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••• The International Writers Magazine: From Our Spanish Correspondent

The Pack - Spain
• James Skinner
Justice in Spain = Rough Justice in Pamplona

James Skinner

North and South Korea seem to be talking again after decades of snarls, Donald Trump is going to come to the United Kingdom to say ‘hello’ to the Queen, Brexit negotiations continue on a seamless path to nowhere and Syria, well what can I say, yet another dreadful and horrid war that goes on and on. Back home in Europe, certain political changes have taken place that can be considered as ‘business as usual’ and yes, Spain in a certain way is just another piece in the European political jigsaw puzzle. However, some events have occurred during the last month that have passed unnoticed in the world media but could have resulted in the toppling of the present government. So here goes!


Ernest Hemingway, in his novel ‘The Sun also rises’ introduced the world to the now famous Pamplona bull runs that take place every year from the 6th of to the 14th of July. Every morning, sharp at 08:00 with the firing of a rocket, a pack of bulls is let loose to run through the city whilst thousands of loonies in front try to outrun them to the final destination; the town bull ring. In 1956 Hollywood filmed Hemmingway’s novel, called it ‘Fiesta’ starring Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn. In later years a young Ava succumbed to the glamour of bullfighting but that is another story.

So why has this event suddenly become a national uproar?

Over the years, despite a well-organized yet dangerous Spanish festive event, the number of persons participating has reached an enormous amount including foreigners from all over the world. It has also turned into a drunken orgy once the bulls have disappeared from the party. Two years ago, during the aftermath frenzy, a ‘Pack’ of five ‘friends’ cornered a young 18-year-old girl in the entrance to an apartment block and for what seemed like hours, consistently raped her.

Although these horror stories are occurring all over the world, in this particular case, when the culprits were arrested and brought to court, the final verdict was deemed ‘sexual abuse’ and not ‘rape’. Their sentences, according to the law, were 9 years instead of 20 and as they had already spent 2 in prison and had a proven ‘good behavior’ record chances are they will soon be paroled. It did not take long, and rightly so for every feminist movement in the country to mobilize massive demonstrations to overturn the ruling and called for a revision of the legal system regarding sexual criminal cases. Hundreds of thousands of citizens throughout the country joined them.

Good to conclude that the Justice Minister has publicly agreed that the case requires revision and is now in the hands of the supreme court of Navarra where all this took place.

On another side of the justice we have the rise and fall of one of the most prominent politicians of the conservative party (PP) who has held office as the President of non-other that the autonomous region of Madrid. Not to be confused with the city itself, although it is under her jurisdiction as part of the region. Ms. Cristina Cifuentes, staunch member of the party, had been a Councilor in the region’s parliament since 1991 and was finally elected president in 2015, a post she has held up until a few days ago. Certain irregularities had appeared in her supposed funding of the parliament’s restaurant that kicked off a covered up ‘witch hunt’ by the opposition until, lo and behold they uncovered that she had cheated in her CV alleging that she had a Master’s degree from one of the Madrid Universities in ‘Autonomous Law’, whatever that meant. It so happens that part of her examination results were possibly faked thus causing an investigation. If proven, she would had crossed an unforgivable political red line.

She continued to defend her innocence whilst the opposition parties began to join forces to escalate the whole affair to national level to the extent of threatening impeachment of Mr. Marino Rajoy’s government if he did not sack her. Two situations arose from this new state of affairs. The government was trying to obtain approval for the 2019 budget whilst Sr. Albert Ribera of Ciudadans, the every-which-way party as well as Sr. Pedro Sanchez leader of the socialists (PSOE) were willing to include the extreme left party of Podemos (We can) as a combined force to carry out the threat.

Meanwhile, most of the conservative party (PP) top dogs rallied round and insisted on Ms. Cifuentes’ innocence thus allowing her to continue as President of the Madrid region. However, as happens in so many situations in the world of politics, another even more minor offence was leaked to the press that ended the whole saga. In 2011 a Madrid supermarket security video caught Ms. Cifuentes ‘stealing’ two jars of hand cream worth a mere 40 Euro that she later paid and allowed to leave without charge. Nevertheless, the damage was done. She subsequently had to present her resignation; a large sigh of relief from Sr. Mariano Rajoy, the President and the rest of the party.

Subsequently, the budget came back to the forefront and thanks to a certain amount of negotiations, especially the Basque Country it was approved.

The next item on this agenda of news is one that I believe affects a great deal of other civilized and democratic countries. State Pensions! Increases in pensions were at one-time dependent on the cost of living index but back in the days of the Rodrigo Zapatero socialist (PSOE) government they were frozen. When the conservatives took over they increased them by a mere pittance of 0.25%. The pot had been simmering for some time and finally exploded into massive rallies by opposition parties and trade unions throughout the country demanding a better increase. The government has succumbed in next year’s budget to an increase, depending on the level, of between 1% and 3%. But the damage is done and as we are approaching the 1st of May the threat of a general strike is on everyone’s mind kicked off by a large portion of Spain’s geriatric population.

What about Catalonia?

The situation has not really changed. I reported on the ‘exiled’ regional President Carles Puigdemont being arrested in Germany and subsequently released. Well, at the moment there is a ding dong match going on between the German and Spanish law courts regarding his extradition back to Spain thanks to an arrest warrant issued through Interpol by the Spaniards. Like most legal battles, they take time. Meanwhile, the region is still without a legal government and under the control of Madrid thanks to article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.

Pontevedra Conference
Pontevedra Dinner

Finally, I must conclude on a personal note. I was invited recently by Dr. Fernando Ramos, professor and coordinator of an event at the Vigo University to participate in a two-day conference on ‘Communications and Protocol’ sponsored by the Social Sciences Faculty. I was presented as an experienced and ‘world traveler’. It was part of a graduate course. The individual speakers presented an extremely interesting plethora of subjects, from XIX century protocols in dueling contests to the bureaucratic standards of European Union products. The audience were all young undergraduates. It had been a while since I had the pleasure of, not only being amongst keen youngsters, but able to share the stage (see photo) with a whole series of prominent intellectuals and other professionals. The only anecdote I have is that one student came up to me and asked if I had ever worked for MI6 as my ‘talk’ sounded more like a script from a James Bond movie.

During the evening we had a wonderful dinner (Photo. Dr. Ramos 3rd from left and I am seated next to lady standing) and the following day I did a sightseeing tour of the city of Pontevedra - where the conference was held - that I had not visited for over 10 years. It is considered by the United Nations as an example of a clean city free of traffic pollution and fit for pedestrians and cyclists.

For a couple of days, I forgot about the world around me.          

See you next month
© James Skinner May 1st 2018
The Chase
James Skinner on the current state of Spain.
Fugatives from Catalonia being rounded up ready for a show trial. - The secret service placed a device in the car and were tracking Puidgemont's moves all the way to the Danish/German border...

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