Wednesday, February 23, 2011


February 23 1981 marked a significant day in Spanish history. It was the day the fledgling democracy of Spain was almost brought to its knees by the attempted coup in which the Guardia Civil Lieutenant Coronel Antonio Tejero marched in to the Spanish parliament, confronted the MPs and fired shots in the chamber.

It seems like a historical event now but was just 30 years ago. What took place is all the more significant now given the events taking place in the Arab world as nation after nation attempts to break the shackles of dictatorship (albeit in some cases by a sovereign and his extended family) and embrace democracy.

In the event apart from the events in Madrid with support from Valencia the coup fell flat on its face with a significant role in its downfall being played by King Juan Carlos I. However it is clear from statements made on the anniversary that those on the left and the unions feared for their very lives.

One of those, Antonio Herrera, now in charge of the health section of the CC.OO union told how shortly after Tejero had stormed Congress and the coup was underway he left one of Málaga’s hospitals. He saw youths wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the Spanish flag. He went with union colleagues to the Nadiuska restaurant in Gibralfaro and then to the Cádiz road. It was there that the Communist MP, Paco Vázquez, offered to take him to Gibraltar. He declined and says that later friends in the police told him at the time they knew exactly where to find each and every one of them. However what seems certain is that if the coup had succeeded many on the left and in the unions would have sought refuge in Gibraltar.

Final word goes to José Carracao who is now a senator in Spain’s upper house with special responsibility for Gibraltar and cross border relations. So what are his memories of February 23 1981? He told me: “I was the mayor of Jimena de la Frontera. That afternoon I had called a routine council meeting. A friend informed me of the news. I listened to the radio. That confirmed it. I was worried for the MPs detained. You cannot hide something of such major concern and who knew how things would develop in Jimena. Once the King spoke on TV at 01.30 on February 24 I knew the coup would not succeed. It would have been highly regrettable if our country, Latin and bloodied, had returned to the old ways. The behaviour of the people in the defence of democracy was exemplary.”

Footnote: Antonio Tejero is still alive. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail but in 1993 was given open regime status. He lives in Madrid but has a holiday apartment on the Costa del Sol in Torre Del Mar. He has refused to speak of the events of February 23 1981.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


As we watch the events unfold in Libya in horror we should not forget the more peaceful push for change that preceded it. The bloodbath in that nation should not deflect from what has gone before in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain. Tony Murphy, who has family in Cairo and Bahrain, writes:

“There has been a high level of anxiety in our family over the last month or so because I have a sister who lives in Cairo and a brother who lives in Bahrain.

“My sister is married to an American diplomat and has lived in Egypt for about 12 years. She has 3 grown up children (the youngest is 24) who also live in Cairo. My brother in Bahrain works for an American company and has been there for about 7 years.

“It was somewhat worrying when it became impossible to contact my sister by any means for about a week. But as systems were restored I was relieved to talk to her and find that they were all ok.

“Despite the turmoil they never felt threatened or in any danger. According to my sister a couple of tanks rolled down their street one day and the police guard outside their building disappeared. Other than that the worst problems they had to face were that the supermarket was running out of food and the cash machines were running out of money.

“While all this was going on in Egypt there were already rumblings in Bahrain which gained a huge momentum once Mubarak stepped down.

“Throughout their experiences neither encountered any anti western sentiment. My brother mingled freely with the protesters in Manama last weekend and took photographs. My sister goes alone to the shops or the bank without fear. The atmosphere in both countries is at times almost carnival like. In Bahrain there are many women among the protesters and dozens of children.

“Tunisia's uprising has provoked an irreversible wave that is sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa with an enthusiasm and euphoria that has gripped the ex pat community as well as the citizens. Neither of my siblings is planning to leave their homes and continue to see their futures there with hope and optimism.”

Photographs copyright Tony Murphy.


Spain’s Fiscalía General del Estado has upped the ante in the investigation into the cases of the missing babies. Although such reports are now widespread they started in La Línea and at least one case there could have links to Gibraltar.

The State Prosecutor’s office has sent orders to all prosecutors in the country ordering them to investigate all the official reports on the cases of stolen babies that have currently been presented before them. The office of Cándido Conde-Pumpido has instructed the 17 senior prosecutors in the autonomous communities as well as the 50 provincial prosecutors to open official proceedings to ascertain if the cases are relevant to the penal code.

The action by Cándido Conde-Pumpido comes months after the Cádiz prosecutor and the prosecutor responsible for the Campo de Gibraltar in Algeciras took steps to order a judicial investigation which were the first in Spain.

Since last October the judicial police in Algeciras have been taking statements from those making official declarations, largely in La Línea. In the border town the number has been placed at around 50 but not all have made ‘denuncias’. The National Police HQ in Cádiz city has now followed suit and is also handling some cases involving the Campo de Gibraltar which have come under its territorial jurisdiction.

After the province of Cádiz other prosecutors in Málaga, Sevilla, Granada and Valencia now have opened investigations. It is understood there have also been a cascade of reports of missing babies largely occurring during the Franco era from various points in Spain. The province of Cádiz has to date the largest number of cases with 30 currently in the hands of the prosecutors.

Families believe they were the victims of an organised network that operated in public and private hospitals from the 1950s to the 1990s – although cases after the Franco era are in the minority. The babies, now adults, were all officially registered as dead within hours of their birth.

There are numerous cases in which the births, deaths and burials were never recorded, of empty or non-existent graves, contradictory medical reports, even testimonies from medical staff admitting the newly born babies were stolen and sold to other families who paid for them.

The State Prosecutor has voiced the belief that the robberies of newly born babies was not organised at a national level but was carried out by various networks in different points of the country. It was this argument that was used at the end of January to reject a collective denuncia from the Asociación Nacional de Afectados por Adopciones Irregulares (Anadir) made before the State Prosecutor’s own office listing 261 documented cases.

Hence the State Prosecutor has now asked the various prosecutors offices as regional and provincial level to work to a unified criteria in investigating the cases of missing babies without infringing on their autonomy to act.

None-the-less the scandal over Spain’s missing babies may be far greater that the State Prosecutor is willing to admit. It is reported Judge Baltasar Garzón has estimated that during the post war period of the Franco dictatorship a staggering 30,000 babies were re-allocated in this way. Garzón has reached that conclusion by gleaning facts and figures from various studies.

It has also been reported that 200,000 pesetas was the price of acquiring such a baby in the 1960s. In his book – Mala gente que camina – Benjamín Prado says that in Spain people think “such things only happened in Argentina or Chile which had much shorter dictatorships. The courts do not want to investigate in case the same thing happened here.”

Monday, February 21, 2011


Out of cruelty and tragedy comes injustice and a pending hunger strike.

On Saturday the Prodean Bahía de Cádiz, Cora-Animal and The Bright Eyes Society animal welfare groups held a demonstration in the Plaza de San Juan de Dios in Cádiz. It was in support of Simone Rigui and his girlfriend Isabel, who have been sentenced to jail for four and a half years and four years respectively.

Simone is charged with having tried to attack the mayor of Cádiz, Teófila Martínez, and Isabel with hitting councillor Carmen Obregón in 2007 at a demonstration against El Refugio kennels and dog pound in Puerto Real. Its owners were accused of allowing animals to die in agonising circumstances by using a paralysing drug which was cheaper to administer than the normal way of euthanizing them.

The couple had lost their three dogs, which were being temporarily boarded at the kennels. The case against the management of El Refugio is being tried by the courts, but in the meantime the animal welfare groups insist that the prison sentences imposed on Simone and Isabel are unfair and are politically motivated.

The president of Prodean Bahía de Cádiz, Francisco Molina, says the sentences will ruin the lives of two people for an alleged attack which hundreds of other people present at the scene did not see.

Simone, who is Italian, is due to start on Tuesday of this week, a hunger strike in Rome in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in protest at his sentence.

Curious isn’t it. Simone was immediately detained and jailed after the supposed attack before being released. He has now been sentenced to jail along with his girlfriend. Yet the case against the El Refugio owners, the real criminals in this case, drags on and on over four years after the events.

There is sometimes a lot to be said for an eye for an eye justice. Perhaps if the owners are eventually found guilty rather than the usual judicial slap on the wrist they can be injected with the same paralysing drug as the unfortunate animals.

(The above photo is of Holly – the only one of the three dogs of Simone and Isabel whose body was found. Vitto and Maggy were never recovered. The autopsy on Holly was crucial in bringing the legal case against the owners of El Refugio. There are more photos and information on the Prodean website:

Saturday, February 19, 2011


First it was Tunisia, then Egypt and now Bahrain. The difference with Bahrain is that whilst Egypt was on the experts’ list of Arab nations who could topple the Gulf State was not. Not only that whilst other States in the region obtain their wealth from oil, Bahrain doesn’t, it is largely a business centre.

On Thursday Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, told the House of Commons, he is advising British nationals to avoid all but essential travel around Bahrain and to stay away from the protests.

Hague condemned the clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police in Pearl Square and called on the authorities there to “exercise restraint.” At least four people have died during the demonstrations.

The airport Manama is still open as normal but the Foreign Secretary is promising to keep the situation under review.

William Hague said he’d spoken to the Foreign Minister of Bahrain and conveyed his concern about the level of violence, stressing the need for peaceful action to address the concerns of protesters.

The demonstrators want to force the ruling Sunni monarchy to give up its control of central government, with the country’s majority Shia claiming they face discrimination because they are effectively blocked from key roles in public service and the military.

Meanwhile neighbouring Oman has raised the minimum wage for nationals working in the private sector from $364 to $520, in the response to protests sparked by the unemployment and poverty in Arab countries.

The state news agency ONA reported the cabinet had “decided to raise the minimum wages for national workers in the private sector to 200 riyals per month” on the orders of Sultan Qaboos.

This begs the question how can you run an international financial and business centre when foreign nationals are advised to avoid your country, when there are tanks and blood on the streets, and when everyone fears the contagion could spread to every nation in the region. The answer in short is you can’t.

So could this unrest benefit Gibraltar? Despite the political nonsense between Britain – Spain and Gibraltar, which after all has been going on for 300 years – the Rock as its name suggests is a pillar of stability in a troubled world. Not only that but it has a world respected financial, investment and legal centre.

I asked my man in the pinstripe suit who walks the Rock’s fiscal corridors of power how he saw the situation. He told me: “I think that the unrest in Bahrain could benefit Gibraltar quite substantially.” But, yes there was a ‘but’ to his views, for he continued: “only if Gibraltar makes a real effort to engage energetically in identifying and pursuing this business at both a high level and also on the ground.”

So yes Gibraltar can benefit from this uncertain world and boost its standing as a world financial centre in to the bargain – but – only if it is up to the challenge.

It is Gibraltar’s moment of truth.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


In good times people are happy, they start homes and there is a beneficial knock-on effect for the economy. However the financial crisis has put paid to that. Easy credit for purchasing property has dried up as too have the building projects.

In 2008 some 450,000 new homes were started in Spain. Josep Oliver, the senior professor of applied economy at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, predicts that in the coming seven or eight years the figure will be between 140,000 and 160,000. This was the average figure in the country in the 1970s.

He lays the blame on the economy, unemployment, lack of financial resources and the credit required for a couple to start a new life together. The professor also believes that the generation now aged between 35 and 40 will have been the last to have been produced during a period of high birth rate (the 1970s).

So as the birth rate falls there will be less young people to start homes and families in the future. This will have repercussions on internal demand and private consumption which will be reflected in the nation’s economic growth.

In short for the economy to be reborn, babies have to be born. A true chicken and egg situation!

Monday, February 14, 2011


The Partido Popular’s vice president of communication, Esteban González Pons, put the cat amongst the pigeons at the weekend when talking about the departure of Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak.

He said the protests in Egypt served to demonstrate to Spaniards: “fed up with unemployment, of the crisis, of the crisis of values social and political and of the institutional depression that when the people want to they can rise up – and the Spanish people want to.”

Pons was speaking at the presentation of the party’s candidates in municipalities of over 20,000 people in Valencia. However his statement brought a swift response from Gaspar Zarrías, the Secretary of State on political matters.

Zarrías said it was an “embarrassment” to compare Spain with Egypt. He added that the people of Egypt are now winning the liberty that the people of Spain have had since 1977 – democracy and the right to live in dignity. He stressed that Spanish people were free and that democracy shines everywhere. Zarrías added that González Pons spoke on occasions “outrageously” and this was one of them.

Indeed! There are plenty of criticisms you can lay at Spain’s door but to compare it with the situation in Egypt is not only ridiculous, it cheapens the fight of the people of that country and in short makes González Pons appear a fool.

Spain’s people are free to demonstrate and in May this year they can vote out their town halls and in March next year their national and regional governments –in free and fair elections. Spaniards enjoy freedom of speech and no longer fear the midnight knock at the door – as Egyptians have done till now –a fear which in Spain only died along with Franco.

Of course González Pons is of a centre-right party – elements of which still hanker after the days of Franco. Amongst their ranks they would admire the strict Mubarak-style regime supported by the military.

It’s the Egypt of old that should serve as a warning and reminder to Spaniards!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


In the summer of 1992 I attended a dinner held on the large outdoor patio of a restaurant in Mijas. Photographs were taken, one from the terrace above, which looked down on the table where I had been sat. I was rather puzzled as the gentleman sitting in my place had, how should I put this, thinning hair in the centre of his head.

Wind forward to last week and I attended a seminar on the safety systems at the CEPSA refinery in San Roque organised by the Asociación Prensa del Campo de Gibraltar.

As we listened to the engineers and environmental experts two photographs were taken. One above shows us all in wrapt attention. The other taken from behind me shows a gentleman with a bald spot in the centre of his head. This photograph I have destroyed.

Now dear reader you can help me here for I am at a loss as to how this spectre appears in my place – every 19 years! The next sighting should be in 2030. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


The wives, mothers and sisters of the “rojos” during the Spanish Civil War had their heads shaved, were insulted and humiliated. In the majority of cases it was not anonymous members of Franco’s forces that committed these outrages but their neighbours who up till then they had considered their friends.

In Andalucía the provinces of Cádiz, Sevilla and Huelva saw these acts carried out first, they were repeated later in Málaga and Almería. Now the regional government has carried out a measure to recognise these humiliated women.

These dreadful acts were all performed in public places – the plazas, markets or even in the churches of villages and towns – locations where people gathered in large numbers. The women had their head shaved, were placed on the backs of donkeys and paraded in front of their neighbours.

As a result they were marked and indeed scared for life. Hence the Andalucía government has decided to pay compensation of 1,800 euros in recognition of the moral damage they incurred - to those that are still alive to tell the tale that is.

January 13 marked the day when those women who suffered in this way had to make themselves known to the authorities. In the event 106 have had their applications accepted. The vice counsellor of the Andalucía Government and Justice Ministry, José Antonio Gómez Periñán, said he had received well over 200 applications but not all of these had met with the required conditions.

All the women who have survived had to be able to demonstrate they were victims of this abuse with photographic or documentary proof. They also had to be currently living in Andalucía. Around 27 lived outside of the region and over 100 have died and it was their families that presented their applications.

They all, says Gómez Periñán, received a document that expressed the regional government’s regret for the physical, verbal and moral violence they had suffered.

The years when the most number of these acts took place were between the start of the Civil War in 1936 and 1950. Gómez Periñán says society is in debt to these women – they are the victims of the repression but up till now they have received nothing.

Often the women would be required to work for free for the very people who had murdered their men folk. They were also made to clean churches and often were raped. Although 106 will now be compensated the Asociación Andaluza de Memoria Histórica y Justicia believes there are many more.

Needless to say organisations on the right in Spain have called this action a pre-election gimmick. As they are the political heirs of those who committed these outrages there is little surprise in that. However given that a socialist government has been in power in Andalucía for so long one can only wonder why these suffering women were not honoured earlier.

What leaves me befuddled is the sum of 1,800 euros. Did some civil servant in Sevilla think this up as suitable compensation? What is 1,800 euros – around 1,500 pounds or perhaps more dollars? It hardly fights the crimes these women and mere girls were made to suffer and who have been marked out in their communities ever since.

There is no adequate sum to repay them – and it certainly isn’t 1,800 euros.