Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Property Amnesty Finally in Sight

Those properties bought in good faith (often by Brits) across Andalucía in the early years of this century and later – once the cheques had cleared – to be deemed ‘illegal’ by the Junta de Andalucía have long been a most disgraceful scandal. Leaving aside, for one callous moment, the three hundred thousand property owners and their families, how much money and reputation did Spain lose by this evil arbitration? How many potential jobs were lost? How many small municipalities lost their chance of withstanding their current demographic decline? A few of these homes were demolished (one remembers Len and Helen Prior in Vera in January 2008), while many others were eventually deemed to be ‘alegal’ (a word which doesn’t exist in the Spanish dictionary but means ‘legalish’ or ‘Aw hell, it’ll do’). How many confused elderly folk had to live on batteries, or generators, or a line plugged into a neighbour’s home? How many were connected to a hosepipe, and how many were unable to pass the property on to their children in inheritance?  A good news story comes from Tuesday’s ABC: ‘The Junta announces a plan to regularize the 300,000 “alegal” dwellings in Andalucía’. The item says that, ‘wherever possible’ the homes in question will be amnestied. While things will no doubt take their time, ‘...in all these cases, the regulation will prevail in a clear and firm balance between the general interest and the preservation of the environment and the rights of the owners of these properties’. 
Much of the change in attitude by the planners in the Seville government can be traced to the sterling efforts of the AUAN.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Tips Jar, Because the Piggy Bank Needs a Drink

I never did make any money from my writing, despite producing many stories about Mojácar and Spain in the past years. Spanish Shilling has been going since January 2006 and Lenox Napier (Spanish politics) since February 2017. 
I wrote a blog called The Entertainer Online from 2002 to 2017 (when the Rooshians buggered it) and have edited various newspapers over the years:
The Entertainer (1985 - 1999), Entertainer En Español (1994 - 1999), and with Ángel Medina, both The New Entertainer and El Indálico from 2004 to 2012. I was rarely paid for any of this.
So, here is my PayPal account (and my thanks). 

(Later, much later) Honestly... I'd do better sitting down outside the supermarket with that French chap.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Ortega Philanthropy

Amancio Ortega is in the news this week. He has graciously donated heavily to the national health system with 320 million euros in radiotherapy machines (gathering the approval of something called El Diario Patriota here), yet has gathered criticism from Podemos and others for not meeting his tax-obligations (El País in English here). Says Isabel Serra (candidate for Podemos in the Madrid Community): ‘"Public health cannot accept donations from Amancio Ortega. It must be financed with taxes. The same ones that Inditex isn’t paying: 600 million in the past three years ".  
Diario 16 seeks to put things in perspective here:Ortega, 82 years old and the sixth richest person in the world, enjoys a wealth of 57,200 million dollars thanks to his company Inditex. Since 2015, through its foundation, he has donated a total of 320 million euros to the public healthcare system in this country for state-of-the-art cancer equipment...’.  
El Independiente reports that the Spanish Cancer Association says that ‘any help is welcome’ remembering that ‘100,000 people a year die from cancer in Spain’. 
Other wealthy Spaniards (who may or may not be up to date with Hacienda) are contributing to society in various ways through their foundations, says Moncloa here, including the Botín, del Pino and Koplowitz fortunes.

From Bloomberg here: ‘Spain’s richest person bets billions on prime U.S. real estate. This month, the investment vehicle of the multibillionaire behind Zara owner Inditex SA completed a $72.5 million deal for a downtown Chicago hotel. That followed purchases within the past six months of a building in Washington’s central business district and two Seattle offices leased by Amazon.com Inc. for a combined $1.1 billion. Ortega’s U.S. spending spree increases the value of his global property empire beyond $13 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, giving him the biggest real estate portfolio among Europe’s super-rich. Diversifying his fashion fortune to preserve his sizable wealth, Ortega has invested more than $3 billion in U.S. real estate over the past six years, acquiring landmark properties like Manhattan’s historic Haughwout Building and Miami’s tallest office tower...’.
As the debate about Amancio Ortega continues... ‘Even before it gets worn once, that new T-shirt you bought is already dirtier than you can imagine. It’s soaked through with toxic waste, factory smog and plastic debris—all of which is likely just a few spin cycles away from an incinerator, or maybe a landfill halfway around the world. Our obsession with style rivals our hunger for oil, making fashion the world’s second-most polluting industry after the oil industry...’. From Truthout here
And then we find in Tamil Nadu, India, '...Here there are sector giants such as Zara and Bershka (Inditex), Carrefour Spain, Corte Inglés, Cortefiel, Primark, Benetton or H & M, among others. The activity of this production does not stop for even one of the 365 days of the year. The work shifts are 68 hours per week, the environment is unhealthy, and there is no basic labour law, sick leave or union movement. And all for just 1.3 euros a day...'. Item from Spanish Revolution here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Election Notes

The media is on high-manipulation now (for example) as we approach the municipal, regional (except in Andalucía, Galicia, Euskadi, Valencia and Catalonia) and European elections. In local elections, which occupy us most, manipulation at arm’s length is harder, since we (often) know the candidates themselves and look on them as characters rather than party officials.  
The following remarks are aimed at Spain’s foreign residents.  470,000 Europeans and a few other countries with bilateral agreements, including, for some reason, New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago, have the right to vote in the municipal elections, a few less – 366,000 – in the European ones. 97,585 Brits can vote in the local elections, being both on the padrón and having duly claimed their right to suffrage.
You can vote in local elections if you are on the voting list (which many of us aren't - well done that man!). In the smaller municipalities where most foreigners live, our vote does make a difference. A town hall can be won or lost on just a few votes... maybe even just the one.
Of course, there are those who can vote but won't because 'it's not our country', or 'we are guests here' (Oh yeah? Where's your invitation?) or 'we don't know the issues'. Normally, the voters do know the candidates, or at least some people on their list; and in small communities, it's not about party politics so much as personality politics. There are good socialist mayors; there are good conservative mayors too.
Some local politicians are there for the opportunities. Madrid has long attempted to curtail their powers, but local mayors and their senior councillors often leave politics far richer than when they arrived. They are active in preparing the local urban plan (which will often feature land they have recently acquired, or land that receives a favourable consideration following a short but intense talk with the owner). There are commissions to be won for putting up new street furniture or proving jobs or choosing one supplier over another. Sometimes this activity doesn't matter so much in the Great Scheme of things, other times it does.
Not all local politics is about the monetary opportunities. Some others want to climb from their municipality into provincial, regional or even national politics. That's ambition.
Other local politicians are genuine hard-working people who sometimes even forego their salary. They may have given their time and energy to help their communities. Feel proud of them, as many will cross the street to avoid them, or sometimes plot their downfall by buying one of their councillors and calling for a Vote of No Confidence.
Voting is important, because it makes it your responsibility too when the town does well.
As for the European elections, where many of us can vote as well, the question boils down to ‘for who?’ We know none of the candidates (and they most certainly will never speak for us in Brussels). While EU parties remain mono-national, this will be the case. An exception to this state of affairs is Volt Europa which wants ‘to create the first transnational party in the European Parliament’. One day.
Meanwhile, an article here says that the European Parliament is controlled by the lobbies rather than the 400 million voters. Who knew?
Remember also, that four years down the line and following the implosion of the UK thanks to Brexit, the chances are good that we Brits could lose our vote in local elections in Spain (to say nothing of the European vote), despite the recently signed bilateral agreement between Madrid and London, guaranteeing the voting rights of British nationals in Spain and Spanish nationals in the UK to be protected and written into law by both countries.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Village of Mojácar, Before the Postcards.

The town suffered as people moved away in the thirties and after. Houses were demolished with the beams, lintels, doors and rejas sold as scrap.
Mojácar in the forties. 
The village from the roof of the church. Early fifties.

Mojácar in 1959 (before Mayor Jacinto called for the town to be whitewashed).

Thursday, May 09, 2019

The Water Carriers

This photo was taken in 1933 by the Guadalajaran photographer José Ortiz Echagüe-Puertas. It's called Las Aguadoras de Mojácar.
In 1935, a magazine called American Photography considered the picture as 'one of the world's three greatest photos'.
This picture and many others comes from a collection called 'Fotos Antiguos de Almería'. You can find it here.

Monday, May 06, 2019

I Might as Well Get it Out of My System

I was once asked to make a list of ‘things I didn’t like about Spain’. It would be easy enough to make one about the things I do like, and it would run to many pages, but the things I don’t? Hum. Well, there the bureaucracy which drives us all, Spaniards and foreigners alike, up the wall. Las cosas de palacio, van despacio, say the Spanish sententiously, as if by giving the creaking bureaucratic system an excuse, wrapped up in a popular saying, it all makes sense. In the past two years, for example, no one has managed to get Spanish nationality because the twenty-five thousand people whose job it is to sort out the paperwork have instead taken a disturbingly long lunch-break.
People sometimes have to live rather poorly – a house with no water or electric for example – for a number of years because of some elusive bit of paper trapped in the bottom of a drawer belonging to a public official who has been off work with a runny nose for thirty-six months, but absolutely should be back any day now.
I try and live with the system, since I love it here. My Spanish wife knows nothing of HP Sauce and shepherd’s pie, and she has never had a Yorkshire pudding or even a mushy pea. I am nevertheless proud of her as she sips her English tea with milk and one sugar (my only remaining British weakness).
But, we were talking about Spanish wrongs – like corruption. How they get away with it defeats me. The country is positively leaping with crooked bankers, politicians and manufacturers of ladies hosiery. They stash millions in off-shore financial paradises, pay no tax, and – most remarkable of all – are highly esteemed by large swathes of the population. OK, in my personal experience, I’ve had more trouble from thieving Brits that crooked Spaniards (lawyers maybe – there’s always hungry lawyers here), but over the years, I’ve found that owning nothing helps keep them away, along with plenty of garlic.
So, the list. We’ve done bureaucracy and corruption, there’s also littering.
How can a proud nation like the Spanish merrily toss as much garbage into the countryside as is humanly possible? The beaches, the roadside, the streets and the public buildings are caked in debris. Everywhere is thick with plastic, flattened beer cans, bottles, graffiti, cardboard and rubble. I take my trash home with me, or leave it on the back seat of the car for a few years, but our friends and neighbours? They scatter it everywhere across this great country with gleeful abandon.
There, was that enough? No? Well, those paper napkins in the bars are pointless. They don’t soak up grease, they just smear it around. I have been here fifty years and they still use those paper servietas. Extraordinary!
Noise, I suppose. This country is deafening. Happily, with the passage of the years, I have become quite deaf, so am immune to the cacophony of the world’s second loudest country (after Japan who, for Heaven’s sake, have paper walls).
Lastly (and believe me, I’ve been thinking about this list for years), I would say, parking. There’s never enough, as though the designers feel they can squeeze more money out of shops and buildings if there are as few parking spots as possible. Then the few spaces that are there will as likely as not have a caravan of dustbins clogging them up.
As if there was a serious litter problem here!
So, many people (at least in my local village) will park two abreast – en paralelo – with their warning lights on. ‘I’m sorry, I really am, but I just needed to stop the car for a moment as I zip into the bank, buy a lottery ticket and have a very quick coffee with my lawyer’. You can always get past. Yesterday, I had to drive at least fifty metres along the pavement, because the road was completely blocked by two double-parked cars. Luckily for us all, they both had their warning lights on.
But what are a few minor niggles, when compared to the endless wonders of this great country we have chosen to call home?