National News – June

The Spanish Revolution
Some news stories move too fast for a monthly mag such as this, but we must try. After a decade of apathy in this country (which followed the fiery combative 90’s), Spain appears to be waking up.

An organization calling itself 15M (because it began the 15th of May) began holding peaceful protests that aim at changing completely the way politics is done in this country. This isn’t reform; this is revolution, and it’s clear the organization has taken its modus operandi and cue from the Arab revolutions.

In those countries, things have either changed seriously or are in the midst of change, and the people aren’t giving up. The story’s well known: you gather and gather and sit in the main public square and don’t move until what you want is granted, in spite of police, assault, arrest and murder.

Over 70 Spanish cities are now experiencing passive resistance as people of all ages follow young people who are fed up with Spanish politics, the financial markets and the banking system. And it’s not reform they want. One banner I saw read, “Violence is 600 euros a month.” Another, “Don’t vote for any of them.” And “My month is a lot longer than my salary.”

As was covered in last month’s Gazette, they demand that all politicians running for election who are awaiting trial on (mostly) corruption charges be banned from participating. These protestors are saying out loud what most of us have been suffering for the past three years, and they plan to keep on saying it until further notice.

The Electoral Commission prohibited these protests but the people are not stopping. The Spanish revolution has appeared out of nowhere and is currently front-page news on the Washington Times. The ‘Disaffected’ in other countries are taking up the same challenge and are massing. The PSOE and PP look on nervously, trying to gain some advantage from the protests without admitting that they are square in the protestors’ crosshairs as representing the same old shitty politics, which robs from the poor to give to the rich. By the time you read this, much else will have happened. Watch this space.

Spain Turns Blue
A brief but proleptic note: by the time you read this, Spain will almost assuredly be blue owing to the massive gains made by the PP in the May 22 elections. (Blue is synonymous with conservative – Ed)

The elections will have been about punishing the incumbents, blamed for having guided this country to ruin. As per the above story, though, a PP victory will not be perceived as a good thing by many. However you interpret it, Spain is still a country divided between left and right, and governed by people who want to occupy the centre. General elections might be called early as a result of May 22, which could mean a PP federal government this year instead of next. So, call me Nostradamus if you like.

The New Black Economy
After years of ignoring black money, the Spanish government is finally threatening to turn it white. They need to do this because Brussels keeps on demanding more and deeper-cutting reforms, and the black economy, depending on the estimate, is somewhere between 20 and 30 per cent of the whole, which represents a whack of pasta not being collected via taxes by the government (we’re talking billions).

The reasons people work for black money are clear enough: Social Security is not cheap, and many companies, especially smaller ones, find they can’t employ people legally (by paying their Social Security) and pay them a salary.

In the case of the self-employed, there exists almost no sliding scale depending on what the worker might earn in a month, so if you earn less, you still have to pay the same amount of SS. Hence, many take themselves off the rolls but continue to work where they can because they have to pay mortgages and feed children and survive. Most workers clearly want to be legal, as they are then protected, but tell that to the self-employed who can’t afford to pay SS, and tell it to the boss who won’t budge and still insists on paying you five euros an hour (these are poverty wages, make no mistake).

In good times, the system is still abused to a certain extent, but in bad times, there’s almost no stopping black money. Anyway, the government has warned that companies have three months to regularize their undeclared workers, which does not, I repeat, does not translate into an amnesty or a pardon; companies will still have to pay back what they owe to the government for every legalized ‘black’ worker but can do so over a period of time; however, once this 3-month grace period is over, penalties for companies using undeclared workers will become more severe.

To help ease this whole upcoming mess, I would humbly submit to our hoary rulers that they over-haul how SS is regulated, beginning with sliding scales. You earn more; you pay more & if you earn less; you pay less. And if that’s not a solution, mail me this article and I’ll eat it.

The Scoundrel Dilema
Well, ‘scoundrel’ is more or less what the President meant to say about the PP’s leader, Mariano Rajoy, who has repeatedly accused Zapatero of cutting back social benefits to all and sundry.

The problem with Zapatero’s statement is Orwellian. Of course he’s cut back social benefits (Brussels, bosses and the bankers told him to), but, in election-mode, he can’t admit this, so he says the opposite, possibly following Hitler’s idea of the bigger the lie the more people will swallow it.

If he had admitted to curtailing some social benefits, he wouldn’t have needed recourse to ‘porkies.’ But the deeper he digs, the worse it gets, so now he’s also blaming the PP for all of Spain’s current economic ills when they ruled from 1996 to 2004. No wonder the protests continue to grow.

Fastest Car in Spain
Soria’s Traffic Chief, a Guardia man, was caught doing 207 km/h early last year by fellow agents, and he was not amused.

Besides obscene gestures, and words similar to, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” he basically threatened his fellow agents. He claimed he was chasing someone but the patrol replied they hadn’t seen any other car go past that fit the description of ‘bad guy.’ They also pointed out that the boss did not have his sirens on, which is obligatory in a chase situation.

The boss has been in the position for ten years, and according to the Guardia Civil Union, no one’s confronted him before as he has the support of other top Guardia men, which has made fellow agents somewhat fearful in confronting him. Now the Union says it is also investigating other Guardia officials while saying, this sort of thing is not common in the Guardia Civil.

The further Need for Speed
Up in Madrid, three young Spanish men between the ages of 20 and 26 were detained after a car chase in which they reached 180 km/h in a 35-year-old Seat 124.

At one point, they even managed to go 300 meters the wrong way, thus forcing a night bus off the road. They ignored red lights in their desperate attempt to escape.

When finally they crashed into one of the police cars (oops), the three delinquents rushed off on foot but the police eventually nailed them. Charges include dangerous driving and resisting arrest. I think they should throw in assholery as well. (Achieving 180km in a 35-year-old Seat 124 does have its merits, though – Ed)

Penitents Unrepentant
During the Semana Santa parades in Valencia, a brouhaha (row) erupted when the Chief Brother of a local brotherhood ordered the parade to stop, as he felt it dangerous to continue with the rain and the wax on the route. A number of participants, who are members of the order, refused, shouting their disagreement at their leader and those who obeyed him, and encouraging on-lookers to prevent the parade from stopping.

Emotions tend to run high in this sort of thing, as the brotherhoods all around the country spend a long time preparing the Easter parades, so for it all to come to nothing after so much work because of bad skies is obviously extremely frustrating. Anyway, seven Penitentes have been identified, and the order is preparing to kick them out.

Slippery Steps
A young Frenchman up in Salou (Tarragona), whilst in his cups, slipped and fell five stories inside a hotel. Somehow he must have gone over the railing of the stairs and then plummeted down the well. He survived though to tell his tale, but is still in hospital.

Coked-up Politician
The PP leader in Ciudad Real has been arrested for drug trafficking after the Guardia nabbed him as he was picking up a packet with 1,300 grams of cocaine inside.

The PP’s number two, María Dolores de Cospedal, condemned the affront to the party’s reputation, saying that they would not tolerate any illegal behaviour from any member, unless of course they are up for re-election. As Gustavo Hernández is not on the electoral list, he’s been thrown in jail.

ETA on the Voting List?
This is what a number of people are saying, especially the PP. For a number of years, in moves similar to Sinn Fein and the IRA, ETA has attempted to legitimize its political wing, but successive governments have never allowed it, saying, quite rightly, that prior to any political recognition, the organization must give up its weapons and renounce the use of violence, which has cost so many lives, forever.

The latest attempt comes in the form of Bildu, yet again, a party whose roots are somewhat vague. When the Supreme Court decided to ban the party from participating in elections, Bildu appealed to the highest court in the land, the Constitutional, and in a surprising result, this court quashed the Supreme’s ruling, which meant that Bildu could participate in elections legally.

ETA over the years has announced several ceasefires and truces, which they themselves have always eventually broken, most famously the bombing in the T4 terminal in Madrid a few years back. After a recent shootout between ETA members and the French police, although Bildu referred to this as an ‘incident’ that had nothing to do with ETA’s ceasefire, they still claimed they rejected terrorism.

Critics of the party say it is merely one more front for ETA in their attempts to get into power and manipulate the electorate and achieve their own ends (hmmm, sort of what like other political parties do?). Bildu has tried to prove that they reject violence and other forms of aggression. Candidates must affirm this by signing a manifesto of rejection. But few are buying it.

Another recent incident cast further doubt on the party when long-time ETA prisoner, Ander Errandonea, was released from jail and photos were taken of him holding up a poster that showed support for Bildu. Did this mean Bildu were simply another front for ETA? It’s hard to say.

ETA has caused a lot of damage and suffering in this country, and its time surely must come. Law forces have more or less decapitated the beast and severely weakened it. Perhaps some of them recognise that only by participating in democracy will they ever have a chance of achieving their aims, which revolve around independence.

For the time being, Bildu is being given the chance to participate. But any miss-steps will cost them dearly, as everyone’s eye is on them to make sure they respect and obey the law. Sin Fein managed it, perhaps Bildu will too (this, of course, presuming that Bildu is merely another ETA front).

Piracy Pays
Do you remember the Alakrana, which was boat-nabbed by some dastardly Somali pirates? Well. After the boat’s crew were given over by their captors, back in November 2009, the government claimed they had negotiated the release but had certainly not paid for it, how very dare you for even thinking, etc. Because paying ransoms is illegal.

Now the court trying the pirates, which has found them guilty and sentenced them to 439 years in total of jail time, says that the Government – gosh – lied about this and that, through public intermediaries, paid the pirates between two and three million euros.

This was accomplished by dropping in two separate parts of the sea two packages containing the loot, which was then picked up by the boat-jackers. The process was brought to fruition between a Somalia negotiator and a mysterious chap called Pepe on the part of the Government; Pepe, a white man, who spoke English and French, about 45 years old, dealt with Yama, on the Somali side, for about two days and talked a lot on the phone. The point is, we got the crew back safe and sound, but once again our leaders can’t be honest with us.

The Turkish Telephone Bill
We tend to rail against politicians and telecommunications companies but what happens when these two titans face off against each other? The mayor of Valle de Zalabí is seething after receiving a telephone bill for 2,536 euros, this quantity apparently racked up when on holiday in Turkey.

The cost came from simply connecting to the internet through his mobile phone. “I was not using erotic chat lines,” the mayor emphasized, but merely keeping up with his mayoral duties.

He was under the impression he had contracted a flat-rate service of some euros a month, which is why he is so surprised at what he considers a ‘complete rip-off.’ Needless to say, in this litigous land, the issue is heading for the courts. And you can probably guess which company it was.

Judge Suspended Again
Baltazar Garzón, our flashy magistrate, has once again been suspended (that’s twice now), owing to wiretaps he authorized in the Caso Gürtel case; said taps being illegal. Life is tough at the top.

The maverick has been involved in many high-profile cases and causes, and has no doubt stepped on a good many toes, and this will probably cost him his career, which is a shame, as the Gürtel case could be the most serious corruption ever seen in this country, not to mention his attempts at unveiling the worst excesses of Franco’s regime.

He first came to international attention when he persuaded British authorities to detain General Pinochet, whom he tried to extradite to Spain on charges of mass murder in Chile. The extradition failed, but the attempt was remembered. But for now Garzón is going to have to sit it out and see how the wind blows.

As the PP is about to regain power in this country, and they’ve never been friends with the judge, I think it’s safe to say that Garzón’s career, for the time being, is absolutely dead.

(News: National, Spain)

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