3 November, 2008

The Queen’s 70th birthday last Sunday was marred by controversy because of a book published last week to mark the event. The national press began to publish excerpts from La Reina Muy de Cerca (The Queen very close up) by writer Pilar Urbano last Friday and her comments on gay marriage caused a furore in the gay community. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero made a point of stressing the Queen’s “impeccable services to Spain” at a press conference in the capital of El Salvador where he, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, were attending the 18th Ibero-American Summit. Meanwhile the Royal Household issued a statement saying that “alleged affirmations” by the Queen, as recorded in the book by Sra Urbano, were “inexact”. The statement said the comments were made in private and did not exactly correspond with the Queen’s opinions. The statement continued: “The words (in the book) do not reflect the deep attitude of respect which Her Majesty the Queen has for all people, and her closeness to those who suffer, are persecuted or discriminated against.” Despite the statement, Pilar Urbano is standing by her book. She told reporters: “What the Queen said is what my book says.” She added that the interview process was “perfectly documented” and that revision of the test copies allowed the Queen and the La Zarzuela palace verify and give the green light to her declarations. According to El Pais newspaper, the book was given the go-ahead by the Queen’s secretarial staff, implying that she may not have read the book herself. Queen Sofia has lived in Spain for the past 46 years and has never committed any indiscretion in public. In a biography published in 1993, King Juan Carlos said his wife was his most trusted adviser throughout the years that they lived in the shadow of Francisco Franco and during the often tricky Transition period. Queen Sofia’s brother Constantine was the last King of Greece and she herself spent most of her childhood in Egypt and South Africa during her family’s exile from Greece during World War Two.



6 October, 2008

Malaga’s Organised Crime Brigade (ECO) in collaboration with the Central Operative Unit (UCO) smashed what a Guardia Civil spokesman called “one of the most important crime networks in Spain” last week. In an operation dubbed Centry-Paris, 44 people were arrested in Malaga, Algeciras, Melilla, Granada, Jaen and Alicante. Fourteen were arrested in Malaga city, five in Marbella, two in Benalmadena, one in Torremolinos, one in Cartama and one in Estepona. However, it was the vast amounts of money they spent on clothes and jewellery in Avenue Montaigne in Paris and on luxury cars in Germany that gave them away, the Guardia spokesman said. Another 11 accomplices were arrested and more than three tons of hashish were seized. The Guardia spokesman said the network had been completely dismantled, from the people who bought the drug in Morocco to those who distributed it to several European countries. Those arrested included 34 Spaniards, 13 Moroccans, four Frenchmen, two Dutchmen, one Palestinian and one Gibraltarian. The investigation began in October last year when ECO-Malaga were tipped off that a Moroccan with a long police record had moved from Torrevieja in Alicante – where police pressure was too hot for him – to the Costa del Sol. In addition to the drug trafficking charges, the men also face charges of illegal possession of arms, falsifying documents, money laundering and illicit association against the public health, among other things. Earlier in the week, the police arrested 121 people in what has been described as the country’s “biggest-ever operation against child pornography on the internet”. Millions of images that show child sex abuse were seized in a series of nationwide raids, which uncovered a network spanning 75 countries. Police said two of those held were using their own children to make pornography. A further 96 people have been charged with possession and distribution of child pornography. The arrests, made over a period of seven days, were part of a long-term operation which began in July last year with the help of Brazilian police. Those detained include bank clerks, porters and airline pilots, and some are foreigners resident in Spain. Enrique Rodriguez, from the police’s Technological Investigation Brigade, told reporters that the network was enormous, involving 18,000 IP addresses across the world, including 1,600 in Spain. IP addresses are unique numbers that identify each computer connected to the internet. He said the foreign leads will now be followed up through Interpol. The raids bring to 1,200 the number of people arrested for child pornography in Spain over the past five years.


29 September, 2008

Six agents belonging to the Provincial Information Brigade in Bilbao were fired last week after it was discovered they had not listened to taped telephone conversations involving a suspected ETA terrorist which might have prevented recent car bomb attacks in the north of Spain. The Provincial Information Brigades have the specific function of keeping track of suspected ETA terrorists and their accomplices. The six men had been tapping Asier Borrero’s phone but terminated the operation in June this year after deciding that he was only interested in having a good time and doing drugs and probably had no connection with the Basque terrorist group. A few weeks later, on July 22, the Guardia Civil arrested nine members of the so-called Vizcaya complex, who had been running explosives over the French border. Several others managed to get away, among them Asier Borrero. When his name was mentioned by one of the detained, the taped conversations were given another listening. Borrero did talk about drugs but he also talked about transporting explosives from France to Santo Domingo de la Calzada in Rioja province. The same detainee had also mentioned several ETA hiding places, one of them in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Acting on that information, the Guardia subsequently discovered 100 kilos in the hide-out there in an operation which was supervised by National Court Judge Baltasar Garzón. The second listening also revealed that Borrero had had several conversations with members of the Vizcaya complex, which the six Brigade agents had failed to pick up.


8 September, 2008

The fatal stabbing of a Senegalese immigrant in Roquetas del Mar, Almeria, late last Saturday night sparked off street battles between immigrants and police after the former burned down the houses of the two men who they said had committed the murder. The rioting immigrants refused to let the fire brigade approach to houses to put out the blazes and threw stones, bottles and other objects at they police when they tried to intervene. They then set fire to six officials cars in disturbances that lasted until 5 am on Sunday, when the police finally managed to get the situation under control. One Guardia Civil suffered a minor knee injury. Roquetas del Mar, together with El Ejido and La Mojonera has the highest number of immigrants in Almeria province, attracted by the work available at the huge number of greenhouses in the area. At the time of going to press, the police had not announced any arrests.


1 September, 2008

By the end of last week, the government’s fears that it would not be possible to identify all the victims of the Spaniar crash proved to be unfounded. By Saturday, all 154 bodies had been identified and were being escorted by grieving families to their places of origin for burials that were attended by hundreds of people. The Spainair flight from Madrid to the Canary Islands crashed shortly after take-off on August 20th. Only 18 of 172 passengers and crew survived the accident. One of the air hostesses who survived told investigators a passenger who was a pilot remarked as the plane went down the runway that there was something wrong. The MD82 plane veered into a dry river bed just after take-off from Madrid’s Barajas airport. It then broke up and burst into flames, setting light to surrounding vegetation. Experts had to use DNA analysis, fingerprints and dental information to identify some of the badly burned bodies. Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said last week that was the main reason why the identification process was taking longer than expected. Reporting to Parliament last Thursday, Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez said Spanair had considered switching the aircraft at the last minute after the flight had been delayed for about an hour because of a problem with an air temperature gauge. She said Spanair “told the airport control centre that it had decided to continue with the plane, which is the one that crashed”. A Spanair spokesman said the company had at no time considered changing planes but had merely told the control centre that another plane was available if necessary. According to the newspaper El Pais, sources close to the inquiry have said the plane may have lacked sufficient engine power during take-off. The paper reported that video footage showed the plane travelled much further along the runway than normal before getting airborne. The government has promised a full investigation into the crash, which is the country’s worst air accident in 25 years.


4 August, 2008

14 Basque terrorist José Ignacio de Juana Chaos was released from Aranjuez jail early last Saturday morning after serving 21 years for killing 25 people in the mid-1980s. De Juana Chaos was sentenced to more than 3,000 years in 1987 for his part in a string of ETA attacks, including one of the group’s deadliest – a Madrid car-bombing in 1986 which killed 12 members of the Guardia Civil. However, under the penal code then in force, the maximum term he could serve was 30 years. He qualified for early release in 2004 but was given a further term for threatening behaviour. His release has sparked outrage throughout the country. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said De Juana Chaos “generates a perfectly understandable feeling of contempt” among all citizens “and of course the head of the government”. But, he added, “we must respect the law”. There was tight security at Aranjuez prison last Saturday morning in anticipation of trouble from protesters. However, De Juana, his wife and two lawyers drove out of the prison grounds without incident. Earlier in the week, someone sprayed “We shall not forget, we shall not forgive” in blood red paint on the door of the apartment block in San Sebastian where De Juana is expected to take up residence with his wife. Seven victims of ETA violence live in the same building, which has disgusted the Victims of Terrorism Group. It has called on the government to forbid known ETA terrorists to live anywhere near their victims. Maite Pagazaurtundau, whose brother was assassinated by ETA, has called for legal reforms to stop ETA prisoners going free before they have paid compensation to the victims and have publicly expressed their repentance. De Juana has never expressed any regret for what he did. In fact, he told fellow prisoners when watching the funeral of an ETA victim: “Their tears are our smiles.” On Saturday, protesters held demonstrations in San Sebastian and in the square in Madrid where the 12 Guardia Civil were killed. De Juana decided against attending a gathering of ETA sympathisers in the old part of San Sebastian last Saturday who wanted to welcome him back. In a letter, he said he wanted to avoid the “media show”. It seems he intends to lie very low until something or someone else takes the media spotlight off him. De Juana Chaos was released exactly 40 years to the day after ETA carried out its first targeted killing.


14 July, 2008

In just five days last week, 46 sub-Saharan immigrants lost their lives in three separate incidents while trying to enter the country via Motril, Almeria and the Canary Islands. It was an unprecedented number of deaths in such a short time. Speaking at a press conference during his official visit to Athens last Thursday, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez described the first two incidents as a “terrible, almost unbearable tragedy”. He was speaking before another patera (boat) was rescued off the coast of La Gomera in the Canary Islands with 55 immigrants and four bodies on board last Friday night. Two of the survivors died in the early hours of Saturday morning and another nine are in a critical state. The tragedy started last Monday as a Sea Rescue patrol boat escorted a patera with 37 immigrants on board towards Motril in Granada province. A huge wave overturned the patera just off the isle of Alborán, 40 km from the coast, and the rescuers only managed to save 20 men and three women, one heavily pregnant. The other 14 were lost at sea and searches by helicopter and boat were unable to locate the bodies. Last Wednesday, another patera arrived in Almeria port with 33 immigrants on board, including eight women and a baby boy who was suffering from fever and dehydration. Red Cross workers were horrified to discover that another 15, nine of them small children aged one to four, had died during the crossing and their bodies had been thrown overboard. One woman in a state of shock repeatedly asked the Red Cross workers to find her two children, believing they were lost in the confusion at the port. Last week’s dead brought the number of immigrants believed to have died so far this year to 75, although it is a figure difficult to verify because most of the bodies are disposed of at sea and the authorities only have the survivors accounts to go on. Last year, for example, between 900 and 3,500 immigrants died while trying to reach Spain, according to the different associations that tried to keep count. The authorities have already granted asylum to two of last week’s survivors – a man who lost his wife and two-year-old daughter as well as a brother, and the pregnant woman in the first boat. When illegal immigrants are rescued, they are usually sent to internment centres to await repatriation but the authorities have been very vague about what they plan to do with last week’s survivors. This leads observers to suspect that some of them will be allowed to stay in Spain. Red Cross workers have said that the immigrants who arrived in Almeria, won’t fully realise what has happened to them “for many days”. They said the women who lost their children remember nothing about the crossing. Meanwhile, another 4,000 or so Africans are said to be in Morocco, waiting for pateras to bring them to Spain, undeterred by offshore patrols and certain repatriation for those who make it.