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The International Writers Magazine: From our Spanish Correspondent

Half-Way Spain + update
• James Skinner
The Government has reached the halfway point in office. The bottom line is that Spain is still in a geo-political mess and although international financial reports say otherwise I honestly believe this country is still in deep trouble and has in fact lost its leadership. Nobody seems to be really in control. Just seeing and listening to Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister one gets the impression that he would rather be back at his old job as a public civil servant dealing with property registration than put up with the hassle trying to govern the mess.

Instead of going over the usual battleground of corruption, separatist movements, public demonstrations, the whole of the banking dilemma that pops up in the daily news, I thought I’d take you on my morning stroll around my neighborhood before I reach my favorite pub for a refreshing beer. It should give you a ‘down to earth’ idea of the situation.

By the way, I live in an apartment in the center of Vigo, Galicia in the Northwest of the country. It’s a city of around three hundred thousand inhabitants, on the Atlantic coast and is the main industrial area of this autonomous region.

In memory of Lou Reed, let’s ‘take a walk on the wild side!

I usually go out around eleven o’clock in the morning to buy the local newspaper and have a coffee in the bar just around the corner on Main Street. Chatting with the bartender I get the latest on the football results as he serves me the brew and a free biscuit. ‘Barcelona won again,’ he says with a sigh. The owner is a Madrid fan. You can see what the main topic is in bars and coffee shops around town. I read the headlines on the front page. If it’s not the unemployment figures, it’s news on the local shipyards that are still without an order. They’ve been idle for 2 years. Next is a drum through the economic sector with the update on our local Savings Bank. It’s up for grabs in the process of being privatized. The opinion columns are full of doom and gloom. I pay, note a farewell, leave and walk towards my own bank about 4 blocks away. They’ve been bought out and in the process messed up my on-line banking system.

I notice a shop that sold sportswear has suddenly gone belly up. Gee. It only opened a couple of years ago! There goes another I think as I reach my local taxi stand; not that I’m going to take one. It’s now mid-morning. The number waiting for customers has grown from about the normal dozen to over twenty. Huddled together on the curb, the drivers stare into space; a grim look on their faces. Across the road at the entrance to the local trade-union provincial headquarters, the usual gang of troublemakers is gathering outside before their daily meeting to organize the next rumpus in the city. We’ve had over 700 hundred ‘parades’ this year. The reasons could fill the Guinness Book of Records.

I pass a fruit and vegetable store. I greet my first beggar, a mother of three about fifty years old. If I happen to buy some fruit I’ll give her an apple. A few yards ahead are a baker shop. The pauper this time is a young unemployed lad. His sad face and hand written sign pleading for help is ignored by most pedestrians.  He’s the third over the past month. I think they rotate around the city. He’ll get the change left over from my 90 cent loaf of bread.

I am now opposite my bank but have to shut off my ears from the cacophony of hundreds of savings bank preference shareholders that have been swindled and are asking for their money back. They’ve been there for months with horns, trumpets, drums and loudspeakers making sure we are all aware of their problem. Two riot police vans are across the road. The cops are having their usual smoke as there is never any violence. If there is a British cruise ship in town they put up a large poster in English: ’Help! Spanish Banks are robbing us!’ The tourists just take photographs.

By the time I have walked at least a mile across the city I’ve counted dozens of shops that had been anything from clothes stores to travel agencies a couple of years back with the ‘For Rent’ or ‘For Sale’ sign up. On the way back I go passed what was the city’s main theatre in the Franco era. They started to refurbish it ten years ago and although the main building is complete all the interior work has been at a standstill for two years. We’ve also got a new and larger auditorium, completed two years ago with a 5-star hotel and restaurant included. The latter are closed. It’s a matter of time before the theatrical sector also closes.

I’ll move on to the infrastructure and first on the list is the new high speed train terminal that should have been completed by next year. It’s about half a mile away from my apartment. The original super designed building has now been ‘modified’ to a reduced provisional one. No signs of completion by the way. Next is our airport that has undergone an overhaul with a brand new control tower. It was designed for 4M passengers. Guess what; its empty most of the time as it will barely reach the 7K thousand this year. I’ll end here but suffice to add that this is an example of what is going on in the rest of the country. Unemployed begging, business shut downs, mammoth infrastructure and other projects overspent and at a standstill and the whole of the banking sector, especially what is left of the savings banks still in turmoil, despite the so called macro-economic bail out and recovery announced by the international and national financial institutions.                 

To top it all the whole issue of ETA, the Basque terrorist group has raised its ugly head again. This is the main ‘extra’ news that has shaken the nation this month.

In previous reports I stated that ETA had finally won their battle as their political arm is now, more or less, running the Basque country. They have yet to give up their arsenal and what’s more pay homage or ask forgiveness for their sins. Hence the trials and convictions of many ETA members continued until recently. But ETA has had the final laugh.

I wrote about Spain’s judicial system on another occasion but never touched the area related to prison sentences. When the new Constitution was approved back in 1982 with a set of laws that were to move Spain into a proper democratic nation and rid itself of 40 years of dictatorship, the sector that dealt with criminal law was very lean. The death penalty was abolished, no ‘one’ count in a sentence should run more than 30 years in jail and last but not least was the small print in case of parole. All persons convicted of criminal felonies, no matter how harsh, should undergo a re-insertion program. In other words, if you were a good boy or girl you could go back home long before your maximum sentence ended. The politicians from all sides of the fence during the transition period after Franco’s death assumed that ETA would give up its violent struggle seeking Basque independence. They were wrong.

Although they haven’t carried out any attempts in the last 2 years they’ve clocked up over 800 assassinations since 1975, some of them brutal bomb attacks on both civil guards and civilians including the deaths of women and children. The jails are full of convicted terrorist. So what did the judicial system decide? They would count the number of victims and treat each one as a separate felony therefore a mass murderer could receive a total of say 2000 year sentence divided accordingly. Sounds complicated and it is, but the tragedy is that the original law dating back to the Franco era in 1973 was never changed. In other words the 30 years still stood!

Enter the Parot doctrine.

Henri Parot is an Algerian terrorist that joined ETA way back in 1978. After assassinating more than 80 persons was caught and convicted on 28 counts in 1990 with a total of 4800 years in jail. After serving over 20 years of his sentence he finally appealed to the Commissioner of Human Rights in the European Union against the sentence quoting the original Franco law. In 2006 the Supreme Court in Strasbourg agreed and hence ruled against the judicial system of Spain. Despite many appeals by the Spanish government, by 2012 the European court ordered the release of dozens if not hundreds of convicts including ETA and other extreme cases. The ‘cup ran over’ when Ms. Ines del Rio Prado, in jail for the past 24 years for having blown up a civil guard’s bus killing several members and their families was released last month and is now claiming indemnity for not being released earlier (6 years ago). The whole issue has opened up Pandora’s Box. All hell broke loose in Spain. The victims associations took to the streets and even Rajoy’s government made a ‘weak’ protest gesture by condemning the EU court decision. The country is now in mourning.

By the way, Ms. del Rio was in the Galician prison of Teixeiro a few miles from the city of Corunna. When I was Honorary British Consul I used to visit the prison to check on the welfare of any British prisoners, usually in for minor crimes. Little did I realize that she was probably watching television or swimming in the prison pool during my visits!

Back to my statement of ‘no one in control’.

The recent polls have indicated that if there were a call for general elections neither the conservatives nor the socialists would be able to obtain a majority. The results indicated an increase in the Extreme left IU (United left party) and the Centre left Social Democrats (UP&D). This latter party is more inclined to favor both the socialists and the extreme left. The present Andalucía Regional government is an example as it is a coalition between the PSOE (Socialists), IU and UP&D. Meanwhile, the socialists (PSC) in Catalonia have broken ranks from the central PSOE over the hot issue of the call for a referendum on independence. Catalonia is in the hands of CiU (right wing nationalists) that have joined forces with their arch-enemy ERC (the Republicans) that want to rid Spain of the Monarchy and turn it into a Republic. The Basque country is run by a mixed bag of Nationalists (PNV) and ETA’s legal arms (Bildu, Sortu and Amiur) whilst the conservatives (PP) are fighting in all areas including Galicia where the Marxist group called AGE vows a similar battle for independence. This latter lot refuse to condemn an upstart terrorist group called ‘Galician Resistance’ that so far has stuck to bombing a few public or bank buildings.

Unless my main remedy for this country is undertaken which is that a State Pact between the major parties (PP and PSOE) is reached and a complete review the Constitution is undertaken to change the course of the whole country, I feel Spain will continue in an unruly state. I give it till the end of the year before something really big shakes the nation one way or another.’

© James G. Skinner. November 4th, 2013.

Nov 7th Update:
We now have a new item out of Pandora's box: Region Television stations. They've just shut down the Valencia one (A 1000M Euro debt!), Telemadrid (the Madrid regional TV not to be confused with the capital) is about to, and our local Vigo one has 15 days left of emission. Yet another 'hit' at reducing public spending. Another snippet of news is that the embryonic terrorist organisation in Galicia 'Galician Resistance' - reported in previous essays - that has so far planted a few minor bombs around the place and HQ operations are between Vigo and North Portugal has just been declared by the Spanish Intelligence Service (CNI) as the only remaining 'live' terrorist group in Europe! What's left of the Savings Banks is next hot potato as the purchase offers from other institutions are now in the government's hands. More to come as the saga unravels.

Losing Patience in Spain
James Skinner
Spaniards are fed up! They are fed up of political bickering, government statements of ‘the end of recession’, independence pleas by regional nationalists, banking disorders, corruption in practically every sector of the community

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