Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Political Malpractice

Those who read this blog with any regularity will know by now that the regional government of the Comunidad de Madrid does not count with my approval. Perhaps some of you think that I am too hard on them, with my constant cheap jibes at the pauper president Esperanza Aguirre. Maybe so, but I have my reasons, and at least some of these reasons go beyond what might be considered as routine political bias; although that undoubtedly plays its part. Sometimes those in power do things which demand a strong response, because of the degree of venality that their actions or words reveal. In the case of Espe’s administration one of those issues has already been written about extensively by me, their attempts to promote the conspiracy theories surrounding the Madrid bombings. That those who govern the region where that atrocity took place should join a campaign to spread poisonous lies about it sticks in my throat. However, there is another issue which has not attracted so much attention, but which is equally revealing on the way in which these people go about their business.

The story concerns a hospital called Severo Ochoa in the town of Leganés, not far from Madrid. Until the year 2005 this hospital was probably unknown much outside of the area which it serves. In March that year an anonymous accusation was made that 15 doctors in the hospital had “killed” 400 patients as a result of their policy of sedation of terminally ill patients. A serious accusation, effectively claiming that doctors in the hospital were practising euthanasia on those who were admitted into their care. The case was referred by the health department of the Comunidad to the prosecution service of Madrid. So far it seems entirely proper that they should act in this way, a serious allegation is made and it gets investigated by the appropriate judicial authorities. One of the senior doctors involved, Luis Montes, was temporarily suspended from his position. Others were later removed from their positions.

After this things start to go badly wrong, the prosecution service found no case to present against the doctors involved. However, the villain of our piece and the politician in charge of the Madrid health service, Manuel Lamela, had already gone public claiming that 25 people had died in the hospital as a result of receiving “irregular sedation”. Faced with the prospect that the accusation was going to be shelved, Lamela set up a handpicked medical commission which then found no fewer than 73 alleged cases of medical malpractice in the hospital. Once again the prosecutors looked at the evidence and rejected any possibility of an offence being committed in 57 cases; the other 16 were open to doubt and the case was opened for judicial investigation. In the meantime most of the doctors in charge of the departments involved at Severo Ochoa had been removed from their posts. Finally, last week, the investigating magistrate lifted the cloud of suspicion hanging over Severo Ochoa. He found no evidence that the sedation applied by these doctors had been the cause of death of the patients, who were all very seriously ill and close to death.

It’s a difficult, and emotional, issue. If someone is admitted to hospital in tremendous pain and on the verge of death, the doctors have to make a judgement on the treatment to apply. The doctors in Leganés (and almost certainly in most other hospitals) were applying a policy of humane, palliative, sedation that has no sinister overtones. They were simply acting to reduce the agony of the last hours of patients who had reached the end of the road in that no other treatment options were available for them. Whilst it is possible that the application of such sedation can speed up the death of the patient, it also possible that it can delay it; the circumstances of each case are different.

Unfortunately, those who raced to condemn the doctors of Severo Ochoa were not interested in distinguishing between involuntary euthanasia and humane treatment for the dying; the whole case took on the aspect of a witch hunt led by Lamela who tried to drive through the result that he wanted to see. He was supported, perhaps not surprisingly, by those who have so enthusiastically done their best to turn the Madrid train bombings trial into a farce based around politically interested conspiracy theories. When you become a target of Federico Jimenez Losantos and friends, then you can be sure that you are almost certainly doing the right thing. The doctors in this case were called murderers by Losantos and company. Chief witch finder Lamela has not done badly out of the whole affair, following the recent elections he has been put in charge of transport for the region.

Those who are not doing so well are the doctors involved, who await reinstatement to their positions. It is worse than that, those who are now admitted to hospital in a condition that might previously have been considered worthy of palliative sedation are now much less likely to receive that treatment. Lamela and his band of supporters have succeeding in creating a climate of fear which means that doctors across the region are now unwilling to propose such treatment in case they get accused of being “murderers”. The morality those responsible employ reminds me of that used by the Catholic Church in the case of HIV sufferers; it doesn’t matter how many people die provided that the church’s teaching on contraception is upheld. They feel equally satisfied with the terminally ill dying in agony.

I have another post waiting to be written on the recent antics of the Spanish church, but for personal reasons I have to be in the UK for the next week and it will have to wait.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Spanish Troops The Target In Lebanon

Perhaps it is a bit surprising that it has taken so long for something to happen to the Spanish troops belonging to the UN force in Lebanon. It was never going to be the quietest of missions, but yesterday the death of 6 Spanish soldiers made it a competitor with the already dangerous situation in Afghanistan. It is not known who is responsible for the car bomb that killed these soldiers, although attention has so far focused on Fatah Al Islam, the group linked to Al-Qaeda who have been involved in fighting with the Lebanese army in recent weeks. Given the number of players involved in Lebanon, there is no shortage of candidates between those who might simply be against the presence of any European troops in the country, to those who are more interested in maintaining the tension in this region on the border with Israel. The area is still controlled by Hezbollah, who quickly denied any involvement in the attack.

The fact that 3 of the 6 who were killed are Colombian nationals highlights again the extent to which foreigners have become a significant presence in the Spanish forces. Despite only forming about 5% of the total number of those in the armed forces, about 30% of those serving in missions overseas are of immigrant origin. It appears that the units which they are permitted to join are restricted, and include many of those most likely to be involved in active operations. Only last year, a Peruvian soldier serving in the Spanish army was killed in Afghanistan.

I don't whether those who last year were hoping for a few deaths in Lebanon to cause problems for the government are feeling happy today. Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy has reacted in typical style, with the now traditional attempts to pretend that participating in a UN mission in Lebanon is just the same as Aznar's decision to take part in the invasion of Iraq. It should be a lost cause, but they never stop trying.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Vultures Have Had Enough

A curious story that I noticed in the press yesterday, a large group of between 100-200 Griffon vultures has been spotted in the last few days flying over Belgium and Holland. It is believed that the vultures have probably come from Spain, which has easily the largest population of these birds in Europe. The mystery is why the vultures should be found so far from the Iberian Peninsula, their population here has recovered dramatically in the last 30 years and it is easy to see them when walking in the mountains near to Madrid. Perhaps the answer comes down to that great British invention, BSE (or mad cow disease if you prefer). A few years ago livestock owners in Spain were instructed to stop their traditional practice of leaving the carcasses of dead animals in specially designated places where the vultures could come and enjoy their meal in peace. With cases of BSE occurring in different European countries there was concern about the disease spreading to other species and it was decided that animal carcasses had to be disposed of securely. The vultures were not consulted about this, and have been left to make do with whatever else they can find. There have even been some reports of them starting to attack live animals as it becomes harder to get the really tasty ones that have been dead for a couple of days. Now it looks like they’ve taken to tourism to see if the situation improves; I don’t know if it’s a sign of hard times ahead for a country when the vultures start leaving?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What A Difference A Day Makes

Let's go into Michael Moore mode for a moment. Did it really happen? Was it all a dream? The last time Madrid voted for its regional government back in 2003, the election was held twice. The reason for this has, at heart, a fairly simple explanation; the wrong side won the vote the first time around. Yes, it does seem odd to recall when we have the pauper president Esperanza Aguirre seemingly so strongly in command in the region - but she owes her position to the strange, and still unexplained, events that followed the first election held in that year. As the members of the regional assembly voted on their choice for president it emerged that 2 members of the PSOE, Eduardo Tamayo and Maria Teresa Sáez, were not present in the chamber, leaving candidate Rafael Simancas short of the majority vote he needed to get the post.

It quickly became clear that the two rogue representatives had powerful friends, they had been accommodated in a hotel that was not being paid by them, and had also been assigned bodyguards. Despite clear evidence pointing to construction interests, and via these towards the Partido Popular (PP), the whole affair has never been fully clarified. The current Justice Minister, Mariano Fernandez Bermejo, was at the time the chief prosecutor in Madrid and recently stated that he was expressly forbidden from investigating what had happened. There was a general feeling that something very murky had happened, but that it was also the PSOE's fault for filling their lists with candidates who simply couldn't be relied upon. It briefly put the focus on a very unsatisfactory method of candidate selection which allowed people with no evident loyalty to become candidates for election. In the second election Aguirre won a narrow majority.

Tamayo and Sáez - Espe's best friends?

Anyway, the reason I raise this incident is not to rake over the details, but to point out the curious way it could affect the future political leadership of the country. I said the other week that I would examine the bizarre possibility that Aguirre could become the next leader of the PP should they lose the next election, and explain why I think she is likely to get there before apparent favourite Alberto Ruiz Gallardón. We are talking real possibilities here, the only opinion poll I have seen since ETA formally broke their ceasefire still leaves the PP trailing 3 points behind the government, unless that changes in the next 9 months then leader Mariano Rajoy is going to need a new job. Who you think will succeed him really depends on your view of how the PP works.

If you believe that the PP is being run by rational people making pragmatic political decisions based on cool, level-headed analysis of their situation then it's clear; the answer to a second successive election defeat would be to let Gallardón have his chance. You then present a reasonable, centrist image to the electorate with a proven vote winner at the helm. Against a second term government he would stand every chance of winning.

If, on the other hand, you believe like me that the party is being run by a resentful Aznarist clique whose overriding objective is to obtain revenge against all who have betrayed them, then suddenly Aguirre comes to mind as a candidate. Not least because she is a prominent member of that same group, and is far more entrenched in the party machinery than Gallardón is. You then present yourself for election with a rehashed second-hand Thatcherism that passed its sell by date at least 15 years ago.

Let’s not forget that the PP is not big on internal democracy, there is no mechanism for electing a leader. Gallardón is neither trusted nor liked by many of those in the upper echelons of the party and these are the people who will make the decision. If the PP loses but with a respectable result then those running the party now will remain in control, it would take an electoral cataclysm to really change things and let Gallardón claim his political inheritance. So place your bets, my money is on Espe. Whether she ever makes it to the top job or not I hope that she remembers to send a Christmas card every year to Tamayo and Sáez. Without their help when it mattered, she would now just be remembered vaguely as one of the more mediocre ministers in Aznar's administration; sometimes a small event can have far reaching consequences.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ken Loach In Madrid

Ken Loach was in Madrid yesterday, to give a presentation at the Casa Encendida. More out of laziness than curiosity about the technology involved, I watched the whole thing live on the internet from the comfort of my sofa. It worked very well, apart from the occasionally erratic simultaneous translation of Loach's talk. He talked, not surprisingly, about the dominance of US cinema in the market and about the contrast between the ideological image that such cinema often presents and the crude realities of the "war on terror". It wasn't a blanket condemnation of American cinema; both Michael Moore and John Sayles were mentioned as examples of those whose work does not follow the formula. He appealed for a more local cinema, one that receives the kind of assistance that the theatre gets from local municipalities. For him, independent cinema needs to justify its existence and the idea of cinema that motivates him to make films is one that deals with the human condition, putting things into the social context of the relationships of people with their friends or family, or what happens to them at work. It is also a cinema that tells stories from the past; making people think about the version of events they have been fed. Films can agitate, but they are not there to educate on the “big questions”, there are issues that require more than a film to explain them.

Much of the discussion focused on the disparity of resources between Hollywood and national cinema in countries such as Britain or Spain, although Loach paid as much attention to the power of the distributors as anything else. The big players in distribution decide what people get to see, and the fight for access to screens for independent cinema is the key issue. Yet the reason why there is so little good Italian or French cinema compared to the past is not just because of Hollywood or even problems of distribution, it surely has as much to do with national conditions as anything else. I have had (Spanish) people here look at me with amusement when I tell them I'm going to see a Spanish film, if a large part of the native population regards their nation's cinematic products as not worth considering then it is always going to be an uphill battle. It doesn't help that we do not seem to be going through a particularly splendid period anyway, I'm still waiting for a Spanish film this year that impresses me enough to make me want to write about it. Ken Loach makes deeply committed cinema, and yet probably finds it easier to get his films made now than he did 20 years ago; there is a space that exists for his kind of cinema and as he himself pointed out, nobody is "obliged" to end up in the US to get money to make their films. The battle is to keep that space open, the way things are going in Madrid with the closure of several cinemas in the centre, suggests that the big chains are going to end up controlling almost all of the screens in the capital. Outside in the provincial cities the situation is worse as a single cinema probably owned by one of these companies makes the decision on what the local population can see.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Siege Of Cibeles

One consequence of Real Madrid winning the Liga yesterday is that their players have to go and party with regional president Esperanza Aguirre. Serves them right, I have no sympathy. Meanwhile, a consequence of Real Madrid not winning much silverware in recent seasons has been that those in charge of looking after the historic monuments of the city have not had to worry about whether they will have to reconstruct the Cibeles statue and fountain after the fans have finished celebrating. Now I like the game, or at least I did untill this season, but I have never seen the trashing of the city's historical heritage as being a suitable response to my team winning a trophy. Until the city authorities clamped down a few years ago, risking the wrath of Raul, it was quite normal for the entire Madrid squad to clamber all over poor Cibeles as part of the celebrations. The need for a bit more respect was illustrated when some over enthusiastic fans thought it would be a great laugh to emulate their heroes and trample on Cibeles. They broke an arm off the statue, and then quickly drove off and dumped the broken piece miles away. I think the city now has a complete mould of the statue so that any part of it can be easily repaired in future cases. It's bad enough that the whole piece has been transformed by Madrid's ever enlightened urban planners into a glorified traffic island, without the football team turning up there as well.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Question Time

Life is not easy for an opposition leader who has dedicated all of his efforts to a single theme. With the issue of ETA off-limits for the moment because of the need to present at least a formal show of unity against the threat of new attacks, Partido Popular leader Mariano Rajoy had to find a new topic for yesterday's parliamentary questions session with the Prime Minister. What would it be? Would he turn to the economy and ask something about job security and about those who have to survive on low salaries and short term contracts? Perhaps he would take up the problem of young people getting access to affordable housing? Or we could just get some old fashioned right wing populism on crime or immigration. In reality we got none of this. Before the session, Rajoy was caught unawares by a microphone that had not been turned off as he commented to his sidekick Eduardo Zaplana that he had been given an "absurd" question to put to Zapatero. You can see the video here on Escolar.net. Rajoy was right, the only thing the combined might of the party machine could propose for him to ask was on the plans that the government hoped to implement before the next election. You can hardly see legions of party researchers beavering away all night on that question. Next week we might get "What plans does the President of the government have for this weekend?"

Something about nature of this episode tells me that it will not be too long before Mariano and Eduardo return to their favourite topic.

La Liga 2007....The Tightest Possible Finish

I’ve been meaning to write for several weeks on a surprisingly exciting end to this season in the Spanish Liga. With only one game to go it’s got to be done, although it does help me that the Spanish season seems to go on for longer than anyone else’s. Last weekend saw one of those classic dramatic days when 2 almost simultaneous 89th minute goals changed the fortunes of the main contenders for the title in around 18 seconds. An equaliser for Real Madrid at Zaragoza was quickly followed by a goal for Espanyol at Barcelona. I was still in Italy and the drama was enough even to stop the participants in the programme I was watching from bickering even more about who Inter Milan should buy for next season.

It seems impossible to believe that Real Madrid is the team most likely to win the league. This Real Madrid, the team that 3 or 4 months ago was sending everyone to sleep with their disjointed and half-hearted performances. Almost completely reliant on Van Nistelrooy for their goals, and on Beckham as the supplier of the ball to him; it is a team that has managed to hide or temporarily forget its multiple defects rather than solve them. A knack of scoring late goals has given them the points on several days when they deserved to come away with nothing. Nobody gave any serious consideration to Capello remaining as Real's trainer beyond the end of this season, but if they win the league this weekend then that could be a serious prospect. Ironically, those turgid goalless draws or narrow 1:0 victories that they scraped during the winter have in the end provided the base for what should be a successful assault on the title, with only Mallorca to overcome in the last game. Beckham, who we were told would never play again for the club after his decision to leave, is set for a hero's farewell as he has been one of the key players in the revival of the team's fortunes. Whether they win the league or not, this is a Madrid team that is still in need of some serious reconstruction, ironically a victory this weekend might make that harder.

What's his favourite number?

It would be fascinating to know what "incentives" are being offered to the Mallorca players to get them put up more than token resistance to Madrid in the final game. Meanwhile, the new dream team at Barcelona has not lasted anything like as long as expected. With key players either seriously out of form or injured they appear to have progressively lost almost all of the cohesion and flair that had them dominating Spanish football over the last couple of years. There is talk of internal problems at the club and it looks as if a major clear out could be on the way during the summer. Leo Messi has done his best to emulate Maradona first by scoring a wonder goal and then following it up with one helped into the goal by his hand. Let’s hope for his sake that he doesn't take imitation too far by starting to consume small mountains of white powder.

Sevilla have had a good campaign, and recorded a noteworthy achievement in winning the UEFA Cup for the second year running. Had they managed to win their game at Mallorca last weekend they would have a very much better chance than the slim possibility they have now of claiming the league. However, they had several opportunities this season to open a gap at the top of the league, and they blew it every time. Never mind, they can still claim the Spanish Cup too if they overcome Getafe in the final. Valencia were another team with possibilities and had good runs but also suffered from the same inconsistency as Sevilla as well as a serious mid-season injury crisis. Despite that they have finished in 4th spot. Over on the other side of Madrid, Atletico have lived up to the expectations of their fatalistic fans, starting the season with some hope they have managed to arrange things so that they are just below the position for European qualification. Their supporters expect nothing more, although I had high hopes for them this season.

The surprise packages of the season have been Villareal and Zaragoza. The former have put together a very impressive late run that sees them back in the running for a UEFA Cup spot, a few months ago they were more concerned about the possibility of relegation than anything else as they lost Riquelme, the player who had been so influential for them in recent seasons. The resurgence of Zaragoza has seen them in with a chance of Champions League football at some points in the season, it’s not to be but they could be a force next season if they strengthen their squad a bit. Incidentally, all followers of British football should look at the players who have been knocking in the goals this season; Kanoute, Forlan , Van Nistelrooy. The latter we might have expected to score a few, but the first two hardly shone as goal scorers in their time in the UK.

Down at the bottom of the table there will also be some last day excitement. These are grim times for football in the Basque Country, Athletic Bilbao are in danger and their rivals from San Sebastian (Real Sociedad) look doomed. They need to win and have the 3 teams above them lose. My Spanish team, Celta Vigo, have done their very best to turn what began as a promising season into a total disaster. Despite having won an important game at Atletico last week their fate is still not in their hands alone, and the fact that they have their last game at home isn't as comforting as it should be - victories for Celta at Balaidos this season have been about as common as snowstorms in Sevilla. Incidentally, Sevilla’s city rivals Betis could still go down if Celta win, they haven’t helped their case much by sacking the coach with one game to go.

I won't even mention who my English team are, it will make me look like a complete loser - suffice to say it's not Watford! What a season, I don't even know why I like the game. I’ve managed to arrange my weekend trip back to the UK in such a way that ensures I won’t see any of the action, probably just as well given the way the season has turned out for me. Unfortunately I may still be back in time for the celebrations of the Madrid fans if things go well for them, they might yet have something to put in that vast trophy room after all.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Chronicle Of A Peace Process....There's No Happy Ending Here

This is going to be a long post, although I suspect it will probably be the last time I use this header for a blog article in at least 12 months. ETA formally declared an end to their ceasefire last week, although in reality it had already ended with the bombing at the end of December of a car park at Madrid's Barajas airport; which killed 2 Ecuadorian immigrants. Last weeks declaration is simply the (post-electoral) confirmation of what everyone had already assumed to be the case.

Almost as predictable as the announcement of the end of the ceasefire has been the mass outbreak of 20/20 hindsight to try and suggest that the government has been naive or foolish in its dealings with ETA. Much of this “analysis” of course comes from those who never had any interest in the peace process succeeding. Nothing I have seen or read in the last few months changes the opinion I expressed shortly after the airport bombing; the real reason why the process has failed is that ETA are simply not yet ready for a "no winners, no losers" deal. They thought they could extract concessions which would allow them to present their dissolution as a victory, something that was never on offer despite the insistent propaganda of those opposed to the negotiations. Another factor could be that they walked up to the precipice of dissolution, took a look down at a future without the presence of an armed wing to apply pressure when needed, and just decided that bumping along indefinitely with 15-20% of the Basque vote was not what they needed. Here we have a significant difference with the Northern Irish situation, the dominant party in the Basque Country is the conservative nationalist PNV who are very firmly entrenched in the government of the region. A legalised Batasuna would always be playing second fiddle to the PNV, unless as part of the process they got a significant concession which they could use to try and justify all those decades of armed struggle.

It began with this....

Far from blundering blindly into a trap, this process was actually far more prepared than the talks with ETA which took place when José Maria Aznar and the Partido Popular (PP) were in power. That attempt, which involved more concessions than the current government has made in its effort to tempt ETA to dissolve, failed fairly swiftly and the PP now does its very best to pretend that it never happened at all. The initiative by the current government was based on a clear distinction between negotiations with ETA on an end to their existence (which also involved discussion of ETA prisoners), and the political component which would involve their political wing, Batasuna, in negotiations on reshaping the autonomy statute for the region. This distinction was made clear from the beginning, but it seems that at some point ETA decided to turn that process on its head and attempt to engage the government in direct political negotiations. The involvement of other organisations, including natural allies such as Sinn Fein, goes against the idea of it just being a trick to give ETA time to rearm and recover some lost ground.

The worst accusation that can be made against Prime Minister Zapatero, leaving aside the absurd nonsense from the PP about him "surrendering" to terror, is that he was over-optimistic about the whole process. His unfortunate declaration the day before the Barajas bombing that things would be much better in one years time has now come back to haunt him. However, this misreading of ETA's position has not really had any effect on the outcome, because even if the government had correctly assessed the way things were going it is very unlikely that they could have done anything to change it. Ever since the ceasefire was declared last year, the PP adopted an entirely cynical position that was spelt out very clearly by their leader Mariano Rajoy. If ETA didn't kill it was because the government had made concessions to them, and if they did kill it was because the government had not delivered on these concessions. This sort of "heads I win, tails you lose" logic permitted the PP to oppose and actively attempt to derail the process. They should be content at the outcome, what we have now is what they have sought.

and finished here....

Nobody should be surprised at the way the PP has acted. Those who lied and attempted to manipulate events following the Madrid bombings to try and stave off an electoral backlash, and who have since systematically toyed with the victims and memory of those same bombings in order to spread poisonous and nonsensical conspiracy theories, should never be in pole position to give lectures to anyone on how to handle terrorism. There have been many calls in the last few days for Zapatero to “rectify” his position. If the PP was to rectify its own position the first thing it would have to do is exile those responsible for this abusive use of terror for short term political gain to a suitably dark and cold place. Unfortunately for them, that would effectively mean the removal of much of the current party leadership; so we can safely assume it’s unlikely to happen.

PP mythology presents ETA as an organisation reborn thanks to Zapatero, after allegedly being on its knees and on the verge of disappearance when Aznar left power. Quite how they square this with their insistence over 3 long years that ETA either carried out or was involved in the worst terrorist attack the country has ever known is something that I will not attempt to explain. Logic does not even get a walk-on part in this particular picture. That they are irredeemably addicted to the exploitation of terror for their own political gain is further evidenced by one of their latest pre-conditions for supporting the government; that the governing PSOE rejects a deal to govern in coalition with nationalists in Navarra. This has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with the loss of the PP’s overall majority in the recent elections in the region; the nationalists in question are democratic organisations opposed to the use of violence.

There is now much talk about the need for unity between democrats against the threat of renewed ETA actions, and Zapatero had a meeting with Mariano Rajoy yesterday to try and defuse the PP’s attempts to extract political advantage from the situation. The PP has carefully distanced itself from the scorched earth style of opposition that won it no new friends following the airport bombing. The pact that the PP and the PSOE signed up to during Aznar’s period in government is now completely dead, in reality it was never really about combating ETA anyway. The initiative came from the PSOE as a way of neutralising the impact of the PP’s attempts to make terrorism their private issue, and formed part of a misguided pincer strategy by the two main national parties seeking to remove the PNV from power in the Basque Country; a campaign that had the sole effect of mobilising the nationalist vote in unprecedented quantities. In reality, any genuine agreement by the parties opposed to ETA’s continuing existence should not just include parties such as the PNV or Izquierda Unida, it should reach as far as Aralar; a radical nationalist breakaway from Batasuna that has rejected violence as a way of achieving their aims.

Meanwhile, those who (now) oppose negotiation as a means of bringing the conflict to a close have no other option to offer than continuing police pressure on ETA. This can bring some results, but it is a simplistic delusion of armchair warriors and opportunist politicians to claim that ETA will be dealt with by police methods alone. Did anyone notice the arrests the other day of members of an almost forgotten group called GRAPO? If they can survive 30 years without having any appreciable social base, it is clear that ETA are much better placed to continue activity, albeit low intensity, for another 30 years or more. This is a movement that, like it or not, can obtain around 150,000 votes in the Basque Country given the chance to present candidates; a reality that no amount of illegalisations can conceal. A terrorist organisation can survive for many years with 10% of that support. Presumably those who oppose any kind of negotiated end to ETA must believe that the situation in Northern Ireland 15 years ago was better than the situation that exists now?

The issue in the end is not one of whether ETA can survive, but why they should continue to do so. Without going into too much direct comparison with Northern Ireland, what brought that conflict there to a conclusion was the realisation by both the IRA and the British government that outright victory was not an available option. In such situations of impasse, those who attempt no solution to the conflict run no risk of failure; they do however buy a share of responsibility for its continuation. It would be irresponsible for any government not to have explored the possibilities offered by the ETA ceasefire, at some point ETA will be ready to disappear from the scene but somebody has to leave the door open to enable it to happen in the least messy way. After 3 years of the parliamentary session which has seen the lowest level of terrorist attacks of any since democracy was restored, the bodyguards are being recruited again as the depressing “normal service” is resumed again.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dolomite Fever

I've been in a small village in the Italian Dolomites for the last week, and with everything that has been happening in my absence I have quite a bit of catching up to do. In the meantime I don't want to be accused of neglecting my blog, so here are some images of my trip:

Friday, June 01, 2007

He Came, He Lost, He Left

So the unsuccessful candidate to be mayor of Madrid, Miguel Sebastian, decided yesterday that 4 years in opposition in the town hall wasn't really what he was looking for. I never thought, given the nature of his selection, that he was going to be involved in Madrid city politics for very long; he was put there as candidate because no party heavyweight could be persuaded to contest the post with Gallardón. The awful result in the election meant that he did not even have much support in his own party. Sebastian's reward will undoubtedly come if Zapatero gets re-elected, I still suspect he might emerge as finance minister in a second term administration. Unfortunately, he assured the media that he would stick it out in opposition in the event of losing the election, so the nature of his going only serves to emphasise the terrible handling of the election in Madrid.

Meanwhile the winner of the election, Gallardón, wasted no time in staking his claim to run in second place on the party list in the general elections; something which has been rumoured for several months. In the event he has been slapped down a bit by Mariano Rajoy who probably feels it's a bit premature to have someone who so desperately wants to succeed him as PP leader getting too close. The battle to replace Rajoy if he loses the next election involves both Gallardón and, amazingly, the pauper president Esperanza Aguirre. The latter is not allowed to run for parliament whilst being regional president, Gallardón has no such restriction and is seeking a position to launch himself at national level. Aguirre, however, has much more influence within the party machine and in my opinion is more likely to get the job. I might expand on why I think this is so when I have returned from what I hope will be an enjoyable and relaxing week in Italy.