Tuesday, December 21, 2010

WIKI LEAKS: THE COUSO CASE

It was back in August that I first wrote for several publications about Spain wanting a three man US army tank crew to stand trial for the death of José Couso. High Court judge, Santiago Pedraz, had issued three international arrest warrants in Madrid after they fired at the Telecinco cameraman in Bagdad in 2003 fatally wounding him. The judge said he was confident the new US administration of Barack Obama will want to co-operate with the investigation.


What we know now but did know then was that the US Government had seemingly pressured the Spanish Government to have the case stopped. We only know this thanks to the Wiki Leaks leaked cables between the US Madrid Embassy and the State Department in Washington. However we may shortly find out a whole lot more as the family of José Couso has now presented a legal request before the Madrid prosecutor demanding that an investigation is carried out in to whether pressure was applied to influence the judicial process by the US.

The family’s lawyer, Enrique Santiago, confirmed the papers had been lodged and the brother of José, Javier Couso, told Cadena Ser radio that they wanted the matter investigated fully.

It was the Spanish daily newspaper El País that published documents from Wiki Leaks allegedly belonging to the State Department in the USA which showed contact between various prosecutors and members of the Spanish Government and the US Embassy. They related to various cases involving the USA amongst them that of Couso.

On Monday December 13 Juan Fernando López-Aguilar, who was the minister for justice between 2004 and 2007 said the papers did not accurately reflect the contacts and defended the integrity of the Spanish government and the judicial system. Javier Couso dismissed his arguments as “lies”.

The Madrid prosecutor now has two options: to hand the case over to a competent judge for investigation or to file it on the basis there had been no illegal activity. Lawyer Enrique Santiago said he hoped to have an indication as to what would happen shortly but it all depended on the “enthusiasm” for investigating a case in which a number of prosecutors were named including the State Prosecutor, Cándido Conde-Pumpido. For his part the State Prosecutor insists only the official position of his office was communicated to Washington and no outside influence was allowed.

The problem for the Spanish Government is that the case of José Couso has twice been filed by the High Court although it was re-opened in July by the Supreme Court based on the seriousness of the alleged crimes and because the US authorities had not co-operated with the Spanish justice system when it asked to question the three military personnel involved.

Judge Santiago Pedraz has intended to travel to Baghdad to visit the site of where José Couso was killed on April 3 2003 when the US troops entered the city at the end of the war against Sadam Hussein. However Interpol has not issued the find and capture warrant issued by the judge against the three US soldiers – sergeant Thomas Gibson, Captain Philip Wolford and Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp - saying it would have to change its statutes to proceed against the military.

José Couso was fatally wounded when he was hit by a shell from a US Mark 1 Abram’s tank that fired at the Hotel Palestine in Bagdad which at the time was a civil zone and used by reporters. In 2006 the High Court filed the case having taken the view that Couso’s death was an “act of war” and was not a premeditated attack on the journalists.

The Supreme Court later rejected this argument and ordered at the insistence of the family the investigation be re-opened. In 2009 the High Court again filed the case and annulled the accusation of “homicide and a crime against the international community” against the three US soldiers.

The view of the court then was there was “insufficient evidence” that the tank’s crew that had fired at Couso deliberately. A Ukrainian cameraman working for Reuters was also killed in the same tragedy. The shell had hit its office on the 15 th floor, and Couso was on the floor below.

However thanks to Wiki Leaks the demand for justice for José Couso has again taken centre stage. Only this time the Spanish Government, the State Prosecutor, the US State Department and the three soldiers are all in the firing line.

(The above article appeared in The Morning Star on Wednesday December 22 2010)

Monday, December 13, 2010

SPANISH PROSECUTOR DEMANDS INVESTIGATION IN TO FRANCO’S MISSING BABIES

The numerous cases of babies that went missing shortly after their birth during the Franco era in Spain have now led the chief prosecutor of the nation’s High Court to write to the Ministry of Justice demanding a full investigation.

The cases date from 1940 and continued to just after Franco’s death in 1980. The chief prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza, has sent a letter to the minister of justice, Francisco Caamaño, to propose that the ministry opens a special office to handle the cases of those who believed their children or brothers and sisters have disappeared and to then seek a solution to their claims.

Zaragoza has called for an “administrative” investigation for the alleged crimes committed between 1940 and 1980. He wants the Ministry of Justice to locate the whereabouts of children reported missing and to investigate the false death certificates that were given to parents by hospitals at the time of supposed demise of their child – these parents suspect a false identity was then created for the baby.

Spain has introduced the ‘Ley de Memoria Histórica’ which was approved by parliament in 2007 but whilst it deals with the victims of the Civil War (1936-39) and during the era of the dictator Francisco Franco (1939 – 75) it does not include the children who disappeared during the ‘Franquismo’ period.

The letter from the chief prosecutor Javier Zaragoza was sent to the ministry just 15 days after he’d met with the families of the Grupos de Afectados de Clínicas de Toda España that had reported “hundreds of cases” of snatchings of recently born babies from Spanish clinics where the parents were told their infant had died.

However the actions of the chief prosecutor has been criticised by the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoría Histórica that represents the families of those who were victims of the Franco era. In a communiqué the association says the case should be far more that an “administrative” investigation. It points to: “the theft of the babies that have been kidnapped and these boys and girls are kidnap victims” and that has not been stated in the prosecutor’s letter. It is obvious a serious crime is involved; hence it should be a “criminal” investigation.

The Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón has previously stressed the need to investigate these thefts of children and opened a brief case in 2008 which suggested that 113,000 babies disappeared during the Civil War and the years of ‘Franquismo’. Garzón’s investigation was brought to a halt after the extreme right went to court to seek a ruling he had no competence in the matter. Garzón was suspended from his post on a temporary basis in May of this year – but the judge spoke out about the systematic kidnapping of the children of Republican prisoners who for more than 60 years have not had the minimum investigation into their case.

Garzón is of the opinion that there could have developed a system for the disappearance of minors, the children of Republican mothers (the dead, prisoners, executed, exiled or simply disappeared) for several years from 1937 to 1950, which at the time were carried out under the umbrella of apparent legality. The official records speak of 30,000 children being adopted during the 40s and 50s with cases largely handled by religious institutions.

Of course those responsible are now either very elderly or deceased and the records, if they exists, will be in archives. However many of the children will still be alive but unaware of their true identity or that their parents and brothers and sisters are searching for them.

(Photo: Baltasar Garzón)

(A version of the above article appeared in the Morning Star on December 12 2010)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

WESTERN SAHARAN HOMES IN FLAMES

On Tuesday morning the Frente Polisario news agency, SPS, issued the following press release: “Hundreds of Moroccan colonists, supported by lorries of the Moroccan occupation army” have set fire to Saharan homes in the Matalla quarter of the Western Sahara capital of El Aaiún.


At the same time various blogs published by Saharan activists claimed that Moroccan troops had overnight handed out weapons to the colonists and they were now involved in an armed house-to-house offensive and they were beginning to set fire to all the cars of the Saharans and various homes.

For its part the Consejo de Ministros of the self-appointed República Árabe Saharaui Democrática (RASD) described the attacks as “a vile act” and laid the blame at the door of the Moroccan monarch, Mohamed VI. The council said his comments on the anniversary of the “Marcha Verde” that saw Morocco take possession of the Western Sahara has done nothing to lessen tensions. Indeed it has described it as an order “to commit this massacre” which had coincided with the third round of informal negotiations between the Polisario Front and Morocco at the UN.

Meanwhile the Polisario has raised the number of Saharan dead after the violent attack on Monday by Moroccan security forces on the Gdeim Izik protest camp to 10. In addition there are reported to be 700 injured with 150 people have disappeared. For its part the Asociación de Derechos Humanos de Marruecos says 12 people have died, 60 are injured with 65 being detained. It adds that the number of dead amongst the security forces is placed at five.

There is growing anger in Spain where it is believed Morocco is intent on provoking a civil war in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. There have been widespread demonstrations outside the Moroccan embassy in Madrid and the country’s consulates throughout the country. However the Spanish Government maintains its policy of not criticising its neighbour across the Strait especially over the Western Sahara.

The new minister for foreign affairs, Trinidad Jiménez, is thousands of miles away in the Bolivian capital but is in touch with the Spanish Ambassador in Morocco and with her government in Madrid. She is insisting all is not yet clear, has called for calm and voiced her support for the talks between the Polisario and Morocco under the UN special envoy Christopher Ross.

These talks at the UN were scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. The Polisario representative at the UN, Ahmed Bujari, has sent a letter to the Security Council asking it to intervene to lessen the tensions in the area.

Just back from Morocco is the Izquierda Unida Euro MP, Willy Meyer (pictured above), who along with three Spanish journalists were refused entry to the Western Sahara on Sunday. They were not allowed to disembark from their aircraft at El Aaiún and were forced to return to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands.

Meyer is quoted as saying Morocco “does not want witnesses” in the Western Sahara and he demanded that the minister for foreign affairs, Trinidad Jiménez, demand immediate explanations from Rabat as why they had been denied access. Meyer added that Morocco had “cut off these territories from the press, elected politicians from Spain and those from the EU. An act that is “absolutely intolerable.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

SPAIN’S LEFT MOURNS MARCELINO CAMACHO

Last Saturday Madrid’s Puerta de Alcalá was packed once again to receive Marcelino Camacho. The plaza had been the scene of many of his May Day speeches but on this occasion the crowds had gathered to mourn his passing as the cortege passed by.


The tributes to Camacho – a founder of the CC.OO union and a former Communist MP - were led by the writer Almudena Grandes and included contributions from one of his sons, Marcel Camacho, as well as the secretary general of the Spanish Communist Party, José Luis Centella plus the secretary general of the CC.OO Ignacio Fernández Toxo.

When the union leader relayed the condolences sent by the Royal Family the words were greeted with heckling by some of those present who supported the Republican cause. Camacho’s widow, Josefina Samper, led the mourners in singing La Internacional and recalled her deceased husband’s recent words “If one falls, you get up immediately and walk on.”

When he died Marcelino Camacho Abad was 92 years old. He had been a dedicated unionist and politician throughout his long life. He founded the CC.OO union and was its first general secretary between 1976 and 1987 and a Communist MP for Madrid between 1977 and 1981.

It was back in 1935 that he joined the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) and the UGT union working on the railways with his father in Soria. After the military uprising along with other rail workers he cut the tracks preventing the Fascist advance. He then crossed on foot to the Madrid mountains and was a member of a Republican fighting band during the Spanish Civil War. In the final days of that conflict he imprisoned by the Junta de Casado – the government that signed an accord between Madrid and Franco. Camacho escaped but whilst on the run he was denounced by a person he did not know and was sentence to hard labour in work camps ending up in the Moroccan city of Tangier.

In 1944 he escaped again and this time went to Algeria. He was detained by the French police as he crossed the border and taken to Orán where there was a large colony of Spanish immigrants. Some were economic migrants and others Republican refugees amongst them Josefina Samper who he married on December 22, 1948.

In 1957 he returned to Spain as a metal worker at the Perkins Hispania factory. It was not long before he started representing the workers and again became an active communist infiltrating the union organization of the Franco regime. Because of his union and political activity he was jailed for nine years in 1967 at the infamous Carabanchel prison in Madrid.

Following the death of Franco and the collapse of his regime in 1976 the Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO) was constituted with Camacho as its secretary general. He was also a central committee member of the PCE and was elected an MP in 1977 and again in 1979. He resigned from parliament after the PCE backed government plans for labour reform with which he profoundly disagreed.

During Camacho’s tenure as secretary general the CC.OO became the major union in Spain. It called the first general strike against Felipe González’s socialist government in 1985 and Camacho played a leading part in the protests over Spain’s decision to join NATO in 1986. Finally in 1987 he stood down as secretary general and became the union’s honorary president. However he resigned from that post in 1995 as he disagreed with the direction that both the union and the PCE were taking.

Until his death he remained an active member of the PCE, its Federal Committee and also of its affiliate Izquierda Unida. In his later years he received doctorates from the universities of Valencia and Cádiz including the Medalla al Mérito Constitucional from King Juan Carlos I. The Spanish Civil order had been created by the socialist government of Felipe González to honour those people who had given service to the Constitution, to its values and who had helped establish it.

At his funeral writer Almudena Grandes said that Camacho had been one of the true fathers of democracy, of liberty and of human rights and such a figure could never die. The one time leader of the CC.OO had frequently spoken at factory gates but with the objectives of “liberty, social justice and peace but always equality.”

(The above article appeared on Thursday November 4 on The Comment Factory website)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

PROTESTS OVER MOROCCO BANNING SPANISH JOURNALISTS

The Federación de Asociaciones de Periodistas de España (FAPE) which represents over 20,000 journalists in Spain has issued a strongly worded condemnation of Morocco’s banning of seven Spanish journalists from visiting the Western Sahara.

They were meant to fly from Casablanca to El Aaíun in the Western Sahara to report on the death of a 14-year-old boy in an incident on Sunday. The group representing Efe, Cadena SER, TVE, TV3 and El Mundo were due to travel with Royal Air Moroc but at the last minute were told their tickets had been withdrawn.

The journalists were all accredited to work in Morocco but since July 1 the Ministry of Communications has restricted foreign journalists to the capital Rabat unless they have been given specific permission to report from elsewhere.

FAPE stressed to the Moroccan authorities that in Spain the media was allowed to work freely and this was the norm in all democratic countries. It also restated the words of Morocco’s monarch, Mohammed VI, who promised three years after taking over the throne to honour press freedom. At the time he stated: “We want to reaffirm our firm decision to consolidate the freedom of the press, to preserve information pluralism and to guarantee the modernization of the sector that represents one of the pillars of our project for a modern democratic society.”

Spain’s relations with Morocco are fraught at the best of times. On one level there is the normal day to day relationship based on being neighbours across the Strait of Gibraltar. More difficult is the situation regarding the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla which Spain views as being an integral part of the country whilst Morocco sees Spain as an occupying power. Then there is the Western Sahara which was literally abandoned by Spain in the dying days of Franco and left to Morocco and Mauritania to administer. When Mauritania withdrew Morocco annexed the area. Since then the people of the Western Sahara have sought independence but Morocco will only offer autonomy and moves towards that status have been slow in starting.

The Moroccan government has accused the Western Sahara independence movement Polisario and its backer Algeria of using journalists to politicise social demands by protestors who have set up a tent camp near the Saharan capital El Aaíun. Morocco perceives Spanish media as often siding with Polisario and has accused Algeria of using Spanish journalists in a “media war” against Morocco.

The incident the Spanish journalists wanted to cover was the killing of 14-year-old Najem el-Guareh near the protest camp on Sunday. There are two versions of the story. The Moroccan Interior Ministry stated on Tuesday that two cars tried to force their way through a police checkpoint. In one of the cars was Ahmed Daoudi, a known criminal who was transporting weapons in order to take revenge on the protestors who had expelled him from their camp. The occupants of one of the cars opened fire, forcing police to respond.

The camp residents tell a different story. According to the Spanish newspaper El País they denied the car occupants had opened fire. El-Guareh was shot. Several others, including Daoudi, were reportedly injured with at least one other person is reported to be in a serious condition.

On Wednesday it was reported that the mother of Najem el-Guareh had made an official complaint against the Gendarmería Real officers who shot him. She has also refused to accept his body until a post-mortem and investigation is carried out.

The demonstrators are demanding social improvements such as better housing. Morocco has cut down on the construction of social housing because of the economic crisis. The protest was taking separatist undertones, though it was not initially believed to be associated with Polisario.

Even the size of the camp is open to dispute with Morocco saying there are 1,000 protestors whilst Spanish sources say 10,000. However until Morocco opens up its country and the Western Sahara to the international news media the truth will never be known and in turn Morocco cannot be considered a modern democratic nation.

(The above article appeared in Panorama and a version of the above in The Morning Star on October 28 and 29 2010).

IN TO THE FOX FIRE

I admit to watching Fox News on a daily basis. I should add I also watch the BBC, NBC, CNN, Sky, Al Jazeera, a variety of Spanish stations plus one in France with news in English I can’t remember the name of.

I watch Fox because I want to know what the far right and Republican minds in the USA are thinking – ok what Rupert Murdoch is thinking - and it’s not pretty.


My one friend in my visits to Fox has been Juan Williams – who has been deemed as Murdoch’s token Liberal (that is Liberal in US terms) amongst the mad men such as Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck and Sean Hannity – the high priests in Rupert’s scary church. What he did was bravely and alone offer a fair and balanced non-Republican view on a station that slavishly follows Murdoch’s far right agenda.


Now all that has changed. Williams apart from being a Fox contributor was till last week a broadcaster on NPR – the supposedly liberal radio news network.


He was fired because in a TV debate with Bill O’Reilly in which he denounced the self-opinionated presenter’s phrase that “Muslims” were responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks – they were Al Qaeda members said Williams – he went on to say if after the attacks he saw somebody who was obviously a Muslim on his flight he was nervous.


For that NPR sacked him but the fact is the majority of US citizens feel the same way. I flew several times in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and shared his fear. It doesn’t make me anti-Muslim just a nervous flyer who at that time felt even more nervous still.


Back at the time when black on black crime in New York was rife Jesse Jackson said: “There is nothing more painful to me ... than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”


Nobody is going to be so stupid as to suggest that Jackson is anti-black any more than Williams (or I come to that) are anti-Muslim.


Needless to say there is now a furore in the USA over William’s sacking – with the flames being stoked up by Fox News. There are calls for NPR to lose any government funding it might receive – calls that may well be answered by Congress after the mid-term elections. Fox will certainly try to insist they address the question.


There are two tragedies here. First that Juan Williams, a fair and decent man who has broadcast with NPR for over a decade, has been sacked for his remark. Secondly that Fox has used the opportunity to step in to the breach and give him what I read is a $2 million three year contract. He will now be their full-time token Liberal but one has to wonder how soon the novelty will wear off - for him and them – once his view of the world clashes as it only can with Murdoch’s world.


There is a third looming tragedy. Williams has been hurt by his treatment by NPR and whereas in the past he has distanced himself from his fellow Fox News colleagues he now embraces them as they want to embrace him. Two million is a lot of money and one has to question if Williams isn’t selling his soul in accepting the Murdoch dollar?


In his book “The Blair Years” Alastair Campbell recounts Australian PM, Paul Keating, talking to him about Murdoch when Tony Blair addressed his News Corp executives down under in 1995. He said: “You have to remember with Rupert, it’s all about Rupert. Rupert is number 1, 2, 3 and 4 as far as Rupert is concerned. Anna and the kids come next and everything else is a long, long way behind.”


On that basis Williams is not even on Murdoch’s radar except if he is paying the man $2 million he believes the return for him and Fox will be even greater. The frying pan may have been bad but is William’s prepared for the Fox fire?


(The above article appeared on October 25 2010 on The Comment Factory website).

Monday, October 18, 2010

WE WENT ON STRIKE! WHAT DID WE ACHIEVE? NOTHING!

On September 29 I joined many other people in Spain and supported the general strike. Although I have reservations about strikes, a subject to which I will return, I did so because whilst I accept that strong measures are required to solve the financial crisis making the weak and vulnerable pay for the sins of the bankers is not the solution nor is it just.

José Javier Cubillo, national organisation secretary of the UGT, said the strike had drawn the support of 70 per cent of workers of whom 10 million had been called out. The union, along with its CC.OO partners, insisted this meant the government had to reconsider its tough economic and labour reform policies.

So what did the strike achieve? If we are talking of the objectives of the unions - nothing! The government is sticking to its cuts. Moodys down graded Spain’s credit rating from Aaa to Aa1 shortly after whilst the centre right Partido Popular gained a few points in the opinion polls making it even more likely they will form the new government in 2012. Their policies will be tougher than socialist PSOE.

I want to go back to the East End of London in 1926 the year of the General Strike. By then my uncle Len was a communist. My maternal grandmother – his sister and a socialist all her life - was bringing my mother up on her own after being widowed when her young husband was struck down by TB.

Life for that working class generation was tough. There was neither the social welfare safety net nor the national health service that we take for granted today.

It was my grandmother who was the rock on which I forged my early values. Yet the most telling moment came in the late 1960s when I went in to her room where she was watching TV. The news was about another strike and tears were running down her cheeks. She was so furious with the actions of the unions that she could not contain herself as she felt they were destroying everything the union and Labour movements had fought so hard to build up.

Certainly the world she now viewed about her was vastly different from the one she had been a teenager and a young adult in. She held firmly to her core socialist beliefs but believed the unions were knocking down what had been built up with so much pain. Her feelings struck a chord in my soul.

Although the General Strike of 1926 is now a part of the socialist and union movement heritage it lasted ten days and totally failed in its objectives of preventing wage reduction and worsening conditions for the miners. The unions’ winter of discontent of 1979 did more to usher in the Thatcher era than anything the Labour Government of Jim Callaghan did. Then as now in Spain we are railing against a socialist government in the full knowledge that the outcome will almost certainly be a centre-right government which will hammer the people even harder.

There is something noble about a person having the inalienable right to withdraw his or her labour and to strike to defend their rights or the rights of others. Yet when in the days of the cotton mills that could bring production to a crashing halt or a dock strike could prevent the mill receiving its raw materials or exporting its finished product the reality today is very different.

In an age when money or information can be passed around the world in a split second, or a factory can be relocated to Eastern Europe or Asia, we are still manning pickets, waving banners, marching and shouting slogans. The world has passed our mode of protest by. Whilst I joined the strike on September 29 because I believed a stand had to be made against the wrongs that were being committed against pensioners, public service employees, those in work and the unemployed in the name of clearing up the mess left by the financial sector – I did so in the full knowledge that it would amount to nothing. Indeed the end result could be a switch from a socialist to a centre right government.

Governments today, regardless of political persuasion, dance to a different beat and centre right Sarkozy is no more going to back down on pension reform in France than centre left Zapatero is in Spain. In the future if we are to take on governments or employers and win the battle for social justice we will need a new armoury.

Unions have a problem. Ninety-five per cent of their work is defending the rights of workers, negotiating with management, education – and if the truth were told a good union is an important part of our economic engine as any entrepreneur. Yet it goes totally unreported. What the public is aware of is the set piece strikes and more often than not these efforts are unsuccessful. Unions worldwide in this modern age are fighting 21 st century battles with 19 th century weapons - that has to change and fast.

(The above article appeared in the Morning Star on September 17 2010)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

MINERS OF SPAIN WE STAND WITH YOU

There was a time when the might of Britain’s shipbuilders, dock workers, boilermakers and miners would have led resistance to the Con-Dem coalition’s merciless cuts.

That roll call of proud union names has passed into history, the jobs sent to low-wage economies overseas. Mining, which once employed hundreds of thousands, fell victim to a relentless politically motivated onslaught which has left the country with a tiny handful of working pits.

Today their Spanish counterparts are fighting a similar battle.

Any veteran National Union of Mineworkers activist will have heard of the Spanish regions of Asturias, Palencia, Leon and Tereul. It is here that the latest struggle for survival is being played out.

Miners, many of whom haven’t been paid for weeks, have taken to the streets to save their industry and livelihoods. Both are mortally threatened by a European Union plan to ban state subsidies which would shut the pits for good.

Trade unionists have responded with strikes and civil disobedience, but not all the action is taking place above ground.

Some have staged lock-ins in the hot, humid shafts beneath the surface in a brave bid to defend their livelihoods.

Miners sealed underground at the Velilla del Rio Carrion pit say that the condensation in the air makes it difficult to breathe and the poor prospects for survival of their industry saps their morale, but they continue to fight.

They face the loss of their jobs, their industry and the dignity of their communities. They fight on.

And their struggle has swelled a rising tide which will crash across the country on September 29, the day of a general strike called by the two biggest unions CC.OO and UGT against Spain’s massive, brutal cuts package.

It was the reckless and even criminal behaviour of bankers, speculators and financiers that sparked the banking collapse. It is ordinary people who are being made to pay the price.

Pensioners and future pensioners are having their payments frozen and their retirement age extended. The unemployed are having their benefits slashed despite spiralling joblessness which makes finding work near impossible.

Workers who do have a job are being forced to sign new contracts making it easier to sack them.

The poor, the low paid, the old, and the vulnerable will be hit in Spain as they will be in Britain, while the financiers laugh all the way to the bank with their bonuses intact.

Action by millions of workers in Spain may prove fruitless. The chances of the “Socialist” government in Madrid going back on its planned programme are slim - it answers to the world financial markets and the EU rather than Spanish voters.

Resistance to the cuts is also more likely to deliver a right-of-centre Partido Popular government at the next election that would cut harder and hit the vulnerable more ruthlessly.

The unions, greens and the United Left are striking against a socialist government which is already odds on to lose in 2012.

Yet strike we will, with a heavy heart and sense of foreboding. And we will take inspiration from the miners, because at the end of the day we are fighting for their dignity and ours.

No government, be it socialist or centre-right, has the mandate or the power to take that dignity away.

(The above article appeared in The Morning Star on September 15)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

WANTED FOR MURDER: US TANK CREW

Spain wants a three man US army tank crew to stand trial for the death of José Couso. High Court judge, Santiago Pedraz, has issued three international arrest warrants in Madrid after they fired at the Telecinco cameraman in Bagdad in 2003 fatally wounding him.

The judge is confident the new US administration of Barack Obama will want to co-operate with the investigation. However whilst Washington is quick to criticise other nations non-compliance with what it deems as justice it has no enthusiasm for the handing over of its citizens – just ask the people of Bhopal.

Pedraz acted after the Supreme Court decided at the beginning of July to reopen the investigation in to the death of the Telecinco cameraman who was killed during the invasion of Iraq by US troops. The highest court in Spain accepted an appeal made by the family of Couso in the case that had been archived by the High Court in July 2009.

Last Friday (July 30) the judge issued a “find and capture” warrant for the tank crew on the basis “they can be deemed to have committed a crime against the international community” which amounts to homicide. Santiago Pedraz has also decided to form a judicial commission to ascertain what happened in Bagdad to cause Couso’s death.

The magistrate will himself head the investigation and will visit the zones of the Jamurohaora Bridge from which the US tank fired, the Hotel Palestine where Reuters, Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV had its offices plus any other places deemed to be relevant.

The Ministry of the Interior has confirmed the detention order has been sent to Interpol via the Policía Nacional. From that moment on nations that are members of the Interpol network are obliged to detain the three troopers if they are in their jurisdiction.

The High Court has called on the US government to make available all documentation on the incident and to present declarations along with the three tank crew. The court points out that these events occurred under the previous US administration of President George W Bush. His government refused to co-operate with previous Spanish investigations but Pedraz hopes the attitude of Obama will be more positive.

It is the third time that Spain has issued arrest warrants for Sergeant Thomas Gibson, Captain Philip Wolford and Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp.

José Couso was killed on April 8 2003 when he was hit by a shell from a US Mark 1 Abrams tank that fired at the Hotel Palestine in Bagdad which at the time was a civil zone and used by reporters. In 2006 the High Court filed the case having taken the view that Couso’s death was an “act of war” and was not a premeditated attack on the journalists.

The Supreme Court later rejected this argument and ordered at the insistence of the family the investigation be re-opened. In 2009 the High Court again filed the case and annulled the accusation of “homicide and a crime against the international community” against the three US soldiers.

The view of the court then was there was “insufficient evidence” that the tank’s crew that had fired at Couso deliberately. A Ukrainian cameraman working for Reuters was also killed in the same tragedy. The shell had hit its office on the 15 th floor, and Couso was on the floor below.
Needless to say the family of Couso are delighted at the decision of Pedraz and the re-issuing of the arrest orders. The cameraman’s sister, Sabela Couso, described it as a “triumph” and condemned the constant strong objections and stone walling put forward by the US Army.

The ruling has also been welcomed by Olga Rodríguez, Carlos Hernández, Jon Sistiaga and Jesús Quiñonero – the four journalists who were witnesses to the attack that resulted in Couso’s death. They have stated their willingness to travel to Iraq with the judge and to go to the bridge and hotel with him.

Their view is the tank fired from its position from which it could clearly see with its prismatic system the signs for the hotel as well as the word “Press” clearly written on the flak jackets worn by the journalists. They watched the terrible events unfold from their own hotel balcony and dismiss the claims that the soldiers did not know the international press were at the hotel.

Spain’s minister of justice, Francisco Caamaño, has promised his department’s full international co-operation should the judge request it to find and detain the soldiers. He noted that both the Supreme and High Courts had recently taken the view there were sufficient elements to continue the investigation and the government respected the judicial decision. It now remains to be seen whether the US government also respects justice.

Once the news reaches the USA fire and brimstone can be expected from the far right with much frothing of Murdoch’s organ on Fox News. For America justice is something it dispenses to the world and from which its citizens are largely exempt. Those - including Judge Pedraz - who believe the Obama administration views justice differently, should not hold their breath. However it is reassuring that after Spain’s right tried to muzzle the country’s famous campaigning judge, Baltasar Garzón; there are other magistrates ready to step forward to uphold international justice, even against the might of the USA.

(The above article appeared in the Morning Star in August 2010)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

FRANCO’S 30,000 STOLEN BABIES

La Línea is the Spanish town that has grown up across the border from Gibraltar at the tip of southern Spain. Over the years Spaniards have flocked to the town to seek work in the dock and ship yards plus the other booming businesses of Gibraltar. This is relevant to what follows because it means the itinerant husbands and wives did not have their families to support them in the event of giving birth or a child’s death.

Last November Cristina Díaz Carrasco broke the astonishing tale of her brother’s possible disappearance from La Línea hospital in 1967 to the media. He was said to have died shortly after his birth. As her mother was from Irún in Northern Spain and had no family in the area his body was buried by the hospital. The family returned each summer and left flowers on what was presumed to be his grave. However after works at the cemetery in 1980 the grave could not be found and it was subsequently discovered that there were no records at the cemetery, the Civil Registry or the archives of his birth, death or interment.

It was an interesting story but I presumed a one off. Not so because since Cristina made her suspicions public at least five other families have come forward with a similar tale in La Línea.

One of the latest involves a woman named Carmen from the Canary Islands. She came to La Línea in 1968 with her husband to work. She arrived pregnant and fearing all was not well sought medical aid. On November 14, 1968 she gave birth at the private Inmaculada Clinic to a son who she was told soon died.

Neither Carmen nor her husband had any family in La Línea and the hospital told them not to worry it would take care of everything. It was when her daughter saw Cristina Díaz Carrasco on the Antena 3 TV programme ‘Espejo Público’ and they discussed it she found their situations had been very similar and just a year apart.

She had never visited La Línea cemetery to visit the grave of her son but now she decided to make the trip. Again no grave could be found nor did the cemetery have any records of such a baby having been buried there in November of 1968. She also visited the Archivo Histórico Municipal in La Línea which holds the records from that time. There is no record of his birth, death or burial.

One might argue that this were cases of poor record keeping except that in wider Spain during the Franco era it has been established that children were indeed taken from their parents without their knowledge and passed on to an adoptive family.

It is reported Judge Baltasar Garzón has estimated that during the post war period of the Franco dictatorship a staggering 30,000 babies were re-allocated in this way. Garzón has reached that conclusion by gleaning facts and figures from various studies. It has also been reported that 200,000 pesetas was the price of acquiring such a baby in the 1960s. In his book – Mala gente que camina – Benjamín Prado says that in Spain people think “such things only happened in Argentina or Chile which had much shorter dictatorships. The courts do not want to investigate in case the same thing happened here.”

In Madrid in the 1960s one of the standard jokes amongst children was to say to their parents “did you buy me in the Rastro?” However Prado points out that many did just that – bought them at the market - and hence many Spaniards do not know their true parentage or indeed who they are.

Now there are many web pages and social networks on this theme. The problem is that the Andalucía health system that runs the present hospital La Línea didn’t exist then and the birth and death records are in archives with those involved in recording them long since retired or deceased. However the thirst for the truth amongst the 40-year-olds is strong and they will not be silenced until the truth is uncovered.

As I wrote this article the prosecutor in Algeciras – the nearest major town to La Línea - has decided to open an investigation into these local disappearances. Chief prosecutor, Juan Cisneros, has accepted the official reports by six families that involve births at the then municipal hospital in La Línea as well as two private clinics in the town. Cisneros says these cases have to be investigated to find answers for the families involved and determine just what happened in the last century.

All the affected families have now joined an association called Anadir formed by Antonio Barroso. He was adopted and suspects he was stolen from his true parents. The lawyer Enrique Vila is taking all these cases to the High Court both in Cádiz and in Spain where there are dozens more. However it has to be recognised that because of the time that has passed any investigation will be difficult to pursue a fact that was recently stressed by the head prosecutor in the Cádiz court, Ángeles Ayuso.

(Photo: Cristina Díaz Carrasco's grandmother supposedly with the body of her brother in La Línea hospital's mortuary).

(The above article appeared in The Morning Star in July 2010 and parts have appeared in Panorama in May and June 2010).

SPANISH PRACTICES AT SOCIALIST INTERNATIONAL

Call me naive, call me a romantic, but my view of Socialist International was a brother and sisterhood of socialist parties united under the red flag. Well that has not been the experience of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party due to Spanish practices by PSOE.

I start this article in Gibraltar but not with the GSLP but rather the Liberal Party that has been its junior coalition partner in opposition since 2000 and if the opinion polls are correct could join it in government in 2011. The leader of the Liberals, Dr Joseph Garcia, was telling me the major role they play in Liberal International.

“Liberal International is the global federation of Liberal and Democratic political parties. There are Liberal parties from 50 countries that are full members and from 25 countries as observer members. The Liberal Party of Gibraltar is a full member in its own right. We have our own seat on the Executive Committee and our own voting rights independently of UK parties.”

It was later when I spoke to Fabian Picardo, a British trained lawyer, a GSLP MP, a possible future leader and Chief Minister that I was stunned to learn that not only was the party not a member of Socialist International but did not even have observer status.

Now if you ask Socialist International they will tell you that the GSLP has never applied for membership and hence the issue has not been discussed by the committee. Except they are unlikely to tell you anything at all. Joe Bossano, the founder of the GSLP, a former chief minister of Gibraltar and current leader confirmed they wrote to the Secretary General, Luis Ayala, around 1984/5 just prior to Spain joining the EU in 1986 and they have never had a reply despite many reminder letters. I contacted Socialist International three times without the courtesy of an answer either.

So let’s take a look at the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party. It is the oldest surviving active political party in Gibraltar. Its grass roots are deep in the British Trade Union Movement because founder and current leader Joe Bossano had lived in London’s East End where he was active in the Labour Party and union.

Indeed when he returned to Gibraltar he became the District Officer of the TGWU which during Bossano’s tenure was instrumental in achieving parity with the UK for all workers in Gibraltar. The GSLP fought its first election in 1978 and between 1988 and 1996 was the party of government.

Labour veteran Alf Lomas told me: “I have had a long association with Joe Bossano since I first went to speak in Gibraltar in the seventies to address the AGM of the TGWU. I was Political Secretary of the London Co-operative at that time and active in the union and the Labour Party. There was no GSLP in those days and Joe and I had long discussions about forming a Labour Party. I helped to draw up the constitution and was made No 1 Honorary Member of the Party on its formation.”

So what’s the Spanish take on all this. It is the opposition of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español - PSOE, which celebrated the 100 th anniversary of winning its first parliamentary seat in May that has kept the GSLP out of Socialist International.

I spoke to PSOE’s José Carracao who sits in Spain’s Senate – its upper house of parliament. He was a mayor of Jimena de la Frontera, president of the association of municipalities in the area across the border from the Rock and today has in the Senate special responsibility for Gibraltar – Spanish relations.

He said: “Gibraltar is a dependent territory of the UK and is represented internationally by the UK. The existence of “internationals” of political parties (Socialist International, Liberal International) is the consequence of national parties of the same politics coming together. From our point of view Gibraltar does not have an international presence and it represented in its external relations by the UK. The only parties that can have representation and international presence from an ideological point of view are the parties of the UK. The consequence for us is that is that Gibraltar can only have representation and an international presence by its integration or association with other parties of the same ideological point of view, with parties in the UK. This has been the position till now of PSOE and those responsible for its external relations in its various Federal Executives.”

Here are some points on José Carracao’s remarks:

Dr Joseph García said: “Spain’s Centro Democratico y Social introduced us to Liberal International and supported our membership. We have very good links with our Catalan friends and have hosted visits to Gibraltar by Catalan MPs and by the International Relations Secretary of Covergencia Democratica in the past.”

Glyn Ford, who had been the MEP for Gibraltar and is closely associated with the GSLP questioned: “How does he explain the separate SI membership of the SDLP from Northern Ireland, a British Colony!”

Whilst Alf Lomas, who was also an MEP till 1999 added: “I often clashed with the Spanish Socialist Party about Gibraltar particularly on occasions when Joe visited the Parliament as my guest. PSOE even opposed Joe coming into the EP Socialist Group Meetings.”

Although Franco died in 1975 many consider the socialist PSOE’s general election win in October 1982 as being the defining moment in Spain’s transition to democracy. Hence in 1985 Joe Bossano travelled to PSOE’s Madrid HQ to speak with Manuel Chaves – the then Minister of Labour - and Elena Flores, the International Secretary of PSOE.

At a personal level relations between PSOE and the GSLP are very cordial. They told Bossano that if Premier Felipe González had his photo taken with him at Socialist International it would cost PSOE one million votes. As Bossano did not want to harm his fellow socialists electoral chances in the 1986 election he agreed to delay an application.

I told Joe I could understand Spain’s opposition to Gibraltarian institutions but not Spanish socialists opposing Gibraltar’s socialists joining the international umbrella organization. “But Socialist International has influence,” he countered –and there we had it. Forget the PSOE mantra mouthed by José Carracao – the party is simply scared that Socialist International might follow the lead set by Liberal International and endorse Gibraltar’s right to self determination.
Surely this is the most fundamental of socialist democratic principles yet an anathema to PSOE and Spain at least where Gibraltar is concerned.

(Photo: Joe Bossano campaigning in Gibraltar in 1984)

(The above article appeared in the Morning Star and in Panorama in July 2010)

Monday, May 10, 2010

IS IT TIME FOR A UNITED LEFT?

By David Eade

Being British and a keen student of politics I have been taking a close interest in the General Election. However living 1,000 miles to the south I have viewed the proceedings more as onlooker as my political fate is decided in Madrid and not London.

I had talked of the election before now as the Phoney War. Sure enough come next Friday Britain shall have a new government or three parties haggling as to who will take power. Yet as financial bodies have pointed out this week none of the three main challengers have dealt in factual terms with how they will tackle the economic crisis that has been put on hold to May 7. They are in denial but the wider public is not fooled.

There is no doubting that the week after the election the British people will wake up to the awful financial reality. Even if the prime minister of the new day does not want to admit to it, just yet, the world financial markets will dictate the waiting time is up – it is time for action, or else. Cuts will be made, jobs will be lost, and as always it is those at the bottom of the pile who will bear the brunt.

This sense of denial had filled me with gloom but then another topic took over. It was the fact that the Communist Party is contesting just a few seats and to be frank has absolutely no chance of winning any of them –indeed saving the deposit might be an achievement. That is not to pour cold water on those engaged in the battle for votes or the winning of minds. Yet if at this time of abject economic and social crisis the Communist Party is deemed irrelevant then something is very badly amiss.

With the drawing closer of the Labour and Liberal parties the dreams of Lord Mandelson and his cohorts are being answered. Mandelson’s dreams are territory I would not normally wish to enter but he has long hoped for a coalition of the Labour and Liberal forces to keep the Conservatives forever at bay.

Viewed from Spain where the Communist Party in Izquierda Unida is alive and well the scenario in Britain fills me with despair. I know the Communist Party has traditionally played a more major role in European political life than in the UK. My uncle Len became a Communist in the 1920s and remained so till his death in the 1960s. Yet even within the staunch socialist family of which he was a part he was viewed as the political eccentric.

I am a member of Izquierda Unida in Spain – a broad coalition of left parties dominated by the Communist Party. In a country on a continent where proportional representation rules the IU has a strong voice in the government of the nation but at a local level actually holds the reigns of power either in absolute or in coalition.

The coalition of the left was formed in 1986 largely amongst parties who believed in a Republican Spain. In November 1992 it became a registered party and now often presents itself with Los Verdes – the Greens. In 2008 it had 48,318 members and in the General Election of that year along with the Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds (ICV) took 963,040 votes giving the IU two seats in parliament and the ICV one. How many Communist MPs or councillors will be returned in Britain next Thursday?

The IU is the third force in Spanish politics and forms a parliamentary block with the Esquera Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and the ICV. More over it has a senator in the Upper House, a Euro MP, MPs in the regional governments and controls numerous town halls.

So is now the time for a political realignment on the left of British politics? Well it is now or never – because the situation facing Britons in the coming months and years will never be more conducive to the forming of such a coalition. Election reform may be on the cards, which would help such an alliance. However if those on the left of British politics, be they in the Labour, Communist or other parties or pressure group cannot present a united coherent message to the voters – then the game is up.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star in May 2010)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

SPEAKING ILL OF THE DEAD

By David Eade

As I write this the great and good of Spanish life as well as the international sports community have gathered in Barcelona to pay homage to Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former president of the International Olympic Committee.

Samaranch died on Tuesday in a Barcelona hospital aged 89. He has been described as a master of negotiation, persuasion and behind-the-scenes diplomacy during his 21 years at the helm of the IOC. His remains rested at the Catalan parliament before being taken on Thursday to Barcelona’s cathedral. Plenty will be singing his praises at his funeral. The Spanish heir to the throne, the Príncipe de Asturias, Felipe de Borbón described him as a “colossus of the modern Olympics” and “firmly loyal to the Crown”.

However he was also a divisive figure in both Spanish politics, especially for those on the left, and in wider international sport. As I started penning this I received an email via Facebook asking me to support a call to not have Samaranch honoured with a minute’s silence at Barcelona’s Camp Nou soccer stadium.

Yet he is a hero to many in Barcelona. It was Samaranch who brought the 1992 Olympics to his hometown. However his attempts to do the same for Madrid failed miserably. He tried to help Madrid secure the 2012 and 2016 games. Madrid finished third behind winner London and Paris for the 2012 Olympics and second to Rio de Janeiro for 2016.

Samaranch spoke during Madrid’s presentation in Copenhagen last year asking the IOC to send the games to the Spanish capital as a parting gift for this old man in his final days. “Dear colleagues, I know that I am very near the end of my time,” Samaranch said. The IOC ignored his plea.

Andrew Jennings has written several books about the IOC. He has no doubt about his feelings on Samaranch: “He was a very bad man. He nearly destroyed the Olympics. We didn’t need all that money in sport. It created this imperial world where he had to get lots of money to maintain his excellencies (the IOC members) touring the world."

Samaranch has also been condemned for serving the Franco dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s – before his appointment to the IOC he was Spain’s ambassador to Russia. Samaranch claims he had only a modest role as director general of sports and parliamentary leader of the Falangist movement. I doubt whether the leader of the Falange in parliament was ever modest.

Anna Simó, the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya spokesperson in the Spanish parliament said the party never had any sympathy for him because of his past links to the Franco regime. Ernest Benach of the same party only spoke in a very brief statement of his sadness for the family. The ICV, linked to the far left Izquierda Unida, avoided offering any words of praise at all.

The major scandal that overshadowed his term in office led to the ousting of 10 IOC members for accepting cash, scholarships and other inducements from Salt Lake City representatives bidding for the 2002 Winter Games.

When Samaranch came to power 29 years ago, the IOC was virtually bankrupt, the Olympics were battered by boycotts and terrorism and few cities wanted to host the games. When he left his post, the IOC’s coffers were full with billions of dollars in commercial revenues, the boycotts were over, cities around the world were fighting each other furiously for the games, and the Olympics were firmly established as the world’s major sporting festival. True – but the rumours of corruptions hang over his legacy like a funeral pall.

(The above article appeared in Panorama)

THE KING IS CORRUPT


By David Eade

The mayor of the Andalucía town of Puerto Real, José Antonio Barroso, has returned to attack the Spanish monarch, King Juan Carlos, and has repeated his accusation that he is corrupt.

The Izquierda Unida politician is a constant thorn in the king’s side and one might take the view that the Spanish monarch would by now ignore his words of venom. However last year Barroso was fined 6,840 euros in a Madrid court after a case was brought against him for “serious injury” against Juan Carlos.

The remarks that caused the stir were made by Barroso in a speech to celebrate the Third Republic made in Los Barrios. He accused the monarch of being “corrupt”, having “enriched himself illegally” and added some unflattering remarks on the morality of his father adding like father, like son.

As a Briton living in Spain I have my private views on the Spanish Royal Family and the monarch in general. However they remain that – private – because I believe that whether Spain is a monarchy or a republic is for Spanish people to decide.

None the less over the last year I have expressed one specific thought in writing on Barroso and the King. I firmly believe that Barroso has the right to state his honestly held views on the monarchy and the family of King Juan Carlos. It’s called freedom of speech.

If the monarch feels that Barroso has overstepped the mark, if he finds he cannot turn the other cheek, then of course he is free to take the matter to court. If that is the case then it should be a legal action brought by and paid for by the monarch. When Barroso was brought before a judge it was on behalf of the Spanish State which means that I and other tax payers in this country footed the bill for the King.

Now the secretary general of the Communist Party in Andalucía, José Manuel Mariscal, has spoken out in Barroso’s support after he repeated he recently repeated his remark in Algeciras. Mariscal stated: “Barroso can be very expressive, but he tells truths with his fists.”

It was certainly a combative speech by Barroso who was a guest speaker at a meeting held by the local communist party in the plaza de la Constitución where the Republican flag was raised. He shared the platform with Inmaculada Nieto, the leader of Izquierda Unida in the governing coalition at Algeciras town hall, her fellow IU councillors and the town’s former communist mayor Paco Esteban.

Barroso told the audience: “In the distance is heard a lackey’s and courtesan’s voice that cries Viva España, Viva el Rey. And from here we answer – Long live the people of the Spanish Republic. And death to all that the King represents that is corruption, and rotten. Ultimately, all that is despicable that a caste of his nature represents. Yes Viva España Republicana and death to all that the King represents and signifies.”

José Barroso continued that “in a society that is unable to admit, perhaps because it doesn’t known or it doesn’t want to know, that the Constitution of 78, is a constitution absolutely undemocratic, it shields the interests of the undesirable, of the major delinquent that exists in this country who answers to the name of Juan Carlos I of Borbón.”

Staying with matters royal the Partido Comunista is organising a petition to be presented to the Spanish Parliament – Congreso de los Diputados – demanding transparency in the accounts of the Royal household. Marsical said it was “unusual” that the King “does not explain how he spends the budget he receives from the State, that is around 10 million euros a year. Whilst he does not declare his spending there will be suspicions.”

By the by, if my figures are correct, the British monarch currently receives 7.9 million pounds a year from the Civil List compared with the 10 million euros for King Juan Carlos. The Civil List is due for review after the General Election as the figure was set in 2000 with Queen Elizabeth II pressing for a major increase. Both sums should give ample food for thought for monarchists and republicans.

(The above article appeared in Panorama)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

SIXTEEN MONTHS WITHOUT PAY – AND NO DOLE


By David Eade

When I first came to Spain nearly 20 years ago I had an occasional coffee in a nice café-restaurant facing on to the main square in Fuengirola. It had an interior patio and was a marked change to the greasy spoons of my home town, London. After a year or so the café suddenly closed. That surprised me but what shocked me was to learn that many of the staff had not been paid for nearly a year.

It was my first introduction to the very different labour laws in Spain where those employees on fixed contracts cannot be suddenly fired even if they are not paid. Indeed as long as they turn up for work their contract is binding with the unpaid workers having statutory rights if the company is eventually wound-up.

Over the years this kind of scenario has become more commonplace especially in the current economic crisis. However one of the most celebrated of these cases involves Los Monteros hotel in Marbella.

Los Monteros became a tourism symbol for the Costa del Sol as it was the first five-star luxury hotel opening its doors in 1964. Now some might argue that the closure of a jet set hotel is no loss at all. On the contrary - the fact the establishment has closed its doors has no impact whatsoever on the well heeled – they simply follow the money to another exotic location. Those who suffer are such as Ana María Díaz who works in the laundry and has been at the hotel since 1974. Or Antonio Guil who has been the maintenance man for 36 years. Or Jerónimo Torres, the head barman, who started out learning his trade at the hotel in 1971 at the age of 16. It is they and the other 180 current employees of the hotel that are the victims.

It was back in November 2008 that I first wrote about Los Monteros because then Lebanese owner Mohamed Reda Bahige Alaywan had not paid his workers for two months. Nor did there seem to be any funding for the improvements so badly needed by this top-notch hotel. However within days the plight of the employees and the future of the hotel seemed to have turned around. In stepped the Russian company Northwest Oil but it was bad news not good.

Rather than put the hotel back on its feet, giving the employees their back wages whilst ensuring their future Northwest Oil took a very different route. This created the suspicion the purchase was nothing more than a property speculation strategy – a strategy that soon went wrong. Marbella town hall quickly moved to block any rezoning of the land on the valuable coastline site for urban development requiring it to be for hotel use only.

Since June 4 2009 the hotel has not been open to guests. The director, Ernest Malyshev, did declare Los Monteros open for a while but as there was no power or water guests could have not run the taps in their rooms, had a meal or turned on a light. This ploy to be technically open to guests was carried out in the hope of avoiding Andalucía government and court sanctions.

So what is the situation now? The president of the committee of the business (that speaks for the employees), José Osorio, believes the hotel owes more than 57 million euros to the Spanish tax and social security agencies. In addition some 400 claims have been made in the Málaga mercantile court against the companies Northwest Oil established to run the hotel and hold its assets. Furthermore around 250 families who depended on the hotel for their incomes have had their lives ruined because they have received no pay for 16 or more months nor have they been eligible for the dole as technically these wage earners are still employed.

So who is to blame? Northwest Oil certainly but Osorio and the CC.OO union representative Lola Villalba also point their fingers at Marbella town hall, the Andalucía government and the Andalucía ombudsman who they believe should have taken firmer action. Bitterly the workers talk of how all the politicians turned out to have their photographs taken on the pick line but then did nothing else to help them.

And the future? An administrator appointed by the court now controls the hotel. The manager Salvador Ríos, who along with his employees have stuck to their posts, insists it is ready to open its doors within 15 days largely because they all have ensured the building has been maintained – at their expense. They have also occupied the hotel to ensure the furnishings, fittings and assets were not stripped. The most likely course is that the hotel will be sold. The employees as creditors can only hope this will see their outstanding salaries paid and their future employment guaranteed. Sadly we could still be many months off a conclusion and in the meantime they are euroless.

(The above article appeared in the Morning Star in April)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SPAIN TODAY, BRITAIN – VERY SOON?


By David Eade

The economic crisis that started in the banking sector in the USA quickly spread around the world and engulfed the majority of nations. However it affected different countries in various ways. For instance one of the most visible signs in the UK was the collapse of the banks whereas in Spain the financial institutions have remained fairly stable.

Make no mistake thought the financial crisis in Spain has been severe and it is the only major EU economy still in recession. Unemployment is also the highest in the EU whilst the worst hit sector has been the construction industry.

So it is no surprise that the Spanish socialist government is having to look at drastic ways of dragging the country out of the downward spiral that threatens the financial and political stability of the nation. What has come as a surprise is that the PSOE government has chosen to put pensions in to the forefront of that battle. It has caused a rift between the socialists and those on the far left of Spanish politics in Izquierda Unida and indeed its loyal backers – the unions.

One major difference between Britain and Spain is that whilst centre right and centre left parties predominate the far left in Spain plays a major role whereas in the UK it occupies the fringe. There are IU councillors, town halls and provincial administrations as well as MPs at regional, national and European level. So when the IU decides to mobilise it matters.

At present the pension age in Spain is 65 and to qualify for a State pension you have to be in the scheme for 15 years. What the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is proposing is that the age should be moved to 67 with the suggestion that workers should be in the system for 25 years. That forms part of the PSOE government’s financial rescue plan to be presented to the European Commission in Brussels. If implemented it would affect every worker below retirement age, immediately.

The IU case is quite simple. The pension age should remain at 65; the qualifying period should stand and the current system whereby the value of pensions is maintained because they rise with the inflation index (IPC) should not be altered.

The rise from 65 to 67 is the tip of this iceberg. If the qualifying period was increased from15 to 25 years that would leave many people now at the end of their working lives without any hope of qualifying. Also it has always been accepted that apart from any increases awarded by the government of the day the pensions would keep pace with inflation with the IPC linked annual rise.

In a report on the issue the Secretaría de Economía y Trabajo of the federal IU argues that the socialist government’s policy will benefit the nation’s banks who market private pension schemes. It believes that if State pensions are to be low and difficult to obtain then workers will want to contract with a private pension instead. Is it not ironic that to solve a crisis started by the banks it is those selfsame financial institutions who would benefit at the expense of the workers? Has it not always been so?

The Zapatero government argues that the changes are necessary because currently State pensions account for 8 per cent of PIB (Britain’s GNP). It points out that in Italy pensions account for 14 per cent of PIB but there are no plans to increase the qualifying age whilst in France where the qualifying age is 60 there are no plans to alter the qualifying period. In Spain the pension system is in good shape with an 8,500 million surplus in 2009 – the year the financial crisis was at full force.

The IU is to take to the streets to make its case. It was 11 years ago that the party collected a petition of 500,000 signatures and presented it to the Spanish lower house of parliament, Congress. This action allowed its proposal for the working day to be reduced from 40 to 35 hours to become an Inciativa Legislativa Popular (ILP). Now the federation of leftist groups is to take the same action to keep the pension age at 65 through the ILP voice of the people.

Gaspar Llamazares, the IU spokesperson in Congress, did not mince his words. He stated: “If the Executive does not withdraw this proposal there is no possible negotiation. This cannot be negotiated. The president must appear in Congress and withdraw this measure that breaks the pact with the parliamentary left and the workers.”

The IU is not acting alone and the main Spanish unions, the CC.OO and UGT, held demonstrations that ran from February 23 to March 6 in all the major cities. Over 50,000 people took to the streets in the provincial capitals of Andalucía, 4,000 in Santander, tens of thousands in Castilla-La Mancha and Galicia – throughout Spain the response has been the same.

The battle lines have been drawn. Indeed the UGT and CC.OO have now signed an accord with the DGB union in Germany: “to put people first and not the markets - that without the guarantees of fundamental human rights it is not possible to obtain a stable economic market. Likewise we call for single position amongst European unions to defend the public systems of pensions.”

Now back to Britain. At some stage in the not too distant future the British Government of the day is going to have to tackle the financial chaos. Nothing is going to happen before the next election. However once a government is returned the socialists, conservatives or a coalition who then have a mandate to rule will act. How they act will be governed by their political perspective but act they will and it could well be the State pensions that are in the firing line.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

BLAS INFANTE: ANDALUCÍA’S REVOLUTIONARY


By David Eade

Every year on February 28 the Spanish region of Andalucía celebrates its national day. It also pays homage to Blas Infante – the father of the modern Andalucía. He died for his belief in a radical, federal Andalucía for as the military coup took hold in 1936 he was rounded up by the Falange and shot. It was four years later – June 1940 – when a judicial death sentence was handed down to justify his assassination – a verdict that still stands to this day.

Blas Infante Pérez de Vargas was born in Casares on July 5, 1885 - today Casares is a small inland village on the Costa del Sol. Blas’ father – Luis Infante Andrade – was licensed in law and was the secretary of the Casares court. His mother – Ginesa Pérez de Vargas – was from a family of farm labourers but was regarded as middle class in the extreme poverty of those times.

Blas studied for his ‘bachillerato’ in Archidona till 1899 when the family suffered badly in the economic disaster of 1898 that saw the country loose its colonies in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines after the Spanish – American War. This forced Blas to leave college with his final course in his ‘bachillerato’ uncompleted. From 1900 he worked as a secretary at the court in Casares and at the same time studied with the faculty of law at Granada University travelling there in June and September to take his exams before finally becoming a lawyer in 1906.

From 1910 he worked as a notary in Cantillana which allowed him to make contact with the intellectuals living in Sevilla where he started to develop his ideas on Andalucía especially with the members of the Ateneo de Sevilla. The hard conditions of the agricultural labourers who worked on a daily basis made a major impact on him forging his socialist beliefs.

It was during the reign of Alfonso XIII that Blas Infante’s political thoughts developed along Republican and federalist lines. He believed in the defending of Andalucía as a Spanish region different from the rest of the country – furthermore he wanted to see Andalucía reconstructed as part of the wider regeneration of Spain.

Around this time he wrote: “My nationalism, before being Andaluz, is human. I believe that by birth nature signals to the soldiers of life the place where they have to fight for it. I work for the cause of the spirit of Andalucía because that is where I was born. If I was born elsewhere I would fight for that cause with equal fervour.”

By 1915 he had set out his personal vision of the history, identity and problems of Andalucía in his most important book ‘Ideal Andaluz’. In 1918 he was present at the Assembly of Ronda, where inspired by the Constitution of Antequera of 1883, it set out the bases for ‘Andalucismo’ in order to obtain political autonomy for Andalucía. This assembly adopted the design of the flag and coat of arms of Andalucía proposed by Blas Infante.

In the 1918 elections Blas Infante attempted to stand in the district elections for Gaucín and a year later there again and in Sevilla but the strong presence of the ‘caciquismo’ – local bosses who protected the political and economic elite - prevented his success. On January 1, 1919, he signed along with other members of several Centros Andaluces the Manifesto Andalucista de Córdoba that defined the concept of Andalucía as a historic nation within a federal Spain.

During the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera he rejected approaches to co-operate with the authorities. In reprisal the Centros Andaluces founded by Blas Infante in 1916 were closed as too was the publication Andalucía in which was set out the platform for andalucismo politics.

When the Second Republic was proclaimed in 1931 he took the post of notary in Coria del Rio where he built a house called ‘Dar al-Farah’ or ‘House of Happiness’ inspired by the architecture of Al Andalus personally overseeing its decoration. He presided over the Junta Liberalista de Andalucía which presented candidates for the Partido Republicano Federal. It did not win any seats in parliament but its manifesto repudiated centralism for federalism, sought a solution to the ‘caciquismo’, the reform of the electoral, economic and justice systems and promoted the freedom of expression amongst its beliefs. He ran for parliament again in the elections of November 1933 for Málaga for a coalition Izquierda Republicana Andaluz formed by the Partido Republicano Radical Socialista and the Izquierda Radical Socialista but its failure left Blas Infante a disillusioned man.

In 1933 Blas Infante proposed that the melody of the hymn ‘Santo Dios’, sung by the agricultural workers when they finished for the day, should form the basis of the Himno de Andalucía. This became the anthem of Andalucía which was adopted along with Infante’s flag and coat of arms when the autonomous regional government was formed in 1981.

After the elections of 1936 and the victory of the Popular Front the Andalucista political movement received a boost. During a conference in Sevilla on July 5 Blas Infante was acclaimed as the president of honour of the future Junta Regional de Andalucía. Just days later the military coup took place that led to the start of the Spanish Civil War. Members of the Falange went to Blas Infante’s house in Coria del Rio and he was taken away to be shot without any trial or sentence being handed down. His assassination took place on August 11 along with two other prisoners at km 4 on the Sevilla to Carmona road.

It was not till four years later that the Tribunal de Responsabilidades Políticas, created after the end of the Civil War, condemned Blas Infante to death and also ruled that his heirs should pay a fine. In a document dated May 4 1940 written in Sevilla it declared:

“...because he formed part of a candidature of revolutionary tendency in the elections of 1931 and in the successive years until 1936 that signified he was a propagandist of a party of Andalucía or a regionalist Andaluz.”

Indeed a Franco regime that brutally repressed the national ambitions of the Galician, Basque and Catalan people was not going to tolerate any suggestion of a federal administration for Andalucía. Blas Infante had associated himself with them as in the late 1920s he travelled to Galicia to meet with independence groups whilst in 1934 he visited Lluis Companys, the president of the Generalidad de Cataluña, who was being held in prison in El Puerto de Santa María along with other members of his government.

It is ironic that whilst the Junta de Andalucía formed after Spain’s return to democracy has adopted the flag, coat of arms and national anthem created by Blas Infante – no steps have been taken to reverse the judicial sentence handed down years after his death. This rankles with many, especially those on the left of Andalucía politics, so perhaps amongst this year’s celebrations for the 125 th anniversary of his birth the father of Andalucía might finally receive justice.

A footnote: since democracy was restored to Spain the socialist-leaning Partido Andalucista has largely failed to capture the imagination of the people of Andalucía. The region has largely been a PSOE socialist fiefdom whilst the Izquierda Unida, formed around the former Communist Party, has returned MPs and holds many town halls. Since 1981 Izquierda Unida - that embraces many of the ideals of Blas Infante - has ruled at Casares town hall apart for a break of four years. It has also been the major protector of the memory of Blas Infante. Mayor Antonia Morera insists that Casares must be included in the 125 th anniversary celebrations whilst the wider IU wants his death sentence withdrawn.

(A version of this article appeared in The Morning Star in Febaruary 2010).

NEW ABORTION LAW OPENS UP OLD WOUNDS


By David Eade

Spain’s highly controversial abortion law has been passed by the lower house of parliament – Congress – but it is still making its way through the Senate. However the Ley del Aborto has already opened up old wounds between the Catholic Church and the ruling socialist party.

First to the law itself. Under its provisions abortions would be available on demand for women of 16 and over up to the 14th week of pregnancy, and up to 22 weeks if there was a risk to the mother’s health or if the foetus was deformed. Women can also undergo the procedure after 22 weeks if the foetus had a serious or incurable illness.

However what has angered the Catholic community most and even some supporters of the PSOE government is the provision allowing girls of 16 to have an abortion without their parents’ consent or knowledge. Opinion polls have shown that 56 per cent of socialists who support the PSOE government are very unhappy over allowing 16 year olds to be able to have an abortion without their parents’ knowledge or consent against 64 per cent opposition across the board.

The protests against the new abortion law have been led by Hazte Oir – a coalition of Catholic organizations. In October over a million people gathered in the plaza de Independencia in Madrid to voice their opposition to the new law. This highly motivated Catholic opposition has been joined by the centre-right Partido Popular that has pledged to ask the Constitutional Court to overturn the abortion legislation when it is passed in to law.

Now we wind forward to the present and the opening up of old wounds. It has come about because of the decision by the Catholic Church hierarchy to ban a leading member of the PSOE ruling party from receiving communion. José Bono is a staunch Catholic but he is also president of the lower house of Spain’s parliament. In an interview with the daily newspaper, El Mundo, he voiced his support for the new law which he voted in favour of when it was approved by Congress in December.

Bono argued in the interview that he supported the new law because he understood that it would reduce the number of abortions and that, according to the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, “politicians can vote for laws governing abortion if they believe that they are reducing the evil it causes.”

However the Spanish Episcopal Conference has refuted this thesis. In a letter to El Mundo the bishops state that this Encyclical allows a Catholic to vote for an abortion law that reduces the injustice of the current legislation but the politician is obliged to vote against any law which does not adequately protect the inviolable right to life of those who are yet to be born.

The Catholic Church in Spain feels itself under attack by the very liberal PSOE administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on numerous fronts including abortion, divorce, gay rights and education. In recent history the church was closely associated with the dictatorship of Franco and hence generations of distrust have grown up between it and those on the left of Spanish politics.

Indeed students of the Spanish Civil War will well remember the role played by the Catholic caucus in the USA in pressuring the president Franklin D Roosevelt from supporting the democratically elected government in Madrid. Catholic activists and writers also rubbished the press reports by Jay Allen on the Nationalist’s slaughter in Badajoz and George Steer’s accounts of the destruction of Guernica arguing they were communist inventions.

The vice secretary general of PSOE, José Blanco, waded in to the battle after the church barred Bono from receiving communion. He has accused the church of “hypocrisy” pointing out that it took no action against members of the former Partido Popular government of José María Aznar that introduced the present abortion law.

Bono accused the Catholic Church of “a permanent contradiction” because it didn’t deny communion “to members of the government of the right under who in our country there have been over 500,000 abortions.”

Thus the fight over the right to life of the unborn child has descended in to old animosities with socialists believing that the church favours its allies on the right above those on the left – even devout Catholics such as PSOE’s José Bono.
Interestingly the well-known Spanish socialist Luis Solana, who was instrumental in establishing democracy after Franco and then serving as an MP as well as heading the telecommunications giant Telefónica and State broadcaster RTVE, has been addressing this issue in recent days. He concedes that socialists who are also practising Catholics have experienced “many bitter times”.

Solana says that as far as the church is concerned the classic socialist is an agnostic. Hence those who follow both the Catholic and socialist creeds such as José Bono are not allowed for by the hierarchy and should says Solana – expect no charity in the treatment of their faith.

He added that a Catholic socialist had many problems in being accepted by the church. So much so that if a socialist politician votes in favour of the new abortion law then he will have insurmountable problems with the bishops. He then begs the question - if you are a Catholic how should you vote?

Solana continues, perhaps with his tongue in his cheek, perhaps not, that the solution for Bono and Christian socialists is to become freemasons. He observes that masons believe in God and another life as do Christians. Masons practice solidarity, equality and justice as do Socialists. Also in masonry there is an organisation and hierarchy as there is in the church and socialist party.

Back in October I wrote in my blog “Tilting at Windmills” about an interview in La Opinión de Malaga with Pedro Moreno Brenes.

“Pedro Moreno Brenes is a communist, the leader of the Izquierda Unida party at Málaga town hall, a lecturer in law at Málaga University and a Catholic. Nor is he a closet Catholic but practices his faith alongside his political beliefs that he has held since adolescence.

“He is quite clear as to how his religion co-exists with his political leanings. He says that the IU respects all beliefs and that for him there is no conflict whether he is invited to a religious or civil event. He added that he was pleased to accept all invitations should they be from the Muslim or Jewish communities or indeed atheists.

“Asked about the antagonism between the IU and the Catholic Church Pedro Moreno Brenes is quite clear. “The party, for example, proposes that there shouldn’t be any tax privileges for religious entities. It is compatible in the respect of - and the separation of - public and religious life.”

“So was Christ the first Communist? Pedro Moreno Brenes is in no doubt that the Christian message of “love one another” is much the same as the communist belief in fraternity and equality.”

However whilst it may be compatible to be a Christian as well as a socialist or communist in Spain - where Catholicism is the only real Christian option - politicians can co-exist happily with Christianity but tragically the Catholic Church is very much at odds with them.

(A version of this article appeared in The Morning Star in February 2010).

FROM HUNGER STRIKE TO HOUSE ARREST


By David Eade
The Western Sahara peace activist, Aminatu Haidar, switched within hours from being on the verge of death from an enforced hunger strike in Spain to being held under house arrest at her home in El Aaiún. When you are fighting for civil rights for your country your life is constantly under threat so such radical changes in fortunes come as the norm to the woman described as the “Saharawi Gandhi” for her non-violent protests.

It was on November 14 that Morocco refused to allow Aminatu Haidar to return to her home in the Western Sahara on her return from New York where she had received the Civil Courage Prize for her work in demanding human rights for her homeland. Although she had neither a Moroccan nor Spanish passport she was allowed to return to Lanzarote with the government in Madrid guaranteeing her safe conduct although she was later fined on public order offences.

The Spanish Government offered her a passport but she refused the gesture as she insisted on keeping her Western Saharan status. Instead she vowed to return to her native land “dead or alive”.

Haidar had upset Morocco because she rejected that country’s right to rule over the Western Sahara. The prime minister of the self proclaimed República Árabe Saharaui Democrática (RASD), Abdelkader Taleb Omar, called on the international community to pressure Morocco to comply with international law and appealed to the Spanish monarch, King Juan Carlos, to add his support by interceding with the Moroccan king on Haidar’s behalf.

On Monday December 14 the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, met with the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, at the White House with Haidar at the top of their agenda. The meeting had originally been scheduled to discuss Spain taking over the presidency of the EU on January 1 but as Haidar’s condition weakened it became a diplomatic priority to seek a solution. From the US capital Moratinos issued a plea to Haidar to end her hunger strike.

Morocco stood fast over Haidar. The foreign minister, Taib Fassi Fihri, insisted that his government would make no concessions. He accused the activist of blackmail and said it was a campaign organised by Algeria and the Polisario Front.

Apart from demanding that Haidar be allowed to return to the Western Sahara in dignity the area’s premier Abdelkader Taleb Omar, had also called for the release of all Saharan political prisoners, an investigation in to the fate of those who have disappeared plus the opening of the area to international human rights observers.

Then on Thursday December 17 there was frantic activity as first Haidar was admitted to Lanzarote hospital suffering from abdominal pain as a result of her 32-day hunger strike. With reports that her life was hanging by a thread there was increased diplomatic contacts between the Spanish and Moroccan governments with the latter finally relenting and allowing her to return home.

She was declared free to leave Spain for her home country to be with her children and mother. So at midnight on the same Thursday she was flown in a hospital plane to the capital of the Western Sahara - El Aaiún. She was accompanied on her journey by her sister and the doctor who had been attending her. On receiving the news she was free to go home her protest and hunger strike ended. On leaving Spain Aminatu Haidar declared: “This is a triumph - a victory for international law, human rights and the Saharan cause.”

It was a victory at a price! Haidar now says she has being held under house arrest since her return home to El Aaiún on December 18. Before Christmas the Moroccan security forces prevented a Reuter’s reporter from visiting Haidar at her home so she gave a telephone interview with the press agency’s office in Rabat on Christmas Eve. Haidar said: “My isolation continues. I am under house arrest. The members of my family and friends have problems visiting me. The shops in my quarter are suffering from the isolation.”

She continued: “I have the value of my convictions to continue with the cause of self-determination for the Saharan people. Nothing will make me give up – the threat of jail, kidnapping, torture or exile.” She accused Morocco of using “carrot and the stick” politics with the Polisario Front and the Saharans adding that “Morocco is repressing the Saharan population whilst it is negotiation with the Polisario Front.”
Franco’s dying act

Like many of the troubled lands in today’s world the tragedy of Western Sahara lies in its colonial rule by Spain and Franco’s desire to rid his country of its obligations “muy pronto”. Indeed it was literally Franco’s dying act that his government secretly signed a tripartite agreement with Morocco and Mauritania allowing Spain to abandon the Western Sahara. The agreement was signed on November 14 1975 – days later Franco was dead.

Spain was gone from the Western Sahara within three months. Instead of the tripartite administration envisaged in the accord Morocco and Mauritania each annexed parts of the territory. Morocco seized the northern two thirds creating its southern provinces whilst Mauritania took the southern third as Tiris al-Gharbiyya.
Franco’s Spain may have abandoned its former colony but the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, forced Mauritania to withdraw in 1979. This solved little as Morocco merely moved in to the territory that Mauritania had controlled setting up the sand-berm in the desert to contain the Polisario liberation fighters.

In 1991 the fighting ceased after the UN brokered a peace agreement. However this still leaves the former colony that covers some 266,000 square kilometres of desert flatlands – one of the most sparsely populated nations on earth – in a state of limbo. El Aaiún, where Haidar is now under house arrest, is the Western Saharan capital – home to over half of the more than 500,000 people who live in the former Spanish colony.

So to today where Morocco and the Polosario Front independence movement with its República Árabe Saharaui Democrática (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) government vies for control of these desert sands. It will come as no surprise that the USA has sat on the fence whilst the SADR has won the backing from 46 States plus the African Union and Morocco has the support of the Arab League. Spain is one of those countries refusing to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty claim.

This support swings with the fickleness of international trends and it is left to brave people such as Aminatu Haidar and her Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders to keep the plight of this impoverished would-be nation in the hearts and minds of those who believe in civil rights and the right to self-determination for all.

(A version of this article appeared in The Morning Star in January 2010).