Monday, November 29, 2010


I am grateful to my esteemed colleague Francisco Rubiales for pointing me to reports that the Frente Polisario in the Western Sahara may have been targeted by Al Qaeda.

Francisco, apart from being a much respected journalist, was the EFE correspondent in Cuba, Central America and Italy as well as being an advisor to the UN. Currently he also writes the very interesting Voto en Blanco blog.

Francisco reports that because of the frustration the Frente Polisario is suffering in its campaign for independence for the Western Sahara from Morocco and the lack of support from major nations it could be driven in to the hands of Al Qaeda.

Apparently some experts and think tanks dedicated to world politics in the USA and France have been discussing this possibility which if it happened would be a drastic and dangerous change in the Maghreb. It would also increase the instability in that part of the world that is of great strategic value.

Currently Al Qaeda is not a major force in the Maghreb. Its activities are confined to areas of Mali and Mauritania where it has staged a number of kidnappings – perhaps because it is short of funds. Naturally if it were to team up with an armed force such at the Frente Polisario that limited influence would be greatly increased.

Francisco says that many sectors of the Polisario and the people of the Western Sahara are now calling for a restarting of the armed struggle against Morocco. If it was a conventional war then Morocco would easily outnumber its opponents however if it because a conflict for which Al Qaeda is famed – guerrilla attacks, kidnappings and major strikes to attract the attention of the rich countries then the results could be terrible for Morocco.

Movements amongst Saharan veterans and reservists have already been detected. They have experience of past conflicts which would be invaluable in a renewed armed conflict with Morocco. Experts place the strength of the Polisario at around 70,000 – insignificant in a conventional war but scary if used in insurgency and guerrilla warfare.

The Polisario representative in Spain, Bucharaya Beyun, has declared before the media they have weapons and combatants sufficient for a war and many sections of the population in the Western Sahara are putting pressure on the organization to return to fighting Morocco.

Up till now the people of the Western Sahara have placed their hopes with the UN and the good offices of Spain and the USA to resolve the conflict. However if Morocco continues with its campaign of repression against El Aaiún and refuses to agree to a negotiated solution which allows for the self-determination of the Western Saharan people then the outcome could be terrible indeed.

Interestingly Abdeslam Maghraoui, a political science professor at Duke University who specializing in terrorism in North Africa, says there isn’t any indication that Morocco is a strategic priority for the Al Qaeda. According to the professor it has two minor networks in the country: the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group responsible for the 2003 Casablanca attacks and the 2004 metro bombings in Madrid; and the Salafiya al Jihadiya, which operates in medium-sized Moroccan towns.

However it appears Abdeslam Maghraoui agrees with the assessment of Francisco because he has stated that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb might find non-ideological support among disenchanted Sahrawi militants in Tindouf who don’t see an end to the dispute over the Saharan region.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Today, November 25, is the international day against domestic violence.

My view on this is very simple: I have zero tolerance for anybody, male or female, who inflicts violence on their partner or ex-partner. I believe men have a special responsibility to take a stand against this blight to our society. In the majority of cases, not all but the majority, it is men who inflict the violence. Hence it is the men in society who have to put a stop to it.

I live in Andalucía and according to the regional government there are 73 reports of domestic violence every day. The data formed a report for region’s parliament which shows there were 26,838 such complaints last year. This figure amounts to a 7.8 increase over 2008.

In 2009 the courts in Andalucía issued 5,287 protection orders. The Andalucía minister of equality and social welfare, Micaela Navarro, says it is vital that women in this situation report their cases so that help and assistance can be given.

The ministry has also published the provisional figures that show 15 women have died in Andalucía so far this year from domestic violence – more than the total in 2009. At the time of writing there have been 63 deaths in wider Spain.

Since the laws to offer the sufferers of domestic violence protection the nation has been stunned by the number of cases and the violent deaths. Ironically whilst such violence has always existed it has been behind closed doors. Now the suffers come forward and all too often their partners react by killing them. The laws have simple not kept up with developments. In many cases the problems have been caused by the laws that are meant to offer protection. Nor are these crimes restricted to the young or middle aged – what has surprised me more than anything is the cases involving men and women in their 70s or 80s.

It is true that many of the deaths from domestic violence involve immigrants to the country. In many areas the number of cases of abuse involving non-Spaniards exceeds those of nationals. In Algeciras there is a major problem with Moroccans who form a large immigrant group – on the Costa del Sol I am ashamed to say that Britons and Northern Europeans feature highly in the number of court cases.

It is not a Spanish problem it is an international problem hence the holding of this special day. Yet in essence it is a male problem and so we men have to solve it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


It was two weeks ago on Tuesday that the Frente Polisario press agency, SPS, alerted the world to what was taking place at the Gdeim Izizk protest camp close to the Western Saharan capital of El Aauín. We are not sure precisely what happened, how many were killed, injured or disappeared because it would be wrong to merely rely on the word of the SPS and Morocco has banned all Spanish journalists, politicians, Euro MPs and international observers from going to see.

This Tuesday in the early hours of the morning I received a message Guillermo O William. He said that as he wrote four Policía Nacional vans had arrived at the PSOE office in Valencia at 24.10. They had sealed the windows and cries could be heard from the 16 protestors inside. He added the police wanted to silence the activists who had been holding a peaceful sit-in protest in the PSPV office (PSPV is PSOE in Valencia).

Moving in at the dead of night is a usual Policía Nacional tactic. Many years ago I saw squads of baton waving officers clearing hundreds of Moroccan cars blocking the road to Algeciras port. The cars packed with families of Moroccans travelling home for the summer holidays from their jobs in Northern Europe had been kept out in the boiling sun all day as they waited for a ferry home. Many had collapsed in the heat, some died, so they protested by blocking the road. After the events of that year a new system of moving the million of Moroccans through was introduced that treats them in a civilized manner.

Since the current crisis erupted in the Western Sahara refugees from the region have been holding a series of weekly protests outside the Moroccan Consulate in Valencia. The Tuesday demo was the fifth and then the protestors marched to the PSPV-PSOE office to team up with the Western Saharans who had previously occupied the building and were not encamped outside.

The PSOE office protest was against the “silence” of the socialist government in Madrid both over what was happening in the Western Sahara and Morocco’s embargo on media, political and observer visits. The spokesperson for the activists, Nadira Mohamed, said there were now 150 protesting at the doors to the socialist’s office with a heavy police presence.

Mohamed explained the weekly protest at the consulate has the objective of “denouncing the constant violation of the human rights that Morocco is carrying out in the Western Sahara.” Now to this has been added anger at the “passivity” of the Spanish Government before the “violence” of the Moroccan army on the Saharan people that came to a head “with the assault on the Gdeim Izizk camp on November 8.”

Whilst the SPS has warned of civil war in the Western Sahara it is PSOE in Spain which is being torn apart over the issue. Activists are at angry odds with their government. There is widespread dissatisfaction with Madrid’s response to the dismantling of the ‘Campamento Dignidad’. Whilst many party members are openly challenging José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his new foreign minister, Trinidad Jímenez, the party baron’s are also unhappy but have confined their anger to mumbling under their breath.

More open with its protests is Izquierda Socilista that is demanding the government responds with “determined action” making a “firm and explicit condemnation” of the actions of Morocco since 1975 when the dying Franco regime withdrew hastily from its former colony. Zapatero has tried to defend the actions of his government but the ante is being upped by the centre-right Partido Popular.

The PP is no friend of Morocco and has stated that should it come to government in 2012 it will deal with its neighbour across the Strait of Gibraltar in a firm manner. This would include agriculture and fishing policy but especially in its defence of the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla – which Morocco views as occupied territories.

The Western Sahara and support for the Frente Polisario has been a touch stone for socialists and those on the far left in Spain and wider Europe. Hence it is ironic that the PP is now able to use this issue to drive another nail in to PSOE’s electoral coffin and at the same time to put pressure on Morocco’s monarch and government.

Monday, November 22, 2010


The Polisario Front has spoken of its dismay at the lack of support from the Spanish premier, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which it described as “minimal”. It also accused him of having “little interest” in the situation in the Western Sahara capital of El Aaiún, after the violent dismantling of the protest camp at Gdeim Izik on November 8.

In statements to Saharan journalists the prime minister of the self proclaimed RASD government, Abdelkader Taleb Omat, considers that Zapatero had ignored in his declaration at the NATO summit in Lisbon the serious situation existing at El Aaiún under Morocco’s control.

Taleb Omat spoke of his surprise that the Spanish government had not demanded an urgent independent international investigation as to why Morocco will not lift its blockade on the free access to the region of Spanish journalists and international observers to the Western Sahara. He added this would save lives and would protect the Saharans from the Moroccan policy to exterminate them.

The RASD premier also deplored the fact that Zapatero did not raise fundamental questions on a referendum for self-determination and the respect for human rights.

Now you’d probably rightly say what’s to laugh about in that? The answer is of course nothing especially as we have no idea just how many have died, been seriously injured or have disappeared. If the situation wasn’t so serious the humour would be in the political fall-out in Spain.

The Western Sahara was a Spanish colony and was literally dumped in to the hands of Morocco and Mauritania in the dying days of the Franco regime. Now the centre right opposition Partido Popular is turning up the heat on Zapatero and intends to raise the subject in the Spanish Upper House, the Senate. The PP says it will condemn “the serious violation of human rights” on the part of Morocco in the Western Sahara. It also wants Spain to return to its former position of openly supporting the decolonisation process.

PP Senator Alejandro Muñoz Alonso has presented a motion that calls on the government “to condemn the serious violations of human rights that have been produced” and also the controls that have impeded press freedom and the activities of professionals in the media. The PP also wants the mandate of Minurso, the UN force in the region, to be changed to give it competence over human rights to allow it to stop the violence.

Of course support for the Polisario Front in Spain and elsewhere has always been the fiefdom of the centre left and far left. Izquierda Unida has been outspoken over the disaster that is taking place in the Western Sahara but the PSOE government seems intent on pretending it simply isn’t happening. This has caused outrage amongst many PSOE activists who are pressing their government to change it stance. They are engaged in a series of demos, sit ins and protests – not against Morocco but their own government in Madrid.

As the old saying goes – laugh – I could cry but in the meantime the people of the Western Sahara are dying!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


My esteemed colleague Brian Reyes earns his daily crust reporting on the news for the Gibraltar Chronicle. He is also a talented photographer and keen foodie. He has a blog – My Mediterranean Diet – which is both engaging and interesting.

Brian recently penned a series of articles first dealing with a bullfight in Algeciras and then following it up with articles on the meat as a dish. I suspect we have both bought our ‘toro de lidia’ from the same butcher in the Algeciras market and what surprised me was that beef from a prized bull is only fit for the stewing pot.

Now Brian’s first article with a graphic description and photos of the killing of his future meal has caused outrage amongst some readers of the Dscriber website that is based in the USA. I certainly think his piece has been amongst the most read and has certainly drawn probably the most comments, the majority highly critical.

Maybe Brian was brave or naive in writing the series and I do not intend to enter the fraught argument here for or against bullfighting. The only comment I will make is to those who doubt the bravery of the matador. Stand beside one of these bulls as I have and tell me he is a coward. You do not enter a field where these beasts graze or pass by one on foot if it has escaped – the chances are it will try to kill you!

The majority of the bulls that enter the ring have been bred on farms where they have roamed free and been extremely well cared for except for their final day or so. No other animal comes to the table via the ‘fiesta nacional’ but is the process they go through any less humane? I somewhat doubt it.

Anybody living in rural Spain will have come across the ‘matanza’ where the family pig is tied live to a frame, has its throat cut and then bleeds to death. The blood is used for morcilla and over the next day or so every part of the pig will be butchered and prepared in to some dish or another. It will then feed the family for many months to come. Before you point and say here is another example of cruel Spain of course the same method of slaughter is used by the Jews and Muslims as part of their dietary laws.

I have driven behind a big truck as dawn breaks as it brings in live chickens to the factory where I believe they are gassed. Some break free – the odd one escapes, others are run over by a following vehicle, some break their legs and wings and land in a bloody heap on the tarmac.

Cattle, pigs and sheep who rarely enjoy the lifestyle of the bullring bull are crowded in to trucks then shipped off to the abattoir for a humane death. They say it is quick and painless. Sorry but it isn’t.

Of course we could choose to eat fish which are pulled from the sea in giant nets and then drown – gasping for water in the air of the trawler's deck.

Now all of this is a good argument for not eating meat or fish but I do both as do the majority of people and I have no intension of changing. For when I sit down at my table or in a restaurant I eat the tasty dish that is set before me and do not give a thought on how the creature got there. Yet also I am not so foolish as to believe it was a painless end for the animal or fish concerned. We are what we eat – but the majority don’t care how we kill it!

Brian’s blog:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A row has erupted in the Spanish lower house of parliament, Congress, over the money to finance the royal household and the supposed wealth of the monarch – King Juan Carlos.

It took place during the debate to approve the State Budget for 2011. The MP for Esquerra Republicana, Joan Tardá (Joan is a male name in Catalan by the way), wants the monarch to have his funding allocation reduced by 15 per cent in line with government cuts and for the monarch to receive the same salary as the Spanish premier, José Luis Rodrízguez Zapatero. In addition any short fall in the monies required by the royal household says Tardá should come from the monarch’s own wealth.

The Republican left would always dispute the need to fund the monarch and the royal family but the issue takes on an added bite at this time of economic crisis when millions of Spaniards are on the dole queue. Shouldn’t the king and his family be setting an example to the nation the ER would ask?

The socialist PSOE government and the centre right Partido Popular opposition – the latter being staunch monarchists – dismiss the ER’s arguments. They say if the party is not happy with the way the royal household is paid or its standing in the country then it should seek to change the Spanish Constitution but adds – it would be outvoted.

The two main parties also point out that the allocation of funding in the State budget is for the financing of the overall Royal Household and not money given to the king.

In addition PSOE and the PP point out that the Spanish monarch comes cheap at the price. The cost of maintaining the nation’s head of state and the Casa Real costs each Spaniard just 18 céntimos a year. In contrast each German pays 35 céntimos to pay for its president, the Greek head of State comes at the cost of 52 céntimos, Sarkozy costs every French person 1.64 euros to maintain the Elysée Palace and the Italian president chews up 1.80 euros of the people’s pasta.

That may be so but the Esquerra Republicana is angry that the Spanish Parliament refuses to control the spending of the Casa Real. In addition it begs the question what has happened to the Borbón millions? According to Forbes magazine Juan Carlos de Borbón has a personal wealth of 1,790 million euros, which if that is true, should be more than enough to keep him and his family in the manner to which they are accustomed without the 18 céntimos from each of his fellow country people.

Of course the same argument could be used in the case of the British Royal Family. However until that nation gets the celebrations for William and Kate’s wedding out of its system it will be a question that no loyal subject would dare ask.

(Joan Tardá was in trouble in December 2008 when he called out “¡Viva la Republica, muerte al Borbón!” – “death to the Borbón”. The ERC later explained he was not calling for the death of the king but it was a traditional phrase dating back to the War of Succession against Felipe V.)

Friday, November 12, 2010


If you have been following the news over the last week you are probably aware of the desperate situation that exists in the Western Sahara. The Moroccan army has been violently dismantling the protest camp at Agdaym Izik. Many of those living there have fled in to the desert or the town of El Aaiún. The people of the Western Sahara are being persecuted by gangs of Moroccan settlers, encouraged by the Moroccan Government with support from the army.

Please help by acting now!

As a matter of urgency please send a letter to your Euro MP or Euro MPs asking that the European Parliament demands that the Moroccan Government immediately ceases its violent campaign and honours the human rights of the people of the Western Sahara. (Readers in the USA and elsewhere please contact your elected officials) Send a letter in your own words – it is far more productive that just adding your signature to a letter which had been signed by hundreds of other people.

The people of the Western Sahara need your help!


Como sabréis, recientemente el ejército de Marruecos des mantel violentamente el campamento saharaui de protesta de Agdaym Izik. Muchas de las personas que permanecían allí han huido por el desierto y la mayoría han vuelto a la ciudad de El Aaiún. La población saharaui está siendo perseguida por cuadrillas de colonos armados y agitados por el gobierno marroquí y el ejército de ocupación.

Estamos lanzando una acción de presión al Parlamento Europeo para que se haga cargo de la responsabilidad que le corresponde y se posicione, intentando de este modo que se detenga la violación de los derechos humanos en el Sáhara Occidental. Mandar tu propio correo personal pidiendo a los/las representantes de tu país en el europarlamento que actúen. El objetivo de la acción es que cada persona envíe un correo personal, no "copiando y pegando" textos, sino con sus propias palabras (mucho más efectivo que recibir el mismo texto 100 veces).

Ayúdanos a parar esta barbarie.


Over the last year I have reported on the missing babies of La Línea. These were babies who supposedly died shortly after birth in the municipal hospital or two private hospitals in the border town in the 1960s and 1970s. Their burial was said to have been taken care of by the hospitals but now there is no trace of them in official records or at the cemetery. It is suspected they are amongst – Franco’s babies – of whom Judge Baltasar Garzón believes there were 30,000 during the dictatorship. Babies who their mother’s were told had died but were in fact passed to adoptive parents. The Algeciras prosecutor has taken up the cases in La Línea and recently called in the National Police to investigate. To those files can now be added the disturbing case of the Algeciras mother who opened her child’s tomb to find it empty except for just a t-shirt.

It was back in 1972 that María Rodríguez was travelling with her husband and five children in a car when they were involved in an accident. They were all taken to La Línea hospital as the collision took place within the boundaries of San Roque which is served by that medical centre. In the car with María and her husband were their children aged nine, seven, five and four years plus their baby boy. None except the father had been seriously hurt.

María and her husband were later transferred to hospital in Algeciras and were told their children would follow them as their injuries were light. However when her sister went to La Línea hospital the next day she was told the baby had died.

Apparently the baby was entered in a niche in Algeciras cemetery but María never knew who had paid for the funeral. She says her daughter has always wondered whether he died or not because the baby was perfectly healthy. On the death certificate the child was named as José María with the cause of death stated as a fracture of the skull with massive damage to the brain. Yet the accident report of the time said all the family had been only slightly injured even though María’s husband subsequently died.

In 1992 she decided to have the remains of her son moved to the same niche as her husband. However when they opened his tomb it was empty except for a t-shirt. She says it was a yellow t-shirt which she has kept to this day as she has nothing else of her baby son –no casket, no remains.

That year was a traumatic one for María for when José María would have been 20 and eligible for his military service she received notice of his call up. She said she burst in to tears because how it was possible they called him up after he supposedly had been dead for 20 years?

It was recently with the news of all the families with the missing babies in La Línea that María decided to contact the others involved. She is also going to testify before the Algeciras prosecutor. María has visited the Archivo Histórico de La Línea that records all the admissions to La Línea hospital in that period. There is no record of any member of her family having been treated there.

A desperate story which leaves María’s with just one wish: “I want to know if my son died or if he is alive.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


The Spanish State television channel, RTVE, wants no unpleasant surprises in the artists or song for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest. It intends to select a separate artist and song - the formula last followed in 2007 – to keep out the “frikis”.

I think the very sober and staid RTVE is missing the point here. The “frikis” is what the Eurovision Song Contest is all about. The Gay community holds party nights around the show as it is broadcast but they’ll soon be gone if it becomes a “friki” free zone.

The corporation has started a casting process to seek the artist or artists to represent the nation. RTVE is establishing a new filter that will select the candidates, a responsibility which has largely in recent years rested in the hands of the public. Obviously Madrid feels they can no longer be trusted!

Now the public will only enter the process in the second phase once the unworthy artists have been weeded out. There will be a television vote in conjunction with a professional jury.

It has been the selection of “frikis” performers that has caused RTVE to act. Amongst these are my favourite Chikilicuatre plus Antonio El Gato, Chimo Bayo, John Cobra and Karmele Marchante.

Whether the chosen safe artists will avoid the dreaded “nil point” from the international juries during the Song Contest itself remains to be seen. But sorry – no “frikis” – and it will be “nil point” from me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Currently Spain’s centre right Partido Popular has a clear lead over the PSOE administration in the opinion polls and would govern with a clear majority. However the general election is not expected before March 2012 and a week let alone 17 months is a long time in politics.

None the less if as predicted the PP takes power then the country is in for a profound culture shock. Since Zapatero’s socialist government came to power it has followed an extremely liberal agenda upsetting those on the right and the Catholic Church along the way. Now the president of the Partido Popular, Mariano Rajoy, has signalled he intends to pull Spain back to the straight and narrow.

In an interview with El País on Sunday Rajoy said that he is considering annulling the law that allows Gay marriages should his party win the next general election although the measure has been approved by the Constitutional Court.

Rajoy pointed out his party had appealed before the court in 2005 to have the law rejected. It recognised homosexual marriages along with the normal adoption, pension and inheritance rights bestowed on heterosexual marriages for same sex couples. He added that he believed the legislation distorted the social and legal institution of marriage.

The law that puts homosexual and lesbian couples on the same footing as heterosexuals was introduced by the socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. It was opposed by various conservative sectors headed by the Catholic Church yet opinion polls at the time suggested the measure was supported by the majority of Spaniards.

Rajoy said if he became premier he would listen to the Constitutional court and to the people but made it clear he did not favour Gay marriages and believed them to be unconstitutional.

Asked by El País would he repeal the law if the highest Spanish court insisted it was legal Rajoy answered “no”. However it is clear that if the PP takes power not only would Gay marriages be under the spotlight but Rajoy’s government would also revisit the new abortion law which it believes does not sufficiently protect the right to life.

Rajoy told the newspaper: “I am absolutely in disagreement with two things: first, that a girl of 16 years can have an abortion without the knowledge of her parents; and second, I am against how they treat the right to life in this law because it allows total liberty in the first 14 weeks.”

Monday, November 1, 2010


A third of Spanish men have admitted to having used a prostitute.

Presumably not the same one!