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.


7 July, 2008

In his opening speech to the Socialist Party’s 37th Congress, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero told delegates last Friday: “We are not going to hold up the reforms we want for this country – we’re going to put our foot down on the accelerator of change.” The main issues on the agenda were nuclear energy, water, abortion, euthanasia, allowing all immigrants to vote in local elections, and the relations between Church and State. By Sunday, the last day of the Congress, the different commissions had agreed on a large number of issues. It was agreed to respect the natural life of the country’s nuclear reactors, increasing security measures there but not promoting new nuclear parks. Instead, the accent would be on extending the use of clean, renewable energy sources to gradually reduce reliance on other energy sources. For example, all Socialist Party offices will install solar panels and reduce the amounts of paper used. As regards water, it was agreed to seek a national consensus on transferring water from regions where it is abundant in the north of Spain to drier regions like Murcia, Alicante and Valencia in the south. Regional governments have blocked most such transfers in the past. While it was agreed to gradually eliminate liturgies and religious symbols in public places and at official State acts, the Congress voted against banning the Catholic Church from State funerals on the grounds that for the moment no other religion is organised enough to take its place. The Congress also rejected a review of the extisting agreements between the Church and the State. Although it was agreed to extend the right to vote in municipal actions to all immigrants, not just those from other EU countries, observers said this was a bit of a pipedream at the moment, since all other EU countries had rejected moves in that direction. If it ever became reality, foreign voters would have more political weight than native Spaniards in Almeria, Gerona and the Balearic islands where they already outnumber the locals. As regards euthanasia, it was agreed to draft a law to permit the cutting off of palliative treatment which artificially prolongs the patient’s life, causing more suffering, when the patient so requests. It was also agreed to set up a group of experts to review the laws on abortion to include advances in laws in the rest of Europe, while respecting the wishes of the women who request the procedure and the medical staff who carry it out. As most political observers had predicted, the Prime Minister resisted attempts to move the party further to the left and managed to get through the three-day event without mentioning the economy, except to tell those present to consume more.


16 June, 2008

More than 300 Judicial Police, Guardia Civil and Customs Officers arrested 20 people last Friday in raids against a major Russian mafia gang, which were ordered by Judge Baltasar Garzon, the man who tried to jail former Chilean ruler Augusto Pinochet. The suspects, who were picked up in Madrid, Alicante, Mallorca and Malaga, have been accused of arms trafficking, money-laundering and contract killings. Sr Garzon flew to Palma de Mallorca last Friday to interrogate the four people arrested there, and then went on to Malaga over the weekend to question the ten who picked up the province. The raids were carried out in private homes and companies in Madrid, Campello and Jávea in Alicante, Valencia, Malaga city, Marbella, Estepona, Nerja and Torrox, and Almuñécar in Granada. Alexander Malyshev, a major Russian capo, was arrested at his luxurious home in Frigiliana. Sr Garzon said the suspects belonged the “most important Russian criminal gang in the world” – the Tambov organised crime group, named after a region in central Russia with its base in St Petersburg. An Interior Ministry spokesman said Operation Troika began two years ago and that Sr Garzon had received information from the police Germany, Russia and Switzerland and the FBI. He said the suspects were using front companies to launder money from criminal activities in Russia and other former Soviet countries. They are also suspected of drug trafficking and tax fraud. A police spokesman said the gang was close to the seat of power in Moscow. According to the Spanish press, the group has been operating in Spain for the last 12 years.


9 June, 2008

With a lorry drivers’ strike threatening food and fuel supplies, the big supermarket chains and small stores have prepared to meet the crisis in different ways. Spokesmen for the Al Campo and Mercadona chains said over the weekend that they had not been stockpiling because, as they admitted off the record, they trust that the government will reach an agreement with the drivers soon because of the unpleasant consequences it would have for consumers. But Carrefour and Eroski said they were expecting the worst and had been hoarding products to guarantee supplies to their customers. Small store owners said they had large stocks because sales had fallen off in recent months and their goods were not clearing the shelves as rapidly as before. All agreed that perishable goods would be the first to run out because they couldn’t be stockpiled. At the time of going to press, it looked as if the strike would start as planned at midnight on Sunday. Drivers expressed their determination to get help from the government to meet their rising fuel bills by starting to blockade roads on Saturday, allowing private motorists through but stopping all lorries in order to convince their drivers to join the strike, something that many small transport firms say they can’t afford. Representatives of both sides resumed talks on Monday and Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said the government was seeking formulas that would reduce “as far as possible” the impact of higher fuel prices on the transport sector. The main opposition party, the Partido Popular, said it was preparing a package of measures to alleviate the situation which it would present in Parliament this week.


2 June, 2008

Several thousand fishermen marched on the agriculture ministry in Madrid last Friday, where they handed out 20 tonnes of fresh fish to members of the public in an attempt to draw attention to their ailing industry. Many blew whistles and klaxons, and let off firecrackers producing red smoke. They carried flags from Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia, and banners that read: “Soaring diesel plus cheap fish equals ruin for fishermen.” Another told Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero: “You are sending us to the cemetery.” One union leader from Barcelona said the country’s fishing fleet was at a standstill: “Compliance with our strike is total. The entire Spanish coast is at a halt.” The unions also said they could blockade ports, a day after French police forcibly removed fishermen blocking oil depots. A union leader from Galicia said: “We must mobilise like the French and if we have to block ports, we’ll block them.” The strike reflects anger at the rising cost of fuel, with oil prices above $130 a barrel. Trade union leaders said the cost of diesel has become prohibitively high, after rising 300% over the past five years, while wholesale fish prices have been static for 20 years. It was one of several protests triggered by rising oil prices that have spread across Europe in recent weeks. In France the authorities have offered 100m euros in aid, prompting some fishermen to return to work. At dawn last Thursday, French riot police cleared protesters from the Mediterranean oil depots of Fos-sur-Mer and Lavera, and a Total refinery at La Mede in the south. On the same day police clashed with fishermen who burned tyres in the Atlantic port of Lorient, while hundreds protested in Quimper, Brittany. Last Friday, protesters blockaded the Channel port of Le Havre. Hundreds of farmers have also been blocking oil terminals near the cities of Dijon and Toulouse. In Italy, at least 5,000 fishermen are expected to strike, the main trade union Federcoopesca said. The government has already refused emergency aid to the industry and many fishermen are adopting a wait-and-see policy as talks with the government continue. Portugal’s entire coastal fleet stayed in port last Friday. “Not a boats went out”, one union leader said, and in the central port of Peniche boat owners set up a barrier to prevent unloading. Bulgarian bus drivers also staged a one-hour strike last Friday, following protests by lorry drivers last Wednesday. UK and Dutch lorry drivers held similar protests earlier last week. Fishermen’s leaders from France, Spain and Italy have been meeting in Paris to co-ordinate strikes and protests over the next three weeks in the run-up to a European Union fisheries ministers’ meeting. The protesters are calling for direct immediate aid for the fisheries industry, coupled with increased subsidies. The European Commission said in a statement last week it was willing to show flexibility towards the industry but it has ruled out subsidies to offset rising fuel costs. It said short-term aid packages were acceptable as long as they were used to address structural deficiencies in the fleets.


26 May, 2008

The family of the five-year-old Mari Luz Cortés arrived in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol last Saturday to complete their task of collecting 500,000 signatures for their petition for tougher jail sentences for paedophiles. Mari Luz disappeared on January 13th and her body was found in a stream about two miles from her family’s home in Huelva several weeks later. Police have accused a local paedophile, Santiago del Valle, of the crime. The fact that he should have been in jail at the time of her death to complete a two-year sentence for child molestation turned the spotlight on the country’s inefficient legal system, highlighting the fact that many sentences were not implemented until months after they were handed down. Mari Luz’s father, Juan Cortés, said the family had put its heart into the campaign, but it had been worth it. With the 500,000 signatures the Cortes family can now go to Congress in Madrid with their demand for life sentences for convicted paedophiles. When TV reporters asked several men why they were signing the petition, their reply was: “We all have children.” That is one good reason why the petition just might be successful. Juan Cortés said it was time to move on from words to actions and to ensure for once and all that offenders pay the price for their crimes and serve their prison terms to completion. He said any paedophile who kills his victims has no hope of re-insertion into society and should be kept behind bars until he dies.


19 May, 2008

María Victoria Campos, the widow of the Guardia Civil, Juan Manuel Piñuel, who was killed by an ETA bomb in Álava early last Wednesday morning, launched a harsh attack on her husband’s killers at a press conference she held at a hotel in her native Malaga last Friday. Close to tears, she thanked the Basque people for their support and praised their “strength, dignity and greatness”. She also thanked the Prime Minister, his ministers and especially the Guardia Civil for their unflagging support and sympathy. Her voice broke when she spoke of her family, who were “immersed in a situation which had no explanation, which was beyond the limits of logic and human understanding”. In a stronger voice, María Victoria said she would wear the medal her husband was awarded posthumously with pride, and then she spoke directly to the Basque terrorist group: “You are nothing but trash – a black mark on the cleanness of a great country. I repudiate, from the very depths of my heart, these miserable cowards, who have no dignity or principles, who destroy life and the dreams of the people without scruples, who do not know how to respect a State of law, who want to do away with democracy and who dirty the dignity of their Basque homeland with their vile acts”. She said that state of affairs would not continue because “we will fight to do away with this blemish of miserable assassins is done away with”. She ended her short speech with “Viva España, Viva la Guardia Civil”. Her husband had asked for a transfer to the post Legutiano near Vitoria in the Basque Country to gain extra points which would lead to a rise in salary, enabling the couple to buy a home. The Guardia Civil earn the extra points not only because of the danger involved in being an ETA target but also because of the generally hostile atmosphere to the Guardia in the Basque country. Adults who had gone to school and played with the children of the Guardia stationed in Legutiano told reporters last week that relations were broken off after the local Guardia Civil chief was assassinated by an ETA gunman in the mid-1980s. The situation worsened when the local council ruled that classes at the local school were to be given in the Basque language. As most of the Guardia came from other parts of Spain, they sent their children to school in nearby Vitoria where they could study in Spanish. By the time of last week’s bombing, there was hardly any contact between the Guardia Civil and the local people.


18 April, 2008

After being sworn in last Saturday, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero unveiled his new cabinet, which for the first time includes more women than men – nine to eight. He also created one new ministry – for Equality, to be headed by Bibiana Aído, who at 31 is the youngest minister the country has ever had. She was a deputy in Andalucia’s regional parliament, and Secretary for Equality on the Socialist Party’s Provincial Executive Committee in Cadiz. She was also director of the Flamenco Agency. The other “first” is former housing minister, Carme Chacon, one of the rising stars of the Socialist Party, who has been moved to Defence, the first woman to occupy the post. Being seven months pregnant, she will also be the first minister to take maternity leave. In addition to Sra Aído, there are four other new faces: Miguel Espinosa who replaces Joan Clos as Industry Minister, Celestino Corbacho, who takes over from Jesús Caldera at the Labour Ministry, which has had Immigration added to it, Cristina Garmendia who heads the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, and Beatriz Corredor at Housing. Sr Zapatero has kept on María Teresa Fernández de la Vega as his First Deputy PM and Pedro Solbes as Second Deputy PM and Economics Minister. Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba continues as Interior Minister, as does Mariano Fernández Bermejo (Justice), Miguel Angel Moratinos (Foreign Ministry), Elena Salgado (Public Administration), Bernat Soria (Health and Consumer Affairs), Cesar Antonio Molina (Culture), Magdalena Alvarez (Development), Mercedes Cabrera (Education) who has now had Social Affairs added to her title, and Elena Espinosa (Agriculture, now combined with Environment). After being sworn in by King Juan Carlos. Sr Zapatero said: “I feel very proud that there are more women ministers than men in the Cabinet.” However, when the PM is included, the Cabinet is equally divided by gender. Criticisms were not long in coming. Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy described the new Cabinet as “continuista” and hoped that it would get its priorities right this time by concentrating on people’s real needs. Izquierda Unida leader Gaspar Llamazares said the new Cabinet represented a move towards the Right, while Josep Duran, the president of the moderate Catalan nationalist party Convergencia y Union, was surprised by Carme Chacon’s appointment as Defence Minister. He said he felt the job needed a much more experienced person – Chacon was Housing Minister for less than a year – someone like Public Administration Minister Elena Salgado, whose name had been floated as a possible Defence Minister. The Madrid Community’s Health councillor, Juan José Guemes, said he hoped Sr Zapatero would abandon his sectarian policies and stop trying to paralyse the Community which is governed by the Partido Popular. The spokesman for the Catalan Republican left, Joan Ridao, said the new government represented a “move to the right, aimed at curtailing the regions’ decentralised powers and showing little interest in Catalonia”. In the photo, Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy was the first to congratulate Sr Zapatero after he was confirmed as Prime Minister by Parliament. The photo made the front page of all the national newspapers, who are more used to showing the two men at each others’ throats.


7 April, 2008

Andalucia’s Water Agency announced last week that the region’s major cities will not have to implement water rationing this summer, despite having suffered the driest rainy season in a four-year-long drought. An Agency spokesman said a mixture of good management, awareness-raising campaigns and people’s active collaboration in water-saving schemes had brought about this happy outcome. He said that while people living in Malaga province were guaranteed water, the countryside might not be so lucky. However, at the time of going to press, the weathermen were forecasting rain for the whole country for Wednesday and Thursday, which will tail off into showers by the weekend. Given that the weather has been acting uncharacteristically all winter, the Environment Minister Cristina Narbona’s wish for a “really wet Spring” just might come true. That would ease the situation in the Doñana National Park which is suffering one of the worst droughts since records began there in 1859. Figures show that the Mediterranean coastline is having the worst drought for the past hundred years, with Catalonia being the hardest hit. The reservoirs which supply Barcelona are at 20% of their capacity and the Catalan regional government and the central government in Madrid are currently engaged in a kind of mini-war. Barcelona wants permission to transfer water from the Ebro River to the north via a canal but Madrid has said no. The idea was first floated by José María Aznar’s government and the Socialists, who were then in opposition, bitterly opposed it. The Socialist government does not want to give ammunition to the opposition by doing a U-turn now and has also nixed a plan to transfer water from one of the Ebro’s main tributaries, the Segre river. The Madrid government has been quick to point out that Catalonia has had twice as much rainfall as most of the other regions – and seven times more than Almeria – but only has two reservoirs, while Valencia, Sevilla and Madrid have eleven each, and Zaragoza and Navarra have eight apiece. The implication is that Barcelona has been lazy when it comes to building dams and will now have to pay an estimated 22 million euros a month to bring in water by ship or train. TheCatalan regional government introduced very strict water rationing at the beginning of last week and was already imposing hefty fines on people caught watering the plants on their balconies or washing their cars. And just forget about the changing the water in the swimming pool.


31 March, 2008

The case of five-year-old Mari Luz Cortés who was found dead in a river 55 days after disappearing from her home in Huelva turned even uglier when it was revealed that the man arrested on suspicion of her murder, Santiago del Valle García, had been reporting to a court in Sevilla every two weeks while waiting to be sent to jail for having sexually abused his own daughter. The authorities are now trying work out how Del Valle was walking around free, while the judge who had sentenced him to two years and nine months in jail in January 2006 believed the sentence had been carried out. The government in Madrid has ordered the General Council of Judicial Power (CGPJ) to investigate “to the end” what Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega called “a very serious, terrible and tragic judicial error”. It is already known that the judge who sentenced Del Valle, Rafael Tirado, was sanctioned by the CGPJ in 1995 for negligence in a case involving a battered child. Since being jailed in Huelva last Tuesday night, Del Valle and his sister, who is charged with aiding and abetting him, have not left their cells at all, not even to eat or go to the bathroom. The police said they could not guarantee their safety if they came into contact with the other prisoners. Del Valle’s mentally disadvantaged wife, also charged with aiding and abetting her husband, was released with charges and is now reported to have left Huelva province. De Valle claims Mari Luz slipped and fell down the stairs when he invited her into his house just round the corner from the girl’s family. He and his wife panicked and the his sister helped them to abandon the body in the river two kilometres from the girl’s home. About 300 people gathered outside the Huelva court house last Tuesday when they heard that the couple were to be brought there that afternoon. It almost turned in to a lynching party when the girl’s grandfather, Juan Cortés, told reporters he could not be held responsible for the safety of Del Valle’s family. But the girl’s father, Juan José Cortés, has been trying to defuse the situation. He is directing his anger towards the court in Sevilla and has said he intends to take legal action because his daughter would be alive today if Del Valle’s jail sentence had been carried out.


17 March, 2008

A 28-metre-high statue costing 900,000 euros to build crashed to the ground under the horrified gaze of workers, as high winds could have caused tragedy at this year’s Fallas (Fires) in Valencia. Two of the statues known as ninots, to be burned in the City Hall Square fell victim to the wind while they were being erected and luckily none of the workers was injured as they tumbled down. One of them was the largest entry this year, and its creator, Pedro Santaeulalia, needed a team of 20 people, four fork lifts and a crane, to help assemble the structure but the wind dashed his hopes of winning the Best Statue contest. The structure had been under construction since last year’s Fallas and it will be next to impossible to reassemble it for the big night on March 19th, El Dia de San José (St Joseph’s Day), when all the statues are stuffed with fireworks then set alight, turning the city into a vision from Hell. Not all of the statues go up in flames. Each year, one is spared from destruction by popular vote and to take its place in the local Falla Museum along with the other favorites from years past. Preparations for next year’s Fallas begin almost immediately when organised groups of people in every neighbourhood in the city start holding parties and dinners to raise funds to build their falla out of cardboard, wood and plaster, which will be positioned at one of the more than 350 key intersections and parks around the city. The statues are very lifelike and usually depict bawdy, satirical scenes and current events (lampooning corrupt politicians and Spanish celebrities is particularly popular). They take about six months to construct and can cost hundreds of thousands of euros. This is the first time for more than 150 years that the Fallas have coincided with Semana Santa and they will have to compete with the processions taking place all over Spain, with those of Sevilla, Granada and Malaga attracting the most visitors. Many people will probably hang around for the climax of the Fallas on Wednesday, the 19th, but they’ll still have time to catch the best of the processions elsewhere. Those wanting a more relaxed Easter weekend will just have to hang around their home towns and villages, where less spectacular processions are the norm.


3 March, 2008

While the Basque terrorist group ETA was urging its supporters and sympathizers to boycott the March 9th general election because it will only serve to “legitimise the Spanish government’s repressive legislation”, an opinion poll showed that a majority of Spaniards want nationalists out of the government altogether. After ETA declared a ceasefire in March 2006, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero started a peace process with the group in the hope of bringing it into the political mainstream. At best, this would have strengthened the nationalist parties in the Basque Country. At worst, it could lead to the Basques breaking away from Spain altogether. And it was another nationalist party, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), that helped Sr Zapatero to form a government when he failed to win an outright majority in the last election. Opinion polls have consistently shown that most non-Basques and non-Catalans resent the PM’s relationship with the nationalists, a feeling which was underlined by a recent poll. According to this poll, if neither of the two main parties, the Socialists and the Partido Popular, wins an outright majority on March 9th, as is expected, just over 43% of those polled would prefer the winning party to go it alone. Another 28% said they would prefer a German-style coalition of the two main parties to rule the country and only 18% supported another alliance with a nationalist party. Another poll that the Catalan, Basque and Canary Islands nationalist parties are in danger of losing seats on March 9th. It also showed that Sr Zapatero’s other ally, the Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) may lose one of its five seats and therefore its right to form an official Parliamentary group. In the photo, hundreds of supporters of the ANV (Basque Nationalist Action) party, which supports ETA, turned out last Saturday in Pamplona to back the terrorist group’s call for a boycott of the March 9th election. ETA made its call after a bomb exploded in the doorway of the ruling Socialist Party headquarters in the Basque town of Derio in the early hours last Tuesday. No-one was injured in the pre-dawn blast, which came after a warning call to emergency services. Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba had warned of a surge in violence when the election campaign started, saying the government believed ETA will try to kill before the elections and has mobilizes security forces to protect rallies, party headquarters, shopping centres and other sites.


25 February, 2008

A booby trap bomb exploded near a television relay station in Bilbao last Saturday in an ETA attack apparently aimed at the regional Basque police force. Bomb disposal officers used a robot to set off the device. No-one was injured. Police had received a phone call at 8.50 am from someone claiming to be speaking on behalf of the Basque terrorist group, warning that the device would explode at 10 am. It was eventually exploded at noon. The blast was heard over a wide area of Bilbao. The day before, Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba had announced that the country had been placed on maximum terror alert for the official campaign which began last Friday for the general election on March 9th. Security forces have been mobilised to protect rallies, party headquarters, shopping centres and any other sites where political events are taking place. The country had already been on “medium” alert over fears of attacks by the Basque terrorist group ETA, which ended a 15-month ceasefire in last June. Sr Rubalcaba said attacks by Islamist militants could not ruled out either. The governing Popular Party (PP) was tipped to win the last general election in March 2004 but the Islamist bomb attacks on packed commuter trains in Madrid three days before swung voters to the Socialists. Another fatal attack this time around could once again transform the election, which the governing party is expected to win by a narrow margin. One of the most sensitive issues Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero will have to deal with during the election campaign is his failed attempt to negotiate peace with ETA, which has claimed more than 850 lives during a 40-year campaign for an independent Basque state that would span parts of north-western Spain and south-western France.


11 February, 2008

Two recent surveys indicate that the main opposition party, the Partido Popular, is closing the gap with the governing Socialist Party (PSOE), from being 3.8% ten days ago to 3.2% at the end of last week.

This increases Socialist fears of a technical draw, which means that the next government could be formed by the party that can come up with the most parliamentary allies. In that case, the PSOE would still be able to form a government because it has most of the nationalist parties on its side, as well as the Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left). The PP took the election battle into the field of immigration last week when its candidate, Mariano Rajoy, announced that if he wins, he intends to introduce “a contract of integration” which all non-EU immigrants would have to sign on arrival in Spain or, in the case of those who are already here, when their residency permit comes up for renewal. Sr Rajoy said he would create a visa based on points which would favour South Americans and qualified non-EU foreigners. He said immigrants involved in any crime would be expelled, which means that some 76,000 immigrants already here face the threat of expulsion. Sr Rajoy also said he would change the Gender Equality Law to establish as a general principle banning the use of any element that are a manifestation of women’s submission to men. He said this would banning the use of headscarves by Moslem girls in schools. He said this ban would not be imposed in Ceuta and Melilla where Moslems make up the majority of the population. IU leader Gaspar Llamazares immediately wanted to know if Sr Rajoy would extend the ban to nuns’ headware. Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba described the plan as a “smokescreen that stank of xenophobia”, and the president of the National Ecuadorian Federation, Santiago Morales, said “This type of criteria has been developed only in Nazi Germany and under apartheid in South Africa”. In response, some Spanish newspapers published comments made by the Iranian Ambassador Seyed Davoud M. Salehi at a press conference in Madrid last week in defence of convicted thieves having their hands cut off. And last Wednesday, a 22-year-old youth was executed for repeatedly drinking alcohol. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero apologised to the immigrant community last Friday on behalf of his government and the Spanish people for what he called the Partido Popular’s “discriminatory offences”.