Friday, June 30, 2006

March 11th....Faulty Connections

Yesterday I had a new, and not particularly pleasant, experience – for research purposes I had to listen to part of the radio show “La Mañana”, which is presented by Federico Jiménez Losantos. Federico’s show, which is broadcast on the COPE (owned by the Catholic Church), is required listening for the right wing in Spain these days. More neo-Goebbels than neo-con in his style, with insistent repetition of the same anti-government themes, the programme acts as a sort of comfort blanket for those who have found no solace since the change of government in 2004. Everything to do with the government is bad; everything that was done by the adored Jose Maria Aznar was good – even the “soft” right as represented by Madrid’s mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardon has come under fire.

When it comes to the 11th March 2004 bombings in Madrid, Federico makes it absolutely clear where he stands; what he describes as the “official version” is nothing more than a pack of lies designed to cover up the role of those who really carried out the bombings – a list which of course includes ETA. I listened to some of Tuesday’s programme, and Federico was very excited because his good friend Pedro J Ramirez, director of the newspaper El Mundo, had something important to tell us about the 11th March. Pedro J informed us that his newspaper had uncovered more crucial evidence of ETA’s involvement in the attacks; a search of the home of one of the accused had produced a timer, of type “ST”, which could be used to trigger the detonation of a bomb. This timer, Pedro J went on to tell listeners, is “designed” by ETA – so the discovery could only mean one thing, that there were direct contacts between ETA and those accused of carrying out the bombings and that these contacts included the supply of materials.

So there it is, a smoking gun which points to ETA involvement in planning the attacks - Federico was convinced by this overwhelming evidence and before long various blogs were reporting on the important discovery. However, looking at the article published on the El Mundo website things start to become less clear. The article makes no reference to ETA having designed the timer, all it says is that it is of a type that has been used by ETA, and that some were found when an ETA commando was detained in Madrid in 2002. The article also makes reference to a confirmation by the government in reply to a parliamentary question, that “ST” is just one of several types of timer used, but not made, by ETA. Checking the actual reply on the Parliament web page it appears that the timer in question is produced industrially – which may help to explain the model description (ST 17 MEC 24 H INT/160).

So now we have the real story, a timer was found that is of the same type as other timers that have, on occasions, been used by ETA. The timer in question was not used in the March 11th bombings, the bombs on that day were triggered using mobile phone alarms. This doesn’t prove any connection between March 11th and ETA, despite the attempts in the article to imply it – by not revealing the origin of the timer in question. It doesn’t even show that the timer was acquired with intent to use it in a bomb. This of course won’t do for Federico and Pedro J, who need to show that connection to ETA – so the original story gets embellished, broadcast, circulated on Internet: and the conspiracy theorists have another myth to add to their collection. If the facts don’t fit, then change them until they do.

It’s been a painful experience, South of Watford is off to the beach for the weekend to recover.

Chronicle Of A Peace Process....Negotiations With ETA To Begin

In the end it was a bit of an anti-climax, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had already made it clear that he intended to announce the beginning of negotiations with ETA before the end of June. In the end, he only just made the deadline; the announcement was made to the press yesterday afternoon after the Interior Minister had met representatives of political parties in the morning. Zapatero’s announcement - which contained no specifics - made nods in all the right directions, expressing his desire that the wishes of the Basque people be respected whilst at the same time stating that there would be no political price paid to secure the end of ETA’s activities.

As everyone knew that the announcement was coming, the responses to it have been fairly predictable. Only the Partido Popular (PP) has expressed outright opposition to the government’s intentions, but it has been clear for some time now that they were not going to be in agreement. The holiday season In Spain begins in earnest today, and that obviously includes the parliamentary holidays too. Whether anything will actually happen during the summer is not clear, it may just be that Zapatero wants Spanish society to get used to the idea that negotiations are going to take place before beginning the process. Yesterday it was made clear that the Interior Minister would report to Parliament on progress in September, so it seems unlikely that there will be any significant developments before the end of the summer.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Where The Dust Never Settles

The giant project to expand and partly bury the M-30 ring road (Living Above The Tree Line) in Madrid was honoured with a visit by a delegation from the European Parliament this week. No environmental impact analysis was ever carried out before commencing the project and this has been one of the main points that the delegation has focused on. The city administration has now said that it will carry out impact studies for other future projects on other parts of the same road, a little bit late for all the trees that have been lost, and for the River Manzanares – which when I passed the other night seemed to have been temporarily restored, presumably for the benefit of the visitors. The pretext for not carrying out the environmental study was that the M-30 is a ‘street’, and therefore did not require any such analysis. A spokesperson for the administration helpfully explained to the press that the visitors did not understand Spanish law, which may or may not be the case but perhaps what they really do not understand is the flexible interpretation the city has made of these laws. A 4-6 lane ring road with a river dividing it into two halves is less of a street than the main motorway running north through Spain. Meanwhile the companies which are benefiting from the hugely expensive project have banded together to produce and distribute a dvd which claims to show the leafy urban paradise we will have when it is finished – anyone who suggests that this might be electoral propaganda with an eye on next year’s municipal elections would be completely wrong, that would be illegal under Spanish law!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Day After Yesterday

Someone at work told me the other day that Nostrodamus predicted that Spain would win the World Cup this year. Well, Nostrodamus I’m not and I don’t want to gloat but take a look at the prediction in the last paragraph here. Ok, so I got it wrong about the penalty (because they let Villa take it instead of Raul), and I underestimated French striking power – but still not such a bad prediction. Spain had a great start against Ukraine, struggled a little but still looked good against Tunisia, made virtually no impression against the Saudis, and then went under against a better French team. Grandfather Aragones didn’t help much in the end by constantly changing players around – his decision to effectively put out the B team against Saudi Arabia ended up breaking the momentum they had built up in the first two games. In the end the only real strategy Spain had was a translation of their awful World Cup anthem A Por Ellos (Lets Get Them!) – it didn’t work.

Following up on the appointment of Jose Maria Aznar to the board of News Corporation, it has been reported today that he has been getting 10000 Euros a month from them for the last couple of years, apparently for consultancy services advising on “global corporate strategy”. I’m really keen to know what advice he has been giving to earn his money; “Sell more newspapers”, “Get into internet”, “Show more football on Sky”? A nice little part-time job, I can do that.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Chronicle of a Peace Process….Here Comes The Judge

The attempts by the Spanish government to develop the process which could lead to ETA renouncing violence are running into a number of obstacles. I have already written previously about the decision by the right wing Partido Popular (PP) to oppose any negotiated solution (Peace Is Not Breaking Out). That position is still being maintained and there is little sign of any change of direction on this issue by the PP. But there are also other actors participating in the process, the judiciary in Spain has been very active in the last few years in acting against organisations that were built up around the base of support that ETA had in the Basque Country. This obviously includes the now illegal Batasuna, ETA’s political wing – but has also covered newspapers and other organisations which supported the cause. This judicial activism has brought about a significant redefinition of what constitutes terrorist activity, with previously legal activities now being banned; and some recent decisions are now starting to provoke protest because they almost seem designed to complicate progress on bringing about an end to ETA.

Apart from the case of Batasuna, which was made illegal as a result of a new law purportedly governing political parties (but introduced with the sole aim of illegalising Batasuna), none of this change of emphasis has come about as a result of changes in the law. Rather, it has been a result entirely of changes in the way in which judges choose to interpret existing law. The pioneer in this has probably been the best known judge in Spain, Baltasar Garzon, whose name is even recognised overseas as he was the judge who requested the arrest of Augusto Pinochet. Recently, while Garzon has been on leave of absence, his substitute Fernando Grande-Marlaska has taken over as the leading judge on terrorism cases.

The whole structure around ETA has been placed under considerable pressure, and as a result the distinction between those who actually commit acts of terrorism, and those who before operated legally in the broader political movement has now been effectively removed. These judicial actions have considerable public support, and until recently there were very few people prepared to question whether the unelected judges were entitled to define as terrorist activity something that didn’t actually require the committal of any terrorist act for someone to be taken to trial. Organisations have been banned yet their members or supporters are not actually charged with any offence at all in most cases. The trigger for applying the law to illegalise Batasuna was their failure to condemn an ETA action, not a pronouncement in support of it; making refusal to declare an opinion the justification for banning the party – a dubious and dangerous precedent given that liberty of expression surely includes the right NOT to express an opinion too.

At times it doesn’t seem to matter very much what the charges are, Arnaldo Otegi - one of the principal leaders of Batasuna - was at one point charged with “insulting the King” – an absurdly anachronistic charge for the 21st century. You don’t have to be in favour of ETA, or even sympathetic to Basque nationalism, to find this way of doing things disturbing. Since the declaration of the ceasefire by ETA, and the beginnings of a possible negotiation, there are signs that judge Marlaska has decided he wants to be a significant player in determining how events progress. It is clear that Batasuna is an important part of the peace process, yet the judge has stepped up attempts to restrict possible appearances by its leadership even where such activities might form part of the emerging process. As a result he has made himself extremely popular with the PP and their friendly media allies with his apparent determination to be the one who decides who can do anything in the situation. Recent actions include:

- Calling in Batasuna leaders on a possible charge of “terrorist threats” because they had suggested that imprisoning their leaders might affect the peace process. A suggestion that doesn’t seem to be so outlandish.
- A raid coordinated with France last week on what is said to be the ETA group that organise extortion letters that are sent to companies in the Basque Country and Navarra. Those arrested in the raid included one of the founding members of ETA, who has now broken with the organisation and joined a new grouping that supports the radical nationalist agenda but rejects terrorism as a means of achieving it.
- Subsequently ordering the detention of two businessmen from Navarra who had paid as a result of receiving a demand from ETA.
- Ordering the appearance of a senior member of the PNV, the conservative Basque nationalist party, because of contacts he may have had in the past with some of those detained last week.
- Prohibiting Arnaldo Otegi from attending a conference in Barcelona in a personal capacity.

Through his recent actions the judge has entered clearly into the political arena, his supporters argue that he is doing nothing more than applying the law - but given the enormous discretion he has on how to apply the law it seems clear that there is more to it than this. Baltasar Garzon returns to his post in a few days time – quite a few observers seem to think that this will lead to a reduction of the pressure being applied from the judiciary. I have my doubts, Garzon is a judge who undoubtedly enjoys the limelight and I suspect he will be unable to resist the temptation to intervene in a way which places him at the centre of the situation. With Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero expected to announce this week that negotiations with ETA are to begin, the next few weeks should reveal whether he is going to have to take on the judges in pushing forward the peace process.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Air CIA Takes You There

Competition in the low cost flight industry is really hotting up since the CIA entered the business. It seems that Palma de Mallorca in Spain has now become one of their major hubs – from here they are offering free no-frills flights direct to a variety of attractive destinations, including Guantanamo, Baghdad and Bagram in Afghanistan. For those with family connections, there are optional stopovers in Amman, Tripoli, Cairo or Damascus. Not only are the flights free, but in some cases they might travel with only a single passenger, helpfully provided with a complementary travel kit consisting of orange jumpsuit, blindfold and handcuffs. In many cases, the passenger(s) can be picked up from relatively remote locations – and in cases where it seems they have been delivered to the wrong destination, Air CIA guarantees that they will be returned to a destination of at least equal remoteness (Khalid al-Masri). Accommodation on arrival is almost certainly included in the package, although as you would expect with such a low cost service it can be fairly basic. Although they are apparently still awaiting official approval from the Spanish government for these flights, it appears that this has not presented any obstacle for running the service since it began in 2001.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Kulture Korner....Summer Festivals

With summer having started this week, and with the temperature in Madrid predicted to reach 36 degrees today, it’s perhaps not surprising that I start thinking about escaping from the city from time to time. July, apart from being the hottest month of the year here, is also the best month for summer festivals in different parts of the country. Two of my favourites, mostly oriented towards “world” music, are the festivals of Pirineos Sur and Mar de Musicas.

Pirineos Sur takes place in the small village of Lanuza in the province of Huesca. Deep in the heart of the Pyrenees and only a few kilometres away from France, the festival features a stage built on a lake at the edge of the village surrounded by mountains. The highlight of this year’s festival for me is a rare chance to see African reggae star Alpha Blondy. This festival is a perfect opportunity to combine music with good walking – the refuge of Respumoso or the lakes of Panticosa are both within relatively easy reach of this area and provide stunning high Pyrenees landscapes. There is a campsite in nearby Sallent (take earplugs if you don’t like all night drumming) as well as several hotels – it doesn’t matter how hot the temperature might be in the centre of the country, in Lanuza it’s almost always cool at night and you need clothes to keep warm.

Mar de Musicas takes place in Cartagena in Murcia. This year the emphasis is on South African music, although there is always a mixture of acts from different countries. The great location for the concerts on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean helps take your mind of the state of the town itself. With a bit of money spent on it, and there is plenty of money being made from the sea of plastic sheet agriculture in the surrounding area, the town could be quite pleasant. Unfortunately, the local authority doesn’t seem to have much interest in maintaining Cartagena, and parts of the centre look as if they are falling apart. This shouldn’t put anyone off the concerts themselves, and the lack of attractions in the town means that it’s hardly ever difficult to find a hotel. This festival combines well with a day or two by the beach, La Manga is not far away.

Here in Madrid in July we get concerts in what used to be an old barracks, and is now the Conde Duque cultural centre. Despite some increasingly repetitive programming, the patio of the barracks is perfect for concerts with excellent acoustics, and can be one of the few places where the air actually moves a bit on a hot summer night in Madrid. Time for a cold beer.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Jobs For (All) The Boys

Hot on the heels of Ana Palacio’s appointment as a vice-president of the World Bank comes the news that Jose Maria Aznar, the Great Helmsman himself, is to join the board of directors of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. What could all of this mean, are we about to be treated to a Spanish version of The Sun (it’s El Sol Wot Won It!)? Maybe The Times is about to serialise “The Enigmas of the 11th March Bombings”. The Dear Leader has had to live off proceeds from his book and from a few lectures in Washington for the last couple of years, so maybe Rupert is helping him out with a bit of extra income. It’s hard to see what he brings to the company; I can't imagine him running the length of the newsroom shouting "Hold the front page!". He has not, as far as I’m aware, got a great deal of business experience. But with Ana Palacio in the World Bank, and former economy minister Rodrigo Rato directing the IMF, at least we can see there are some beneficiaries from Aznar’s embrace of the Bush administration and the neo-conservative agenda.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Powerful Fools - Ana Palacio

It’s time to inaugurate a new feature on South of Watford; Powerful Fools is dedicated to those who occupy positions with influence over our lives and whose actions or words demonstrate a clear incapacity to be where they are. I’m not expecting a shortage of candidates and nominations are always welcome. So who the hell is Ana Palacio? Well, she was, for a couple of years, minister of foreign affairs in the Spanish government presided by Jose Maria Aznar. Not really enough to qualify her automatically as a Powerful Fool, after all Aznar had a couple of other equally anonymous foreign ministers during his 8 years in power. But Ana held the post at a special moment, as preparations began for the invasion of Iraq and Aznar decided that he wanted to be in the front line of those declaring war. So Ana was given the task of being the most loyal supporter of US plans behind the British, and she set about her task with enthusiasm, faithfully endorsing all of the bogus ‘intelligence’ that Colin Powell presented to the UN in the run up to the war.

So far so good, but nothing exceptional about this – it all happened 3 years ago and nothing has really been heard of Ana Palacio since the change of government in 2004. But the other day, I was reading the Spanish press and I came across an interesting item about today’s lucky candidate. It seems that Ana has recently been appointed as a Vice President of the World Bank! Reading the article, it didn’t take long for it to become clear how she has managed to secure such a comfortable position. The World Bank is currently run by Paul Wolfowitz, one of the main architects in the Bush administration of the Iraq invasion, so it can hardly be surprising that someone who worked as hard for the cause as Ana did can be given a reward by one its main supporters. Again, you might be asking what it is about all of this that makes her get the nomination when there are so many strong candidates for this award? Well, the same article that told me about the appointment reminded me of a declaration that Ana made shortly after the war in Iraq had begun. This is what she had to say (my translation):

“In the course of the war against Iraq, there are some relevant factors. The stock markets have risen and petrol has fallen. Already, people are paying a few cents less for petrol and diesel. These are facts.”

As an attempted justification for a war which continues to claim a growing but unknown number of victims, this shows undoubted idiocy, and not just because petrol now costs about twice the price that it did when she made the remark. A worthy winner, well done Ana!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Cataluña Is Still In Spain

So finally the long running attempt to reform the statute of autonomy for Cataluña is drawing to a close. Over 73% of those who voted in yesterday’s referendum approved the reform, the result being only slightly tarnished by the low participation, just under 50% of those eligible voted. Politics in Cataluña, and to some extent in the rest of the country, can now return to business as usual, as the debate over the statute has dominated the political scene there in the last couple of years. The participation figure in the vote suggests that a sizeable part of the Catalan population either doesn’t care that much about the issue or that they were simply fed up with it. A bit like the European “Constitution”, it ends up being an issue absorbing the energies of the political class but leaving many people bemused and largely indifferent.

Politically there are winners and losers as a result of this process. The national government, led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, will be relieved that they can now concentrate on other things as the reform has been probably the issue that has cost them most in the much of the rest of Spain. This is because of a perception, encouraged by the right wing here, that the Catalans were getting privileges that other regions do not. Supporters of the Partido Popular (PP) even attempted to organise boycotts of Catalan products, leaving more champagne for the rest of us. The PP, having predicted the disintegration of Spain if the reform went ahead, now have to make a difficult adjustment. It’s hard to see them getting much more mileage from continuing their campaign against a statute that has been approved and which they will have to administer if they ever return to power.

The main winners out of all of this are probably the conservative nationalists in Cataluña who, despite not being part of the regional government that drew up the original version of the statute, have managed to get on the train and appear in the end as the party most in favour of the reform. This is because their main rivals for the nationalist vote, Esquerra Republicana (ERC), got themselves into a mess over whether to accept the watered down document that was finally approved. ERC went from being a major contributor to the original version, to initially promoting abstention in the referendum, and then being forced by their militants into campaigning for a no vote. ERC were forced to leave the coalition Catalan government because of this refusal to back what has really been the only visible product of this government, elections are now going to be called for later in the year and it will be interesting to see whether their confusing stance will cost them support. With two major nationalist parties, the competition between them both to appear more Catalan than the other means that nationalism creates its own internal dynamic maintaining constant pressure for further devolution of power from the central government.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Cement Works

A report released this week by the Spanish government shows some staggering figures on construction in the country in recent years. It estimates that the constructed surface space in Spain has increased by 40% in 15 years, and identifies the Mediterranean coast, together with Madrid, as the main focal points of this boom. Spain now has 1 dwelling for every 2 inhabitants and is adding over 800000 new units every year. Last year’s figure for new construction exceeds the combined total for Germany, France and the UK. The report highlights the paradoxical situation that leaves many people unable to afford a new home because of the rapid rise in prices, at a time when record numbers of new buildings are appearing. Here in Madrid entire districts, each with thousands of homes, have been added to the outskirts of the city in the last few years, but the prices have continued increasing.

On the Mediterranean coast, especially in Valencia, Murcia and parts of Andalucia, the first kilometre inland from the sea is now entirely constructed in large areas of these territories. Part of the problem lies in a system of local government financing that means a large part of income for service provision comes from reclassifying land for construction. Mix this with a huge quantity of undeclared income in circulation (For A Suitcase Full Of Euros), lax controls on corruption in local government, and the desire of so many people inside and outside of Spain to have a place by the beach, and the boom keeps on going. Valencia and Murcia are regions that have campaigned to have more water resources from other parts of the country redirected to them, notionally to support the tremendous growth in ‘plastic sheet’ agriculture that they have experienced. However, in both regions there is an increasing trend for building urbanisations with golf courses attached, and the reality is that much of their water does not get used for agriculture. Some of these regions have areas that experience semi-desert conditions; sustainability doesn’t seem to be the key consideration. It’s too late to do anything to save large parts of the coastline from being concreted over, although there have been some recent limited successes in stopping construction in areas that are supposed to be protected. The construction companies of Spain are now becoming the big players in the economy, together with the banks that get fatter on the ever higher mortgages that are needed to buy a home. Look no further to find an example of the free market failing to meet people’s needs, the average Spanish salary remains very low while house prices are making parts of Northern Europe seem relatively cheap.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Land Of Hope And…..More Hope

Today sees Spain’s first game in the World Cup so it’s a good time to cast an eye on their squad and to make some probably wildly inaccurate predictions about their fate in the competition. In the last two World Cups, and especially in 1998, Spanish hopes for success were high; but the result in both cases was disappointment. This time the atmosphere is a bit more subdued and fatalistic, supporters of the national team have prepared themselves for the worst as a defence against more disappointment. In their recent games, the team has not impressed even though the results have been sufficient to see them through.

If the current Spanish squad is going to be found seriously wanting in any department this time, then it is probably going to be in attack. The line up today against Ukraine is predicted to leave Raul, previously an untouchable, on the bench for the start of the game. This is a result of two seasons where he has failed to perform both at club and international level. This leaves Spain’s attack in the hands of Fernando Torres, a player who has never lived up to expectations and is regarded by many as being seriously overrated, and David Villa of Valencia who has been the revelation of the season with 25 goals. Villa lacks international experience but if he comes good then perhaps the attack will not be found wanting. Fernando Morientes, after his disappointing spell with Liverpool, has not even made it into the full squad.

Midfield is where all the true strengths are to be found, the combination of players such as Alonso, Xavi, Cesc, Garcia with support from Reyes and Joaquin on the wings provides real options, although personally I think both Joaquin and Reyes have serious problems in knowing when to release the ball which often leaves both of them heading pointlessly but fast towards the corner flags. But midfield should not be the root of any problems that the team encounters in the tournament. Defence could be problematical, although it’s not the weakest part of the team. Casillas is very capable in goal, while players such as Puyol, Ramos, Salgado and company are all competent if not outstanding. However, Shevchenko should provide an interesting test for them.

The trainer is Luis Aragones, who has been around for so long that even the word veteran probably isn’t sufficient to describe him. Widely regarded as a caretaker trainer because they couldn’t find anyone better at the time, his best days are almost certainly behind him. His ‘old school’ methods led to his notorious racist remark about Thierry Henry, excused by many Spanish on the grounds that he was ‘motivating’ his players. If that’s the only way he can find to do it, it’s a little bit depressing. Showing an unnerving ability to talk when he should keep quiet, and to say nothing when he should speak out, retirement beckons for him regardless of what happens in the tournament.

So on to the predictions, this is a team that will get no further than the quarter finals without either a large dose of luck, or the emergence of a coherence and style which has largely been absent in the last few years. Often eliminated by the single goal, after missing at least one penalty, and with the referee taking the rap for all their misfortunes, it’s hard to see things being different this time. A 1-0 defeat against France in the first knockout round – there, I’ve said it and it will almost certainly be wrong.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Making Up The Numbers

Obtaining an accurate estimate of the number of people participating in a political demonstration has never been an easy matter, those who provide the estimates are rarely doing so in a disinterested way. In the days when I used to participate in more demonstrations than I do now, I would apply Graeme’s Coefficient to get a more or less reasonable best guess; this consisted of doubling the police estimate of attendance, halving the organisers estimate, and then splitting the difference between the two. However, there are circumstances where it seems to me that this method is just not going to work, and these circumstances now apply in the case of the right wing anti-government demonstrations that seem to have become so common in Spain in the last couple of years.

The latest of these demonstrations took place on Saturday, organised - at least formally – by the Asociación de Victimas del Terrorismo (AVT). The demonstration was called to protest against government policy on negotiations with ETA (see link here). Almost all of these demonstrations take place in Madrid which is governed at city and regional level by the opposition Partido Popular (PP). The regional government, in particular, is used by the PP as a general opposition platform and their estimates of attendance at these demonstrations tend to be extraordinarily generous, one million people seems to be the minimum allowable figure. These estimates always differ enormously with those provided by the police, who answer to the central government. So in some cases the difference between the police estimate and that of the organisers can be as high as 1.5 million. This is what happened after the previous AVT march, where the argument over attendance eclipsed the issues behind the demonstration itself.

Now there are some methods which allow more reasonable estimates to be made, based on size calculations of the area where the demonstration takes place, and a rough estimate of likely occupancy per square metre. In the case of the demonstration cited above, the organisers figure would have required something like 25 people per square metre, which counts as serious overcrowding by any standard - even if some of them could stand on each others heads. In the case of Saturday’s demonstration the difference is not so great, centre-left El País and the right wing El Mundo have both estimated attendance as being between 200-250000. The police have estimated 200000, and…wait for it…the Madrid regional government and the organisers claim one million were there!

So why does any of this matter? It becomes important because the legitimacy of those who opposing negotiation to bring an end to ETA requires being able to show popular support for their stance outside of their own ranks. The evidence of Saturday is that those marching are almost entirely PP supporters, and more interesting, that the numbers being mobilised are declining with successive demonstrations. The PP is now learning what many on the left have learnt a long time ago, the difficulty of sustaining a political campaign over a period of months and possibly years. The decision to include support for the conspiracy theories over who committed the 2004 train bombings in Madrid as part of the demonstration’s objectives may well influence the decline in numbers attending. It’s a topic that excites the PP right wing, but which is beginning to leave even some of their own supporters a bit cold. Already the PP is calling on the government to take notice of the street mobilisations and change course, but the interesting factor will be whether, internally, they are capable of recognising the evidence that public opinion does not currently seem to be on their side on this issue.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Kulture Korner....Un Franco, 14 Pesetas

Having adopted the Spanish ‘radikal graffiti’ habit of changing my C’s into K’s, it’s time to write about something different. The films I write about will usually be Spanish or international independent cinema, I don’t get round to seeing most of the product that comes from the Hollywood machine and I doubt I’ll feel much temptation to write about it. This week’s recommended film, “Un Franco, 14 Pesetas”, is directed by Spanish actor Carlos Iglesias. It tells the story of two friends who decide to leave Madrid to try their luck working in Switzerland in the 1960’s. Arriving in a Swiss village with the idea of maybe staying for a year, they end up spending years of their life there working in a factory. Later joined in the village by family in one case and girlfriend in the other, the film portrays their reaction to life in another country and the difficulties of language and loneliness that it can present.

It seems hard to imagine, now that Spain is a country of immigration, but in the 1950’s and 1960’s hundreds of thousands of people left Spain to work abroad motivated by a variety of factors; lack of opportunities at home, poverty, adventure, or the stifling atmosphere of Franco’s Spain. Some left for a short period only, some of the others have never returned – amongst other things the film touches on the difficulties of adapting back to life in Madrid in the 1960’s after experiencing life in a wealthier country, apparently based on the director’s own experiences as the child of emigrants.

It won’t be my Spanish film of the year, because I’ve already seen two that I think are better, but it’s still highly recommended. Maybe soon we will see a similar film from Morocco, Ecuador or Romania that tells the story of those who now come to Spain looking for a better life.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Peace Is Not Breaking Out

As predicted, not exclusively, on this blog, the Partido Popular (PP) has now broken any possible consensus with the government over the next steps following the ceasefire by ETA. The reason given for the break was the announcement that the Basque section of the Spanish Socialist Party was going to begin contacts with the political wing of ETA, Batasuna. In reality it was always going to be a question of when, rather than if, the break would come. Ever since the ceasefire was announced the PP has been steadily chipping away at public confidence in the validity of the process, the difference is that now they have opted for frontal confrontation on the issue.

The break with the government also follows a disappointing performance by PP leader Mariano Rajoy in the “State of the Nation” debate last week, in the latest opinion poll only 14% of those interviewed think he won the debate. The peace process was not debated, more or less by agreement between both major parties, but then at the very last minute the PP put forward a motion which they knew would be rejected, because its approval would have made any serious negotiation with ETA or Batasuna impossible. The decision is also timed to coincide this weekend with a demonstration called by the Asociación de Victimas de Terrorismo (AVT), a terrorist victims organisation whose leadership works very closely together with the PP. They are marching against any negotiations of any kind with ETA, and combine this with a demand to be ‘told the truth’ over the train bombings on March 11th 2004. Despite the name, the AVT is far from being the only grouping to work with victims of terrorism, nor it does it make even the slightest effort to represent the diversity of opinions that exist amongst the victims.

The idea that the truth has not been told over March 11th is the product of a two year campaign by the right wing in Spain to try and justify the actions of the then governing PP in the three days between the bombings and the elections that removed them from office. The PP attempted to focus all attention on ETA as being responsible, even when the evidence of Islamist involvement was becoming overwhelming. Since losing power they have snatched at even the tiniest hint of an ETA connection to try and suggest that somehow they must have been involved, and an elaborate conspiracy theory has been constructed around this objective. It is now relatively easy to find web pages where it is seriously suggested that the bombings were the result of pro-Socialist police officers working in collaboration with ETA and Islamist terrorists, with some also involving the French or the Moroccan secret services in the mixture of conspirators. All of these combining, of course, to overthrow the government of Jose Maria Aznar. There is no serious evidence for any of these theories; usually they rely solely on the absence of evidence that disproves them – as all good conspiracy theories should. The judicial investigation has concluded, and none of these imaginative theories of ETA involvement have been taken on board by the investigating judge; nevertheless the campaign continues because it is enough for those who believe in it simply to sow doubt and absolve “their” government.

Fortunately, there are people who are prepared to defend the memory of those who died in what was Spain’s deadliest terrorist attack, and who are prepared to devote time to refuting the conspiracy theorists. I have included links on this site to two blogs which take on this task, “Desiertos Lejanos” and “3 Días en Marzo”. Both are in Spanish although the latter has a web translation function. The name “Desiertos Lejanos” (faraway deserts) comes from a notorious Jose Maria Aznar quote, that the perpetrators of the train attacks were not going to be found in “faraway deserts or remote mountains” – attempting to suggest that they came from close to Bilbao. There is an awful lot more that could be written about this, to be continued.....

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

For A Suitcase Full Of Euros

Since Spain changed over from the Peseta to the Euro I have only once seen a 500 Euro note; and that was presented to me by my bank. Known in Spain as Bin Ladens, because everyone knows they are out there but nobody ever sees them, these banknotes have become a firm favourite for those who deal in the submerged economy. The reason is obvious, with such high value in a single note it’s possible to transport huge sums of cash in a relatively small container. It was recently announced that almost 30% of all the 500 Euro notes issued in the Euro zone are now circulating in Spain. Any major fraud or corruption scandal that emerges at the moment seems to feature big wads of these notes; the stamp investment fraud (see link here) resulted in a stash of 10 million Euros being discovered behind a freshly plastered wall. Meanwhile in Marbella, corruption capital of Spain, the decision to finally act (after years of tolerance) against those running the local authority as a means of personal enrichment has included the discovery of large sums of cash in the homes of the accused. The Spanish Mediterranean coast, where it seems money can be easily laundered through construction, is probably where a high proportion of these notes are circulating. The estimate for the total amount of money circulating in these notes is 50,000 million Euros and accounts for over 60% of the money in circulation in the country. If I’ve seen one, that only leaves another 100,999,999 unaccounted for.

Friday, June 02, 2006

NEWSBLOG….Obstacles In Basque Peace Process…Death Of Rocio Jurado

The attempts by the Spanish government to initiate a process that brings an end to terrorist activity by ETA have started to hit their first problems. On the one hand judicial action against the leaders of Batasuna, ETA’s political wing, is constantly threatening their leadership with imprisonment. One judge in particular seems determined to be the protagonist in this, after one of Batasuna’s leaders pointed out (quite understandably) that sending their leadership to prison was not going to help a peace process, the judge decided to call him on a possible charge of making terrorist threats. In addition to this, a decision by the Basque section of the Spanish Socialist Party to begin open contacts with Batasuna has given the opposition Partido Popular the excuse they have been looking for to drop any support they had, very tentatively, given to the peace process. Threatening to withdraw support for the government if the contacts go ahead, the PP is now close to returning to their policy of outright opposition on terrorism policy that they had suspended temporarily in the face of the truce declaration by ETA.

Looking at any newspaper in Spain today one of the first things you see is a photograph of Rocio Jurado, the singer and actress who died yesterday after a long battle with cancer and who was buried today in her home town near Cadiz. Not just known for her singing (flamenco and copla), Rocio was a regular feature in the celebrity magazines such as Hola, and in what seems to be an ever growing number of television programmes dedicated to the lives of the famous. Her marriage to a bullfighter provided that classic Spanish mixture for celebrity fame. Her prolonged illness was a constant theme for many of these programmes during the last few months, to the extent that for almost the first time since I came to Spain there has been some debate on the limits of how much television can exploit the suffering of someone who, as we now know, was slowly dying. The Spanish know how to do mourning, and the line of celebrities lining up to pay homage was a big feature of the media coverage today.