National News – April

Drowned US Student
A 22-year-old American student from California was found at the bottom of Madrid’s Rio Manzanares. The lad had been missing a couple of days, with family and friends searching the area when he failed to appear after a night out – one nightclub doorman had turned him away because he claimed he was drunk.

The initial forensic report puts his death down to an accident as there were no signs of violence on the body, but a final verdict is pending a complete autopsy in search of any substances other than alcohol in his organs.

The family find it difficult to believe that Austin Taylor Bice, who had been studying Finance at the Universidad de Carlos III as an exchange student, had drowned, as he was very athletic.

Criticism over the alleged lack of safety on the riverbanks was immediately made because in places the safety fences are totally inadequate: flatiron posts with top and bottom flatiron bars, leaving a square-metre gap between them. Furthermore, the lower bar is at the height of a toddlers waste. Anybody who does fall in would find it impossible to get out, as the river is little more than a canal with vertical, concrete sides in places. Conscious of this deficit, the City Hall has been filling the gaps with mesh-work fencing with a completion date of 15th March – too late for Austin, however.

Speed Limit
The new speed limit of 110 kph has been in force for a few weeks now on both motorways and dual carriageways, with the government assuring everyone that this is only a temporary measure to reduce fuel consumption during the current crisis. A crisis which has seen prices reach 120 dollars a barrel before eventually calming down somewhat and steadying at around 105 (this figure is based on the price index at the time of writing and will probably look completely out of sorts by the time we go to print!) and every time the price of a barrel of oil goes up by 10 dollars, Spain’s energy bill rises by some 6,000 million euros, according to the deputy prime minister. However, the real price that everyone worries about is the one at the pumps, and these have reached a record high in recent weeks.

Road signage and radar equipment has been changed and the government assure us that it is being done at minimum cost (on the cheap! They have basically just put stickers over the old signs) so as not to adversely affect the savings, which are hoped will be in the region of 10 per cent, or as the Ministry of Industry state, around 1,400 million euros.

Drivers should benefit to the tune of a15 per cent saving if you drive a petrol vehicle and 11 per cent on a diesel, obviously depending on whether you use your car to commute long distances or just for the local school run.

How about the doubters… being Spain and elections in the offing, there was a whole hubbub of dissent. The PP described the measure as one that undermines freedom and a ‘Soviet’ type idea, whereas the United Left called the idea simply ‘crazy’. Another dig in the ribs for the measure came from the R.A.C.E., the Spanish motoring association, who said the measure was not effective at all and should be reversed immediately. Another automobile association said that driving at 110 kph in fourth consumes more fuel that doing 150 kph in fifth.

On the plus side, all of the Eco friendly associations believe the measure should be a permanent one and associations of accident victims have welcomed the move with great enthusiasm believing the measure would improve road safety.

Cocaine Spain
Or so a United Nations report would have you believe. According to their figures Spain is the most addicted country in Europe, with 3.1 percent of its adult population believed to be using cocaine, which would make three out of every 100 Spaniards nasal Hoover masters of the powdery white lines.

The Interior Minister, Alfredo Perez, hit back at the suggestion with a defiant use of his own figures and percentages, “The UN has used dated figures in it’s report and Spain has already done a comprehensive study with 30,000 people which clearly shows that, in the last year, cocaine use has decreased from 3.1 to 2.6 percent,” he said.

He also pointed out that based on the latest figures, the UK has already risen above Spain to first place in the European table of cocaine usage. Well, there you go, we knew England would be better than Spain at something after the World Cup.

The difficulty faced by Spain has always be geographic, with cargo ships arriving daily from Latin America, with drugs hidden in fruit, machinery or even toys, with the smugglers becoming ever more ingenious and the authorities constantly playing catch-up.

Gun Theft
Thieves managed to breach the security of an army base in Badajoz and walk away with 25 assault rifles and 10 handguns.

The theft occurred late at night in the General Menacho base, which is home to the Brigada Mecanizada Extremadura XI, and the Ministry of defence has confirmed that security in the armoury was breached.

Despite the prompt attendance of the security company that oversees the base and their arrival just minutes after the alarm went off, they saw no suspects, but immediately noticed that several weapons were missing.

The Ministry believe that the thieves were a well-organised gang who may well have had help from the ‘inside’ as there was no sign of a forced entry and the only way to gain access to the building is by using a key-code. The Security Brigade on the military base in conjunction with the National Police and Guardia Civil are in the process of investigating the theft and initial reports suggest the thieves may have crossed the nearby border into Portugal shortly after the theft.

The base is no stranger to criminal activity; it was just three years ago that there was an attack on the cash machine belonging to the BBVA bank within the barracks using an armoured vehicle. They obviously take their bank withdrawals very seriously in Badajoz!

Corruption Candidate?
Being a grubby, uneducated heathen, I had not come across the expression ‘nihil obstat’. The direct translation is ‘nothing hinders’ and has been used historically by the Catholic Church censors, who would read texts and if it was deemed suitable for the masses it would be given a ‘nihil obstat’ classification.

In this case it refers to a gentleman by the name of Francisco Camps, who is allegedly up to his neck in the Gürtel corruption scandal, involving money laundering, tax fraud and theft with Camps himself indicted on charges of bribery. He will be standing for re-election to office on 22nd May despite the corruption allegations and an appearance in court that will conveniently occur after the voting is over.

His party, the PP, had a meeting where his position was discussed and it has been reported in the Spanish press that extreme pressure from the Valencia members led to his ‘free pass’ back to the elections.

Camps said of that victory for the PP on May 22nd will see a victory for ‘normality, freedom and moderation,’ no mention of justice though.

Speaking in the Valencia Parliament recently, Camps maintains his innocence claiming that the charges are a ‘fit up’ and that much of it is due to the Socialist leader in Valencia, Ángel Luna.

Strike Off!
With the threat of strike action in Spanish airports, the already ‘down trodden’ tourism industry had little to look forward to in the coming months. However, the action, which was to take place for 22 days between April and August, has been called off after workers in AENA, the Spanish Airport Authority, voted to accept a deal reached with the Unions in early March.

The nationwide vote saw 80% of workers taking part and that 70% of them voted in favour of the deal that offers job and wages protection during the upcoming privatisation measures.

The aim is to privatise 49% of AENA and ministers have already put air traffic control out to tender at several airports with Madrid and Barcelona at the forefront of the offer.

So all those sweaty, red northern Europeans like myself can get their towels and thongs ready to hit the Spanish beaches this summer… not a pretty sight I grant you, but if you are unlucky enough to see my buttocks taking some sun, just think of the economy!

Judge Judgement
National Court Judge, Baltasar Garzon who dared to start investigations into crimes committed under the Franco regime and was subsequently suspended for his actions, has made a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He claims that his fundamental human rights have been breached during the case against him in the Spanish Supreme court.

Mr. Garzon claims that suspending him has left the victims of Franco’s crimes defenceless and that the Supreme Court has failed to maintain ‘judicial independence’ in a case that has seen him subjected to ‘an unjust penal process.’

Since his suspension Garzon has been working as a consultant in the International Penal Court in The Hague, advising on human rights issues, but cannot practice in Spain until a decision is reached on the charges he faces of perverting the course of justice.

Biting Black
This is something we’ve all heard before… The Spanish government is planning to launch an attack on the black economy.

Brussels is currently discussing the economic problems this underworld is placing on governments and one of the measures is an obligation on Spain to investigate and reduce the problem.

The job falls to the Minister for Employment, Valeriano Gómez, who has started things off nicely by saying that in he believes that the problem is no worse here in Spain than in other European countries such as Germany or Sweden. But he has to bring in some measures to try and reduce the problem as part of the Euro Pact, although he was unwilling to give any details of what the measures might be it is expected to include an amnesty for those naughty tax dodgers to become legal. However, nothing is certain as Mr. Gómez is still in the process of preparing the plan.

When pressed to give a figure on the extent of the black economy he avoided the question with some aplomb, saying it was impossible to give an exact figure… Hacienda puts the figure at 20% of Spain’s GDP as an estimate.

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