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The International Writers Magazine: From Our Spanish Correspondent

A Hard Blow - Spain in Flux
• James Skinner
Before delving into this month’s political and economic developments I must first mention the two convulsive and internationally reported events that have taken place causing a direct impact on this country and its people.

Merlino Bardo Museum

On the 18th a terrorist group broke into the Bardo Museum in Tunis and indiscriminately started a barrage of machinegun fire at dozens of tourists visiting the building. Amongst the victims were many Spanish tourists off the cruise ship ‘Splendia’ including an elderly couple that was shot dead as they were boarding an awaiting bus. They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and it was the first time that they had ventured overseas. Their children had paid for the trip as a wedding present. The ship returned to its final destination, the port of Barcelona minus 25 passengers. This was not the only tragedy to hurt the nation. A disturbed German pilot, Andreas Lubitz flying as co-pilot in Germanairways flight 4U9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf hijacked the plane and crashed it into the French Alps just northeast of the Spanish border. The world is well aware of this horror story. Nevertheless it must be emphasized that the tragedies caused a double whammy of grief in Catalonia and especially for the citizens of Barcelona as both voyages began from this city. For once, the ongoing nonsensical battle for independence was forgotten and Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish President and Artur Mas, his Catalan counterpart ‘joined hands’ and shared the grief of the nation.

The government (PP) and the main opposition party (PSOE) have recently signed a cooperation pact to combat Islamic terrorism and recent spates of arrests – six different ones in Barcelona, one in Girona and another in Ciudad Real - has shown that there are many Jihadist cells set up in different areas of the country. One must not forget that Spain is also the only country that has under its jurisdiction two autonomous cities in Ceuta and Melilla that are on the north of the African continent. The population of 150,000 is primarily Muslim. No need to expand on the country’s vulnerability on possible Jihadist infiltration from its Arab neighbours.  

Back to reality.

S Diaz This months’ highlight has no doubt been the regional elections in Andalusia as a preview of forthcoming attractions in the multitude of further elections that will take place throughout the year. The outcome, although predictable to a certain degree, has nevertheless produced a deal of surprises. The socialists (PSOE) that have governed since the beginning of democracy in Spain again obtained the largest number of votes although not enough to form a stable government.

The leader, Ms. Susan Diaz, who took over last year from Sr. Jose Antonio Griñan, one of the ex-presidents who has been indicted together with hundreds of other political figures in possible fraud charges by the charismatic judge Ms. Mercedes Alaya, will face a series of negotiations with one or several of the other contenders to form a government. Incidentally, both women have been my subject matter in previous essays in this column. The following is a summary of the region and the strange political panorama that it now faces.

Known as the playground of Spain, it is no doubt the most charismatic and famous representative of this nation’s identity in all corners of the world. It is the 2nd largest in area and the 1st in population at 8.5 million. Beautiful beaches, great weather the whole year round, bullfighting, flamenco dancing, paella, Albeniz and Falla music not to forget Bizet’s ‘Carmen’; everyone loves Andalusia.
Carnaval Cadiz It also has the highest unemployment rate – at 34% - and the greatest number of corrupt politicians and trade union leaders embezzling public funds that flow like ‘Sangria’ running into thousands of millions of euros. A real charming scenario! And yet, the citizens continue to vote for the same party, over and over again, although not quite so this time round.

Enter the two new players, Podemos (We can) with Pablo Iglesias as head and Ciudadanos, a new Centre-right party lead by Albert River, a young good looking leader that kicked off in Catalonia and has now ventured onto the national platform. Two complete opposite in the political spectrum. Meanwhile, the existing right wing party (PP) took a tremendous beating that has left the present government’s leader Mariano Rajoy, reeling against the ‘ring’, and rushing back to his HQ to lick the wounds. He is speechless and hence silent, despite all the hoopla of Spain’s fantastic economic recovery that nobody really understands or cares. ‘We want jobs, not macro-economic statistics!’ is the constant slogan at daily rallies and demonstrations.

Nevertheless, the Andalusian results, that do not need further explanation has set the political ‘road map’ for this year’s other numerous elections. What is now apparent and is here to stay is that the bi-partisan system (PSOE and PP) that has prevailed for over 35 years, is in tatters. This is not the only dramatic change. The new national scenario has introduced two separate parties that do not even figure - yet – amongst any of the plethora of other well-known minority players such as the communists (IU), social-democrats (UPyD), all the nationalists (CiU, BNG, PNV) without forgetting the republicans (ERC).

The other major issues are once again the flow of existing and corruption cases that are presented before the courts. The two major ones that keep on hitting the media front pages are the so called ‘Barcenas’ files that are the secret accounting records kept by the conservative party’s treasurer, Barcenas – who incidentally is in jail for fraud – that may cause further headaches for the President Mariano Rajoy. It is almost certain that during 20 years the party did not pay tax on millions of euros of donations. Back in Catalonia, the ex-president Jodi Pujol and all his family continue to babble through the courts denying any wrong doing and unable to prove how they accumulated thousands of millions of Euros in bank accounts in the Principality of Andorra, of all places. This tax heaven has been kept in a low key over the past few years until the recent scandal of its private bank BPA. In only adds fuel to this superb soap opera of Catalonian politics, let alone the whole independence façade that is still an ongoing saga for the whole nation.

This bank, by the way, has been charged with laundering money and has had an effect on its affiliate in Spain, ‘Banco Madrid’ that has had to freeze its current accounts similar to the Argentinian ‘Corralito’ situation as customers rushed to remove their deposits. Maximum amount is Euros 100,000 as per Spanish law. Another case of ‘watch this space’ as this did not occur during the original cleanup of the banking system a couple of years ago.

Looking towards the future, apart from the international scenario that is on the back burner of the Spanish media, there are two issues at the forefront. The positive side is that all economic measuring tools point to a Spanish recovery should the present trend continue. However, the government needs to focus at ground level so that the citizens can ‘feel’ that their situation is improving. They are implementing certain changes but not enough. It may also take another term of office to pull it off. The negative side is the uncertain political outcome over the next few months that is worrying as millions of Spaniards go to the polls in all the different elections that will take place. There is no doubt that turmoil will occur should the only Centre-right party (PP) tumble from the National Government. At the moment they hold a majority vote in parliament and this gives them a breathing space until the end of the year regardless of what happens at town council and several autonomous region results.

See you next month.
© James G. Skinner - April, 2015

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