Saturday, March 05, 2011

Gaddafi's Spanish Connections

With the rush to condemn Colonel Gaddafi's attempts to crush his opponents in Libya, it is almost possible to forget just how many friends he managed to make around the world in recent years. Spain is no exception to this. Do a Google search for images of the colonel with Aznar or Zapatero and there is no shortage of results. In Aznar's case, the friendship stretched to permitting the great leader's son-in-law, Alejandro Agag, to open a partridge hunting estate in Libya. The relationship was apparently sealed with Agag inviting one of Gaddafi's sons for a happy hunting trip in Spain. 

In return the Libyan regime also became a landowner in Spain, owning a substantial 6.500 hectare finca in Málaga. It seems that there were plans to construct houses and the obligatory golf course on part of this estate, but that the proposal ran into planning difficulties. This seems to be an extraordinarily anomalous situation given that everyone else in the country has normally gone ahead and built their houses without even worrying about the minor details of licenses. A further connection with Spain is that one of the Libyan leader's numerous sons has been studying in Madrid, a post-graduate MBA at the IE Business School. It appears that following the scandal this week involving the London School of Economics, Khamis Muammar has been hastily expelled from the school. I'm not sure on what grounds, after all the significant web of connections that Gaddafi's regime possesses suggest few problems of incompatibility between business and the art of repression. 

With the available stock of Arab dictatorships declining rapidly, we are now getting a flurry of visits from Western leaders to the region. Hot on the heels of David Cameron's recent arms sales trip, Spanish prime minister Zapatero was in Qatar last week. It seems to have been a successful visit, with the local regime showing interest in investing some oil money in the foundations for Spain's next banking crisis as the local savings banks are transformed into real banks with even greater potential for creating havoc with our money. What's the betting that Qatar's rulers will be ahead of us in the queue for recovering money should things go badly wrong again?

There was another, unfortunately timed, international trip by Spanish politicians recently. As Mubarak's regime in Egypt was collapsing, a high level cross-party parliamentary group led by José Bono was visiting the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea. Human rights featured nowhere on the agenda for the meetings with one of Africa's nastiest dictatorships, the visit was yet another attempt to get the regime to allow the former colonial power a cut of the country's significant oil wealth. Really the visitors should have worn Repsol advertising on their clothes. Obviously several other countries have no qualms about dealing with the regime led by Teodoro Obiang, so Bono was at pains to avoid any annoying references to the lack of democratic institutions by claiming that the two countries had many more things uniting them than dividing them. I hope the drivers protesting about the new restrictions on motorway speed limits in Spain appreciate the efforts that are being made on their behalf. 

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