Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BAN THE SPANISH ROYAL FAMILY FROM BUSINESS

Senator Jordi Guillot, who represents the Iniciativa per Catalunya-Verds, which presented itself with the far-left Izquierda Unida at the Spanish General Election, is proposing to Spain’s Upper House of Parliament that members of the Royal Family be banned from participating in businesses, advising companies or having a financial interest in them.


He spoke out over the so-called “el escándolo Urdangarín” which has embroiled the Duke of Palma who is the husband of the Infanta Cristina, daughter of Spain’s monarch Juan Carlos I. He wants the matter debated by the Senate when it holds its first meeting on December 13.

Guillot is seeking the Real Decreto 1369/1987 be modified – this royal decree regulates the treatment and honours that correspond to the members of the Crown. He wants the decree to be amended to ensure no member of the Royal Family takes part in remunerated activities, cannot form any part of a business and no person who have been convicted of a crime can be a member of the Royal Family.

This would see Iñaki Urdangarín thrown out of the ranks of royalty and his titles withdrawn should he be convicted. The Duke of Palma is an advisor to Telefónica Internacional and co-owner with his wife the Infanta Cristina of Aizoon SL. Since 2006 this company has had a 50 per cent holding in Nóos.

The ICV senator is very angry over “the silence” that the Casa Real has maintained over the judicial investigation in to the business activities of Iñaki Urdangarín. Guillot stated: “This is another case that demonstrates the necessity of knowing the accounts of the Royal Family. It will be good to oblige the members of the monarchy to declare their assets and the economic activities that they participate in, in a similar manner to the other senior members of the government.”

The Duke of Palma, Iñaki Urdangarín, is being investigated in the Palma Arena case over allegations that his company Nóos received money from large businesses and private entities. None of these so far have accused Urdangarín of fraud or indeed the others implicated in the affair.

Investigations by the Agencia Tributaria tax agency, the economic crime squad of the National Police and the anti-corruption prosecutor of the Balearic Islands have found that associates linked to Urdangarín invoiced between 2003 and 2007 millions of euros to large companies. These included Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, Iberdrola, Bancaja, the football clubs Villareal and Valencia plus Roig Grupo Corporación and the Sociedad General de Autores (SGA). The report also showed that Nóos, a supposedly non-profit making company, had relations with other major companies such as Repsol, BAF, Motor Press Ibérica and financial institutions.

It is believed that the clients of Urdangarín paid to him and marketing- image experts very high sums. It is claimed that SGAE handed over 760,000 euros to Nóos, a car company another million euros and Villarreal football club almost 700,000 euros. It appears the Duke of Palma also received sums for publicity for a series of events Nóos organized with public funds in Valencia and Palma. Nóos is said to also have received 625,000 euros from private sponsorship plus 2.3 million euros from the Balearic Government of the then president Jaume Matas. If there is any wrong doing it will revolve around Nóos non-compliance with an agreement with the public organization Illesport under which private funding was meant to be used to reduce the dependency of the events on public cash.

The duke used the name of the Royal Family and his wife the Infanta Cristina as bait to sell the projects. The Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo claims that apart from the Duke, his wife and their private secretary are also involved. They could face charges of misappropriating funds, fraud, falsifying documents and obstructing justice. Not surprisingly given the seriousness of the charges the investigators are being accused of bowing to pressure from the King in a cover-up.

Last year the then Izquierda Unida mayor of the Andalucía town of Puerto Real, José Antonio Barroso, attacked the Spanish monarch, Juan Carlos I, and has repeated his accusation that he is corrupt. He accused the monarch of having “enriched himself illegally” and added some unflattering remarks on the morality of his father adding like father, like son.

The Partido Comunista also organised a petition presented to the Spanish Parliament demanding transparency in the accounts of the Royal household. The PC pointed out 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.”

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on December 20 2011)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

THE FOURTH FORCE IN SPANISH POLITICS: VOTO EN BLANCO

Following the recent Spanish general election there is now a fourth force in the nation’s politics. After the new party of government, the Partido Popular, comes the outgoing socialist PSOE, the far-left Izquierda Unida and then the Voto en Blanco – those who submitted blank votes as a symbol of protest.


En masse the PSOE supporters abandoned their party with 4.4 million previous voters rejecting the socialists. The majority abstained, others stayed on the left with Izquierda Unida, which rose from two to 11 seats and its vote hit 6.9 per cent – but – and this is the key point only 550,000 of those dissatisfied voters went to the PP. Hence it wasn’t a mass endorsement of the Partido Popular but a mass rejection of PSOE.

It is in to this scenario that Voto en Blanco entered with the blank votes accounting for the fourth largest amount in the general election. In the election for Spain’s Upper House, the Senado, there were 1,263,120 which equates to 5.37 per cent of the electorate and also three times as many as registered a blank vote in 2008 when it was 2.06 per cent. In the Lower House, Congreso, the blank votes reached 333,095 or 1.37 per cent against 1.11 in 2008.

To the total of blank votes – 1,596,215 – has to be added the sum of 97,706 for the political group Escaños en Blanco. Their electoral promise was that if their candidates were elected to parliament they would not take their seats as a protest and rejection of the unjust Spanish political system which they claim is anti-democratic.

The result of the Voto en Blanco, along with those who abstained and submitted spoiled votes, shows the overall discontentment of the Spanish people with the political system and the offerings of the various parties. The increase in this protest vote has been notable but it is insufficient because it was overshadowed by the immense wave of rejection of PSOE.

This was the major tendency in the 2011 general election, with voters turning their backs on outgoing premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his successor Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. They were humiliated and suffered the worst result for the socialists since the death of Franco and now PSOE needs to enter a period of deep reflection.

Traditionally and importantly the Voto en Blanco represents a frontal protest by those citizens against the various electoral offerings presented by the parties but, and this is the important part, who refuse to renounce their right to vote and be part of the democratic process. A right earned by Spanish society through force and bloodshed.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on Saturday December 3 2011)

Monday, November 14, 2011

VOTERS SWING BEHIND THE PCE ON ITS 90 TH ANNIVERSARY

This year the Partido Comunista Español celebrates its 90 th anniversary on November 14 just under a week before Spain holds its general election. The PCE could have reasons to celebrate because whilst the centre right Partido Popular will probably become the government the communists now within the Izquierda Unida coalition could well pick up seats in parliament as the PSOE vote collapses.


The Communist Party in Britain has never enjoyed the success of its counterparts in France, Italy or Spain. Communist MPs have been far and few between with just Walton Newbold, Shapurji Saklatvala, Willie Gallacher and Phil Paratin. It has always been left to the Labour Party to represent the working class in the UK with communists often opting to run on the socialist ticket. True the PCE in Spain has had to reinvent itself and now forms the key component of Izquierda Unida. However the far left grouping has numerous councillors, controls major town halls and has MPs in the regional parliaments. At the 2007 elections it returned 2033 councillors but this year that increased to 2628 giving it 58 mayors and hence control of that number of town halls. This makes the IU the third largest national party in Spain and at the heart of the political process with two MPs and two Euro MPs.

I am giving a potted history of the PCE but there will be disputed versions given its fractious, often violent, history – no surprise given the Spanish and international political scenario over those years. A raised fist salute along the way to Rafael Moreno Marín, the PCE organiser in Arriate, who has given me facts and figures.

The Partido Comunista de España is not only an integral part of Izquierda Unida but also plays a major role in the giant CC.OO union. It was born of a schism in PSOE by members unhappy with the social democratic stance of the party who also wanted to partake in Lenin’s Third International. The PCE was a coming together of the Partido Comunista Español and the Partido Comunista Obrero Español. It was formed on November 14 1921 and duly became a member of the Third International hosting its first congress in Sevilla in March 1922. By September 1923 the party was repressed thought not dissolved by the Miguel Primo de Rivera dictatorship.

In November 1925, PCE leaders joined with Comintern officials and leaders of the Catalonian-separatist Estat Català in endorsing a revolutionary program. By the time the Second Republic was declared in 1931 the PCE was in a much weakened state but its first parliamentarian was elected on December 3 1933. Cayetano Bolívar Escribano was in prison at the time and was released to take his seat.

The PCE remained a small party but started to grow with the formation of the Popular Front government in February 1936 of which it was an integral part. Following the start of the Spanish Civil War in July of that year the PCE, led by José Díaz and Dolores Ibárruri ‘La Pasionaria’, worked tirelessly for the Republic and the Popular Front government. The communists found themselves at odds with the popular social revolution and were seen as one of the major movers behind the Barcelona May Days in 1937 when POUM was suppressed. It is said the Soviet Union wanted the Spanish Revolution put down so as not to upset Britain and France whilst facing the Soviet threat. In the early days of the war the PCE is estimated to have grown from 30,000 to 100,000 members and founded a branch of the International Red Aid.

Needless to say after Franco defeated the Republic in April 1939 the PCE was persecuted and became a guerrilla organisation in some parts of Spain. After the signing of the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact in 1941 the PCE viewed Germany’s aggression in a neutral mode until it attacked the Soviet Union. A large number of the PCE membership were forced in to exile, many joined Russia’s Red Army. France was also home to other Spanish communists where they started organising during the later period of the Franco era. It was at this time it started organising the CC.OO which with the PCE became the backbone of opposition in Spain.

Dolores Ibárruri “La Pasionaria” played a major role in the PCE leading it as General Secretary until 1960. Santiago Carrillo took over the post which he held to 1982 and it was he who steered the PCE away from its Leninist routes on to the Euro Communist path in the process accepting Liberal democracy and a constitutional monarchy in Spain. Many party members regarded this as a “treason” and formed breakaways yet the party held together, was legalised in April 1977, one of the first steps in the Spanish transition to democracy. Within weeks it had 200,000 card holders.

In the 1977 elections, the first of the transition, the PCE received 10 per cent of the vote and repeated the feat in 1979. However in 1982 it went down to defeat and three years later Carrillo was expelled because of his attempts to follow a social democratic path and the party moved away from Euro Communism.

It was in 1986 during the anti-NATO protests that the PCE joined with other left wing groups to form Izquierda Unida including environmentalists. From 1982 to 1988 the General Secretary of IU was Gerardo Iglesias followed by Julio Anguita from 1988 to 1998. This post was then held by Francisco Frutos until 2009 when he was succeeded by José Luis Centella.

Izquierda Unida, which is still dedicated to restoring the Third Republic, now finds itself at the heart of the debate in the economic and financial crisis. The opinion polls indicate that the centre-right Partido Popular will crush the socialist PSOE on November 20. The result will be a massive blow to the left in Spain yet the IU may well become an electoral home for those on the left who reject the widespread political corruption that has gripped PSOE (as well as the PP). It is also at one with those who support the 15M movement, Los Indignados, as well as those battling to have the law changed with regard to property repossessions. This involves those who have lost their homes after they were reposed by the banks – but although homeless they still face massive debts to the mortgage companies.

What is clear that 90 years on the PCE is still at the heart of the debate and could be one of the big winners on November 20 when it could return between 10 and 15 MPs to Congress, Spain’s lower chamber of parliament.

(Versions of the above article appeared in The Morning Star and London Progressive Journal on Monday November 14 2011).

Monday, October 31, 2011

ANGRY, BROKE AND HOMELESS

In May Spain held its elections for the town councils and some regional governments. On that occasion, the agenda was hijacked by the 15-M movement, Los Indignados, who campaigned for a return of true democracy and an end to political corruption. They camped out in the nation’s plazas and the people, young and old, marched with them. They were the forerunners of the protestors camping on the streets of New York and London now.

The Los Indignados have not gone away, far from it. However there is now a new mass protest movement on the streets. This involves those who have lost their homes after they were reposed by the banks – but although homeless they still face massive debts to the mortgage companies.

They held their first nationwide demonstrations on the day before the socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero dissolved parliament and Spain’s general election campaign got underway. This new angry protest movement will accompany all the parties all along the way. Their plight is the nation’s plight.

Demonstrations are being held nationwide to demand a change to the laws that govern homes being repossessed. The numbers being forced onto the streets has gathered pace because of the economic crisis and the protestors are defending the constitutional right of people to live in a home in dignity.

The action is being co-ordinated by the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca. They also have the support of the 15-M democracy movement. Their objective is a reform of the unjust mortgage law because it places in debt for life all the families that have had their homes repossessed. The law over-protects the banks and other financial entities to the detriment of the families that lose their jobs then homes because of the economic crisis.

One of the angry protestors has been 47-year-old Juan Coperías who lost his business and home, a rural hotel in Ciudad Real when he found himself in debt to over a million euros in just a few years. The bank auctioned the property for 300,000 euros and is demanding he pay them a further 400,000 euros. A despondent Juan said even if he had three lives he could not repay that huge sum.

However the majority of the cases involve homes in the 100,000 to 200,000 euros bracket. As the family cannot pay the mortgage they are forced out on to the street. The property is then auctioned at a knock down price usually to the predators waiting to pick up such bargains leaving the previous owners still owing the difference between the sale price, their mortgage plus costs.

The protestors are not alone. A recent statement was issued by the progressive judge’s association, Jueces para la Democracia, which denounced the existing law in favour of the banks. This legal group is demanding a new law that limits the ability of the financial institutions to place those who lose their homes in major debt. It wants the regulation of the handing down of huge debts on families and small businesses. The association added it was very worried by the steady growth in those made homeless because they cannot fund their mortgages.

The Spanish tragedy is that things are not going to get better – they are going to get worse. The financial crisis still has a long way to run and the jobless level, standing at over 20 per cent, could well rise. When Spaniards go to the polls on November 20 it is likely they will return a centre-right Partido Popular government. This is bad news for Los Indignados and the dispossessed. The PP, the heirs of Franco, will cut harder than the Socialists. They are no friends of democracy; they are mired in corruption and will always favour the banks over the homeless.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on Saturday October 29 2011)

Friday, October 21, 2011

CALL FOR UN SANCTIONS AGAINST MOROCCO

As peaceful protests take place in over 80 countries around the world against the corrupt financial and political systems one only has to go to the Western Sahara to see the other side of the coin. Since the peaceful protest by tens of thousands of Saharawis last October at the Gdeim Izik protest camp Morocco has been turning up the desert heat. What was the largest ever protest in the occupied territories culminated on Monday, October 10, with Moroccan forces brutally attacking peaceful protesters in El Aaiun. The Polisario claims some 30 Saharawis were injured and many others arrested.


It was against this background that the President of the Republic and Secretary General of the Polisario Front, Mohamed Abdelaziz, called on the United Nations to impose sanctions against Morocco. The purpose is to make Rabat comply with the mandate of the UN and end its colonial policy in Western Sahara.

Mohamed Abdelaziz wrote to the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon denouncing the situation of terror, siege, abductions and imprisonments, which take place in the occupied cities of Dakhla and El Aaiun and all the occupied territories of Western Sahara at the hands of Morocco.

The president wrote: “It’s clear that Morocco does not respect the provisions of international humanitarian law, clings to continue its flagrant violations of human rights in Western Sahara, which is under direct UN responsibility, pending decolonization and exercise of inalienable right to self determination and independence.” He then went on to urge the imposition of sanctions against Morocco to fulfil the UN mandate which affirms the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination.

Mohamed Abdelaziz also drew the attention of the UN Secretary General to the situation of the family of Saeed Dembar to recover its rights as well as finally being able to bury their son who was brutally murdered by Moroccan police on December 23, 2010

The various peaceful protests by the Saharawi are an attempt to show their deep frustration over the lack of political progress in the Western Sahara to the outside world. The only meaningful activity in the region is Morocco’s plundering of their natural resources.

The Saharawis have now lived through 36 years of illegal colonisation; nearly 20 years of waiting for a referendum on the status of Western Sahara. The referendum is demanded by international law and promised by the UN yet nothing has happened hence Mohamed Abdelaziz’s strong letter to the Secretary General.

The Saharawis are not totally alone and both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused the Moroccan authorities of allegedly torturing many Saharawis. Amnesty International’s 2011Report accuses Rabat of “beatings, electric shocks and threats of rape.” It adds the detainees face military courts on trumped up charges after forced confessions.

As the protestors in New York, London, Madrid and around the world receive front page coverage in the press the authorities in Morocco maintain a media blackout in the Western Sahara. Morocco has banned the entrance to Western Sahara of media and independent observers as well as the Spanish International Association for the Observation of Human Rights (AIODH) from visiting Saharawi human rights activists held in prisons in Morocco. However the Saharawi voice has not been silenced and cries out for justice.

(A version of the above article appeared in the Morning Star on Friday October 21 2011)

Monday, September 26, 2011

GIBRALTAR SWINGS TO THE LEFT

I am too long in the tooth to call an election before the votes are counted but this year’s opinion polls in Gibraltar make encouraging reading for the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party and their Liberal partners.

After four consecutive terms of a centre right GSD government under Peter Caruana the new leader of the GSLP, Fabian Picardo, has positive reasons to believe he could become the Rock’s next chief minister. The latest poll sounding by Vox gives the GSLP a 5.6 per cent lead over the GSD. It is the largest sample ever taken of Gibraltar’s voting intentions and was carried out on a household basis. As GSLP households tend to have more voters than GSD the actual lead could be larger still. However the outcome of the general election, which could come at any time, will depend on which party gets its share of the 21,000 registered voters to the polling station.

The GSLP should have a place in the heart of all British trade unionists. It is the oldest surviving political party in Gibraltar. Its grass roots are deep in the British Trade Union Movement because founder and outgoing leader Joe Bossano had lived in London’s East End where he was active in the Labour Party and union.

He returned to Gibraltar to become the District Officer of the TGWU which during Bossano’s tenure was instrumental in achieving parity with the UK for all workers in Gibraltar. Labour veteran Alf Lomas was Political Secretary of the London Co-operative at that time and active in the TGWU and the Labour Party. He told me: “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.” The GSLP fought its first election in 1978 and between 1988 and 1996 was the party of government.

Fabian Picardo was elected leader of the GSLP in April as Joe Bossano had signalled he would stand down before the next election. Picardo is now Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and a successful lawyer but started from humble beginnings and is a member of Unite, the successor to the mighty TGWU.

Gibraltarians are British subjects but it may surprise many readers to learn they do not share in the same basic rights enjoyed in the UK. The GSD government has done nothing in its four terms to rectify this sorry state of affairs indeed there is every indication it has no intention of doing so. Gibraltarians cannot appeal to the UK as they have their own government so their sole right to justice is via Europe which often sends the case to the UK.

Hence in the GSLP’s “Make the change” campaign Gibraltarians’ rights and open, transparent government are priorities with a Ministerial Code, Freedom of Information Act, Citizens Charter, protection for whistle blowers and the introduction of a 30 Year Rule already announced in policy statements.

So how has Fabian Picardo’s working class background shaped his political views. He told the MORNING STAR: “In every way. I am the product of that upbringing. I understand what it is like when people don’t have jobs and I consider myself a worker. My parents worked very hard indeed to enable me to become a professional; and I won’t allow anything to go to my head and make me think I am better than any other worker or anything other than a worker. I understand the need to make ends meet requires careful planning and that a wage sometimes needs to be stretched by working people. That is why I get so annoyed when I see taxpayers money wasted on frivolities or for what are clearly GSD partisan ends.”

So as the Gibraltar general election approaches what is his message to the voters of the Rock? Picardo is clear: “I do not want to be an all-powerful leader who uses Ministers like assistants as Caruana does. I want to strengthen democracy and accountability. I want to strengthen the civil service as an essential part of the structure of government. I am in politics because I believe in protecting the Gibraltar that I grew up in and making it stronger in the international community of nations. I want to see the quality of life of Gibraltarians improve and I want to see Gibraltar stay British as a guarantee for our future in respect of education, the rule of law and the quality of our democracy.”

The coming weeks will decide whether the GSLP Liberals take power in Gibraltar by ousting the GSD regime headed by Chief Minister Peter Caruana who rules the Rock as if it is his personal fiefdom. If Fabian Picardo takes office Gibraltar will again have a true socialist and trade unionist at its helm. When was the last time that happened in Britain?

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on September 27 2011)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

SPAIN’S LEFT DEMANDS REFERENDUM ON DEBT LIMIT


The accord between the ruling socialist party in Spain and the centre-right Partido Popular on changing the country’s constitution to limit government debt has met with stiff opposition from the far left Izquierda Unida and pro democracy groups such as the 15-M.


There are two main objections to the sudden move by the outgoing PSOE Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has the support of the leader of the PP, Mariano Rajoy, who hopes to lead his party to government in November’s elections. The first is if Spain’s constitution is to be amended it should go before the people for their approval in a referendum. The second is the drastic effects the move could have on services such as health and education.

It would take just ten per cent of the MPs or senators in the Spanish Parliament to demand a binding referendum be called on the issue of reforming the Constitution to limit the public debt. The end effects could limit the access to health or education amongst other services for society’s most vulnerable – the rich won’t suffer as they can afford to pay for private care or teaching. By limiting debt the government is limiting its investment in society.

The Constitution does not demand that the people should be consulted for such a change to be made. However the pressure is on for ten per cent of the members of Congress and the Senate to demand a referendum on this key issue, which will have a profound effect on the future standard of Spaniards lives. This the Constitution does allow for – and the result will be binding.

Those activists who are agitating for the referendum say that Spain is the least participatory democracy in the EU. As the debt limitation measure would have a profound effect on the welfare state they argue it is scarcely democratic that it should be passed without the people having their say. Ironically Spain holds a general election on November 20 but as both the two main parties – PSOE and the PP – backed the introduction of the debt limit it will not be an issue.

When it comes to the Spanish welfare state it has one of the lowest levels of social public spending per capita in the EU. In addition whilst the debt limit applies to all government spending the areas that are being targeted are pensions as well as health, education, home care, social services, social housing plus the other components of the welfare state.

The change to the Constitution is being driven through Spain’s parliament with indecent haste. It remains to be seen whether the far left and democratic groups can halt this assault on those who depend on the welfare system in its tracks. It is tragic that the driving force should be a socialist government selling out the very people it was elected to support – and of course Spain heirs to Franco are right behind them.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Friday September 2 2011)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

JOSÉ MORALES URGENTLY NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT


Uruguayan activist threatened with expulsion from Spain over peaceful pro-Western Sahara protest

José Morales Brum urgently needs the support of readers on two counts. First to prevent his expulsion from Spain over his participation in a peaceful pro- Western Sahara protest in Lanzarote. Second to show the undercover police involved in this case that the world is watching.

The facts are these. José Morales Brum is a Uruguayan activist resident in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. He is a pro-Western Sahara supporter, a union activist, a member of the Partido Comunista de Uruguay and of the Espacio Sahara in Lanzarote.

On Friday July 22 the Saharawi collective on Lanzarote held a protest in the Calle Real de Arrecife to receive 12 young Saharan who are going to pass their holidays on the island. This is a tradition carried out each year throughout Spain where cities, towns and villages open their doors to these children so they can escape the refuge camps for at least a few weeks. The demonstration was also to demand justice for Said Dambar, the young Saharan who was assassinated in El Aaiún in December after being shot by the police. It was seven months since his death.

What appears to be a plain-clothes National Police officer wearing a baseball cap and with a camera started taking photos of the children and the members of Said Dambar’s family along with others taking part in the protest. He had also been present at other such demonstrations and José Morales responded by taking photos of him. Without identifying himself he attempted to snatch the camera away from Morales who naturally resisted. Those assisting the protest came to the activist’s help believing he was the victim of a street theft. It was at this point that the man shouted he was a police officer, waved his service gun at Morales and the others then sought shelter in a nearby cafe. He waited there till the local police arrived but never identified himself with his official badge.

On the following day José Morales went to the duty court to report what had happened to him. After being kept waiting for eight hours four plainclothes police officers arrived. The apparently had been monitoring the activities of a 15-M movement demonstration. They demanded to see his identification and residency card then informed him he was being detained for public order offences and for an assault on authority. He was held in the police cells overnight. The next day he appeared before a judge who set him free provisionally without bail.

On the Monday events took a more sinister turn. Police informed José Morales that the Brigada de Extranjería had sited him for very serious public order offences under the Ley Orgánica with regard to security. On Tuesday came the news that they had opened an expulsion procedure and he had 48 hours to appeal.

Answers are now being angrily demanded to a number of questions. A representative of the Dirección Insular de la Administración General del Estado in Lanzarote declared: “The Saharans have always been very correct in their behaviour.” If that is so, if they are always peaceful and well-behaved, why were the police taking photos of the demonstrators? Why was the plainclothes officer there? If José Morales had carried out the crimes of which he is accused, why was he not arrested immediately? Why was he only detained when he went to the court to report the actions of the police officer?

The actions taken against José Morales are completely disproportionate. He has not been given the opportunity to have his expulsion case heard in an appropriate manner. Indeed the actions of the police are also a hostile attack on the Saharan people and their cause.

José Morales many supporters state that if Spain does not permit judicial procedures to be correctly carried out then the country is on the road to loosing its status as a democratic State where its citizens are protected by their rights under the law.

Please sign the petition in support of José Morales online at: http://networkedblogs.com/kWkCQ - or go to the Facebook page: Campaña Internacional de FIRMAS por el URUGUAYO José Morales.

José and democracy urgently need your support!

(José Morales is on the right of the photograph)

(Versions of the above article are appearing in various publications)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“THESE CAN’T BE MY DAUGHTER’S BONES”

I return today to Spain’s missing babies. The majority of cases relate to between the 1950s and 70s although some reports are from the 80s. Hence most come from the Franco era when mothers suspect their babies were taken from them at birth and sold or passed to adoptive families.


The spotlight first fell on the cases from La Línea de la Concepción, the border town with Gibraltar, although there are now numerous reports from throughout Spain. The La Línea court is investigating along with the Algeciras Prosecutor and the National Police some 105 suspected such thefts. I highlight the case today of Remedios.

Once these cases were taken up by the legal system it was clear whatever the outcome for each family it would be traumatic. If they found a lost son or daughter alive and well it would be traumatic for all concerned. The opening of a tomb to ascertain whether it contained any remains would be traumatic. For Remedios the discovery of the bones in her daughter’s niche at Estepona’s cemetery has been very traumatic indeed.

In June the La Línea court ordered niches at the local cemetery, which were claimed to be the final resting places of three of these babes, to be opened with the remains taken for forensic tests. On June 29, again on the orders of a La Línea judge, the same process was undertaken at Estepona’s cemetery.

Remedios had given birth to a daughter on November 16 1981 at the then Residencia Sanitara in La Línea. As she was from Estepona, some 30 kilometres from La Línea, when her baby supposedly died shortly after birth, principally from lack of oxygen, she insisted her remains were interred in her local cemetery.

Now we come to the harrowing cry from Remedios: “These can’t be my daughter’s bones.” She was given just two hours notice to go to Estepona cemetery to meet the judge, Judicial Police officers, two forensic scientists and cemetery workers. The burial ground was sealed off and niche 26 opened. She said she had been waiting months for this moment but instead of closure she is left with torment.

Inside the tomb were the remains of a complete skeleton but Remedios asks, my daughter – also named Remedios – was hours old, how could she have such a complete skeleton? At the back of the mummified mouth are clearly tooth sockets. The ribs are four centimetres long and a centimetre wide, the size of her finger – how can this be asks Remedios when my baby just weighed two and a half kilos? The remains also had the legs crossed in an apparent effort to cram the large baby in to a small casket.

Whether this is the baby of Remedios will be determined by DNA tests being carried out at the Instituto de Medicina Legal in Sevilla. After her baby died officials at La Línea hospital offered to bury it at no charge – as has been the case with other missing babies – but she and her husband declined. The remains were taken at their request to Estepona but the parents were not allowed to see the body. Her sister-in-law asked to see the baby too but the undertaker refused saying it wasn’t allowed – an action Remedios described as inhumane and a violation of their rights.

There is one intriguing difference in this case. The gynaecologist who delivered Remedios’ baby and declared it dead is still working at a medical practice in La Línea. If the DNA tests show the remains are not the daughter of Remedios then the chief prosecutor in the Campo de Gibraltar, Juan Cisneros, who is leading the investigation, knows who to ask.

(Versions of the above article has appeared in Panorama, Dscriber (USA) and other publications)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

THE MURDOCH DEBACLE STARTED THERE

We live in a confusing world!

When I visited London in January I had arranged to meet the former Tory MP Sir Teddy Taylor. In his autobiography ‘Teddy Boy Blue’ he had covered his meetings with Gaddafi in Libya. We were meant to meet over dinner to discuss those encounters in relation to Lockerbie. I was struck down with a flu type bug so cancelled our meeting till I returned in May by which time of course the world had moved on and Gaddafi was front page news for different reasons.

Similarly in May I visited the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell to see the small patio dedicated to the printers who had lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War. Also at the Marx Memorial Library was the exhibition “News International Wapping – 25 Years On”. Subtitled as the strike that made the modern media it details the history of Murdoch in the UK and the violent confrontations of the Wapping dispute.

When I viewed it I did so largely out of recent social and political historical interest. Little did I know that within weeks, just like Libya, Wapping would again be propelled to the front of the UK’s news with the escalation of the phone hacking scandal and the resulting closure of the News of the World.

The curator Ann Field tells me well over 500 people have viewed the exhibition at the Marx Memorial Library. A fair enough number for such a venue. However, if the truth was told, if five million visited it still wouldn’t be enough. For to see the current scandal in its full context you have to go back to 1986.

The exhibition tells us the Wapping conspiracy involved Rupert Murdoch, his henchmen the EETPU and Farrar & Co, the company’s and the queen’s solicitors, who advised News International on how to get rid of its workers. They wrote: “the cheapest way would be to dismiss employees while participating in a strike.”

The importance played by Murdoch’s UK press holdings in building his empire is detailed by Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press & Broadcasting Freedom. He states: “Pre-Wapping his Fleet Street papers generated 45 per cent of Murdoch’s profits. Post-Wapping the boost in profits from the papers funded his global expansion. He acquired the Twentieth Century Fox film studio, created the Fox TV network in the States, and launched Sky in the UK.”

At the exhibition I met Jo Chesterman. Her husband, Fred, had been a driver for one of Murdoch’s newspapers and she was propelled in to forming the women’s support group, largely by the wives of the former striking miners. Jo’s photographs and first hand report from the frontline made riveting viewing and listening. One of the pundits on TV recently linked the closeness between the Murdoch Empire and the Met Police, who were wined and dined during the phone hacking investigation then offered lucrative jobs, to the Wapping dispute. One of Jo’s most sickening photographs was of a demonstrating print worker who had each arm grabbed by a police officer, walked fast in to a lamppost then let go. He collapsed to the ground his face smashed and covered in blood. His stunned anguish stared out at me.

From July 25 the exhibition moves to TUC Congress House for three weeks. So large is the demand to see it thanks to the Murdoch crisis that it has numerous other dates and venues both to the end of 2011 and in to 2012. If you haven’t yet seen it I strongly recommend you do. The Murdoch debacle started there.

(A version of the above article has appeared in Panorama and other publications: an updated version appeared in the London Progressive Journal on February 28 2012)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

LONDON MEMORIALS TO THE FIGHT AGAINST FRANCO


In January of last year I read an article in The Morning Star about a memorial garden to British volunteers in the Spanish Civil War in London. However it wasn’t till this May that I decided to visit my native ‘old smoke’ from Spain to try and find it.


Google was no great help but did point me to another memorial by County Hall, the former GLC council chamber on the Thames opposite Westminster. I did eventually track down the memorial garden, or patio to be more correct, but I will come to that later.

To go back in history the memorials are to the British volunteers who joined the International Brigades. These were made up largely of socialist, communist and anarchist volunteers from numerous countries to went to Spain to defend the Second Spanish Republic in the 1936 – 1939 Spanish Civil War.

It is claimed people from 53 nations took part. The total number of volunteer combatants could have been as high as 35,000 although it is estimated that only around 20,000 were on the battle front at any one time. In addition up to 5,000 were engaged in non-combatant activities. They fought against the Spanish Nationalist forces under Franco which in turn were supported by German and Italian forces.

Some 2,000 people from Britain joined the International Brigades plus another 250 from what was then the Irish Free State. The Irish were in the main divided between the British Battalion and the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. Britons also served in both as well as the Tom Mann Centuria – a small group who operated as part of the largely German Thälmann Battalion.

It is well known that the English writers Laurie Lee and George Orwell served in the International Brigades alongside the trade union leader Jack Jones. However I was intrigued to find the name of the actor James Robertson Justice also listed amongst the combatants plus an “English upper-class communist” Esmond Romilly.

There are actually a number of memorials to the International Brigade volunteers throughout Britain. However the main one is without a doubt in Jubilee Gardens by the London Eye and County Hall – or rather it normally is. It consists of a bronze statue by Ian Walters that was unveiled by the former Labour Party leader Michael Foot in 1985. Unfortunately you cannot visit it to next year. The gardens are being revamped, the statue is in storage and when they re-open the memorial will have a new location away from the Eye’s queue.

Every year the International Brigades Memorial Trust holds a ceremony to commemorate those who felt compelled between 1936 and 1939 to travel to Spain to fight against fascism. As I stated previously around 2,000 made that journey with 500 paying the ultimate sacrifice and dying in Spain.

The 2010 commemoration ceremony in Jubilee Gardens was the first held by the IBMT at which no veterans of the conflict were present but needless to say their children and grandchildren were.

Now to the second London memorial. Whilst Jubilee Gardens is visited by hundreds of thousands of people a year the memorial garden has to be viewed by appointment. The reason for this it proudly stands at the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell.

I made the short walk from Farringdon Station along streets I hadn’t trod for over 45 years. I presumed the library would have a garden at the front in which would be placed the memorial. I found myself standing outside a building in Clerkenwell Green and noticed there was an exhibition inside dedicated to the Wapping Newspaper Strike. It soon occurred to me this was Marx House, a former 1738 Welsh Charity school, but garden there was none.

I had pre-arranged my visit and went up to the library which apart from holding Marx’s own library also houses the definitive archives related to the International Brigades. I was then led back through the building and out through a door which led to a small patio at the rear of the building. I was in the International Brigade Memorial Garden.

The official inauguration took place in January of last year and was presided over by Les Baylis and Tony Burke, the assistant general secretaries of Unite the Union. It was they who unveiled the striking statue of an International Brigade volunteer which had previously been at the Unite training centre in Quorn in Leicestershire.

At that ceremony Les Baylis had said: “It is entirely fitting that Unite Graphical Paper and Media Sector has sponsored this garden and chosen to relocate the magnificent bronze statue of an international Brigade fighter within these walls.”

The reason is that by trade more printers went to fight in Spain than any other. Three of that number George Hardy, Leslie Maughan and Walter Tapsell gave their lives for democracy and are honoured by a commemoration plaque on the patio’s wall which also includes the name of journalist Ralph Fox.

Bill Alexander, the commander of the British battalion and a member of the union, was the president of the Marx Memorial Library up till his death. The brigade veterans left their archives to the library in perpetuity in 1975. Today they are the finest source for the conflict in the British Isles and can be viewed by researchers and historians along with the numerous other important document collections at the library.

Perhaps this memorial garden is best summed up by Tony Burke who said at the ceremony: “We would want Unite members, and trade unionists and printers, to visit the archive and also spend a few moments at the memorial to remember those brave printers who risked and gave their lives as members of the International Brigades and fought against fascism. We well always recall that ‘freedom was never held, without a fight, without struggle there can be no victory’!”

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on July 14 2011)



Monday, June 27, 2011

THE SECRET POLICEMAN IS HAVING A BALL

If you ask most people about the secret police their minds will go back to the days of the Nazi regime or totalitarian Eastern Bloc states. However many will be aware that the secret policeman (and policewoman) is alive and well. Indeed as I write this in Spain they are having a ball!


Spain and a repressive regime go hand in hand for those who think back to the years of the Franco dictatorship. For Spaniards who are of my generation or older the threat of the knock on the door was very real indeed. For those under 40 it is all history. They are very proud of the advances Spain has made in the democratic stakes since the death of Franco. Hence the discovery that secret police are still on the nation’s streets has come as a profound shock.

Of course Spain’s secret police have been there all alone. In March I wrote in the Morning Star about the anniversary of February 23 1981 attempted coup when the fledgling democracy of Spain was almost brought to its knees when the Guardia Civil Lieutenant Coronel Antonio Tejero marched in to the Spanish parliament, confronted the MPs and fired shots in the chamber.

One of those forced to flee was Antonio Herrera now in charge of the health section of the CC.OO union. The Communist MP, Paco Vázquez, met him in Málaga offering to take him to Gibraltar. He declined and says later friends in the police told him at the time they knew exactly where to find him plus each and every one of those on the left.

Now the secret police have surfaced again amongst the protestors, ‘Los Indignados’, of the 15-M movement. This movement makes up a number of people’s organisations which have become indignant with the nation’s economic plight, the endemic political corruption and greed. The street protests have been largely peaceful and have embraced young and pensioners, the employed and jobless, professional classes and artisans. The Spanish summer is as real as the Arab spring.

So the surfacing of videos that show secret police infiltrating the demonstrations of the 15-M movement to provoke disturbances and confrontations supposedly on the part of the protestors in order to justify the brutal police retaliation has come as a major shock to the public.

Whilst the shock is real enough what has left people stunned is that only websites such as Voto en Blanco have had the courage to show what is going on via the internet. No media, which is subjected to or dependent on the State or its agencies, has been brave enough to report the actions of the secret police. Whilst it is the police in the spotlight they, of course, take their orders from the politicians in power who are demonstrating the low moral standing of those who currently govern Spain.

The majority of the violence has taken place in Barcelona, a territory governed by the Generalitat. It is here that Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, Spain’s minister of the interior, who is also responsible for the security of the country, has approved the tactics and methods of the police which are more in keeping with a dictatorship or a democracy that has no ethics or decency.

As can clearly been seen on the videos that have been placed on YouTube, although I understand access to some has been blocked, police provocateurs have infiltrated the demonstrations and used violence in stark contrast to the peaceful protests around them. In a video of the demonstration in Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella once the secret police have done their work the riot squads move in firing directly in to the crowds. The video then identifies the police perpetrators.

These are the actions we associate with Nazi, Fascists or repressive regimes. However Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba is not only a socialist government minister but the likely heir to the current premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

If socialist Rubalcaba can sanction such action on behalf of PSOE then if Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right Partido Popular wins the general election next March expect the repressive instruments of State to be given full reign. For the sad fact is all the corrupt political parties are under attack. Collectively they are guilty as charged so will fight back with their total might – secret police and all.

(Versions of this article appeared in the Morning Star and Panorama on June 28 2011).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

THE RIGHT HAVE GOT IT WRONG

We started with the Arab Spring and that has seemingly morphed into the European Summer. In Spain the people are taking to the streets and are questioning the very foundations of their democracy. It would be laughable if it were not so tragic but the centre-right Partido Popular would have Spaniards believe they are the answer. Wrong: the PP are the problem.


“Los Indignados” is the collective term for the protestors in Spain. They form under the banner 15-M, May 15 being the day they took to the streets ahead of the local and some regional elections on the 22 nd. The indignant ones are not just young activists: they come from all age groups, mothers with babes in arms, pensioners, workers, the jobless – every Spaniard who wants to cry “¡Basta!” “Enough!” – and their number is steadily growing.

The movement started in Madrid where the “Indignados” moved in to the Puerta del Sol on May 15 and set up camp. Madrid as a city and region is controlled by the PP so the centre-right party was happy to see them on the streets as the elections drew near, a very public rejection of the socialist Zapatero government.

The PSOE government wisely chose not to intervene as the election board ruled the gathering illegal if it continued on the eve of the polls – a day of reflection in the Spanish electoral process. The PP swept to power in regions, provinces and town halls making historic gains. Then the party’s mood changed. They wanted the plazas cleared, the “Indignados” were a nuisance, an eye-sore, a blight on business – the PP demanded the government take action.

The protestors held their position; in Barcelona the results were bloody confrontations with the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, who were also accused of infiltrating the 15-M movement and acting as provocateurs. Eventually they dispersed, usually cleaning up as they went. The action groups have not evaporated they have merely reformed basing themselves in the very city, town and village neighbourhoods from which they draw their strength and support.

On Sunday 19-J protests were held throughout Spain with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in Madrid, Barcelona, Pamplona, Gijón, Salamanca, Valladolid, Valencia, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Bilbao, Vitoria, San Sebastián, Sevilla, Málaga. These were set piece events but far more significantly virtually every small town and village also held their own angry protests. Posters accused the prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of being “a lackey of the banks”. Others proclaimed ““There is no democracy, government by the markets”, “the crisis that pays the capitalists” and “Democracy, rest in peace.”

In March I wrote an article in The Morning Star on political corruption in Spain. I quoted fellow journalist, Francisco Rubiales, who pens the “Voto en Blanco” blog which has long campaigned for Spaniards to withhold their votes from corrupt politicians. He spoke of a Spain infected by the worst political, social, cultural and human cancer – deep and rampant corruption which closes off the country’s road to the future and snatches away the dignity of the Spanish people.

On Monday after the 19-M protests he wrote thus: “What happened yesterday in Spain is important because it signifies the awakening of a nation which has until now been subjected and castrated by one of the worst political classes in the world. Spain, fortunately, wakes up and displays its teeth to the politicians that already hide, frightened, behind the police forces who have been armed and trained to suppress popular outrage. When a political class has to defend itself from its own people with the police because it lacks the arguments, it has lost democratic legitimacy. It is the beginning of a new chapter in the history of modern Spain: of popular outrage against this worthless political class. Welcome the protests, symbol of the courage of a people and their attachment to the values of decency.”

Of course all the political parties have rushed to engage the support of the 15-M movement. This week the vice-secretary of communications of the Partido Popular, Esteban González Pons, stated: “The solution to the indignation is dignity and this they can do at the polls, the votes, the voice of the people, the change and we think that is the PP. When after the 15-M the Spaniards were permitted to vote, they voted more than ever for the Partido Popular and we are going to prepare to be the alternative to restore the dignity of Spain.”

The centre right could not be more wrong. True Spaniards voted out the ruling PSOE and hence the Partido Popular benefited as too did the far left Izquierda Unida. Yet the move by the PP to link itself with “Los Indignados” is either cynicism or stupidity, possibly both. The political heirs to Franco are a key element of Rubiales “worst political classes in the world.” It is a party riddled with corruption and if Zapatero is a lackey of the banks then the leader of the PP and probably Spain’s next premier, Mariano Rajoy, is their partner, friend and ally.

The 15-M movement and through it an ever increasing number of Spaniards are demanding a thorough overhaul of the political and economic system with an end to endemic corruption. The PP cannot deliver that hence the party’s attempts to try and fool the people in to believing it can will rebound in the most violent of forms. Spain is a country in political crisis; when the Partido Popular comes to power the powder keg will explode because in its election euphoria it has overlooked the simple fact – it is the party that stands for everything that the 15-M movement rejects.

(The photograph was taken at the Jerez 15-M meeting on Sunday - David Eade (c))
 
(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Friday June 24 2011)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

THE SPANISH REVOLUTION

Spain captured the world headlines last week as thousands of young people poured into Madrid’s Puerta del Sol to demand “real democracy now”.


The massive protest was under the Movimiento 15-M banner with similar demonstrations witnessed in Barcelona, Bilbao, Murcia, Valladolid, Santiago de Compostella, Vitoria, Zaragoza amongst other Spanish cities as well as amongst young Spaniards in Washington, New York, Frankfurt, Berlin, Athens and Mexico City.

The most tense day was last Saturday – a day of reflection in Spain’s town hall elections and also in polls for some regional governments. It is a day by law when no political activity can take place and the Junta Electoral Central that governs such matters had deemed the Puerta del Sol gathering illegal.

In the event the thousands gathered in Madrid’s central plaza remained in place without any confrontations with the police. The minister of the interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, consulted with security officials, but took the view that as long as the protests remained peaceful no action was to be taken.

A wise political move as socialist Rubalcaba is the favourite to succeed PSOE premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Zapatero will not contest the general election next March and this summer a new socialist leader will be chosen. A bloody confrontation last Saturday ahead of the polls on Sunday when PSOE was humiliated in many of its strongest seats would not have read well on his CV.

The irony of course is that the political beneficiaries of the deep anger over the high unemployment, financial meltdown and corruption has been the centre-right Partido Popular which is well set to take power in Madrid at the general election. Ironically the far-left Izquierda Unida (which includes the Partido Comunista) has also received a boost from PSOE’s mauling but not sufficient to make any inroads in to central government. Gaspar Llamazares, the IU MP, stated: “The results of the IU were positive but insufficient. Positive in the extension of autonomous and local seats but insufficient because we did not collect the votes lost by PSOE or of the radical democracy. We need to change and become the focus of the social and political left.”

As Llamazares has identified the problem for all political parties in Spain is their total rejection by a large number of young people in the country and especially those who took to the streets. They view all politicians as “deplorable” with over half subscribing to the view politics has nothing to do with them neither does it encroach on their private lives. Also in the firing line is the Catholic Church, large companies, the unions, the Spanish Royal family and parliament.

The majority view is the Catholic Church is too rich and meddles too much in politics. Of the politicians themselves they are viewed as pursuing their own interests and in promoting the interests of the multinationals and banks over those of the people. “We live under the dictatorship of the markets” was one of the protest banners.

There would also appear to be a collapse in the support for social movements compared with just six years ago. Ecologists, pro-human rights groups, pacifists have all lost support with only one in five young persons belonging to any form of association and those are largely cultural, sporting or youth orientated.

The family has always been a strong feature of Spanish life and is the refuge for many in the economic crisis with its accompanying high unemployment. A survey has shown that 85 per cent of young people still live with their family whether they study or work and the average age of leaving home has risen to 27. Not surprisingly 71 per cent rate their family as the most important aspect of their lives ahead of their health and friends.

Spain, as in many nations, is being confronted by a generation of pessimists. Over 40 per cent see unemployment as the major problem in their lives, over half of 15 to 24 year olds view their future with extreme pessimism, indeed it is a generation that believes it will be worse off that its parents.

The Partido Popular might be riding high in the polls but it would be very foolish indeed if it believed it is tapping in to this anger and dissatisfaction – for the party of the centre right, mired in corruption, is seen as part of the problem not the solution.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Thursday May 26 2011)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

THE PARTY IS DEAD, LONG LIVE LABOUR


The venue was Millbank Tower in Westminster by the Thames. The room in a previous life had been New Labour’s campaign briefing headquarters. Labour has moved on and now it is the Tories who occupy offices upstairs.


The event was the Fabian Society’s “Progressive Fight Back”. It was billed as “the first chance for Fabian and Labour members and other campaigners to debate what the fallout of the 2011 elections mean for the future of British politics.”

So did the Tories send a spy to listen in? Well to be frank if they did they would have been more than happy with what they heard. They would have found a Labour Party busy studying its navel, a party under the guidance of Peter Hain ‘refounding’ itself and to be honest it was not a pretty sight. Indeed if the political ghost of Lord Mandelson was still lurking behind the scenes he would have spun in his ermine gown.

Hain’s brief from Ed Miliband is to ‘refound’ the Labour Party. However the Labour Party is an irrelevance to the majority of people in Britain. Voters make governments and not party members whatever the activists may think. The voters are swayed by what politicians say on TV, radio, the press and social media. Few give any thought to the Labour Party and on this evidence it’s just as well.

Party members stood up to speak of a hostile party, one where local organisations were used as tools by MPs or councillors to secure their re-selection, of a large unfathomable rules book, of branches that set out to put members firmly in their place and discourage family involvement, a Labour that expects its members to campaign without adequate information or support and the public can be a member of this sorry state of affairs for just 40 pounds a year. Don’t all rush at once!

Peter Hain has the unenviable task of ‘refounding’ the party with the option to open it up to first and second class members. The consultation only has a month or so to run and if the Fabian’s conference is anything to go by the final conclusions could be dire.

For me the most depressing picture of the modern Labour Party was not painted by the members but by Hain himself. Fresh off the back of leading the party in Wales to success in the Welsh Assembly elections he urged delegates not to Twitter one statement because he’d never said that and refused to make another because he was scared of what the party hierarchy would say. He even talked of a key Labour committee where he and other members were not allowed to exchange email addresses as they weren’t to communicate with each other. If they had anything to say to each other, and preferably they didn't, it should be done through party HQ.

One of Hain’s big ideas for engaging with the public is to copy from the US Democrats the “joggers for Obama”. I say it is his big idea for he pushed it three times at least. If Labour believes the “Millipedes” are going to sprint the party to victory at the next election they face many years in opposition.

The Labour movement was forged by men and women with fires in their bellies who campaigned for social justice. The issues have changed but the need for passion hasn’t. The party has no place in modern day politics but Labour has.

The traditional canvasser is greeted on the doorstep with best indifference at worst hostility. The door knocking is dismissed by voters because it is a once every four or five year event and for the rest of the time they are ignored.

The new political agenda is not being set in the USA but on the streets not by teams of canvassers but by the people of Arab nations. It is people power in its rawest state fuelled by the explosion of the social media. The challenge for the Labour Party is to adapt to a world where nearly everybody has a mobile phone and almost every household is connected to the internet. That is where the future elections will be fought and won without a jogger in sight.

Cable theft: I should add the key note speech at the Fabian’s conference was made by Andy Burnham reflecting on the general election defeat, the results of the recent 2011 elections and the strategy for recovery. His subsequent session of engagement with the audience was bizarrely interrupted by the surprise arrival of Lib Dem minister Vince Cable. Cable then high jacked the remainder of the Burnham’s session, overran in to Hain’s and stole the headlines in the Fabian Society’s blog on the conference. A blog which incidentally totally ignores Hain’s speech on ‘refounding Labour’ and the consultation process.



Tuesday, May 10, 2011

SPAIN’S TRAGIC MAP OF DEATH

It is 75 years since the start of the Spanish Civil War and in recent days the Ministry of Justice has published a graphic map on its website showing more than 2,000 burial sites of the victims of the war and the Franco repression to be found on the Iberian Peninsula, the islands and the north coast of Africa.


It is not a map of historic reference but an aid to those who still want to find or recover their family members. Visitors to the ministry’s website can key in regions of Spain or a person’s name to see if the common grave has been located. Advice is given on how recover these remains for reburial depending on the rules and regulations applying in the various autonomous regions.

The map of Spain is covered with green, red, yellow, black and white markers denoting the state of a specific common burial site. Some graves have been exhumed, others untouched, some have disappeared, there are zones with a number of burial places but there is a giant blue star in the centre of Spain indicating the Valle de los Caídos where many of the victims of Franco’s slaughter was transferred to.

The Valle de los Caídos – Valley of the Fallen – was started by Franco in 1940 supposedly as a national act of atonement. It took over 18 years to build, cost over 1.1 billion pesetas with much of the funds raised from National Lottery draws and donations.

Just who built the monument is a matter of argument. Certainly the paid workers were the poor from the land who had no other employment. “Red” prisoners were also used. The charge that the monument site was “like a Nazi concentration camp” refers to the use of convicts and Popular Front war prisoners. They worked in exchange for their convictions being lifted. Ten per cent of the workforce is said to have been prisoners but other sources claim up to 20.000 prisoners were used with dark references to “forced labour.”

The Valle de los Caídos is the final resting place of Franco. He also had interred there José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange, the Spanish Fascist party that aided Franco’s propulsion to power.

The valley contains both Nationalist and Republican graves but apart from being the final resting place of Primo de Rivera and Franco, the tone of the monument is distinctly Nationalist and anti-Communist. Here you will find the slogan “¡Caídos por Dios y por España!” - “Fallen for God and Spain!” symbolising the close ties between Franco’s regime and the Catholic Church. Franco also chose to announce the creation of the monument on 1 April 1940, the day of the victory parade to celebrate the first anniversary of his triumph over the Republic. Franco announced his personal decision to raise a splendid monument to those who had fallen in “his” cause.

As the Ministry of Justice published its map, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the Minister of the Interior, first vice president of the government and the favourite to succeed premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, said it would be practically impossible to identify thousands of the bodies at the Valle de los Caídos.

The Ministry of Justice’s map and website will have encouraged many people whose family members are interred there to try to find their remains. However Rubalcaba warned them the task would be extremely complex and practically impossible to achieve.

It is said that in the Valle de los Caídos are the remains of 33,847 victims of the Civil War from both sides. Between 1959 and 1983 491 bodies were removed and taken to their home towns and villages for reburial. According to the Patrimonio Nacional another 21,423 victims have been identified but the remains of 12,410 have not.

The events of 75 years ago plus the Franco era still haunt and divide Spain. The Ley de Memoría Histórica brought in by the socialist government aims to find the thousands of still missing graves so that grandparents, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters can finally be identified and laid to rest. It is a painful task.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on May 11 2011)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

FORGIVE ME FATHER FOR I AM AN ATHEIST

On August 16 a rather unique event is due to take place in Madrid’s El Retiro Park when hundreds of atheists are expected to queue to take confession in protest at the Catholic World Youth Day being held in the city which the Pope is to attend.


I take the view that if you have a religious faith or none you have a total right to practice and hold those beliefs. For instance I believe the Pope has every right to visit his faithful in Spain or any other country. However I totally reject the notion I or any other citizen should have to fund that visit. If a religious leader is the guest of his or her faithful then it is those believers who should pay. This is the main reason why atheists will be protesting on August 16 with the “Confesión masiva de Ateos” and I as a Catholic agnostic support them fully.

When the Pope visits Madrid to take part in the Catholic World Youth Day it will be his second visit within a year following on from Santiago and Barcelona. For this privilege the Spanish tax payer, regardless of his or her beliefs, has and will have to dug deep to fund it. Those who are atheists and oppose this event say El Retiro will become a Catholic theme park between August 16 and 21 and in a sense they are right.

Even if you did hold the view that tax payers should support such visits it would be hard to justify at this present time. Spain is being battered by the economic crisis, there is a record high number of jobless, the long term unemployed have had their financial support removed and pensions are under attack. How in those circumstances can a government fund a Papal visit whilst the number of its homeless, jobless and poverty stricken rises dramatically?

The organisers point out seven Spanish government ministries will be at the event’s beck and call. To subsidise the cost of staging the international gathering the Catholic Church has gone online and established a shop where the faithful can buy or contribute towards vestments and religious objects to be used during the ceremonies.

The organisers believe up to two million young people will take part. Based on previous World Youth Days a third are expected to come from Madrid, another third from the rest of Spain with the balance from the Church worldwide. Travel visas for those from outside the Schengen nations will be free.

Various non-faith organisations have criticised the fact that the church is to be given the use of schools and sports complexes for the young people to stay in by Madrid’s town hall, public health and security services come free, as well as bracelets allowing those attending to visit tourist sites without charge. Businesses sponsoring the World Youth Day will receive financial benefits.

During his visit Pope Benedict will hold a mass at the Cuatro Vientos airfield along with 1,000 cardinals and bishops plus 10,000 priests from 150 countries, which brings us to the confessionals.

One of the major concessions is the use of El Retiro where booths will be set up for hundreds of priests speaking all the major languages to hear the confessions of the young people taking part.

The atheists intend to flood the confessionals between 16.30 and 19.30 on August 16 by taking their places in the booths and totally disrupting the hearing of the young Catholics’ sins. The words “Forgive me father for I have sinned” will be replaced by declarations of atheism instead.

Emi Aperte from Castejón in Navarra created the Facebook page for the event and explained: “The idea came one night when I was talking to my friend Marivic about the news which said Madrid town hall would give El Retiro Park, which is a public place, for confessions. We decided we should show our dissent by taking advantage of the mass confessionals and everybody going to confess whatever they want. From there we created the event and made it public.”

One of those supporting the “Confesión masiva de Ateos” is Fa López Garcia from Ferrol who is an educator. She explained: “The religions have demonstrated during human history that they have manipulated, oppressed and tortured all that have raised their voice against this system demanding free thinking. The Catholic Church is one of the most influential religions in the West with a good marketing business that for over 2,000 years knows and is conscious that to go on to the street to demonstrate is a strong act of solidarity for the institution. The lay movement knows all these strategies can be created in parallel with demonstrations in support of the liberty of belief. The atheist demonstrations have been prohibited in public by the Spanish State. Meanwhile the ecclesiastic professions have all the support of the Spanish State. In conclusion we have a Spanish Constitution but we can declare that out society is still very far from the thoughts and actions of the Second Republic. Our historical memory is weak and manipulated.”

Those who want to support the “Confesión masiva de Ateos” will find it on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=137299326332220 – needless to say there are many other protests planned to coincide with the World Youth Day and Papal visit. It is estimated that over the Pope’s visits to Santiago, Barcelona and now Madrid 29.8 million euros will be paid by the Spanish public with Madrid town hall and the Comunidad de Madrid contributing over 25 million euros. Europa Laica is to send the Pope a fake bill for the total.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Wednesday April 20 2011)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

US TANK HAD CLEAR SIGHT OF BAGDAD HOTEL

It was in August of last year when I first wrote in the Morning Star about José Couso, the Telecinco news cameraman, who was killed on April 8 2003 when he was hit and fatally wounded by a shell from a US Mark 1 Abrams tank fired at the Hotel Palestine in Bagdad.


The US has constantly refused to send the three military members implicated in the case to Spain to face trial. Last week a startling new submission was made to the Spanish High Court which suggests the tank crew had lied to their superiors.

Since Couso’s death his family have tried to have the tank crew tried by the Spanish courts. Various judges have opened proceedings only for the cases to be shelved. In December El País revealed the Wiki Leaks papers which suggested the US Government had pressured its counterpart in Madrid and in turn the Spanish judicial authorities not to proceed with the investigation. Both governments deny any such conspiracy. The Couso family demanded an enquiry.

In July 2010 High Court Judge Santiago Pedraz opened a new investigation and the three US Army officers were charged with a crime against the international community along with homicide and are now the subjects of find and capture warrants. It is no surprise the US authorities have refused to co-operate with bringing about their detention.

Last Wednesday lawyers acting for the Couso family presented before a judge at the High Court a report produced by two Doctors of Physical Science who are also leading professors at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid.

They had travelled to the Hotel Palestine in Bagdad to inspect the site of the tragedy. Their six page report concludes that the US tank that fired at the building killing José Couso and his Ukrainian colleague Taras Protsyuk had a clear view of the terrace on which he was filming. If true it goes against the version of events given by the tank crew who told their superiors they had fired after they saw a flash of light from Couso’s room.

The six-page report was requested by the lawyer acting for Couso’s family. The tests were carried out on photographs taken during the visit to Bagdad by a judicial commission headed by High Court judge Santiago Pedraz on January 28.

The digital images were taken from the exact spot from where the M1 Abrams tank fired on the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge towards the hotel where the shell exploded. The professors used calculations and optics to obtain a simulation of what could be seen from the visor at the top of the tank. Their calculations took in to account various factors such as the distance between the hotel and the tank (1.7 kilometres), the angle of firing (79.5 degrees), the height of the 14 th floor of the hotel where the terrace on which Couso was filming stands, the angle of the vision system of the tanks turret (6.5 degrees) and the maximum vision of the M1 Abrams tank.

The tests are said to have faithfully reproduced the vision from the bridge and the hotel terrace. According to judicial sources this evidence would suggest that the three soldiers, without any reasonable doubt, had perfectly clear vision of the terrace and the windows of the room from which Couso was filming when he was hit by the shell.

The person who ordered the tank to fire was Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp the head of the armoured division who transmitted the order to Captain Philip Wolford to fire the shell and Sergeant Thomas Gibson who made up the tank’s crew. It is also alleged they knew the hotel was in a civilian zone and was occupied by journalists indeed Reuters, Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV had their offices there. Hence to fire at the building was almost certain to result in the death of civilians or journalists.

The report requested by the Couso family runs parallel to another being produced for Judge Pedraz. Again using material gathered during his January visit a group of experts in the Comunidad de Madrid are also working with the photographs and videos on their own report.

This Friday there will be a demonstration outside the US Embassy in Madrid at 20.00 in support José Couso. It marks the 8 th anniversary of the day he was killed by the US tank. Present will be his mother, family members, his lawyer, a witness to his death and other supporters. Their aim is simple – to have the US Government hand over the tank crew to stand trial.

When reopening the case last year Judge Pedraz expressed the hope that the Obama administration in Washington would be more co-operative than its Bush predecessor in wanting to establish the true facts surrounding Couso’s death. Sadly it would appear the USA believes only its citizens have a right to justice and certainly not a Spanish news cameraman or his family.

(The above article will appear in The Morning Star in the coming days)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

BIGGEST THREAT TO SPANISH DEMOCRACY: ANOTHER COUP OR CORRUPTION?

February 23 1981 marked a significant day in Spanish history. It was the day the fledgling democracy of Spain was almost brought to its knees by the attempted coup in which the Guardia Civil Lieutenant Coronel Antonio Tejero marched in to the Spanish parliament, confronted the MPs and fired shots in the chamber.


In the event apart from holding the MPs in Madrid at gunpoint with support from an uprising in Valencia the coup fell flat on its face with a significant role in its downfall being played by King Juan Carlos I. However it is clear from statements made on the 30 th anniversary that those on the left and the unions feared for their very lives.

One of those, Antonio Herrera, now in charge of the health section of the CC.OO union told how shortly after Tejero had stormed Congress and the coup was underway he left one of Málaga’s hospitals. He saw youths wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the Spanish flag. He went with union colleagues to the Nadiuska restaurant in Gibralfaro and then to the Cádiz road. It was there that the Communist MP, Paco Vázquez, offered to take him to Gibraltar. He declined and says that later friends in the police told him at the time they knew exactly where to find each and every one of them.

Whilst the coup would have been largely a blow against those on the left the current level of political corruption in Spain strikes at democracy itself. This May there are the elections for the country’s town halls and next March it is the Spanish general election as well as those for many of the regional governments. So the question is begged: what is the biggest threat to democracy – the coup of thirty years ago or the present high level of political corruption.

The esteemed Spanish journalist, Francisco Rubiales, who was an Efe correspondent in Cuba, Central America and Italy, pointed me in the direction of the fascinating website ‘Corruptódromo’. It is published by the “No les votes” action group and details many of the major political corruption cases that are assaulting Spain. I say many because the list is not updated daily so for example, the false ERE lay off claims and the misappropriation of European funds to combat the unemployment in Andalucía involving at least 1,600 companies have not been fully included.

To quote Francisco’s words: “After a visit to the Corruptódromo, a decent citizen experiences disgust, indignation, and the firm intention of not voting for the parties that are tainted with this horrendous scourge.” Francisco has his own website “Voto en Blanco” and argues the Corruptódromo is the best possible motivation for making a “blank vote” or abstaining.

Francisco goes on to say a glance at the Corruptódromo shows that Spain is infected by the worst political, social, cultural and human cancer – deep and rampant corruption which closes off the country’s road to the future and snatches away the dignity of the Spanish people.

Indeed there is a serious quandary facing the Spanish – a quandary that actually threatens democracy in Spain. For it is not just one party or a group of people that are mired in corruption it engulfs the ruling socialist PSOE, the main centre-right Partido Popular opposition, various regional parties –indeed the only party that largely escapes is the far-left Izquierda Unida.

The Corruptódromo lists 154 major corruption cases but of course there are far more. For instance just one of those cases involves 1,700 PSOE town halls alone that are under investigation for town planning offences; the Gürtel case involves numerous PP mayors and ex-mayors in Madrid plus construction and other companies in a massive fraud; Francisco Camps has been convicted of bribery yet is the PP’s candidate for president in the Valencia regional elections next year; the Unió Mallorquina now the Convergencia per Illes Balears is accused of misappropriating public funds on a massive scale; the CIU in Cataluña of diverting 35.1 million euros destined for the Palau de la Música, and the Coalición Canaria in various frauds which could total 100,000,000 euros. These are just a few examples I have picked from the tip of a very smelly dung heap.

The problem for voters is that many of the politicians involved in these corruption cases like Camps will again be seeking re-election at the coming polls. Even in those cases where they have been removed from office many are still the power behind the throne or the same corrupt party structure remains in place. Not only are the political parties mired in corruption they show a total contempt for the people who vote them in to power and who they are supposed to represent.

I asked Francisco how he saw the situation now compared with 1981. He told me: “Spanish democracy cannot be in danger because it doesn’t exist. The corruption is the great problem of Spain, but not only the corruption of the persons, that allows them to abuse power, to rob and to enrich themselves illegally, but the corruption of the system, that is more serious. I do not see the risk of some State coup similar to 1981. The major risk is that the country goes on sleeping, and that the politicians, that are the great problem of Spain, they carry on degrading it. There is a principal that says the worst of society comes to power every two or three centuries. Some countries manage to avoid it because there are filters and cautions. Spain has failed and we have the worst in power.”

As Izquierda Unida – a far left coalition including the Partido Comunista - is relatively untouched by the corruption scandal I also asked Gaspar Llamazares, its spokesperson in Spain’s lower house of parliament Congress, how he saw 1981 and today. He told me: “At the time it was the military threat. Today the threat to democracy comes from the markets - and corruption is one of its effects.”

I agree – Spain has moved on; the army or Guardia Civil will not rise again and even if they did who would they propel to power as the centre right is as corrupt as the centre left? Spaniards feel betrayed as it is they who battle the economic crisis, face massive unemployment, the slashing of their pensions whilst the political cast are protected as they have their collective hands in the corruption barrel.

The day of reckoning will surely come for Spain when protests and marching are not enough – but what then?

(The above article appeared in Panorama on March 21 and 22 and a version in The Morning Star on March 31 2011)

Corruptódromo website:


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ILLEGAL AND IMMORAL -

The commercial accord between the EU and Morocco that is currently going through the approval process in the European Parliament has been labelled as illegal and immoral. These were the conclusions reached at a seminar on the treaty held last week in Spain.

In a statement one of the participants, Ecologistas en Acción declared: “The conclusions are clear: it is an illegal accord because of the judicial situation of occupied Western Sahara, it is immoral because it includes resources of this territory and it is socially and environmentally prejudicial because it favours the benefits to the large corporations to the detriment of small farmers and the environment.

Juan Soroeta, an expert in International Law, stated that the accord was illegal, because amongst other reasons, “the natural resources of the non-autonomous territories, that is to say, the pending decolonisation of the Western Sahara – can’t be exploited to the detriment of the population and without the approval of the legitimate representatives, in this case Saharan – the Polisario Front that openly rejects the accord.”

Pilar Ramírez of the Western Sahara Resource Watch added: “the accord on the subject of fishing is also illegal. From the ethical point of view because they are exploiting the resources that are the property of the Saharan people.”

International maritime legislation says that you cannot negotiate with the fishing resources of a country that doesn’t have the pertinence of those waters and up till now nobody has recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over this maritime space.

From the political point of view, Alí Mojtar of the Polisario Front protested that “with this accord, Europe supports directly the Moroccan cause to keep the Western Sahara territories” and as a result violates the Declaration of Human Rights and worsens the situation under which the population of the Western Sahara lives.

Pressure is now being applied to Euro MPs not to ratify the new Accord of Association which sets out to liberalise commerce and agriculture between the EU and Morocco. In Spain demonstrations will be held against the agreement and in the country’s lower house of parliament, Congress, MPs are being asked to protest to the Spanish Government about the serious illegalities and violations of human rights.

The King of the Poor has 2,000 million euros

Meanwhile in Morocco itself the move towards democratic freedom amongst Arab nations is being keenly felt. This has led to the Moroccan monarch, Mohamed VI, moving to head off demonstrations that could endanger his regime.

Although Mohamed VI is known in Morocco as the “King of the Poor” he has five palaces in Rabat, Fez, Casablanca, Meknes and Marrakesh plus another in Bets in France some 70 kms from Paris which he inherited from his father Hassan II. The 47-year-old king is the seventh richest monarch in the world and according to Forbes has an estimated personal fortune of 2,000 million euros.

This puts him in a stark contrast to the average Moroccan who earns $3,000 per annum, slightly above the Egyptian norm but behind Tunisia with $4,100 and the highest earners in the Maghreb, Libya with $12,000.

However it is the jobless that were behind the power change in Tunisia. In Morocco the figure is around 10 per cent compared with 14 per cent in Tunisia and Algeria. The main problem facing Mohamed VI is that amongst his 35 million subjects half are under 25 years of age and these have been hit hard by juvenile unemployment. Mohamed VI has already doubled the subventions on basic food stuffs and domestic gas but this has not proved enough.

Wikileaks revealed that a US diplomat reported “the corruption in Morocco extends to the royal palace”. Now Moroccans want more transparency and given what has happened elsewhere in the Maghreb the king has decided to act.

Last week Mohamed VI announced a fundamental reform of the constitution that has been in place since 1996 and was introduced by his father. In a TV address he has spoken of giving total responsibility to the government, ensuring the independent power of the judiciary, and ceding to parliament the functions of representation, legislation and control.

It remains to be seen how the Movement of February 20 will respond. It has called for massive demonstrations on March 20 to demand political change, more employment, actions against institutionalised corruption and the reform of the Constitution.

Osama El Khlifi, one of the young people that started the movement on Facebook, says the king’s speech has changed nothing. “We are going to demonstrate on the 20 th with the same demands. There will be more people on the streets than in February.”

It remains to be seen how Mohamed VI will react.

(A version of the above article appeared in the Morning Star on Wednesday March 16 2011).