June 5. In thick fog they drifted to the Moroccan coast and when they found they had no fuel radioed the Salvamento Marítimo for help. It was a Moroccan patrol boat that appeared on the scene and took the two men and Jorge’s son, David, in to detention as they had entered Morocco without paperwork.

David was duly released and it was thought the two men would follow him in days but then the Moroccan authorities said they had found eight bales of hashish close to where they were rescued along with the Jet Ski. Despite there being no evidence to link them with the drugs they were arrested, tried and found guilty largely because the Salvamento Marítimo would not release the information to the court on the Jet Ski’s owner, even though it had spoken to this person after it had broken down.

There has been a huge show of support in Los Barrios for the two men. The mayor and political spokespersons for all the political parties at the town hall travelled to Tangier to visit Jorge and Juan to show solidarity. The council passed a unanimous motion declaring its belief in their innocence and over 2,000 people gathered on the steps of Los Barrios town hall on September 20 to call for the men’s release. The Spanish ambassador to Morocco has been busy on Jorge and Juan’s behalf along with the Spanish consul in Tangier. Senator José Carracao, who is a friend of one of the families, told me the ministries of the interior and foreign affairs in Madrid have kept a watching brief although they point out prudence is the watchword as it is a judicial and not a political matter.

So now Jorge, Juan and Los Barrios wait for October 5 – their date with destiny. It is to be hoped that justice will finally be done. The good news is that the court, whilst confirming the original sentence on the basis of the evidence it had, will not lose face by overturning it having considered the new submissions. In Morocco saving face is important especially with regards to Spain which explains the softly, softly approach of that country’s politicians.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


On Monday September 27 the Malaya corruption case centred on Marbella town hall was brought before the Málaga provincial court. It was over four years ago that the first arrests hit the head lines and in the dock will be 95 people in Spain’s largest corruption case in the history of the nation. Indeed a special annex has been built on to the Palacio de Justicia based on that used in Madrid for the “March 11 2004” terrorism trial.

The man said to be the mastermind behind this massive town planning scam is Juan Antonio Roca. He was the director of planning at Marbella town hall and the prosecution will attempt to prove that mayors, councillors, officials and businessmen were all involved in his web of corruption.

It is estimated by investigators that Roca personally received over 33 million euros between 2002 and 2006 from his illicit deals. He had been in the post since 1992, brought in by the late disgraced mayor Jesús Gil, and was there to his arrest in March 2006.

The 33 million euros is said to have come in payments to Roca from property developers over that four year period. Many of them will be alongside him in the dock. Five million of this total was passed on by Roca to various councillors at Marbella town hall.

Of those said to have benefitted most from his largesse the former mayor, Marisol Yagüe, received 1.8 million euros – the largest amount handed out. Former mayor Julián Muñoz is alleged to have received 162,000 euros whilst the deputy mayors Isabel García Marcos and Carlos Fernández pocketed lesser sums.

However whilst Roca is known to have received 33 million euros from property developers the prosecutor believes he had the opportunity to misappropriate another 200 million euros from1997 to 2005. In reality the true total will probably never be known. He money laundered vast amounts of cash to hide their origin and in the process bought estates, a boat, an aircraft, a helicopter, hotels, houses and works of art.

Missing from the dock will be three people. The aforementioned deputy mayor Carlos Fernández was walking the Camino de Santiago when the first arrests were carried out – and kept on walking. He is said to have entered Argentina on his own passport with Tunisia and Chile as his most likely resting places. Former councillor Francisco Javier Lendínez was last spotted in Tarifa and is believed to have fled to Portugal or Morocco. Finally the more shadowy figures of José Manuel Llorca Rodríguez who is also said to be involved in the Ballena Blanca money laundering case and the Fórum Filatélico stamp investment scam. Nothing is known of his whereabouts.

A quick guide to the story so far:

March 29 2006 – The town hall was raided with 21 people including Roca were arrested.

June 27 2006 – Judge Torres ordered a second wave of arrests with 31 detained.

November 13 2006 – The last major arrests with 11 held including the former wife of Julián Muñoz, Mayte Zaldivar and her brother.

May 1 2007 – Arrest of the famous singer Isabel Pantoja, the former lover of Julián Muñoz who now faces a separate money laundering trial.

March 29 2008 – Judge Pérez releases Roca from jail after two years of preventive detention which caused a huge row as he demands his job back at Marbella town hall.

April 23 2008 – a high court judge reactivates the Saqueo 1 case and sends Roca back to jail.

March 4 2009 – Pérez processes the case against 20 people and enlarges the charges against Roca and Muñoz.

October 15 2009 – The first pre-trial hearings are held.

September 27 2010 – The trial proper starts.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I am not a great film fan. I rarely go to the cinema. When I do I hope the seats are uncomfortable so I won’t nod off. I snored through Lawrence of Arabia in London's West End -probably the best thing. Yet with every rule there is an exception or a number of exceptions.

For instance I have seen Cabaret twice in the cinema and numerous times on TV. I saw Clockwork Orange four times, once in French in Paris. Yet the record of my viewing has to be Mad Dogs and Englishman – the film of Joe Cocker’s tour. I don’t know how often I saw it, but it was usually with the Wend in tow, and included at least one late night showing at the cinema in Surbiton in Surrey. So keen I was.

Although the film revolved around the Joe Cocker tour the star for me was singer-songwriter, pianist and guitarist Leon Russell. He’d previously written Delta Lady which was a hit for Cocker in 1969.I revered Leon Russell bought his ‘Leon Russell’ album with ‘A song for you’ and also 1972 album ‘Carney’ which featured the number ‘This Masquerade’.

Now here’s the thing. In the film Mad Dogs and Englishmen Russell wore a top hat and had silvery grey hair. The same on his album covers. Hence as a trendy young man about Chelsea (and Swiss Cottage) I presumed he was an old timer hanging on.

So today I thought I had better check him out to see when he passed away. Well it was a pleasant surprise to find he is still with us but a might shock to learn he is only seven years older than me. Seven years! And whilst yes I did have premature designer grey hair (thanks again to the Wend and the all-star hairdresser Winston) he seemed to be wearing less well than me at the time.

Over the years Leon Russell has worked with the who’s who of musicians and singers Joe Cocker, The Carpenters, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Eric Clapton, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Badfinger, Frank Sinatra, The Band, Glen Campbell and The Rolling Stones to name but a few.

Last year Leon Russell wrote songs with Elton John and Bernie Taupin which was recorded in February and will be released about now. I will buy it!

But, come on, seven years!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I hope to bring a smile to your face although this is a very serious subject. Actually it is James Machin who will wiggle your facial muscles and not me.

I first met James many moons ago at GBC, Gibraltar’s broadcaster, when he was producing a series of science films for schools.

Some years later and I met James again when he arranged to send me some information on “peak oil” which he was promoting on the Costa del Sol and in Gibraltar. At that time “peak oil” was a potty theory promoted by batty environmentalists of which James was proud to be one.

Times have indeed moved on and “peak oil” is one of the current buzz phrase used by financial analysts and politicians. “Peak oil” has gone from being an ecologists’ rant to the mainstream of political and economic thought and has been joined by “Peak food” and no doubt “Peak water” is lurking in the wings.

James has also been behind the movement to form Transition Towns in Spain creating with members of Ecologistas en Acción “Estepona – Ciudad de Transición’.

Now James has a new and rather exciting project the YouTube Channel Win, Win TV. He told me: “I launched a YouTube channel recently that is promoting “Transition” and is featuring Coín in Málaga province. It is also offering participatory food growing projects - primarily to city dwellers. The first project - Working with a Worm Gang is up.”

Indeed it is and if you are up for it – click here! I promise you will smile!

If you are interested in learning more about the important Transition Towns project which will become a main steam political theme in the future you can visit the UK website – click here

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


At 7.30 on Monday evening over one thousand people gathered outside Los Barrios town hall to show their support for two local men, Jorge Cano and Juan José Ramírez – who face three years in jail in Morocco on drugs charges. The mayor, councillors and residents all insist they are innocent.

I have reported previously on the “Tangier Two” who went fishing with Jorge’s young son,
David, off Tarifa on June 5 but in thick fog they found themselves instead metres from the Morocco coast with little fuel. They called the Spanish coast guard for help but were detained by a Moroccan patrol.

At first they were detained for having entered Morocco in an irregular manner – without passports – but later as bales of drugs and a jet ski were found in the area they were accused of trafficking.

There is no evidence to link them with the drugs and the Spanish coast guard knows the identity of the Jet Ski owner but will not release the information to the Moroccan court as it would break the data protection act.

Los Barrios council passed a motion voicing their unreserved support for Jorge and Juan on July 30 and the mayor and spokespersons of all the parties visited them in Tangier on September 9 to show solidarity and to review their case.

However Monday was the day when the people of Los Barrios came on to the streets to declare their belief in Jorge and Juan’s innocence and to plead for their release. Their court appeal is to be heard on September 28 and the Spanish consul hopes their lawyer will be able to reveal to the court the identity of the Jet Ski owner.

The Spanish ambassador to Morocco has been carefully watching the case and has been working in conjunction with the consul in Tangier. Their efforts have prevented Jorge and Juan from being held in prison until after their appeal hearing.

It is also known that the Spanish Foreign Minister and Minister for the Interior have been kept fully informed of developments. However as Senator José Carracao, who knows one of the family’s involved, stressed to me prudence was the watchword as it is a judicial and not a political matter.

There is a Facebook page, which can be found at: Libertad para Jorge y Juan, through which residents of Los Barrios have been showing their support. Now everybody awaits September 28, with their hoped for acquittal, especially as an agency of the Spanish Government could prove their innocence.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Spain will have 250,000 cases of cancer in 2020 which is almost 30 percent more than the 200,000 existing level. The data comes from the Agencia Internacional de Investigación en Cáncer that says the blame will lie at the door of an ever increasing unhealthy lifestyle.

The scientific co-ordinator of the national cancer strategy unit at the ministry of health who is also the director of Plan Oncológico in Cataluña, Josep Borrás, has projected a rise of 15 per cent across Europe bringing the level to 3.7 million cases in the next ten years.

In Spain 150,000 men and 92,140 women will suffer from cancer with 2,023,969 men and 1,660,214 women suffers across Europe. Experts say that prostate cancer will be the main disease suffered by men replacing lung cancer although its rate is increasing amongst women.

The reasons for the increase in cancer rates will be due to smoking, the lack of a balanced diet and insufficient physical exercise.

I doubt whether any reader of this blog has not been touched by the pain of cancer in some way. If these findings are right then cancer is not only refusing to go away but also is on the increase. I guess if we stop smoking, eat correctly and exercise then we could buck the trend. Yet cancer seemingly doesn’t discriminate between the outwardly healthy and couch potatoes – at least not in my experience. Our one hope is that whilst cancer cases may be on the rise so too should the number of people who contract this disease yet survive. That is the one statistic Josep Borrás didn’t give us – the statistic of hope.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Yesterday in Panorama I gave my prospective of the damage inflicted on cross border relations by the malicious scheme by the mayor of La Línea, Alejandro Sánchez, to impose a toll on vehicles leaving Gibraltar and entering his municipality.

It was a viewpoint garnered from Gibraltarians but I believe it is also important to listen to the views of somebody living across the border in La Línea. Hence today I bring you the thoughts of Juan José Uceda Gil who although Spanish and living in La Línea has worked in Gibraltar for many years. He is also the spokesperson for many community groups in the border town including the Spanish workers (ASCTEG) on the Rock. Here he expresses his own personal view.

I asked him what damage did he think had been done to cross border relations by the toll fiasco? He replied:

“I have to say David that the majority of people know it was a political move, of the same kind that the political leader of the PP in Algeciras, Sr Landaluce is always attacking Gibraltar in the media on the themes of the patrols, the jurisdiction of the waters, pollution from the bunkering tankers, the nuclear submarines even though there are none, the airport because he wants it to be Spanish. Always this is very unjust it is the same with the mayor of La Línea who has re-opened wounds that were almost closed from when Franco sealed the border.

“Of course on both sides of the border there are extreme patriots who say these things in bad temper or “mala leche” yearning for times past and to harm relations.

“I do not agree personally with the views and the encounters of the CC.OO and UGT unions with Caruana and the Gib union, they have held a political meeting which has more to do with the need for support for the general strike on September 29 than any long term commitment.

“Also they have forgotten the other side – the Spanish workers in Gibraltar who are suffering psychologically because of the origins of the toll row.

“It has prejudiced the commercial relations that the same mayor initiated some months ago with industry and commerce in Gibraltar and with Mr Caruana when Sr Sánchez said to the unemployed of La Línea that thanks to his meetings in Gibraltar they are now negotiating to generate employment on various projects for the “third age” and others which because of professional secrecy he could not reveal.

“In the end the people of good faith in La Línea and Gibraltar above all, must forget what has happened, but Gibraltar has the pain of the closure of the border and it will take many years until all this is cured. You cannot simply erase what our mayor has done.

“The fact is that the majority people who live in La Línea are against what he wants to do.

“Alejandro took a week before we met to discuss the toll proposal. The meeting produced nothing productive because he had a blind spot as far as the toll is concerned and he wouldn’t withdraw the idea and apologise to the people of Gibraltar. I told him his proposal would create conflict to the point where the government’s delegate would have to intervene and he hoped the national media would depict him as the ‘linease’ hero.

“The PP high command in Madrid with members who are anti British and for the Spanish flag in Gibraltar insist to Alejandro that he continues with the toll because this opens the way for these people who are followers of the dictator and now there is proof that some people in the military have sanctioned it and the press says that the military does not want an accord based on the government’s policy towards Gibraltar.

“We are now preparing leaflets, posters and petitions which we shall be using from 7.30 this morning (Friday) in Gibraltar to advise that on Tuesday September 21 we have a demonstration at the border, without blocking it, by the statue of the Spanish worker from16.00 to 19.00 and if there are enough supporters we will go from their to the town hall.

“On Friday afternoon ASCTEG has its second meeting to form a group or action group against the toll and we have invited all the political parties (except for the PP obviously), community groups and the unemployed to join us.

“Mi opinión y lo que vida día a día.”

(The above article was published in Panorama on Friday September 17)

Thursday, September 16, 2010


On Monday Panorama carried my interview with Senator José Carracao who is responsible for cross border relations for the governing PSOE party. He urged Gibraltarians not to panic or be unduly concerned because he is adamant the toll (which will be levied on all vehicles leaving the Rock and entering Spain by La Línea town hall) will not be imposed. He urged the “strange behaviour” of La Línea’s mayor Alejandro Sánchez should not damage cross-border friendships. Hopefully not, but major damage has already been done.

This whole sorry episode has already impacted on cross border relations plus those between Gibraltar and Spain. I suspect it hasn’t between London and Madrid because the Foreign Office will take the view that Spain has sorted the problem and it’s behind the scenes diplomacy has worked.

Here on the ground though there is a different tale to tell.

The mayor of La Línea has set himself against the Spanish workers who cross the border each day and we have seen an alliance formed to fight the toll between the UGT – CC.OO and Unite which has further infuriated Sánchez.

There have been campaigns for Gibraltarians to boycott businesses in La Línea.

There has been traffic chaos on both sides of the border caused by Sánchez playing around with the road system and installing signs well before any start date for the toll.

My suspicion is whilst that damage is real enough it is in the hearts and minds of Gibraltarians where we will find the raw truth.

Ever since the Córdoba Accords were signed the GSD government has instilled a feel good factor on Gibraltar’s relations with Spain. It has trumpeted the meetings, the agreements, the co-operation and whilst many Gibraltarians have been frustrated by the continuing queues at the border pre Sánchez – and angered by the Guardia Civil incursions the message has been things can only get better.

Now Gibraltarians have seen the neighbouring mayor use them in his battle with Madrid to bail out his bankrupt town hall – ruined by the mismanagement and corruption of the GIL and PP era. They have seen the ‘bash Gibraltar card’ used shamelessly by Sánchez and the Partido Popular at national and an Andalucía level. They have seen the PP’s candidate for the Andalucía presidency, Javier Arenas, blasting the PSOE government for not getting tough with Gibraltar over the Guardia Civil, the land reclamation and Spain’s jurisdiction over the Rock’s waters. Here’s a leopard who has not changed his spots.

Lyana Armstrong-Emery told me: “After the events that led to the closure of the border and its re-opening twenty eight years ago to pedestrians it has taken these many years to build up the trust and good will between the two sides of the borders. It has taken a lot of hard work and co-operation from politicians, unions, NGO’s, organisations and ordinary folk to achieve this. Mr Sanchez has in a few weeks managed to damage cordial relations between the two towns and has revived distrust and memories of a very troubled past which will be difficult to reverse.”

Last Friday Gibraltar celebrated its National Day and despite the two shows in town Llanitos were united as a people because they again faced Spanish aggression. The old raw wounds were opened up and people saw past Córdoba to the reality – Spain wanted at least joint sovereignty and would not hold back from threatening and abusing the Rock in its own sordid internal political squabbles.

In his National Day message the GSLP leader, Joe Bossano, stated: “we will never, ever permit the Spanish flag over our homeland.” I suspect if you cut him open you would find those words engraved on his heart. Yet under Córdoba it could be argued we have moved on from that rhetoric of yesteryear. I suspect that if it hadn’t been for the harassment of the past year plus the toll fiasco Joe Bossano would have delivered a more forward looking, upbeat message. Yet he spoke from his heart and in so doing struck a chord with the majority of Gibraltarians.

Cross border relations lie battered and bruised whilst Córdoba is at death’s door.

(The above article appeared in Panorama on Thursday September 16).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


There is fear and anger in the small town of Rute in the province of Córdoba after a young man who is alleged to have killed his girlfriend with a shotgun has been released from jail. The maximum period that a person can be held on preventive detention is four years and that mark was passed last week.

The lawyer acting for the mother of the murdered girl, Mariano Garrido, said the accused was released last Friday. He now only has to present himself to the Guardia Civil once a week, a situation the lawyer branded as “ridiculous”.

The same opinion is shared by Carmen Santiago the legal representative of the deceased girl’s father. She believes the youth should be on a GPS tracker, be required to go to the court on a daily basis and to surrender his passport.

The Plataforma Cordobesa contra la Violencia a las Mujeres has held a demonstration to protest at his release and the delay in bring the accused to trial.

The first hearings are due to be held on November 2 in a trial by jury. The family are demanding a jail term of 20 years whilst the prosecutor is seeking a sentence of 15 years for the girl’s murder.

I am a firm believer in a person being deemed innocent until judged to be guilty after a fair trial. Yet where a person is accused of a major crime such as murder surely the protection of others is paramount. The case in Rute is not an exception.

Last year a number of youths who were accused of killing a bar owner as they robbed him late at night in Puente Mayorga near San Roque were also freed because their detention time as minors was exceeded. This caused widespread alarm and protests in the hamlet were they lived and the bar was located. Strict restrictions were placed on their movements and they were eventually convicted.

The root of the problem is the agonising slow pace of Spanish justice which has to be speeded up as a priority. Waiting four years to stand trial is neither fair on the accused nor the family of the victim. In addition the release of people convicted of murder or violent crimes back in to the community ahead of their trial needs to be urgently reviewed.

Monday, September 13, 2010


The international relations committee of the Consejo General de Poder Judicial (CGPJ), Spain’s highest judicial body, has provisionally put a stop to the High Court judge Santiago Pedraz travelling to Iraq to investigate the death of Telecinco cameraman José Couso.

He was shot by US troops at the Hotel Palestine in Baghdad on April 8, 2003. The judge has re-opened the investigation in to his death and intended to travel to the Iraqi capital to see the location of the tragedy for himself in October or November.

However before he can travel on such a mission the CGPJ has to give its permission which for the moment at least is not forthcoming. It remains to be seen whether the CGPJ will give the go-ahead after consultations with its Iraqi counterparts. A definitive decision is expected next week.

Judge Pedraz has issued an international find and capture arrest warrant for three US soldier who were manning the tank that fired at Couso. In the past the US has refused to hand the soldiers over and various Spanish courts have also declined to investigate the cameraman’s death. It could be the don’t go order is merely judicial red tape although the fear has to be it is yet another attempt to frustrate any effort to uncover the truth in this tragedy.

For a full back ground on this case click on my previous blog.

Monday, September 6, 2010


I received a plea for help on Friday afternoon via the press officer at Los Barrios town hall, José Antonio Ortega. It was a message from Jorge Cano and Juan Jóse Ruiz, two men from that municipality who have been held by the Moroccan authorities since June 5.

At the time their story seemed quite straight forward. Jorge owns a car workshop in Los Barrios and on June 5 he set off in his boat with his son plus an employee Juan José. The boat was moored at Saladillo in Algeciras and they sailed to the waters of Tarifa, as far as I understand it to do some fishing.

There matters took a turn for the worse. Fog came down, the found they were low on fuel and instead of ending up off Tarifa were in Moroccan waters with just a litre in the boat’s fuel tank. They summoned help from the Spanish Coast Guard but it was a Moroccan patrol boat that rescued them and took them ashore.

It was said at the time they had to undergo formalities because of their unusual entry in to Morocco. After being held in a detention centre for several days they were moved to Tangier and the son was duly released returning home by ferry. It was presumed they would follow within days but three months on they are still there and implicated in drugs offences.

The Spanish Consol and the Andalucía Ombudsman have taken up their case but have made little headway against the Moroccan judicial system.

In their statement a desperate Jorge and Juan José say: “we will have to resort to violence or hunger strike as they do in Melilla or the Sahara before the media takes any interest in our case and report the truth about our situation.”

Jorge and Juan José are adamant they made an SOS call to the Spanish coastguard on June 5 and this should have been duly logged with all their details. This they argue should be sufficient to prove what they are saying is true and to secure their release. They clearly feel the Spanish Consul and Ombudsman are not powerful enough to hold any influence with the Moroccan authorities and believe their country should intervene at a higher level.

They now could face drugs charges although again their status in this matter remains unclear. They maintain that a Moroccan judge made them sign a blank form in the presence of their local lawyer. This form was apparently later filled in by the Gendarmerie in Tangier to the effect they confessed that a haul of drugs was theirs. They are puzzled by this as they point out the police in Tangier were not those who were present at the time of their rescue and strongly deny any involvement with drug trafficking. It also has to be said that when they were detained there was no mention of drugs being seized.

They conclude “Our situation is unbearable. Thanks. SOS”

It is certainly an odd tale and one which demands clarification by the Spanish and Moroccan authorities who both seem to have little to say on the matter to the men themselves or to the media.

(The above article appeared in Panorama on September 6, 2010).

Since I penned the above article Jorge Cano and Juan José Rodríguez have been sentenced to three years in jail for the possession and intent to traffic hashish across the Strait of Gibraltar. Their appeal will be heard by the court on September 28 and the Spanish Consul believes that strong new evidence will be presented to prove their innocence. On September 9 a delegation led by the mayor of Los Barrios and most of the spokespersons of the political groups on the council visited the pair in Morocco (top picture). Los Barrios council has already passed a motion in their support. In addition there will be a demonstration outside Los Barrios town hall at 19.00 on September 20 to appeal for their release and for them to be returned home. Those wishing to offer support can do so via their Facebook page – Jorge Cano y Juan José Rodríguez.

Friday, September 3, 2010


The senator José Carracao, perhaps the most understanding of the mainstream Spanish politicians with regard to Gibraltar, recently told Panorama: “Gibraltar cannot be a British colony indefinitely.” He is of course right but not in the manner he envisages.

Now there are those who would argue that with the new Constitution Gibraltar has entered a post-colonial state. Equally there are others on the Rock who would contest that view. I am a hack and not a constitutional expert so will let that debate pass other than to observe there is no consensus on the issue.

I am a Briton of a certain generation so still hold emotional links towards Gibraltar yet I accept that the younger age groups in the UK do not. Yet I have no strong views on what the future status of the Rock should be. I have no strong view because I am not a Gibraltarian – my only firm belief is that whatever option is eventually selected it should be the free choice of Gibraltarians alone.

The status quo is that Gibraltar is under the British Crown possibly still colonial, may be not. Compare that with Ceuta or Melilla that neither Carracao nor any other Spanish politician would consider to be a colony. Although they lie across the sea in another continent they are deemed to be an integral part of Spain. This of course does open up the debate on whether Gibraltar should be integrated in to Britain but that is for another day.

In a recent letter to Panorama on the congestion charge Michael J Sanchez wrote: “Inaction is interpreted by Latin countries as ineptitude and weakness which the FCO in London has never come to grips with.” He sadly is right. Since the days the British Empire was dismantled the Foreign Office has been in a guilt ridden state over its former or remaining possessions.

Compare its agonised reaction to the on-going Spanish criticism over British involvement in Gibraltar with Spain’s stout defence of Ceuta and Melilla and outright rejection of Morocco’s claim to these territories. The Spanish monarch and his family are regularly sent across the Strait to demonstrate Madrid’s commitment to its enclaves. The premier and leading politicians walk its sands. Gibraltar’s Queen would never be allowed by London to visit the Rock and no British Prime Minister has been here since Churchill during World War II. Make no mistake if it wasn’t for the 1969 preamble the Foreign Office would have happily handed Gibraltar over to Spain lock, stock and ceremonial keys.

Now whilst Spain is contemptuous of Morocco’s claims over Ceuta and Melilla that does not tell the whole story. Back in 1975, in Franco’s dying days, Madrid handed over the Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania with an indecent haste that the Foreign Office would have been proud of. Mauritania later withdrew leaving Morocco to fill the vacuum and annex the territory.

This has led to an on-going fight by the people of the Western Sahara for independence backed by the Polisario Front that has drawn support from Morocco’s neighbour Algeria. Although the Spanish Government long ago washed its hands of its former colony many Spaniards have not.

At a basic level many communities in Spain take in the children from the refugee camps of the Western Saharans over the summer months. At a more acute level are activists from such organisations as SaharAcciones.

They are in the news because 14 Spanish pro-independence activists were arrested in the disputed Western Sahara on Saturday night and beaten up. The Moroccan police arrested them in El Aaiún, the chief town of Western Sahara. Moroccan government spokesman Khalid Naciri has since said in a statement: “The Moroccan government cannot take responsibility for what happened in El Aaiún, but that must be assumed by these provocative tourists.”

Madrid at first demanded answers from Rabat but then concluded the activists had “taken part in an illegal, unauthorised demonstration, during which these altercations took place.” Spanish premier José Luis Zapatero stated: “It is an essential principle of foreign policy to maintain a good relationship with neighbouring countries like Morocco." In other words “no surrender” on Ceuta and Melilla but Rabat can rely on Madrid’s compliance over the Western Sahara.

Western Sahara peace activist Aminatu Haidar said Morocco had demonstrated it has no respect for Spaniards or their government. Gibraltarians might say much the same thing about Spain.

(The above article appeared in Panorama on September 3, 2010).

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Let me take you to Aguilar de la Frontera, a small village in the province of Córdoba. On Saturday a very special ceremony took place when Antonio Palma Moreno was finally laid to rest in the local cemetery. It is of importance because he was the first victim of reprisals in the Spanish Civil War in Andalucía to be identified by his DNA to be interred.

The ceremony was organised by the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica and attended by his two grand daughters. His remains were laid beside those of his widow Carmen Reina.

Members of the association were at the cemetery to witness the funeral as were some 50 people from the village. His bones were carried by Manuela Molina in a wooden box covered with the Republican flag. Manuela is now in her 80s and witnessed the shooting of Antonio and others by the cemetery walls.

One of his grand daughters, Antonia, spoke of her deep emotion on this “very special day” adding that her grandmother would have been very proud to know that so many years on people were speaking so warmly of her husband.

Manuel Palma was born in Aguilar de la Frontera on August 23, 1908 and was from a family of farm workers. He was shot on July 24 1936 and his remains indicated a wound in his back. Worked started on his exhumation on May 3 and four other bodies were found – two women, a young boy and another man. As there was no means of identifying them the family agreed to have DNA tests carried out.

Rafael Espino, president of Aremehisa – the local association dedicated to recovering the history of those times – stated that Antonio Palma was the first of those shot in reprisal Andalucía during the Civil War to be identified by his DNA. He may be the first but he is unlikely to be the last as Rafael Espino estimates there are 12,000 people in common Civil War graves who have not been identified in Córdoba province alone.

Seventy years on and still 12,000 people in common Civil War graves in Córdoba province are unidentified – I find that dreadful statistic shocking. If true, and I have no reason to doubt it, how many in wider Andalucía and Spain nationally?

This is why the small, emotional interment in Aguilar de la Frontera is important because the use of DNA means that many of those unidentified remains can now matched to their present day families.

It is a development that reaches far beyond the borders of Spain, for instance it could impact on the families of Britons killed in the war. Also because of the traditional closeness of Spanish families the location of their dead is often known even if they remain unidentified. Now they could be called upon to take part in the process of finally laying the unidentified victims of the Spanish Civil War slaughter to dignified rest in named graves.