Thursday, September 28, 2006

Paranoia In The Age Of Terror

A Seville University lecturer, Pablo Gutiérrez Vega, was taking a plane from Mallorca to Dortmund at the end of August. Gutíerrez has a beard, nothing tremendously unusual about that, but this beard was enough to convince some other passengers on the plane that they were in the company of a potentially dangerous Islamic militant. He was temporarily forced to leave the plane by the pressure of other passengers, and with the apparent compliance of the captain, on the grounds that he looked (to them) like a Muslim. So if you are travelling, don't forget to shave.

Crisis, What Crisis?

Spain is not going to sink just because 25000 immigrants arrive in the Canary Islands. This was the dismissive message of a German politician last week at a European Union meeting in Finland where the Spanish government was requesting assistance to deal with the arrival of African immigrants in the Canaries. Behind the comment was an attitude that Spanish governments will probably have to get used to; Spain is no longer in a position to demand help from the EU, it is now one of the wealthier nations in the union following the expansion to 25 members.

The remark was intended as a means of suggesting that there was no real reason for Spain to get help, but it accidentally put the problem into perspective too. The coverage in Spain of these boats arriving in Tenerife is leading people to talk as if the country is facing some kind of major crisis as a result. It is a curious side-effect of the government’s policy of closing down other migration routes that have been used to cross over to the mainland, because it has concentrated the arrivals in a single area whereas previously there were many different arrival points. So even though there has been no significant increase in African immigration, the impression given is that is has risen very sharply. Indeed, compared to the overall increase in immigration to Spain in the last 10 years, the arrival of 25000 more in the Canary Islands is literally a drop in the ocean when compared to the number of people who will arrive by more conventional means. If there is any real crisis here, it is in the incapacity of the Canarian authorities to cope with so many arrivals in the same place, and in the number of immigrants who do not survive the difficult, dangerous journey.

The plea to the European Union was part of an attempt by the government to look busy on this issue, and intense pressure has been placed on Senegal and other West African nations to accept repatriation of some of these migrants. The government is aware that the issue of illegal immigration can damage them, especially with the Partido Popular intent on pretending that it is somehow just a phenomenon of the last two years. In the process the sense of crisis is accentuated rather than reduced, as nobody seems willing to emphasise the message that the German representative put across so simply a few days ago.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Welfare State

I’ve never been a very keen supporter of free market theories, but I do think it is time something was done to break the culture of dependency in which some families find themselves. Take the Bourbons, for example. We have been told yesterday that yet another child is on the way for what is, to put it bluntly, already an overly large family. How are they going to look after yet another addition to the family? Well, I think it is going to be the taxpayers who are doing the looking after in this case, as with the rest of the clan. Nobody seems to be working in this family, at least not full-time; and we have allowed a situation to arise where they have no expectation of ever having to work for a living. We cannot blame Felipe for this situation, he is just doing what his sisters and parents have already done themselves, but unless something is done then the future generations are also going to grow up with the idea that everything is given to them on a plate (silver in this case!).

I know it seems harsh, but it is time to cut the apron strings of the nanny state and let these people fend for themselves. After a few years of adjustment, they will learn the virtues of self-help and will emerge stronger from the experience. I bet all of them drink and smoke and have huge flat screen TV’s bla bla bla…..

Monday, September 25, 2006

Powerful Fools....Jose Maria Aznar

It was always predictable, I suppose, that Jose Maria Aznar would receive a South of Watford nomination as a Powerful Fool – it was really just a matter of time. On Thursday last week, the dear ex-leader decided to share with the world his statesmanlike wisdom on the crisis provoked by the Pope’s comments on Islam. In the process he reminded me that the formula Aznar + Foreign Affairs = Disaster still holds true over two years after he left office. In Aznar’s plain speaking view, there is no reason at all why the Pope should have to apologise to Muslims for causing any offence. Why? Because the Muslim world has STILL not got round to apologising for the occupation of Spain by the Moors, even though they have had over 500 years to do so! It turns out that the Visigoth kingdom which fell when the Moors launched their occupation was in reality the first Western nation to be attacked by Islam.

Not the only fool in town....

Personally I blame the Catholic Kings, Isabel and Fernando. They had every opportunity, when they finally retook Granada, to ask the Moors to say sorry – yet they didn’t do it. The Moors, to be fair, didn’t do their bit either. Following the lead set by airlines or other companies they could easily have made an announcement along the lines of “We would like to apologise for our recent invasion of the territory which at some point far in the future will be known as España. We deeply regret any inconvenience this unavoidable invasion has caused, and our service staff will be happy to help you with any questions you may have about it”. Then, when anybody was brave enough to ask any questions, they could have charged them extra for asking. Apart from showing no regrets, they also had no business sense, and clearly fell down on their communication skills. Lamentable.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Meanwhile Back In The Cave....

As a follow up to the views of retired urban guerrilla Pio Moa on the use of political violence against the government, here is the opening paragraph of his latest masterpiece, attractively titled Alta Traición (High Treason):

El actual e ilegal gobierno de España, quinta columna del fundamentalismo musulmán ("alianza de civilizaciones") y del terrorismo separatista ("proceso de paz", estatutos anticonstitucionales, etc.), está echando abajo la Constitución, reviviendo los odios de la guerra civil y arrasando el sistema de convivencia democrática construido en la Transición.

My translation.

The current and illegal government of Spain, fifth column of muslim fundamentalism (“alliance of civilizations”) and of separatist terrorism (“peace process”, anti-constitutional autonomy statutes etc), is tearing down the constitution, reviving the hatred of the civil war, and laying waste the system of democratic coexistence constructed during the Transition.

Say what you like about our Pio, he doesn’t hold back on what he thinks.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Blogging....A Cautionary Tale

A bizarre, but entirely true, story on the perils of blogging. The tale begins in May last year when journalist Ignacio Escolar placed a link on his blog to some reports he had done from Mexico for Telecinco on the drug cartels. In the months following the placing of this piece on his blog, occasional comments were left on the post praising one gang or another. Nothing so extraordinary so far, but fast forward to May this year and the thread really began to take off, with hundreds of messages appearing during the summer months. These messages, apart from providing an invaluable introduction into the rich vocabulary of Mexican insults, were essentially a mixture of boasts and threats between what seemed to be supporters or members of different gangs. This torrent of comments on a year old thread attracted attention because of the exotic and surreal nature of the comments, but nobody assumed that there was anything more significant going on.

Last Saturday all of this changed. It seems that one of the comments left on the blog in the middle of August can be read as a warning that something was going to happen to a senior police officer in the state of Nueva Leon. 18 days after the publication of the comment this officer was shot dead in an area on the outskirts of Monterrey. Another comment left in July makes a reference to the decapitation of another person. Mexican newspapers picked up on these comments and began reporting that the blog was being used by killers employed by the cartels. El Universal, one of the most respected newspapers in Mexico, went so far as to describe Escolar’s blog as “supposedly” belonging to the Zetas, a gang linked to the Gulf cartel. The thread has now, not surprisingly, been closed to new comments after passing the 2000 mark. However, this morning I saw that similar messages are now appearing in the other threads describing what has happened, every blogger likes to get comments but this is going just a little bit too far.

March 11th....The Song Remains The Same

The combined effort by the Partido Popular (PP), the COPE radio station, and El Mundo newspaper to convert the investigation of the 11th March bombings into the main political issue of the autumn continued yesterday with the PP presenting a motion in Parliament on the subject. The motion was rejected by all other parties with representation, who jointly approved an amendment which was passed easily with only the PP voting against.

Given that the conspiracy theorists have been predicting ground shaking revelations on the subject for the whole summer, the results so far must be a little disappointing even for them. A combination of allegations of ETA involvement by one of the accused, who has changed his testimony several times already, and another person who has entered into a commercial arrangement to publish a book on his allegations, have failed to produce any serious evidence that the attack was not carried out by those accused. The latest El Mundo exclusive is to tell us that evidence has been found that “other people”, not members of the group accused of the bombings, were present at some point in the rented house where it is said the group carried out their preparations for the attack. Most people will look at a story like this, shrug their shoulders and move on to something else. But a good conspiracy theorist knows that this story can only mean one thing – these other people would have to be members of ETA! Any more innocent explanation is discarded, presumably on the grounds of being too boring.

One other result of the decision by ABC and El País to break their silence over El Mundo’s campaign has been to put the spotlight on what many see as the commercial side of the operation. The pressure on ABC that is coming from El Mundo, the COPE and Libertad Digital is seen as an open attempt by these media groups to try and grab the loyalty of at least part of ABC’s natural constituency, the most conservative sections of the Spanish newspaper reading public. Whether this is the prelude to the launching of a new combined right-wing media group is still unclear, but alignment with one side or the other inside the PP currently seems to match with those who are either for or against the promotion of the conspiracy theories.

Related Links:

The Right Divides
The Temperature Starts To Rise
El Mundo Goes Backpacking
El Mundo And Their Experts
Playing With Dynamite
Faulty Connections

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Flying To The Rock

One result of the agreement reached yesterday between the Spanish and British governments is that it should become possible for me to fly between Madrid and Gibraltar without having to go via London. The first flights are due to begin in December, and the airport will eventually be used by both countries. Not that I have any real interest in making the journey, but it is a sign of changing attitudes on the question. For virtually the first time a Spanish government seems to be acknowledging that making life difficult for the inhabitants of Gibraltar is perhaps not the best way of convincing them that their future lies with Spain.

The Cost Of Living

It’s normal when you travel to another city to compare it with the one where you live, so I couldn’t resist some comparisons between Madrid and Berlin, where I spent the weekend. I used to think, when I still lived in the UK, that Germany was one of the most expensive countries in Europe to visit; but having worked quite a bit there in the last few years it is clear that this is no longer the case. Finding a place in Madrid where two people can eat and drink well for 30 Euros is not such an easy task any more (if you don’t go for a menu of the day), in Berlin it didn’t seem to be a problem. The gap between German and Spanish prices has largely disappeared in the last decade for many things. In some cases it has gone the other way, I read recently that an apartment measuring 100 square metres in the centre of Berlin can cost around 150000 Euros. You have to at least double that figure to get the price of something similar in Madrid. So what, this could just be a sign that Spain has become wealthier and that Germany is no longer the economic powerhouse that it used to be? However, the crucial comparison comes when you compare the average salary in the two countries. I don’t have the figures to hand, but I’m prepared to bet a big glass of foaming weizen beer that the German salary is still well ahead of its Spanish equivalent.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Destination Venus

Well not really, it's Berlin this weekend. The title is a homage to the Rezillos, who played in Madrid last night.

I love my baby cos she does good sculptures....

Thursday, September 14, 2006

March 11th....The Right Divides

"Una derecha que entregue al 11-M el protagonismo de su oposición al PSOE está abocada al fracaso electoral, pero también al fracaso ideológico, porque las convicciones democráticas no son compatibles con actitudes propias de extremistas antisistema."

My translation:

"A right which gives the 11th March the lead role in its opposition to the PSOE is destined for electoral failure, and also for ideological failure; because democratic convictions are not compatible with attitudes more suited to anti-system extremists"

Not my words, it's part of the editorial today from ABC, bastion of Spanish conservatism. Without further comment.

Related Links:

It's Not Too Late To Remember

Something else I picked up from the press at the weekend, it seems that the recent debate and projected legislation concerning the Civil War and its victims has provoked a curious side-effect. I had noticed a couple of times in the last few weeks that there were death notices in my newspaper referring to people who died in the Civil War, usually they are dedicated to people who have died much more recently. It appears that this publication of notices remembering those who died in the war has become a small trend, and that the notices are appearing for those that died on both sides – the side they supported is normally indicated by the newspaper in which the death notice appears (ABC and El Mundo for those on the fascist side, El País for the republicans).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

March 11th....The Temperature Starts To Rise

We can expect an interesting day on issues affecting the Madrid train bombings. After weeks of new “revelations” from El Mundo, the other major newspapers in Spain have today finally joined the fray. El País has today printed a substantial article on the conspiracy theories promoted by El Mundo and their friends, and their report has been echoed by ABC, traditionally the most conservative of the major newspapers here.

Last week El Mundo printed an interview with José Emilio Suárez Trashorras, the man accused of stealing and selling the stolen explosive that was used in the bombings. Whilst respecting the presumption of innocence, it has to be said that the paper went completely overboard in their attempts to portray Trashorras as an innocent choirboy victim of the evil machinations behind the bombings. Trashorras, in turn, delivered his side of the bargain by duly pointing the finger at a combination of ETA and members of the security forces, although without producing any concrete evidence of their involvement. El Mundo has followed up this week with the serialisation of a book about another person involved with those accused of the explosives theft, the book has been written by Fernando Múgica who works for, wait for it…..El Mundo.

Well today El País has responded with the transcript of a conversation between Trashorras and his parents, recorded in prison. In the report, Trashorras is quoted as saying “While the newspaper El Mundo pays, if I am outside, I will tell them the story of the Spanish Civil War”. Clearly the transcript has been leaked to the paper as part of an attempt to strike back at El Mundo. One effect of this is to put the spotlight on the question of whether El Mundo’s involvement in the case has reached the stage where they are making financial deals with people involved in the bombings. The publication of the book certainly suggests that to be the case, but if it turns out that Trashorras has received any money from them then that would be much more serious.

All of this on the day that the Partido Popular are going to raise El Mundo’s conspiracy accusations in Parliament. The outside temperature might be falling, but it doesn’t feel cold.

Related Links:
El Mundo And Their Experts
Playing With Dynamite
Faulty Connections

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Is This The Worst Newspaper In Spain?

World exclusive by Phil Space.

One person, a member of the youth wing of the Catalan Socialists, wears a T-shirt supporting Pepe Rubianes at a ceremony marking the Diada, Cataluña’s national day. From this, El Mundo fills almost the whole of its front page with the headline:

El Socialismo Catalán se identifica con el actor que insultó a España

Catalan Socialism identifies itself with the actor who insulted Spain

Who needs Rupert Murdoch when we already have Pedro J Ramirez?

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11th Postscript

One post today about a Chilean film, set in the Pinochet dictatorship, and another about the effects of September 11th 2001. It's as good an excuse as any to remember September 11th 1973, date of the military coup in Chile; and to remember those whose place of death is still not known.

Did 9-11 Produce A Different Spain?

In amongst all the usual acres of newsprint that get produced every year on the anniversary of September 11th 2001, I noticed an interesting piece by Santos Juliá in yesterday's El País about the effect which the event and its aftermath has had on Spanish politics.

In this blog I have been writing quite frequently about this new Spanish right that has emerged ,embracing the "war on terror", supporting Israel in its military adventures, and generally adopting what we can (slightly lazily) call the neocon agenda. Juliá makes the point that this switch is largely a result of 9-11 and the decision by Jose Maria Aznar to align Spanish foreign policy with that of the Bush administration.

What are they so happy about?

So what would have happened if 9-11 hadn't happened? The conclusion is that Aznar would not have been photographed with Blair and Bush in the Azores, smiling idiotically as war was declared. The Iraq war might still have happened, I have never bought the argument that it had any relationship to 9-11; but Aznar might not have felt the temptation to involve his country against the will of the vast majority. The Madrid train bombings, or something similar, could still possibly have happened, but with no Iraq involvement perhaps Aznar and his party would not have felt the need to try and manipulate the situation to their own advantage and as a result could even have remained in power?

All speculative stuff, but the impact on our lives is undoubtedly significant, last year I came across a couple of Guardian Weeklies from 2000 that I hadn't had time to read when they arrived. I flicked through them, and was struck by how different everything seemed in 2000; not least because the world, for all its problems, seemed to be a lot safer than it does 5 years after 9-11.

Cinema....Mi Mejor Enemigo

I went to see this film by Chilean director Alex Bowen Carranza without very high expectations and have to say that I enjoyed it much more than I expected. Having worked for a while in Chile a few years ago, I recall a dinner conversation one night when some of those present were talking about how close Chile and Argentina were to going to war in 1978 over a border dispute. The two countries at the time were both controlled by military dictatorships at the height of their powers.

The film tells the story of a Chilean army patrol, consisting mostly of conscripts, sent out to control a remote point on the frontier between the two countries. The patrol gets lost in the flat featureless Patagonian wilderness and can no longer even be sure whether they are in Chile or in Argentina, with nothing visible to mark the frontier. Ordered to maintain a position, they dig trenches and wait for further orders. Then one day they find themselves with an Argentinian patrol for neighbours, who have dug their own trenches a short distance away.

With no war yet declared each patrol has to get used to the presence of the other in a zone where there is nothing else to be seen. Slowly they begin to fraternise as the solitude of their surroundings and the absurdity of their situation begin to tell. Human relationships get the better of the requirements of military discipline with its associated need to have an enemy to hate. The film works well in showing the futility of a conflict over a frontier that is not even properly defined, and which means nothing to anyone who passes through the area. It doesn't go much beyond that, not entering into more political territory concerning the nature or actions of the regimes in both countries. It doesn't have the oppressive and slightly depressing atmosphere of Iluminados por el Fuego, a film with a similar theme about the Argentinian conscripts who were sent to defend the Falklands/Malvinas from the British. However, in that film the war actually took place, and the conditions portrayed are necessarily much more miserable.

It is not a film that will have very wide distribution, only two cinemas in Madrid seem to be showing it at the moment, but I recommend it to anyone who gets the chance to see it.

Friday, September 08, 2006


I know, really, I write too many pieces about the crazy antics of the Spanish right! I'm trying to stop but the problem is the stories keep on coming, I don't know what to do. The actor Pepe Rubianes yesterday found that he could no longer present the work "Lorca eran todos" about Federico García Lorca, in the Teatro Español in Madrid. The theatre belongs to the municipality, ultimately controlled by the mayor Albert Ruiz Gallardón, who is becoming something of a regular on this blog.

The story begins in January this year when Rubianes appeared on Catalan TV and made some, frankly, not very polite remarks about the Spanish and the Extremadurans in particular. He sort of apologised afterwards and said that he was talking about the backward reactionary side of Spanish society. Once news emerged that he was going to be presenting the show in Madrid, in a municipal theatre, the right wing blogs started suggesting he shouldn't be allowed to make use of public theatres and there were rumours of people organising demonstrations. So yesterday the show was cancelled, initially the blame was placed on Gallardón, then later it was said that Rubianes himself had taken the decision. Finally, today, Rubianes has stated that it was the mayor who had given in to right-wing pressure and withdrawn the show. Ironic, of course, that it was a work about Lorca, himself executed by the political ancestors of the imbeciles who forced the cancellation.

This is the third time in recent years that there have been right-wing protests over theatrical works in Madrid. The theatre where Italian comedy actor Leo Bassi presented his last work was the object of a failed firebombing and had far right demonstrations outside the theatre. A couple of years ago a play called "Me Cago en Dios" (I shit on God) - ironically written by the brother in law of right-wing regional president Esperanza Aguirre - was also attacked, the playwright and lead actor were beaten up in the theatre. I went the following night, unaware of what had happened, and thought the security was a little bit tight for a minor play in a small theatre. Later I found out why.

Watch out you Catalan bloggers, if it carries on like this I'm coming to Barcelona to join you. Ok, thats it, have a good weekend and next week I'll try and write about something different.

Weigh Anchor!

Predictably the Spanish parliament gave approval yesterday for Spanish troops to participate in the UN force in Lebanon. Perhaps equally predictably, the opposition Partido Popular (PP) did its best to link the mission to the war in Iraq as a means of suggesting that the Spanish government has been hypocritical on the issue of sending troops abroad. PP leader Mariano Rajoy won the stating the obvious award for this week by suggesting that the Spanish troops were not going on a "peaceful country excursion". Thanks Mariano. The mission is of course dangerous, the Spanish troops look destined for the corner where Syria, Lebanon and Israel meet. Anyway, the PP talked as if they were against the mission......and then voted in favour.

Wanted….Presentable Candidate, Political Heavyweight Preferred

Who will the Spanish Socialist Party choose as their candidate for the mayoral elections in Madrid next year? It’s an open question in the city of eternal trenches after the announcement yesterday that the candidate last time round, Trinidad Jiménez, is to join the government. La Trini has been given a completely new post in the foreign affairs ministry, with responsibility for “Iberoamerica” – which sounds like an airline. Anyway, lots of nice trips to interesting places in South America are guaranteed, I could do that.

The reason for moving Jiménez is because Prime Minister Zapatero wants to put up a well known candidate against incumbent mayor Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, in an attempt to snatch one of the biggest political prizes in the country. Strong rumours have circulated about that candidate being Javier Solana, “Mr Foreign Affairs” for the European Union – although other names mentioned have included former defence minister José Bono and even Felipe González.

It would be strange if Zapatero made his move yesterday without knowing who the candidate would be, but there is still no official announcement. Solana is a veteran politician and very well known, but it’s not clear that he wants to do this. The arrogant self-regarding Bono would be insufferable as mayor of Madrid, I think I would almost prefer Gallardón; I find it hard to believe that González would be a candidate, he is certainly a heavyweight and always had electoral appeal, but it seems inconceivable that he would return now to active politics. Madrid is probably too small a stage for someone who was Prime Minister for 14 years.

Along with the European elections, this is an election that I can actually vote in as an EU citizen – I am really making a big effort to conceal my excitement. One thing that is certain, should I vote at all, is that the candidate I support will not become mayor of Madrid.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Call To Arms

Here we have another example of the over excitability that the recent hot weather is provoking in right wing circles in Spain. Pio Moa was at one time a member of the revolutionary terrorist organisation GRAPO. However, in recent years he has moved, how shall I put it, a tiny bit to the right in his political views and has become well known as a revisionist historian with his claims that Franco’s uprising against the elected Spanish government was justified.

It seems that this shift in political allegiances has not affected his taste for political violence, perhaps not too surprising in an apologist for Franco. In a column published this week on the right wing website Libertad Digital, Pio laments the possibility that the Partido Popular (PP) might not be capable of winning the next election, and offers us the following possibility to think over (my translation):

"Use violence, then? When the government breaks the rules of the game, when it not only legalizes murder as a way of making politics, but rewards it by offering the murderers the liquidation of the constitution and the rule of law; obviously this opens the way to violence and deprives it of the moral authority to condemn the use of violence against it. "

It would be reassuring to be able to suggest that this sort of thinking comes from the wackier fringes of the right, but the people around Libertad Digital are the ones currently setting the agenda in the PP.

Link via

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Madrid Burns

Madrid has been a bit too hot for the last few days, but it shouldn’t be so hot that buildings burst into flames. Last night a new office block that is projected to be the tallest in the city was on fire for several hours; illuminating the nearby celebrations of the Spanish basketball team, newly crowned world champions. The building is being constructed on the site of what used to be Real Madrid’s training ground, that is until the city administration decided to give the club a very succulent gift by reclassifying the valuable site as suitable for construction. The operation wiped out Real Madrid’s massive debt at the beginning of the Florentino Perez era, allowing them to embark on their expensive purchase of some of the world’s best known players – money down the drain as it turned out. Not surprisingly, given the heavy presence around the club of those who make their money from construction, the building that was partially burnt last night belongs to one of the (losing) candidates who stood in the elections to replace Perez as club president.

Monday, September 04, 2006

March 11th....El Mundo Goes Backpacking

There was a certain amount of expectation as we entered September – what story would the newspaper El Mundo choose to lead the charge once again on the issue of the Madrid train bombings in 2004, and the allegation that there is a hidden conspiracy behind the attack? Expectation was highest amongst the Peones Negros (Black Pawns), the sect-like movement that has been created to propagate this absurd campaign. The high priest of this sect is Luis Del Pino, who has been at the forefront of promoting conspiracy theories about the bombings and who formulated the phrase “the socialisation of doubt” to summarise the objectives of the campaign. The Peones Negros had been predicting for weeks that September was going to be a hot month – we are not talking here about weather forecasts – and that El Mundo could be about to deliver a fatal blow to the case against those accused.

So last Friday, the 1st September, duly arrived and there was a front page story in El Mundo about the “Vallecas bag”, the rucksack containing an unexploded bomb which was recovered from one of the trains. This bag is a key piece of evidence in the case being presented for trial, after all it contained the telephones (used as timers in the bombs) that led to the first arrests, and of course was packed with the Goma-2 ECO explosive which the accused are alleged to have used in all the bombs that did explode. It is not the only key piece of evidence but has been the focus of all attempts by the conspiracy theorists to suggest that the bombings were not really carried out by Islamist terrorists. It is called the “Vallecas bag” after the police station in this area of Madrid where it was eventually discovered the night after the bombings. The bag had been removed from the trains along with all other personal effects that were recovered in the aftermath of the explosions.

Friday’s story was based around a police report on an unidentified DNA profile that had been detected on the Vallecas bag. Clearly, the lack of identification of the profile means that the police are unable to say how this person came into contact with the bag. In a speculative attempt to offer a solution the report suggested that the bag “could” have been “manipulated” before it was discovered to be a bomb, and having been transported with other personal effects recovered from the trains to the IFEMA exhibition hall which was being used as an emergency centre following the bombings. The quoted words are the most important thing here, the conspiracy theorists have been keen to show that the bag was not under constant vigilance, and of course what they really try to suggest is that it was planted by persons unknown involved in the conspiracy. The use of the word “manipulated” in the report can of course just be a reference to someone having touched or lifted the bag, but manipulation can also have a sufficiently sinister interpretation to make any conspiracy theorist get excited. As with other El Mundo stories on the subject (see the links at the end), the reader is invited to make connections that are not actually supported by any evidence:

- no evidence of any kind is provided to show that anyone at all touched this bag in IFEMA.
- no evidence is provided that the chain of custody of the bag was ever breached.
- not even the tiniest scrap of evidence exists to show that the Vallecas bag is a planted fake.

The Peones Negros, however, are driven by faith rather than reason. They got the message that El Mundo wanted to transmit and soon the message was out on Internet that the Vallecas bag had been manipulated and was therefore no longer valid as evidence in the case. For Del Pino and his followers it is always the other side that has to prove things, they see no obligation to provide evidence for anything that they allege. In true sect fashion, they have discussions on their blogs about how to spread the word, and recruit new followers. The peones are told how to introduce the topic into casual conversations at work or when with friends. They are now starting to speculate on these blogs with ill-concealed relish about the political instability that could potentially follow a collapse of the trial, and how it will be revealed that the alliance between ETA and the governing Socialist Party was behind the bombings. El Mundo itself has now more or less openly declared that the bombings were a coup d’etat organised to achieve a change of government. They are now very close to the line where they will have to put forward names for this vast conspiracy that is being alleged, the stakes are getting ever higher.

This is not a situation where a newspaper reveals the results of an investigation as they emerge; rather it is a calculated drip-feed of stories aiming to bring down the case against those accused, and time is running out. Anyone with a little bit of knowledge about the bombings and the subsequent investigation can find flaws with these stories on a single reading, the deliberate mixing of fact and speculation together with the open invitation to draw conclusions not supported by any of the evidence provided in the article means that the stories do not stand up. It is extraordinary that the second largest newspaper in the country should lend itself to what is nothing more than a campaign for political revenge – in the process trampling the memory of all those who died in the most serious terrorist attack that Spain has ever known. The lack of any sort of democratic ethic on the right-wing of Spanish politics has probably not been so evident since the death of Franco over 30 years ago. The links listed below deal with just some of the other stories that El Mundo has printed in its attempts to promote the conspiracy theories about the bombings. For any student of journalism who seeks a demonstration of the difference between genuine, honest investigative reporting, and the politically motivated manipulation of data, El Mundo has provided the most perfect example imaginable – of the latter.

Related Links:

El Mundo And Their Experts
Playing With Dynamite
Faulty Connections

Friday, September 01, 2006

If You Can't Stand The Heat

Summer is over, not officially of course, but really the 1st September in Spain marks the end of the holiday season. It’s as hot now in Madrid as it was in the middle of July, and it hasn’t rained in weeks, so there is no feeling that the season is about to change. The best thing to do in these circumstances is to get out of the city during the hottest part of the day; last weekend I did a walking route that is just perfect for this weather and I pass it on as a recommendation for anyone in a position to do it.

We spent Friday night in the small village of La Granja, near Segovia, so we could set out first thing on Saturday morning heading towards the Puerto de Navacerrada. The route follows the river Eresma through pine forests passing the village of Valsain and the popular picnic spot called the Boca del Asno. Most of this route is very gentle walking as the path ascends very slowly until you reach the slopes of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Even the last part is not too testing for the reasonably fit, although overall there is an ascent of about 700 metres over a distance of 17 kilometres. From the puerto it is possible to get back to Madrid either by bus or in train via Cercedilla. The key thing about this route is that almost all of it is walked in the shade of the woods, so even on a hot day you never suffer the full effects of the sun.

Some photos can be found here:

I have this route in GPS and Google Earth formats – available on demand.