I recently took part in the ‘Carrie on Talking‘ radio show hosted by Carrie Frais in Barcelona – a sort of Desert Island Discs. I had to choose 8 songs that have had an impact on my life. I didn’t know what to expect, but I actually found it quite an emotional thing to do. Have a listen, if you’re interested …
Category Archives: Blog
‘Mucho Toro’ now available on Amazon Kindle
If you read in Spanish and enjoy a laugh, then ‘Mucho Toro – Las tribulaciones de un inglés en la movida‘ is finally available to download here on Amazon Kindle.
Originally published in English by Pan Macmillan as A Load of Bull: An Englishman’s Adventures in Madrid, the Spanish edition was published by Almuzara in 2008, translated by Antonio Rivero Taravillo. Don’t ask me why the publishers chose ‘Mucho Toro’ as the title – which I also question in the introduction.
The book covers the ten years I spent in Madrid in the late 80s and early 90s, working for (and eventually running) Ediciones Condé Nast, and launching the Spanish editions of Vogue and GQ magazines. A sequel about the 12 years I have since been working and living in Catalonia will eventually follow – although a forthcoming crime novel will be published beforehand.
My weekly blog will also return this September. More soon …
The Weekly Noticias – Show No.17
Belated post … this is The Weekly Noticias show No.17, broadcast on 25 July 2018 on MetroFM in Barcelona. We return this evening (Weds 19 Sept) for Show No.18, which will also be broadcast on Madrid City Council‘s public radio station, M21 on 20 Sept. More news on all this to follow. Watch this space …
Video & Podcast for Show No.17 (25 July 2018)
The Weekly Noticias – Shows 14-16
The Weekly Noticias returned at the start of July, and we’ve already broadcast 3 more shows on MetroFM in Barcelona on 4 July, 11 July & 18 July. Videos and podcasts are below for each of these latest shows. We’re doing one more show on 25 July before returning mid-September. Before then, we will also be announcing some very exciting news. Watch this space …
Video & Podcast for Show No.16 (18 July 2018)
Video & Podcast for Show No.15 (11 July 2018)
Video & Podcast for Show No.14 (4 July 2018)
Un observador inglés (24) – Is this what Spanish politics has become?
The rapper, ‘Valtonyc’, convicted by Spain to three and a half years in prison over the lyrics of his songs (in which he ‘glorified terrorism’ and criticised the monarchy), gave a press conference on Thursday in Brussels, where he’d fled to in May to avoid jail. The artist criticised the Spanish state for using the fight against terrorism as an excuse to prosecute political or social dissidents that have nothing to do with it. Whilst Spain’s justice system is seeking to extradite him (alongside a few others who have fled Spain for other reasons), Valtonyc said that his only crime was to ‘sing’ and ‘being left-wing, communist and pro-independence’. He said: ‘Apparently in Spain this is illegal, they persecute you and put you in prison.’ Well … I’m not quite sure about all that, Valtonyc. You can sing in Spain and you won’t go to jail (if you don’t ‘glorify terrorism’). You can also be left-wing, communist and in favour of independence, and that won’t necessarily land you in jail, either … although I admit it could stand against you.
I’m certainly more left-wing than right-wing, but I’m definitely not a communist, or, for that matter (and despite what many people think) necessarily ‘pro-independent’. I have only ever said that I believe people should have the right to vote. And I’ll always say it. Indeed, for simply having written (several times) that I believe Catalonia should have been allowed the right to vote in an agreed referendum (similar to the Scottish referendum), I have received abuse and threats via email and social media, including regular taunts from someone obsessed with wanting to shit on my mother. I recently found an email in my junk box from someone who wants to see me hanging from the cross at Franco’s tomb, the ‘Valley of the Fallen’. Why? Because I dared to write that I thought it was good news that Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, together with his PSOE-led socialist government (or ‘communist’ government, as some people describe it) announced that they intend to exhume Franco and move him to a more modest burial place.
What is it with you, Spain? Why does everything have to be only black or white, (or red or blue), or left or right? Why are there only two extremes? Why is anyone who isn’t a PP, C’s or (God forbid) a Vox supporter, a ‘communist’? And vice versa, why is anyone who is a PP or C’s supporter a ‘fascist’? It goes on and on and on … and at some point it needs to stop. Why is it that anyone who defends the right for the Catalans to have an agreed referendum labelled a ‘separatist’ – or someone intent on breaking the ‘unity of Spain’? It is illogical, if you think about it. Is it a fear, a knowing, that the Catalans would have voted (or did vote) to leave Spain? A decade ago, if they’d been granted a referendum, they probably wouldn’t have voted to do so … and so the ‘politics’ of the last PP government on this front simply failed, and failed spectacularly. But all last week we’ve seen the candidates to lead the ‘new PP’ (especially ‘SuperPablo’ Casado) competing with one another to see who can promise to be the harshest against the Catalans and the Basques! Is this what Spanish politics has become? Whoever promises to be the harshest against the Catalans and Basques will get the most votes? The longer this goes on, any ‘unity of Spain’ is simply doomed.
I clearly have so much more to learn about Spain, even having lived and worked here, on and off, in both Barcelona and Madrid for over 20 years. Right now, however, Spain looks like a country that is more divided than ever (and, most worryingly, even about Franco’s tomb), and it is also pretty clear that Felipe VI (thanks mainly to his own 3rd October speech) is the king of only half (if that) of it. Even though the ‘fascists’ (ie, the ‘non-separatists’ and ‘non-communists’) disagreed with it, I think it is good news that the Catalan political prisoners have been moved to jails in Catalonia; but I repeat: they shouldn’t be in any jails. And even though the ‘fascists’ (ie, the ‘non-separatists’ and ‘non-communists’) also disagree with it, I think it is very good that Pedro Sánchez is finally having a meeting with the Catalan President, Quim Torra, tomorrow. Pedro Sánchez needs to be given a chance. And so does Quim Torra. And so does Spain, and Catalonia, and the Basque Country. Sort it out …
Un observador inglés (23) – Midsummer madness
I haven’t updated this blog since 17th June – 14 days ago. That’s about the same number of days that Iñaki Urdangarin, brother-in-law to the king of Spain, has been locked up in a women’s prison … supposedly in Brieva, in the Avila region. That’s assuming he is locked up in a prison. I mean, as far as I know, no-one has actually seen a photo of him arriving or entering the prison, any prison (although someone managed to film Oriol Junqueras teaching philosophy in his prison, where he’s been locked up for over 7 or 8 months without trial). I think we’ll just have to assume Urdangarin is in prison and not, perhaps, sailing or body-surfing in Mallorca, or in a VIP box at the World Cup, or sunning himself on a gin-palace yacht in the Bahamas, or hiding in the vault of a Swiss bank … but you never know. Stranger things have happened.
Indeed, several strange things have happened in the past 14 days. Talking of prisons, all of a sudden (at least it seemed all of a sudden), the group known as the ‘wolf pack’, the 5 thugs who gang raped (yes, gang raped) an 18 year old woman at the bull running festival in Pamplona back in July 2016, were all granted bail of €6,000 by the Navarra regional court, whilst their appeal is being considered. They’d been found guilty of ‘sexual abuse’ (and not rape, unbelievably – which caused a national outcry) and sentenced to 9 years in prison. On granting them bail, the Navarra court concluded that there was no ‘significant risk of flight’. But then one of them was found trying to get a new passport …
Whilst Urdangarin was (we assume) entering a prison, his brother-in-law was at the White House with Letizia, meeting Donald Trump and Melania. Donald had been busy ordering children to be put in cages on the Mexican border. Melania, bless her, tweeted that “Letizia and I enjoyed tea and time together, focusing on the ways we can positively impact children”. I’m still trying to recover from that.
Talking of the Spanish royals, they were forced to move the Princess of Girona Awards out of Girona last week. Instead, the ceremony was held in Vilablareix. The Girona City Council had announced back in January that they wouldn’t give the awards’ foundation permission to hold this year’s ceremony in the city’s auditorium. In Vilablareix, the Mossos had cut the access road due to protests by local pro-independence CDR groups. No-one from the Catalan government welcomed Felipe VI and Letizia on their arrival – only the Spanish government’s new delegate in Catalonia, Teresa Cunillera. In his speech, Felipe VI ignored the political crisis, and appealed for a ‘Catalonia of everyone and for everyone’.
I’m not sure a ‘Catalonia of everyone and for everyone’ was really reflected during the opening ceremony of the Mediterranean Games in Tarragona, however, which Felipe VI had inaugurated a few days earlier. The Catalan President, Quim Torra, finally decided to attend the ceremony, but also announced that his government would be cutting off all future relations with the Spanish monarchy. Just before the opening of the Games, he was photographed handing the king two reports from the Catalan Ombudsman about the police violence against Catalan voters on 1st October, as well as a book of photographs from that day, by photo-journalist, Jordi Borras.
As you might realise, I’ve been missing writing about M.Rajoy (remember him?). However, with luck, the new leader of the PP might be Pablo Casado, aka ‘Super Pablo’. I’ve always thought that if he can complete 5 or 6 Harvard masters degrees (or however many it was) during a 4 day course in Aravaca (or wherever it was), then he’d be absolutely bloody perfect to lead the PP, even if it was during his lunch break, blindfold and standing on one foot. Super Pablo announced he was going to run for the leadership on the same morning that a judge considered (and I believe still is considering) sending the investigation about his masters degree(s) to the Supreme court. But Super Pablo didn’t care! Super Pablo doesn’t care about anything! Instead, he dashed off on a whirlwind tour of Spain, saying he didn’t care or feel sympathy for the families of anyone in jail, either (not even the king’s sister or nephews, Super Pablo?). He was too busy getting his photograph taken with anyone who’d shake hands with him, as well as standing on a car holding a Spanish flag. He did manage to crop a photo to avoid being seen alongside a poor guy asking for help on the street, however. In the meantime, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and María Dolores de Cospedal also announced they would run for the leadership … although it now seems that only about 7% of the PP’s affiliates are up to date with their subscriptions and/or can be arsed to vote for a new leader.
It became headline news in some media that Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, spoke good English during his visit and meetings with other EU leaders in Brussels. As if to underline this new, ‘dynamic and modern’ image of a handsome Justin Trudeau-style leader, Moncloa issued photos of Sánchez jogging and playing with his dog, and he was also photographed wearing sunglasses on the government’s jet. Sunglasses! On a jet! I don’t remember M.Rajoy ever wearing sunglasses on a jet, let alone cuddling a dog … so things have definitely improved. M.Rajoy never spoke English, either, of course (‘no, hombre, no vamos hacerlo’), and his ‘jog’ was a little bit like his dancing … it was a sort of mincing fast walk. Yes, things have definitely improved.
The PSOE government led by Sánchez is also preparing for the remains of Franco to be removed from the grotesque mausoleum known as the ‘Valley of the Fallen’, stating that it should be turned into a centre for ‘reconciliation’. His pledge to remove the remains follows a non-binding parliamentary vote last year backing the exhumation from the basilica. It was reported that Franco’s family intend to try and get Pope Francis to stop the exhumation. Meanwhile, Albert Rivera, the leader of Ciudadanos (what’s the point of Ciudadanos?) says he will only support the PSOE plans if they turn it into a national cemetery, like the one at Arlington, Virginia, in the USA.
Quim Torra met with Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias. He is also due to meet with Pedro Sánchez on 9th July, in Madrid. It seems the Catalan political prisoners can be moved to Catalan jails, but that still doesn’t resolve anything and it won’t resolve anything. I’ve said it before and I repeat: they shouldn’t be in any jails, anywhere.
What else? Oh, yeah. Spain drew 3-3 with Portugal in their opening game of the World Cup. They then beat Iran 1-0 and drew 2-2 with Morocco to make it through to the last 16. I think Spain’s coach, Fernando Hierro, has a really odd way of celebrating a goal. He looks like a kid banging his fists on the table, excitedly waiting for his ice cream dessert. Also … the rumours that some Spanish supporters whistled during the Portuguese national anthem simply can’t be true at all. It must be fake news. I mean, it’s totally disrespectful to whistle during the Spanish national anthem (it’s almost a crime, I believe) so I’m absolutely sure that no-one from Spain would whistle during anyone else’s anthem … it’s just impossible. Anyway, Spain are just about to play Russia, so I’m going to log off. I hope Spain win …
Un observador inglés (22) – Some good and bad news …
I sometimes get criticised for not writing anything good about Spain in this blog. I do try, but it’s not always easy – especially since last October. Whilst I’ll never win the €12k offered by Spain’s previous Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, to write the most positive things about Spain (if the reward still exists now that he’s no longer in the job), I feel there’s been a mix of good and bad news during the past week, so I’ll try and highlight some, er … positive things. Always look on the bright side of life …
For example, Spain’s former Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, after losing the no-confidence vote and then resigning as head of the PP party, has now also announced that he’s giving up his post as an MP. He plans to return to his work as a property registrar. I think it’s good news that he’s off. It’s bad news, perhaps, if you want to register your property and find out that he’s the one to do it. The front-runners to now lead the PP include the former deputy PM, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, María Dolores de Cospedal (PP secretary general), and Alberto Núñez Feijóo (regional president of Galicia). I can’t find any good news in any of those options … sorry. I think it’s good news, however, that Spain’s Congress plans to summon former Spanish PM, José Maria Aznar, in July, to talk about the PP’s former ‘caja B’ corruption fund, and it should take place just before Rajoy’s successor is appointed.
Spain’s new Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, said in a TV interview that ‘Catalonia is on the verge of civil confrontation’. It’s bad news (and totally irresponsibile) that he said it. The good news, however, is that he was talking nonsense (to put it politely). We all know that the Catalans are extremely peaceful people, and so unless Borrell has some sinister plans to create ‘civil confrontation’, then there won’t be any at all.
It is clearly bad news that the Franco Foundation still exists, and even worse that they have recently said that Franco was the direct opposite to Hitler, and that he was also an ‘exemplary Catholic’. The good news, however, is that less than two weeks after being formed, the new PSOE government of Pedro Sánchez has announced plans to remove the remains of Franco from the ‘Valley of the Fallen’ monument. Rajoy’s party had wanted to leave Franco alone on the grounds it would ‘needlessly reopen old wounds’ – and the PP abstained in last year’s non-binding motion that called for removal. It has been reported that the socialists will now go further, and eventually also ban the Franco Foundation. Time will tell.
I think it is very good news that Pedro Sánchez offered the Port of Valencia to welcome the Aquarius ship and receive 630 refugees (who arrived safely this morning). ‘We comply with international commitments regarding humanitarian emergencies,’ Sánchez tweeted. Of the 630 on board three ships that arrived, there were seven children under 5, thirty-two children between 5 and 15 years, and sixty-one aged between 15 and 17. There were 80 women – 7 of them pregnant. The refugees are from 26 different countries, but mainly from Sudan and Nigeria. They have been given 45 days to remain in Spain. I’m not sure what happens next, or where they can then go. The sad news, of course, is that this is an on-going problem – but it is good that Spain took in the Aquarius.
I think it’s good news, too, that there’s a new editor at El Pais, Soledad Gallego-Díaz, and that there’s a change of editorial staff. The fact that this all coincides with a clear out of the previous Spanish government, however, rather speaks for itself. I think it’s good news that Belgium is to investigate Spain’s alleged spying on Carles Puigdemont … although I guess I’m saying something good about Belgium there, rather than Spain. Clara Ponsati’s lawyers in Scotland are considering calling upon ex Spanish ministers to testify in the trial regarding her extradition … that might also be good news. Catalan minister, Ernest Maragall, announced the reopening of the Catalan government delegations in London, Rome, Berlin, Geneva and Washington DC, as well as the relaunch of the delegation to the EU … again, I personally think that’s good news. Article 155 didn’t resolve anything and I don’t think it should ever have been applied. Dialogue is still needed, and dialogue has been promised. Mediation will eventually also be required (I’ve mentioned it many times before in this blog) – and it will probably come from Germany. Indeed, the Catalan ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, revealed in an interview with Scottish newspaper, The National, this week, that Angela Merkel made it clear to Mariano Rajoy in a phone call during the morning of 1st October that ‘Europe cannot accept police brutality’ … and then the police brutality against Catalan voters suddenly stopped. The chairwoman of the Bundestag’s Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, Gyde Jensen, has also said that the EU should now bring ‘the two sides’ of the political conflict in Catalonia to the negotiation table. Let’s wait and see …
Whilst I don’t think there should be any political prisoners in any jail anywhere in Spain, the new Interior Minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, has said that he is in favour of the prisoners being moved closer to Catalonia, if the Supreme Court judge, Pablo Llarena, allows it. Suffice to say that Llarena has said that it is not for him to decide … and so the farce continues.
In the Basque Country, thousands of people formed human chains calling for the right to have an independence vote. The Ciudadanos leader in Catalonia, Inés Arrimadas, announced that she is presenting a new law to the Catalan parliament to ‘guarantee and respect the neutrality of the beaches, parks and institutions’. In other words, to not allow yellow ribbons and ‘free political prisoners’ banners. As I wrote last week in ‘What’s the point of Ciudadanos?’ – the solution is not to remove banners, Inés; the solution is to remove the political prisoners from jail. Meanwhile, the party’s leader, Albert Rivera, has said he wants to change the electoral law so that he can win … sorry, I meant that he wants to change the electoral law so that only ‘parties that obtain a minimun 3% of the national vote can be in Congress’. It’s probably the same thing.
You can decide whether it is good or bad news, but Spain sacked its national team’s football coach, Julen Lopetgui, two days before the opening World Cup match. Fernando Hierro took over. Cristiano Ronaldo has made an offer to settle the case of ‘alleged irregularities’ related to his image rights between the years 2011 and 2014, during which time he is thought to have evaded €14.7m in taxes. It includes a two-year prison term (suspended) and an €18.8m fine. He then scored a hat-trick for Portugal against Spain in the World Cup. The final result was 3-3.
Spain’s new Culture Minister, Màxim Huerta, only in the job for a week, resigned, following reports that he had defrauded Spain’s Tax Agency of some €218,322 in 2006. It is still unclear why he was appointed in the first place. Personally, I think it is good news that he resigned swiftly and didn’t hang around for years, waiting for an Eroski video to emerge (por ejemplo). It was reported that the new Culture Minister, José Guirao, stated in a newspaper interview in 2017 that ‘the problem with some Catalans is that they understand [cultural] differences as superiority’. He was responding to an alleged comment from former Catalan president, Jordi Pujol, that Andalusians ‘live in a state of cultural poverty’.
Spain’s King Felipe VI, currently in the United States, is to meet Donald Trump on Tuesday. Apparently it coincides with the fourth anniversary of him being proclaimed king. It should also coincide with his brother-in-law entering prison. A court in Palma finally sentenced Iñaki Urdangarin to five years and ten months in jail, having previously had his sentence cut by five months. The fine imposed on his wife, the infanta Cristina, was reduced to €128,138. Urdangarin was given 5 days to enter a prison ‘of his choice’. As others have also commented, you might like to contrast that with the candidate chosen to be the President of Catalonia, Jordi Turull, who was suddenly put in jail in the middle of his investiture debate itself, without trial, without bail, and without having committed any crime (as far as I know) … and where he still remains today.
By ‘coincidence’, the Urdangarin verdict seemed to coincide with new Spanish police searches in Catalonia for evidence regarding the independence referendum (including at ‘Mediapro’, who actually produced a documentary demonstrating that imprisoned Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez are not guilty of rebellion nor sedition). Seriously: if they are still searching for evidence, why are these people still in jail without trial and without bail? Even though he has been locked up for 8 months, Jordi Cuixart has now also been reelected as president of Omnium Cultural, one of Catalonia’s leading pro-independence grassroots groups.
Finally, Guardia Civil officers requested the ID of members of the ‘Castellers’ human-tower team of Valls outside the Soto del Real prison, where the two Jordis are in prison. God knows why. Perhaps they were expecting them to jump into the prison compound and then free the Jordis, ‘Ocean’s Castellers’ style. As I say, you have to look on the bright side …
Un observador inglés (21) – What’s the point of Ciudadanos?
What’s the point of Ciudadanos? Is it just to complain, sulk and criticise, or do they actually have a political plan that is any different to, say, Spain’s far-right Vox ‘party’? This time last week the leader of C’s, Albert Rivera, the man who only sees Spaniards, tweeted something about agreeing with a tennis player (okay, it was Rafa Nadal), who’d said there should be elections so that the Spanish people ‘can go and vote to elect our government’. It was obvious that Albert hadn’t really recovered from the fact that Pedro Sánchez had just been sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Spain, leading a PSOE government – and I still don’t think Albert has recovered, even 9 days later. I don’t think he (or Inés Arrimadas, the leader of C’s in Catalonia) has got over the fact that Quim Torra has finally been able to form a new government in Catalonia, either. The C’s described his swearing in ceremony as a ‘separatist event’ and refused to attend. Why? Mainly because they want yellow ribbons and ‘free political prisoners’ banners removed from public spaces. But the solution is not to remove the banners, Inés. The solution is to remove the political prisoners from jail.
From what I’ve seen, Albert and Inés have spent the entire week acting like spoilt, sulking kids, sitting in the corner at another kid’s party that they weren’t even invited to in the first place (and failed to bring gifts to), and then refusing to smile, refusing to take part in any of the fun and games, refusing to dance, and then only saying something if there’s an opportunity to be really spiteful to others. They have a permanent ‘it’s not fair’ look on their faces. Well, get over it, for fucksake! You’re not the Prime Minister of Spain, Albert! You’re not the President of Catalonia, Inés! It didn’t happen! And the way things are going, I don’t think it ever will.
Whilst Vox has been stating pretty clearly that Pedro Sánchez’s new government is supported by ‘enemies of Spain’, or ‘separatists, communists and ETA politicians’, the comments from C’s are much the same. Arrimadas said at a public event on Tuesday that, ‘the pro-independence parties are salivating in face of a weak government by Sánchez, which is handcuffed by them’ – and that Sánchez is ‘already complying with Catalan separatist demands’. Albert just seems to go on and on and on about the ‘agony of bipartisan politics’, and that there should be elections, and that article 155 should have been prolonged in Catalonia, and that there should be elections, and that the Catalans shouldn’t be able to handle their own finances again yet, and that there should be elections, and that Pedro Sánchez has a ‘weak government’ and a ‘Frankenstein government’ that is ‘mortgaged to the nationalists’, and that there should be elections (like Rafa Nadal says). Pedro Sánchez actually has until 2020 to call elections, but Albert wants them now, right now, yesterday. Has he really not got anything better to offer Spain or to bring to Spanish politics? So, anyway, whilst the C’s have done nothing but complain about separatists, ‘free political prisoners’ banners, yellow ribbons, or that the new Catalan government might have offices abroad once again, this also happened this week:
José Maria Aznar reappeared almost on the same day that Rajoy said goodbye, offering to contribute to the ‘reconstruction of a centre right’ party in Spain. Nobody took him up on the offer. On stepping down as leader of the PP, Mariano Rajoy claimed that 2.7m jobs were created whilst he was in government. Pedro Sánchez then created 4 more, at least in the cabinet itself – naming 17 ministers (Rajoy’s cabinet was only 13, but that seemed more than enough).
The 17 new ministers in the PSOE ‘strongly pro-European’ government include 11 women and an astronaut. The former president of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, 71, actually a Catalan and who was a minister during the third and fourth governments of Felipe González, is the new Foreign Minister. Last December, he caused controversy when arguing that before Catalonia can ‘heal its wounds’, it needs to be ‘disinfected’. The new Culture and Sports Minister is Maxim Huerta. He tweeted something in 2010 about hating sport, and several other disturbing tweets such as asking if everyone is black in France. Fernando Grande-Marlaska, a former judge and LGBT activist, is the new Interior minister.
What else happened? Carles Puigdemont’s travel companions when he was arrested in Germany on 25th March, were freed without preventive measures. Spain’s National Court had summoned them for an alleged crime of ‘aiding and abetting’. A PP deputy of Extremadura, awarded by the Franco Foundation, compared Pedro Sánchez’s arrival to the government to the pre-civil war period. The Franco Foundation also urged a ‘mobilisation’ against the new government that ‘will impose the LGTB law’ and ‘will break the unity of Spain’. Quim Torra has presented a demand against the former deputy prime minister of Spain, Alfonso Guerra, for calling him a ‘nazi’. He also sent him two books about Catalans in nazi concentration camps. Images emerged of Catalan politicans Oriol Junqueras, Raul Romeva and Quim Forn in prison, taken with a secret video camera, published by some newspapers and also on TV. The European Commission reiterated to Spain its expectations over the use of European Arrest Warrants. A Belgian court has now also summoned Spanish Supreme Cout judge Pablo Llarena (for 4th Sept) to respond to allegations that he has ‘misused justice’ when filing EAWs against Carles Puigdemont and others. Carla Ponsatí, the Catalan economics professor at St.Andrews University facing extradition, accused Spain of an ‘illegal vendetta’ against Catalan nationalists. Whilst attending a fringe meeting at the Scottish National Party’s spring conference, she received a standing ovation.
Finally … whilst Inés Arrimadas refuses to meet Catalan President, Quim Torra, until those banners and yellow ribbons are removed, Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, has spoken to Quim Torra by telephone and they have agreed to hold a face-to-face meeting very soon. You see, Albert and Inés? Things are being done. And meanwhile, the C’s poll ratings are seriously down …
Un observador inglés (20) – Even Frankenstein is better than Francoist.
Zinedine Zidane has stepped down as the coach of Real Madrid. I mention that first and foremost because I like to reflect on the past news to help me make sense of the current news. For example, to understand how a “Frankenstein government” (as Pedro Sánchez has been termed by you-know-who) has now taken office in Spain, it might help to read all previous 19 installments of this blog. The answer is very simple: Frankenstein is better than Francoist. I mean, here’s some of the other week’s news to help put the Friday vote of no confidence in perspective:
Following on from the Gürtel corruption verdicts, the wife of former PP treasurer, Luis Bárcenas (himself jailed for 33 years) managed to suddenly come up with the €200k bail finance to avoid going to prison herself – er, apparently because she has a 29 year old son at home (but who seems perfectly healthy, as far as I know). I’m not sure if this has anything to do with reports that Bárcenas has 14 briefcases of ‘explosive’ recordings to avenge his wife’s possible imprisonment … but it stinks, if you ask me. It stinks even more when you bear in mind that some of the Catalan politicians held in pre-trial detention for over 7 months now, 600km from home, without bail, and on trumped-up charges of ‘rebellion’, have very young children, including one who is under a year old, and also 3, 5 and 8 year olds. Don’t forget that. Never forget it.
Originally charged with terrorism, and also locked away for 500 days without trial, the youths of the Altsasu ‘bar brawl’ have now been convicted of ‘just’ public order offences – but their sentences still range from 9, 12 and 13 years in prison. The fight involved off-duty Civil Guard officers.
What else? People continued to place some yellow towels on beaches, because yellow crosses have been banned. Little Enric Millo, the (previous – how great to now write ‘previous’!) Spanish government’s delegate in Catalonia (the man who claimed that ‘everyone around the world can see that Spain has a consolidated democracy’) complained that Quim Torra, the new Catalan president, doesn’t answer his calls and turns his back when he tries to greet him. Enric, hombre, seriously, can you blame him?
Spain’s (previous!) Interior Minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, stated that Antonio González Pacheco, also known as the sadistic torturer ‘Billy el niño’, would be keeping a medal awarded to him over 40 years ago. Pacheco was a Madrid police inspector during the Franco era charged with multiple counts of torture and sought for extradition by an Argentine judge since 2014. He’s keeping his medal …
It emerged that the department of Spain’s (previous!) Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, was offering €12,000 to any foreign correspondent who could write the most positive things about Spain. You see, they don’t want us to write about innocent Catalan citizens being beaten up for voting, or rappers jailed, or yellow T-shirts being taken off you before football matches, or government bribery and corruption, or censoring art exhibitions, or banning yellow ribbons, or maintaining Franco’s mausoleum and the ‘honorary’ title of duchy of Franco, or being charged for insulting God or the Virgin Mary, or any other attacks on freedom of speech. My friend, Graham Keeley, The Times correspondent in Spain, wrote a light piece for the newspaper’s ‘Thunderer’ column, under the title ‘Spain won’t improve its image by giving journalists money’. He concluded: ‘If the Spanish government wants to improve its image, it would be best employed explaining its actions in Catalonia.’ Needless to say, I won’t be receiving the €12k, either. I get criticised for never writing anything positive about Spain in this blog, but I hope to rectify that soon. In the meantime, Mr.Dastis, I highly recommend this ‘love letter’ of mine to Madrid: ‘A Load of Bull’ – and you might even laugh out loud a few times.
So, the big news was that yesterday, Pedro Sánchez, 46, leader of the Socialist PSOE party, was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Spain, in front of Felipe VI at the Zarzuela palace, promising to fulfil the obligations of the Spanish Constitution in a short ceremony, yet without using a Bible or a crucifix (as if that last bit really matters, but it did cause a bit of consternation amongst some of the right-wing PP press). On the same day, and approximately the same hour, a new Catalan government was officially formed, led by Quim Torra, and Article 155 was finally removed, ending the suspension of home rule after 219 days, or nearly 8 months. As for Rajoy, he was packing his bags (or shredding documents and filling up bin bags). You couldn’t really make it up, could you?
Just look at all the odds. Never before has a no confidence motion succeeded in Spain (only last year Rajoy survived a motion of no confidence led by Podemos). Not so long ago, Pedro Sánchez was a finished politician. He’d been ousted as the leader of his own party, and had abandoned his seat in parliament, all thanks to political backstabbing back in October 2016 – and he then made a comeback by appealing to the PSOE grassroots groups. Last year, he was unexpectedly re-elected to lead the party, yet only a few weeks ago they were still trailing at around 20% of the vote in the polls – and some people were even questioning the relevance of his party (me included). Never before has a non-MP become the Prime Minister, and never before has the PM been someone who has previously lost an election. How on earth did he become Prime Minister of Spain?
Well … I personally can’t believe Rajoy lasted so long. If you’ve been following this blog since the very first ‘inept’ entry about him, you might understand why. I think he was utterly incompetent, and he failed, he failed miserably, despite being a so-called ‘politician’ – to ever really do politics. He used the courts and his police forces instead! Not only that, but his party is clearly stained with corruption, with most of its heirarchy still entrenched in Franco’s past. Albert Rivera, the leader of Ciudadanos (the one who doesn’t see blues or reds, etc, he only sees Spaniards) accused Sánchez of taking office ‘through the back door’, without first getting elected, and forming a ‘Frankenstein government’, reliant on far-left politicians and regional nationalist parties that want to break up Spain. Rivera called it a ‘terrible day for Spain’. But, no, Albert, it’s not. I have criticised Pedro Sánchez in recent weeks, for wanting to change the definition of ‘rebellion’, for example – and for calling Quim Torra a racist and supremacist. But right now, and with the PSOE backed up by Podemos (with whom I wish they would formalise a true coalition), I actually think it’s the best thing that could have happened to Spain. Pedro Sánchez is not going to have an easy run at all, but he has become the Prime Minister of Spain because the alternative was an utter failure and damaging the image of Spain. Whether you like it or not, the alternative was, and still is, ‘Francoist’. And whilst that is still simmering away, I believe Spain is far better off with Frankenstein.
Un observador inglés (19) – Corruption, credibility and seeing yellow.
The week began with Spain’s Prime Minister, M.Rajoy, backed up by the PSOE and Cs, still refusing to publish the names of the new Catalan government in the ‘official gazette’, thereby keeping Article 155 and the suspension of Catalan self-government in place, because some of the chosen ministers have “pending cases with Spanish justice”. Just keep that in mind for a few minutes …
The Ciudadanos leader, Albert Rivera, made a big show of announcing that he doesn’t see ‘reds’ or ‘blues’, he only sees Spaniards. He doesn’t see old people or young people, either … he only sees Spaniards. He doesn’t see ‘believers’ or ‘agnostics’, he only sees … wait for it … Spaniards. Helped along by pop star Marta Sánchez, singing her own lyrics to the Spanish national anthem (which include ‘Great Spain, I thank God for being born here … I can’t live without you’ – although Marta lives most of the time in Miami), Rivera launched his ‘#EspañaCiudadana’ movement or ‘platform’. I guess it means ‘Citizen Spain’ and it is supposed to ‘modernize Spain’. Let’s wait and see.
Whilst Rivera doesn’t see red or blue, the spokesman for his Cs party in Catalonia, Carlos Carrizosa, certainly saw yellow in the Catalan Parliament. He threw one of the yellow ribbons out of the way, and the session was suspended. The yellow ribbons that represent the politicians in prison (without any trial) or in exile have been on some of the Parliament’s seats for over 7 months now, so I’m not sure why Carrizosa suddenly felt the urge to remove one. Whilst the political prisoners have had more than enough of being political prisoners, it seems Carrizosa has had enough of seeing yellow. Possibly he was inspired by the ‘aggressive unionists’ or ‘thugs in balaclavas’ grabbing yellow crosses from the beach at Canet de Mar, north of Barcelona, and where 5 people were injured, including an 82 year old man. Today in Mataró, after the local mayor banned yellow crosses on the beach, those protesting against the jailed politicians decided to spread out yellow towels in the shape of a cross. Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s little delegate in Catalonia (and the man who recently said that ‘everyone around the world can see that Spain has a consolidated democracy’ – and he wasn’t joking), felt it necessary to send a letter to Catalan mayors telling them to keep public spaces ‘neutral’ (in other words, free of yellow). It could be an interesting summer for the sale of yellow bathing suits, yellow sun umbrellas and yellow towels.
Talking of joker Millo, he reportedly also issued instructions so that the Catalan President, Quim Torra, was prevented from using any VIP premises at Spain’s airports. Last week Torra visited Carles Puigdemont in Berlin, and this week he made three separate visits to prisons in the Madrid area, to visit 6 of the Catalan politicians and civic leaders held on remand for up to 7 months. After his visits, Torra again asked Rajoy to engage in dialogue – a call he repeated three times on Monday – but his requests have so far been ignored. As far as I know, Rajoy still hasn’t spoken to Torra or congratulated him on becoming the Catalan President … although Rajoy has congratulated Real Madrid for winning the Champions League. Of course.
The Higher Regional Court of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany maintained its rejection of the charge of ‘rebellion’ against Carles Puigdemont in the extradition proceedings, meaning that the new ‘evidence’ provided by Spanish judge Llarena hasn’t changed anything at all. In fact the court upheld its position from 5th April, stating that Puigdemont’s extradition for rebellion was ‘inadmissable from the outset’. It is becoming quite clear that there wasn’t a rebellion before, on or after 1st October in Catalonia, nor was there ‘tumultuous sedition’ (whatever that is), and nor has there been any real evidence to prove any misuse of public funds, either. So why are all these Catalan politicians and civic leaders still in jail without bail and without trial, and why isn’t Quim Torra allowed to form a government? If they release them, the yellow problem would go away, too …
Actor Willy Toledo again ignored an order to attend court and respond to accusations that he insulted God and the Virgin Mary, and instead held a press conference supported by other actors. An arrest warrant has now been issued for Spanish rapper, Valtonyc, who left for Belgium to try and avoid a 3-year jail sentence for singing lyrics glorifying terrorism and criticising the Spanish royal family. Punk rock singer, Evaristo Páramos (who has a musical career spanning over 30 years), was reportedly ‘identified and denounced’ for a series of comments made against the Guardia Civil between songs, during a concert in Andalusia this very weekend. At the time of writing, it is predicted that over 68% of Podemos party members have voted in favour of leader Pablo Iglesias and his partner, Irene Montero, the party’s parliamentary spokeswoman, continuing in their posts.
Eduardo Zaplana, former PP minister, president of Valencia and PP parliamentary spokesman, has been jailed on remand as part of a new investigation into bribery and money laundering. He has been accused of receiving over €10m in exchange for contracts.
On Thursday morning there was what looked like a ‘smokescreen’, with the ‘UDEF’ (the ‘General Commissariat of the Judiciary Police’) ordering agents to raid government offices in Catalonia (again), in search of the alleged misuse of public funds (again) … and oddly El Pais seemed to almost report on it all before it even happened (again). But whatever the outcome of the raids, it couldn’t cover up the real news of that same day: the sentencing in the Gürtel corruption trial linked to the PP.
You can read about the entire case elsewhere (and you should), but the summary of it all is that 29 people related to the PP were convicted of offences including falsifying accounts, influence-peddling and tax crimes. They were sentenced to a combined 351 years in jail. They included the former party treasurer, Luis Barcenas (jailed for 33 years), and other senior members, as well as the corruption mastermind, Francisco Correa (jailed for 51 years).
The Gürtel case relates to the use of a slush fund by the PP in the 1990s and early 2000s to illegally finance campaigns. Rajoy came to power in 2011 and has always denied wrongdoing. He became the first sitting prime minister in Spain to give evidence in a trial, however, when he was called as a witness in the case last year, prompting calls for him to resign. He refused. In his ruling, the judge said there was evidence the party ran a slush fund for many years and that the credibility of Rajoy’s testimony denying it “should be questioned”. “(His) testimony does not appear as plausible enough to refute the strong evidence showing the existence of a slush fund in the party,” the judge said.
In other words, Spain’s National Court has questioned the ‘credibility’ of the testimony given by Mariano Rajoy in the trial of the Gürtel case. Yet he can block the formation of a government in Catalonia because some of the chosen ministers (still in prison without any trial) have ‘pending cases with Spanish justice’.
PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez spent the first half of the week repeatedly labelling Quim Torra a racist and supremacist, comparing him to the ‘Le Pen of Spanish politics’. Now (again at the time of writing) he has called for a no-confidence vote in Rajoy. For that, he has been labelled ‘the Judas of Spanish politics’. Rajoy has said: ‘This goes against the political stability that our country needs and it goes against the economic recovery. It is bad for Spain.’ The Cs have also issued Rajoy with an ultimatum: call an election. It is not yet clear whether the two parties will team up to overthrow Rajoy’s minority government, but my prediction is that Rajoy’s days are finally numbered.