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The International Writers Magazine: Interpreting Modern Spain

*Congratulations. James's latest novel 'Serene Maiden' shortlisted in The Wishing Shelf Awards 2012

Repugnant - Spain on the Brink of Chaos
• James Skinner
Our Man in Vigo finds Spain on the brink of a confrontation between the left and right echoing the misery of the 1930's.
Left Spokesman

Prior to opening up Spain’s can of worms herewith my usual synopsis of today’s world horrors; no different to last month’s I’m afraid.  Carnage in Syria has continued with no signs of abating.  Iranian defiance against all and sundry trying to block their construction of an atomic bomb is no news.  Oil prices continue to go berserk.  The Middle East is slowly turning over to Sharia law as the so called ‘spring revolutions’ calm down.  Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president is back in Cuba fighting for his life and dear old Greece, is still struggling to make ends meet whilst the world financial institutions still haven’t come up with an answer to solve the present international chaos.  Argentina is preparing for another bout of punches with the UK to reclaim the Falkland Islands (the 30th anniversary of the war is up in April) although a nasty train crash last month with over fifty deaths may divert the country’s attention to more serious matters.  World trade is shifting fast with Brazil, India and China showing the way as they build up a new world order.  As for the ‘old continent’, well let’s just say that the politicians are keeping their fingers crossed that the trouble will just blow away.

The following review on Spain may wake them up!    

As reported in previous essays, the new conservative government of Mariano Rajoy that has been in power for just over two months has embarked on a very strict series of measures to try to return Spain to an economic growth pattern over the next decade. The country’s deficit that now stands at a horrendous 8.51% and the unsustainable unemployment rate, almost 23% are the main targets.  Whilst the vice-President Ms. Soraya de Santamaría has been the lead spokesperson on the proposed reforms, Sr. Rajoy has been travelling the world wooing the main international leaders stating that he means business and that he intends to bring his country back to the forefront of world decision making.  So far, he has received positive reviews from his counterparts in Europe and the USA.

Back at the ranch the scenario is totally the opposite.

‘Repugnant’* is how ‘Freddie’ Rubalcaba, the ex Minister of the Interior in the previous socialist government, now heading the opposition described Sr. Rajoy’s attitude towards the trade unions.  ‘We shall take our fights to the streets and in the courts,’ he followed on with a month later.  These are just two examples of public statements showing how vicious the leader of the PSOE intends to oppose what ever plans the new government has for the future.  Rather than lick their wounds thanks to the election debacle that kicked them out of power, and begin to restructure and modernise the party – (read proper European socialist policies) - to make way for the XXI century, the left wing has decided to ignore any ill doing and continue with the old ways as if Spain’s economic woes had nothing to do with their previous government policies.  No need to touch the welfare state as money grows on trees! Thus anything the new lot intends to do to bring back some sense into the management of the country will be faced with a continued barrage of obstacles that will inevitably include strikes, demonstrations, and even court indictments – unconstitutional laws - if need be, to keep Spain from surfacing out of the quagmire.

Trouble is that they have the support of all other factions of Spanish political parties throughout the country, from republicans to nationalists, from anarchists to communists, from ecologists to what is left on the election lists.  The ruling People’s Party, although they have an overwhelming majority mandate are ‘unbelievably’ on their own.  It’s difficult for an outsider to understand, but just think of Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’ and you have the picture.  My reasoning is simple; Spaniards are as divided as they were eighty years ago and the present political atmosphere is at a boiling point.  You have one right wing party and a sleuth of left wingers.  Let us hope that the wrath of the 1930’s is not upon us once again.  However, all the signs point in that direction.

So what about all these reforms that the non-conformists are complaining about?
Here they are in a nutshell:

  1. The main and most important one is new labour laws that will allow companies to hire and fire on the one hand, whilst cutting back on both employment costs and bureaucracy on the other.  This will hopefully boost employment.
  2. Increase in income tax that affects all citizens.  Increase in VAT is yet to come!
  1. A review of all budgets, national, regional and local (town councils) with strict control on future spending.  As explained in previous essays, one of Spain’s main problems was that there are seventeen regional governments and eight thousand town councils all doing their own thing regards public expenditure. The country still doesn’t have a clear picture of the whole debt!
  2. Town councils have been ordered to pay all outstanding provider debts. This in itself is a mayor step forward that will boost small firms badly needed cash flow. 
  3. The banking system is still being restructured, especially the savings banks that are overburdened with toxic assets.  The government is focusing on the credit squeeze for small businesses and if the new labour laws take effect and hiring begins it will be coupled with the necessary banking funds to allow company growth.
  4. All unnecessary government subsidies, and there are literally hundreds of thousands of them will be reviewed and many will be abolished.  The Trade Unions may come under this review, hence the reason for ‘Freddie’s’ outburst!*

The downside to the above reforms is that they will take time to materialize and the forecast is that any positive results will not be felt for at least another two years. Unemployment is expected to continue over the next few months.  Nevertheless, and despite a certain degree of optimism, there are more phantoms looming in the opera house that may well help upset Sr. Rajoy’s apple cart.

I’ve said all along that Spain’s problems were more political than economic although both go hand in hand.

To start with we still have the problem of the Basque country and ETA.  On the latest 9 o’clock news the new government has agreed with the opposition that a ceasefire is actually in effect, however they insist that ETA should hand in their arsenal before any further talks take place.  If you look back at my previous essays you’ll see that ever since their political arm, Amaiur, alias Batasuna, had obtained national parliamentary representation thanks to the last general elections, the terrorist outfit has won their first battle of seeking independence from Spain.  This whole issue is long term and for several reasons.  Scotland is on the road to a referendum for independence from the UK.  Hopefully it will be endorsed by the British parliament and voting will be held in 2014.  Don’t think for one moment that every nationalist party in the three main regions of Spain, including the Basques, i.e. Catalonia and Galicia will not be keeping a close watch on the developments going in the British Isles.  Watch this space for forthcoming attractions.

And then you’ve got the Undangarin money laundering scandal.  Remember this guy? He’s married to one of the King’s daughters and he’s been accused of public fund embezzlement over several years through fictitious non profit organisations he ran since 2005, or there abouts.  The Republican faction of the opposition, mainly in Catalonia is calling for the end of the Spanish Monarchy and if the courts prove that his wife Princess Cristina had anything to do with it; well I’ll wait and write about this sometime in the future!

How about our friend Judge Garzon?  I keep reminding you folks of the guy who tried to put Chile’s Pinochet behind bars.  In the last report he had been barred as a judge for illegally ordering phone tapping between lawyers and defendants in a fraud case. Well, this time round he has been found innocent in the second case when he tried, unsuccessfully to investigate Franco’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War and other crimes during the dictatorship.  He still has a third one pending due to use of ‘strange’ funds in a number of conferences he gave in the USA.  His trials were a typical case of political influencing by a charismatic judge who overstepped his mark. Quite a character is our theatrical ex-judge!  This is why the judicial system is under scrutiny and the new government intends to return the system to total legal independence.  It remains to be seen!

Conclusion: This country has a long way to go before it can be considered solvent and on the right road to recovery.  As the Minister of Finance said just the other day, ‘the main culprit of our problems is…Spain!’  Reminds me of Greenspan’s similar statement a few years back when asked by a journalist who was responsible for the world financial crisis. ‘The human being!’ was his answer.

© James Skinner. March 2012. (new email address)

The Scurge of Unemployment in Spain
James Skinner

Greece has officially been declared a basket case, the gurus at the Davros Economic Summit continue to predict what we all already know, the Arab League has given up on Syria whilst Russia waits in the wings to pick up the pieces and Iran threatens to put up the price of oil.

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