Saturday, April 28, 2012

Andalucía to Form a 'Progressive' Government

While the finer details remain unclear, the PSOE and the IU have agreed to form a government 'of maximum stability' for Andalucía for the next four years after a key vote by 6,000 IU party members agreed last Tuesday to support the plan. Reacting to the news, 'a radical government is very bad for Andalucía' said the leader of the party with the most seats, Javier Arenas, leader of the Andalucian PP, who agrees with José Bono (the Socialist ex President of Congress) that the PSOE should have pacted instead with the PP.
Such a pact between the PSOE and the PP was always going to be unlikely. The remaining alternatives would have been a minority government of the PP or the support by the IU of the PSOE candidature for president of the autonomy but without entering into a coalition. The IU coordinator Diego Valderas has supported a full partnership, while the thorn-in-the-side Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, mayor of Marinaleda and now Andalucian parliamentarian, is strongly against any alliance which, he says, would spell the end of IU – ‘We must emphasize our anti-capitalist character and not climb into the sinking ship of the PSOE’.
Thus, with the support of the IU, the candidature of José Antonio Griñán as president of the Junta de Andalucía in the presidential debates on the May 2nd and 3rd new parliamentary session, followed by the investiture is now assured. In deliberations leading up to this situation, the PSOE had agreed to the ‘minimum conditions’ of the IU (the ‘Izquierda Unida Los Verdes-Convocatoria por Andalucía’ to give it its full name - a loose coalition of far-left groups dominated by the Partido Comunista de España). These are the departure of those civil servants in the Junta de Andalucía connected to the estimated 700 million euro ERE fraud (the Ex-Councillor for Employment was jailed without bail on Monday for his part in the scandal); the creation of a ‘public bank for Andalucía’ to manage seed money for small and medium businesses; the prohibition of evictions by foreclosures of the banks (a petition will need to be sent to the Central Government in Madrid, which has the power to implement or otherwise this); a basic income for all Andalucian families and the offer of four months of public scat-work for the unemployed. Furthermore, agreements have been reached to increase taxes, introduce fresh wealth taxes, inheritance and gift taxes, and to implement an environmental and tax-fraud watch.
So, it remains merely to see which departments of the new government will come under the IU. My guess - they'll take the department of the environment (watch out foreign home-owners with ‘illegal’ dwellings) and some other major department. 

Later (From The Entertainer Online):  The cake - or is it a pie? - has now been carved up between the IU and the PSOE in the new Andalucian Government. The junior partner Izquierda Unida to take control of public works and housing (watch out 'illegal property' owners) and - of all things - tourism. Diego Valderas (IU) will become the vice-president of José Antonio Griñán's Junta de Andalucía.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ten Years Ago

My picture is a copy of the very first issue of a newspaper. Actually, it's the first issue of the newspaper with a New Name, which appeared exactly ten years ago this week. Oddly, the previous name of the same newspaper is visible on the lower right side of the upper front page. The numeration and one euro price were both quickly dropped, and the new weekly took on the issue-number of its previous incarnation. Ten Years Ago.

Several Days Later: Oddly enough, no mention of the Tenth Anniversary in the pages of the Euro Weekly.  I wonder why?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dog Days in Albox

Today's Voz de Almería has an article in it about some British women. As often happens, it makes them look, and by extension all of us, slightly foolish. The ladies come from Albox and appear to have managed to miss most of life's attractions in Spain (which, it goes without saying, explains why they ended up in Albox). Their thing - is about dogs. Abandoned, raddled, mangy and hungry.
I imagine the Spanish must wonder about these Brits who have come to live here. They appear to show no interest in getting to know the culture and the language, travel, history, the food and the drink (beyond cerveza and wine in a carton), the politics and the social life of the Spaniards, their family and their education. Not for them the traditions, handicrafts, misas,
matanzas and toreo. The only thing that appears to interest these funny new neighbours (so must think the Spanish) is their extraordinary hang-up on charity... and not even on human charities: the nuns, the poor, the disabled and the weak. Just the dogs and cats.
The thing about animals is simple: you can talk to them in English. They won't mind.
There was a time a few years back when the entire corporation of a town hall in Alicante was arrested for the usual fraud so common in those small towns with too many builders, rural land and eager clients, and just one councilor escaped, making him suddenly the acting mayor. This worthy was an Englishman (cynically stuck on the lista to make up the numbers and get a few extra votes for the party in question from the extranjeros). His department in the ayuntamiento was 'doggies and moggies' and he spoke not a word of Spanish. On hearing the thrust of the eight-hundred page report, the Judge, once someone had slapped him hard on the back a few times finally managing to dislodge a lump of tostada con tomate from his tubes, ordered the arrested to be sent back to their town hall. 'ASAfuckingP', added the beak, thus breaking a judicial tradition that has lasted centuries in
The local dog charity in Mojácar, whose job is essentially to look after Spanish abandoned dogs, reportedly spent 145,000 euros last year - which all came in contribution from the extranjeros. Mostly items sold in a charity-store for a euro or two. Not only the dogs and cats benefited from this British largesse, the owner of the shop got a bloody good rent as well. The local mayoress has now ceded a new shop for the charity. No doubt for charitable reasons.
What is it about the local dogs here that ignites our cold British passion? Poisoned, garroted, abandoned, tortured and starved?
So the ladies in Albox. One of them, who gets the headline, has thirty three dogs in her home. Just imagine that for a moment. The report begins by huffily pointing out that the British 'if they don't respect animals more than we Spanish do, at least approach them in a different and more organised way'. Whatever that means. Well, we don't string them up in the campo with just a sausage roll full of poison for company.
Then we learn that the lady in question must leave for
England for an operation and may be delayed or perhaps not return. Cue the 33 dogs. Someone apparently wants to buy the house (cleaned and dog-free) and the dogs could all be sent to Holland with the money, where they will all live in the lap of canine luxury - no doubt comfortably near to a cosmetic factory. But that's just me talking. Don't the Dutch have their own strays... why would they want so many Spanish ones? And why do they prefer those little ratonero dogs with pop-eyes?
The problem is, of course, simple: 'the Spanish don't castrate their dogs', says the second lady to the journalist.
Through an interpreter.
'The Spanish neighbours give us their spare puppies', say the ladies indignantly, 'or abandon them on our step and scarper, or else they just toss them into the garbage'.
The article ends with a plea from the by-now converted hack not to buy a dog, but to adopt one.
Of course, and here's a thought: if they can't sell them, the breeders can always throw their spare puppies into the skip.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Alliance of Civilizations

Spain has long maintained a relationship with Arab countries, through its proximity to North Africa, its many centuries under ‘Moorish’ dominion and, more recently, Franco’s reliance on Moroccan forces during the early years of the Spanish Civil War. Saddam Hussein’s shotgun, famously fired in provocation against the West from his terrace just before the first Gulf War, was given to him by Franco during Saddam’s state visit to Spain in 1974 (along with a medal, the Gran Cruz de la Real Orden de Isabel la Católica). Saddam replied by presenting Spain with two full tankers during the oil crisis of the same year. This cosiness with the Arab world stumbled with José María Aznar’s very visible alliance with Bush and Blair following the summit meeting in the Azores in 2003.

Following on from the changes in Spain’s relations with Arab countries, socialist leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero proposed the Alliance of Civilizations at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005. It was co-sponsored by the Turks. The initiative sought to galvanize international action against extremism through the forging of international, intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation with an emphasis on defusing tensions between the Western and Islamic worlds. By July of that year, the Spanish government had approved a million euros spending money to the new agency, earmarked another twenty million for a headquarters in Barcelona and, above all, Zapatero’s initiative was playing well to the galleries back home in Spain. Spain had taken a shot at becoming the moral leader of the world, although it was sadly obvious that Zapatero was punching outside of his class.

One can almost imagine a flying saucer landing in a field somewhere. ‘Take me to the chairman of the Alliance of Civilizations’ says a small green individual holding a ray gun.

The historian Henry Kaman was one of the critics of the Alliance. In 2004 he wrote: ‘Presumably the intention is not to export the decadent western cultural concepts such as democracy, women's rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religion or sexual tolerance. If Zapatero does not intend to delve into these issues, does he then seek to further develop concepts such as dictatorship, control of the press and the denial of sexual freedoms?’.

By the end of 2006, a report from the ‘high level group’ chosen by the United Nations to outline recommendations and practical solutions on how the Western and Islamic societies could solve mutual misconceptions and misunderstandings was issued. According to the report, ‘politics, not religion, is at the heart of growing Muslim-Western divide’.

In 2011, Spain’s contribution to the Alliance was down to 800,000 euros and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Gonzalo de Benito, notes that this year’s payout will be even smaller ‘since there is no alternative’ but ‘will still be a significant amount’.

A Spanish right wing outlet called Periodista Digital recently stated: ‘It appears that the personal adventure in which Zapatero obsessively immersed himself will now disappear after many millions wasted, much time lost and countless absurd and senseless projects that went nowhere and which no one will remember’.

One gets the feeling that Spain may enjoy the reflected glory of being the originator of such a fine plan, yet now finds that there are other more important fish to fry.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Animo in Almería

Equinotherapy or ‘equine facilitated therapy’ is used in Northern European countries as ‘riding for the disabled’.

More properly, riding for the disabled is a way by which the gait of a horse can be incorporated to help a rider who has little or no control of their lower limbs. This could come through an accident, or a congenital condition. Many people, disabled in some way, have found that they can improve their life through either some therapeutic program with a horse, which could be anything from being placed on the back of an animal, surrounded by side-walkers, a leader and a number of medical experts – to just learning to ride for its own pleasure. A young girl with polio famously once learnt to ride and she went on to win the Silver at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 in Dressage proving that people with disabilities can participate in sports – this long before the introduction of the Paralympics in 1960.

Long-term local resident Barbara Napier worked as a young woman in California with disabled children and, betimes, enjoyed her hobby of horseback riding. The two disciplines were always going to come together. She was a board member, for a number of years, on the Federation of Riding for the disabled International (now re-named as the HETI) and represented Spain.

On Sundays, Barbara and I drive to a stable outside the city of Almería. There, we join a group of friends – including a riding instructress, a physiotherapist and a psychologist – and work with some special needs children. This is true hippotherapy, with a growing number of disabled children attending each week: children with cerebral palsy, autism, genetic disorders, some hemiplegics and quadriplegics. Barbara and her friends and volunteers have recently resuscitated ‘Animo’, Spain’s first animal assisted therapy charity, started by Barbara in 1986 (and based then in Mojácar) until her health made it impossible to continue some ten years ago.

Barbara has almost completed a book about her experiences over the past ten years, it’s called ‘Riding For My Life’ and it details how a regular course on horseback (with and under expert tutelage) can save one’s life by slowing down or reversing sickness or extreme cures like chemotherapy.

Animo is a nationally registered charity and Barbara’s personal webpage can be found at

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Disabled Parking

I sometimes write about how parking could be a bit easier if the authorities only planned for a few more places than those absolutely necessary for the staff. You know, for customers. To keep the never over-generous quota of parking spaces as scarce as possible, we have any number of boxes, trees, kioscos, dustbins, bottle banks, skips, electric poles, zebra crossings and whatever else (which is why we all park on roundabouts here), but this is the first time I've ever seen a disabled parking - or two - put to such good and practical use.
The picture comes from Puerto Rey (Vera Playa).

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Beginnings

The first edition of The Entertainer - a free weekly newspaper for Almería, came out on 4th April back in 1985. It was one of the first English-language newspapers around, preceded by Guidepost (started in the fifties), Lookout, The Iberian Daily Sun, The Costa Blanca News, Sur in English and, closer to home, The Talisman. The first edition was produced by Mike Connolly, Sue, Pauline and Alan. None of them had any experience in making newspapers (the adverts were at the top of the page) and the printers, La Voz de Almería, had to make up each page in their antiquated printing press, by re-typing each and every piece (two Spanish girls with zero English), laying it out (sometimes in dis-order) and making up the photoliths.
The Chief of Police in those days, whose main job was to make sure that foreigners didn't get work-permits, caused the whole project to be a year late and finally relented only when Mike found another foreigner with a work-permit (for a donkey taxi, but let's not split hairs) to act as editor. This was Barbara, my wife. A director was provided - the only rule was that he had to be a Spaniard - and paid to do nothing. In fact, no one ever met him at all.
I was approached to 'put some money in' round about the fourth edition of the paper, when it became clear that something needed to be done (to me, that is, rather than to the paper).
Mike and his two friends, Keith and David, had a local band called The Flying Vultures. There would be pictures of them in old back numbers, but between the fire of 2010, plus some willful vandalism in 1999, there aren't many copies left, although the Diputación de Almería has a complete set, and used one as a full-page illustration in its exhibition and subsequent book on Almería's press.
The Entertainer eventually went to three weekly English editions, Costa de Almería, Costa Blanca (1986) and Costa del Sol (1987), plus, as 'Entertainer En Español', two irregular editions for Mojácar and Altea.
In 1999, it passed from my control - but that's another story.