The International Writers Magazine: From our Iberian Correspondent
*The first item on my news report is the horrific earthquake in Nepal. Not quite of the same magnitude as the Tsunami that Asia in 2004 but still a devastating blow to a poor country, and above all its main source of income that is its tourist trade. Beautiful ancient structures and monuments, visited by millions of people from around the world and of different nationalities, turned into rubble. Spanish tourists and residents are amongst the victims caught in the disaster zone including mountain climbers on Mount Everest awaiting almost impossible rescue. The Spanish Foreign Minister, Sr. Jose Manuel Garcia-Maragallo happened to be on a tour in India and has immediately mobilized a military aircraft to fly to the area. Meanwhile, the Spanish Red Cross as well as the Catholic Church’s charitable institutions set in motion their emergency relief programs with blankets, medicines and food. It is refreshing to witness reactions of compassion for a change coming from the silent majority of the world’s humanity.
Link to Red Cross here
Musical Chairs in Spain
Similar to the United Kingdom and many other parts of the world, this is an election year that kicked off last month with an autonomous regional election in Andalucía.
As reported in earlier essays we have had a radical change in the political arena from the normal bi-partisan group and although the Socialists (PSOE) obtained the highest number of parliamentary seats they were far from having a majority ruling. Ms. Susana Diaz, the newly elected president is still ‘negotiating’ a coalition deal with Podemos (‘We can’ – anti-establishment), Ciudadanos (‘Citizens’ - a new upcoming group that is not quite sure what side of the fence it is on) and their old partner IU (United Left – full blown communist).
We then move on to the local and the rest of regional elections in May. Apart from Galicia and Catalonia – continuing on their Hobby Horse of independence - the rest of the autonomous lot are due for a change as well as over eight thousand municipalities. The circus acts have already started. It is anybody’s guess what the overall outcome will be but rest assured it is going to be exciting especially as the conservatives (PP) that are in the present government are losing ground due to mounting corruption scandals and the PSOE – despite success in Andalucía - is fighting for survival against the up-and-coming new groups mentioned in the previous paragraph.
So what has happened to the superb overall majority that Sr. Mariano Rajoy obtained in 2011 as well as the so called economic recovery that is being boasted abroad by all and sundry? Enter the ‘Rato’ Case and the latest ‘Economist’ report on Spain.
Back in March, 2012 the Ministry of Finance, under Sr. Cristobal Montoro, approved a sort of financial ‘amnesty’ law in order to recover over 2.500 Million Euros of undeclared funds both in Spain and overseas. The idea was to allow Spaniards and other residents to ‘regularize’ their accounts and investments without incurring any government penalties. Over seven hundred ‘owners’ came forward although the amounts were well below those anticipated by the government. However, the system backfired for a different although related reason. Because of the incredible corruption cases that have come to the surface over the past months the clampdown including checks and balances of income and other tax fraud by the same Ministry has flushed out many possible fraudsters. One of those happened to be a Sr. Rodrigo Rato, previous Minister and Vice-President during Aznar (PP) government, ex-President of the International Monetary Fund and up until recently President of Bankia, one of the Spanish banks that needed rescuing a couple of years ago. He was also one of the seven hundred that popped up in the ‘amnesty’ list. He is being indicted for tax evasion and fraud. The investigations are uncovering a whole series of other financial suspicious deals that he has been involved in not quite related to the details of those declared in his ‘amnesty’. So why the political upheaval? Up until the scandal he was considered a very prominent political and financial figure and as he belonged to the conservative party, the whole of the opposition has come down on the present government causing Sr. Rajoy a very inconvenient problem right in the middle of the election campaigns. This is not the only setback for the ruling party.
Despite all the hoopla about the economic recovery, a recent report in the ‘Economist’ has more or less put a damper on Sr. Rajoy’s trumpet blowing and seriously criticized his management of the country’s overall affairs, especially the most important area that is job creation and reduction of the unemployment rate. The small figures related to a drop in unemployment as per the government are questionable because of the vast number of citizens that have left the country, both Spaniards seeking work elsewhere and immigrants that have returned to their homeland, especially Latin Americans. The percentages, as pointed out by the report are still far too high for any real short term recovery, estimated, at the latest by 2017. Nevertheless, Sr. Rajoy’s overall macro-economic reforms must continue as any reversal at this stage would most likely kick off ‘intervention’ by the dreaded ‘Troika’. As far as the opposition is concerned, most of it continues with ideological rhetoric with no real alternative solutions. They harp on about ‘change’ without presenting any real program. The fact remains that unless there is a serious attempt at labour reform, allowing private enterprise and massive investment in other areas that are not related to the public sector Spain will continue as it has been for the past decades without any real solution.
One must never forget that Spain enjoyed a real economic ‘boom’ between 1986 – when it entered the EU - and 2006 thanks to massive European funds that were invested in infrastructure as well as housing developments, the latter allowing for a drop in unemployment during the eight years of Conservative (PP) government between 1996 and 2004. Many public projects as well as hundreds of thousands of empty apartments have now ended up as a burden although AENA, the airport governing body is trying to privatize, hence an increase in airport traffic thanks to local town council subsidies. The ‘low cost’ airlines are laughing all the way to the bank.
The other major story continues to focus on Catalonia and the regional government of Artur Mas seeking independence.
||What has emerged however as a serious threat to national security is the uncovering of several Jihadi cells with dozens of arrests and discovery of a myriad of weapons and explosives. The region is home to the majority of Muslims in Spain, nearly half a million resident in Barcelona alone. It only recently came to light that the Catalan government had been encouraging immigration, especially from Morocco and refusing Latin Americans in order to enhance the use of the Catalan language. Citizens from Bolivia or Uruguay speak Castilian whereas Arabs do not.
One other event that has taken place is the sinking of a Russian trawler off the coast of the Canary Islands that could threaten part of the beaches in Gran Canary and Tenerife as it is belching oil.
Ending on a positive note is the continued increase in tourism from last year adding much needed revenue to the country’s coffers. Spain is still a fun place to visit with a plethora of offers from beaches to cultural holidays in all four corners of the country. And summer has not yet arrived!
See you next month.
© James G. Skinner. May 2015
A Hard Blow - Spain in Flux
Andalusia has the highest unemployment rate and the greatest number of corrupt politicians and trade union leaders embezzling public funds