The El Mundo daily newspaper has been running a series of surveys of its readers to find out what they think of various aspects of national life at the end of the first 30 years of democracy. Some of the results have been very damning, but it’s doubtful that the politicians will take much notice of them. Contrary to popular belief, the Spaniards are not indifferent to corruption in high places and know exactly where to place the blame: Socialist politicians, local builders of all political parties and local councils of all political hues. More than 27% said the current Socialist government was more corrupt than the first one under Felipe Gonzalez (24%). Only 14% said the Partido Popular government headed by José María Aznar was corrupt. More than 62% said the politicians were the most corrupt, followed by the judiciary (14.4%) and the media (9%). As for politicians, the most corrupt were those in local government. On the economic front, nearly 60% thought the construction was the most corrupt, followed by the banks (18%). Nearly 80% want to Constitution changed in order to put limits on the nationalist parties while at a local level, the party that gets the most votes should form the local council, doing away with alliances between minority parties. And two thirds of those question said they did not believe that the whole truth about the 2004 Madrid bombings had been told.
The owners of houses in the Los Monteros urbanisation in Marbella have said they will formally accuse the Town Council of peddling political favours if Antonio Banderas’ house there is legalised. The film star’s beach front house was on the list of those to be demolished for building irregularities but will be regularised under the provisionally approved General Urban Plan (PGOU). Apparently Banderas has agreed to pay an unspecified amount in compensation and to relinquish some thousand square metres of garden. The other residents claim that the star – a known supporter of the Socialist regional and national governments – is being given special treatment because of his political affiliation.
Juan Antonio Roca, the alleged brain behind the Malaya and Saqueo 1 corruption cases in Marbella, denied in court last week denied that he had used his own companies to divert public money from the Marbella Town Hall between the years 1991 and 1995. He suggested that someone in the Town Hall had taken advantage of his accounts. When asked why his companies and other assets were in his mother’s name, the former municipal urban planning adviser Roca said he had always used her name “for tax reasons”. Another man charged in the Saqueo case, former legal adviser Jose Luis Sierra, told the court: “Nobody even breathed in Marbella without the express order of Gil”, referring to the late Mayor Jesus Gil y Gil. He added: “If anyone did anything without his permission, even if it was the logical thing to do, they would be looking for a job the next day.”
Former Marbella Mayor JuliAn Muñoz, who was recently granted an open prison regime after being found guilty of real estate irregularities, thought he was onto a good thing when he did a deal to sell his story to the Tele5 TV channel for €350,000. Presenter Ana Rosa Quintana even came down from Madrid last week to record the exclusive in Marbella only to have it cancelled at the last minute after the judge hearing the cases against Munoz instructed the prosecutor to look into the matter for tax purposes.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said last Saturday that he would use his hard-won invitation to attend the G-20 summit in Washington on November 20th to ensure that Spain becomes a permanent member of groups like the G-20 and the G-8. French President Nicolas Sarkozy made the PM’s attendance possible by giving him one of the two seats he has allocated to him as the current EU President and as president of an EU country. Most political observers in Spain believe outgoing US President Geiorge W Bush had used the G-20 formula, which Spain does not belong to, for the summit to punish Sr Zapatero for having withdrawn Spanish peace-keeping troops from Iraq shortly after he took power in April 2004.
A loyal ally
Last week wasn’t a bad one for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. To his great relief, Barak Obama won the US presidential elections thus removing the threat of at least another four years of frosty relations between the two countries. And France’s Nicolas Sarkozy has offered one of the two places he commands – as current European president as well as president of a G-7 – at the G-20 summit to be held in Washington on November 15th. Sr Zapatero had not been invited to the summit because Spain does not belong to the G-20 group of countries, which consists of the seven most developed countries (Spain ranks 8th), Russia, the EU as a bloc and the most important emerging economies. Ever since the summit was announced, Sr Zapatero has been lobbying all and sundry to get an invitation, and the Spanish media have attributed his absence to vindictiveness on the part of George W Bush. They claim he has never forgiven Sr Zapatero for withdrawing the Spanish troops from Iraq but it’s not quite that simple. Throughout the 2004 general election campaign, Sr Zapatero said he would withdraw the troops by the end of June that year, if the United Nations had not taken over the running of Iraq from the US. The war was not popular and the decision to send peace-keeping troops to Iraq was the biggest mistake former President Jose Maria Aznar ever made during his eight years in government. What Sr Zapatero did the day after he was officially sworn in was to announce the immediate withdrawal of the troops – a slightly different scenario from the one he promised. The Madrid train bombing, which killed 191 people and injured another 1800 or so, by Islamist radicals happened just three days before the election and most Western leaders viewed Spain’s withdrawal as a capitulation to the terrorists. Then during a visit to Algeria a few weeks later, he made matters worse by publicly urging all US allies to follow suit – a definite diplomatic no-no. Sr Zapatero’s political judgement was further questioned when his government allowed some 850,000 illegal immigrants to become legal in 2005 – thus creating an open door effect the rest of Europe dreaded. In fact, during the year following the legalisation process the influx of illegal immigrants more than quadrupled. Meanwhile, Sr Zapatero had openly backed John Kerry in the US 2004 general election – Bush was re-elected. He publicly rooted for Gerhard Schroeder in the German general election in 2005, which Angela Merkel won – and for Segolene Royal in the 2007 French general election, which Nicolas Sarkozy won. Football fans wanted him banned from attending last year’s European Cup between Spain and Germany because of his tendency to back the loser. He also alienated Tony Blair when it was leaked to the press that his closest advisers were given to referring to the UK PM as “that gilipollas (s**thead)”. While Bush can be blamed for many things, Zapatero’s poor international image is not one of them. Last week, he told a press conference that he would be a friend and loyal ally of Barak Obama, to the amusement of many political observers here. As one said – with friends like him, who needs enemies. Another asked – will he go as far as sending the troops back to Iraq? Probably not, because Obama wants to bring the US troops home within 16 months. Obama has also said he wants to establish good relations with Spain, although Zapatero was not among the world leaders he rang last Thursday. However, the next day Obama broke an eight-year-long silence and called Madrid. The sigh of relief at the PM’s official La Moncloa residence in Madrid could be heard all over the country. Hooray, we’re back in from the cold.
Defence Minister Carme Chacon announced on Sunday that Spain will send a frigate and a support ship to Somalia as part of the mission the European Union will launch in January to fight piracy in the Indian Ocean. She made the announcement after landing in Jibuti early Sunday morning on her way to inspect Spain’s anti-piracy military presence in Somali waters. Somali is in chaos, countless children are starving and people are killing one another in the streets of Mogadishu, the capital, for a handful of grain. But piracy is thriving. Somali officials told reporters last week that this year, pirate profits are on track to reach a record $50 million, all of it tax free. He said: “These guys are making a killing.” More than 75 vessels have been attacked this year, including several Spanish fishing boats, far more than any other year in recent memory. In Somalia, crime is one of the few industries that pays. A former captain in Somalia’s long-defunct navy said: “All you need is three guys and a little boat, and the next day you’re millionaires.” As a result, criminals from all across the country are flocking to pirate dens along the Somali shore. It is not even clear whether Somali authorities want the piracy to stop. One pirate captain said his team usually divided up the loot this way: 20 percent for their bosses, 20 percent for future missions (to cover essentials like guns, fuel and cigarettes), 30 percent for the gunmen on the ship and 30 percent for government officials.