Thursday, July 28, 2011


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: - 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


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


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


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)