The International Writers Magazine:Politics in Spain December 2013
New Faces on the Political Block in Spain
James Skinner + update
Andalucía is the largest region of Spain in area as well as population with over eight million citizens. It is an international tourist spot with long beaches, plenty of sun and tapas bars, full of historical sites to visit and enjoy.
Susana D Pacheco
Most of Spain’s worldwide known culture such as flamenco dancing, classical music and Moorish architecture come from and are in this area. Since the end of the Franco dictatorship and the introduction of democracy it has been governed by the socialist party (PSOE) until the most recent regional elections whereby they joined forces with the Marxist left (IU) to form a coalition government. It is also the most corrupt area with fraud sprouting out in leaps and bounds from political shenanigans to trade union misuse of public funds. But above all it has the highest percentage of unemployment presently running at 36% (national average 27%) with a frightening 67% of those under the age of 25. The last president of this autonomous region, Jose Antonio Griñan had to resign and in doing so made way for a newly elected person within the ranks of the socialists. Enter Ms. Susana Diaz Pacheco, age 39 and a lawyer by profession.
Like a breath of fresh air, she has vowed to clean up the mess but what is even more important is she wishes to re-unite a fractured party that has lost credibility amongst the supporters and militants not only in Andalucía but in Spain as a whole, although she has clearly stated that her aim is to concentrate on her home territory. The chief national honcho man ‘Freddie’ Rubalcaba, constantly opposing and lambasting the conservative (PP) government under Mariano Rajoy has welcomed her with open arms. We are yet to see how she develops, but at least her opening speeches have been encouraging and well received by most moderate followers. She belongs to the new era of young socialists.
But troubles continue on other fronts such as the move for independence by Catalonia.
The president Artur Mas has been on a trip to India and compared his fight for independence with Mahatma Gandhi’s pacifist war against and oppressing colonial power back in the 1940’s. He compared his trip with that of Gandhi’s famous ‘salt’ walk to the sea. Scotland has issued the White Paper on its future move for independence and one can imagine how the cat has been thrown amongst the pigeons on both sides of the Spanish fence. President Rajoy has publicly stated that he hasn’t read it. He can’t speak or read English. The Catalans are lapping up every sentence in the Scottish brief. This is just the start of the new phase in Spanish separatism.
What about the Basques who are on the same wavelength of seeking independence?
Ah! They are keeping real cool because at this moment, and as reported in last month’s essay, the government is in the process of releasing most if not all the ETA jailbirds, including some notoriously criminal thugs with blood on their hands thanks to a ruling the Human Rights Commission in Strasburg. Remember that the different factions of ETA’s political arm are also well entrenched in the region’s government and much ink has flowed from my pen reporting on the situation up in the north of the country. The irony is that the Basques are the most productive and financially sound whereas the Catalans are bankrupt. I mean, absolutely broke!
We’ll move on to the banks and the macro-economics.
Yes, we all know that the international financial institutions are applauding the government’s achievements in cutting back on the debt and the deficit and continuing on the right road to solve the banking mess that the previous government had left it in In fact, the previous Minister of Finance, Sr. Pedro Solbes in Rodriguez Zapatero’s socialist government has written his memoirs and publicly stated that ZP, his boss took no notice of his warnings about the mess they were running into back in 2009. Big deal! But the micro economy continues to rot. Most banks are meekly handing out loans to new entrepreneurs, but have to take in a continued array of foreclosures as more simple clients join the rank of unemployed and are ousted from the dwellings because of non-payment of mortgages. They are still going through the restructuring process which means that the remains of the savings banks are awaiting a buyer knowing full well that when it happens branches will be closed and employees out in the street with early retirement; at least the lucky ones. Meanwhile, the reminder of the fraudulent sale of toxic assets keep hitting the pavements opposite the offices as hundreds of humble savers, mainly pensioners keep asking for their money back. The results are too obvious as I continue my ‘walk on the wild side’ every day counting the number of new stores that shut and beggars change location outside bakers and supermarkets. This item of news is still in for a long ride.
What about the social unrest I keep harping on about?
I now count up to three demonstrations in my hometown with at least one per day. Most have been peaceful although the police force is always out in full to make sure that no vandals burn rubbish containers or smash shop windows. They continue to protest against every single new law that the government is trying to implement to cut expenses. The hard hit education (which needs other reforms to increase Spain’s future competitiveness) and the unavoidable privatization process of many public areas including health are at the forefront. The Marxist Trade Unions are the main leaders of the band, with banners and slogans making sure that the traffic is halted and everybody takes note of the protesters. Personally, I’ve got so used to it that I miss it whenever there is a calm day which is usually on a Sunday. Nevertheless, the pot continues to boil. A curious observation is that there are never any Spanish flag wavers yet mingling through the crowd, the odd Republican one is seen flowing in the wind.
Certain items of news are kept low key such as the final hip operation of King Juan Carlos. He has had a very unhealthy year if you can pardon the pun and hopefully this will be the last. Meanwhile his son, Prince Philip and his attractive wife, Princess Leticia have taken over most of the protocol events on the King’s agenda and their recent, hardly mentioned trip to the USA has been a success. They travelled with a ‘posse’ of at least 60 business persons to boost investment in Spain. His command of the English language is immaculate. His wife meanwhile adds her bit by showing off Spain’s exquisite fashion in female clothing. Apart from the Queen and the grandchildren the rest of the royal family are in disgrace and the press this month has avoided them.
On a final note, the recent resignation of Sr. Santiago Abascal, a young Basque conservative (PP) ex-deputy in the Spanish parliament and his subsequent public statements accusing the party and, in particular the government of Mariano Rajoy of ‘going off the rails’ has opened Pandora’s box. He has said that they have failed to live up to the values and virtues of the party ‘laid down by his father’ (another PP militant) and disappointed a great number of voters in the last elections. Harsh words but somehow fairly accurate. For two years the government has concentrated on the economics whereas all the other promises made during the elections, and they are numerous have been shelved. Nobody knows why.
See you next month although Christmas and New Year are just around the corner and Spaniards are gearing up for the festivities. We’ve already got the street decorations going up everywhere. Nevertheless, anything can happen despite Santa Claus homing in on us.
© James G. Skinner. December 2013.
Dec 13th Update:
Here is a bit if real Mickey Mouse news regarding Spain. The football team 'Real Sociedad' (1st division) from the city of San Sebastian in the Basque country (Mayor is an member of Sortu ETA political party) is playing Algeciras Football club (2nd Division) down in Andalucia in the King of Spain's annual football 'knock-out' competition. In order to get down there they have chartered a private jet...wait for it...to fly them to Gibraltar! Algeciras is just across the road. Not only that, there may be many anti-monarchy supporters waving Republican flags during the match. The Gibraltar Chronicle has reported it but no word in any Spanish press. If they have to join the long queue to cross the border they will obviously blame it on the Spanish government.
Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia all have regional languages that have been approved by the Spanish Constitution as co-national languages together with Spanish. However, since democracy all three regions have continually accused the Franco regime of 'banning' these languages. This is probably one of the most flagrant lies about the previous dictatorship, not that approval of the regime's other repressive moves is condoned. What the Generalissimo's government instilled was a common education program based entirely on Castillian which is Spain's official language. Why? Because it was the most obvious way to reduce Spain's past level of illiteracy and hence educate the future generations by making sure all Spaniards cold read and write a common language. The other reason was pure logic. The educational programs (main subjects and teaching methods) had to be uniform throughout the country and this could only be done with one common language. Prohibition of the use either public (press) or in private was a complete lie. I personally recall 'reading' articles in Galician in the local newspaper back in the 60's. The situation today is the complete reverse. The Catalan and Galician languages 'dictate' the education programs in their respective regions. The Basque country is inclined to leave its language as just another subject matter, mainly because it is very difficult and the level of use by the Basques is quite low.
During the Zapatero years more and more lies are brought out about the 40 year dictatorship. This does not mean that during Franco's reign he used an iron rod to govern including reprisals and suppression of human rights. The economic progress during the 60's and 70's was the highest in the world. Back in the 30's Spain was literally a Third world country and the dictatorship raised the level of income/progress by creating for the first time in its history a 'middle class'. Present crisis and politics is slowly destroying this sector of the Spanish community (as elsewhere in the Western world).
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.