My friend the lawyer Gerardo Vásquez told me the other day that a four-page spread in Interviu which mentions him on the subject of the 'illegal homes' in the Almanzora Valley was coming out shortly. Yesterday morning I went out and bought a copy of the magazine, which has, as always, a woman wearing little more than a smile on the front-cover, together with a free calender for 2014 with all her best and frankest pictures to adorn the months to come. It gets odder – the woman in question is 45 year old Olvido Hormigos, an ex-councillor from a small town in Toledo who became notorious in 2012 after a steamy video featuring Olvido appeared on the Internet. She's now a TV personality and, evidently, Interviu centrefold! As for Gerardo, I think he would have preferred the article to have appeared in a rather more sober magazine.
The 'illegal houses' in Almería are starting to become a useful stick for the Partido Popular to beat the PSOE. Sometimes we find the enemies of our enemies are our friends... 'The Andalucian parliamentarian of the Partido Popular for Almeria, Jose Jesus Gázquez, criticised the new Councillor for the Environment and Territorial Planning, María Jesús Serrano, during a recent plenary meeting of the Andalucian Parliament for her "inability" to solve the problem of irregular housing in the Almanzora. Gázquez noted that it was "inexplicable" that the Andalucian Government has acted by knocking down houses when "these had been purchased in good faith by foreign retirees who one day decided to come and live in our country for the benefits that entails" and deplored "the damage the Andalucian Government is doing to our province"...' From Teleprensa.
A four page article in Interviu, a peculiar Spanish magazine that is a cross between Penthouse and Time, explores the subject of the political damage to the region and the personal tragedies suffered by those who 'bought in good faith' (translation in English): '‘...Solutions Yes, Demolitions No’. 500 home-owners from the Valley of Almanzora in Almería, the majority British, protested under this concise banner on the 9th of November in Cantoria. Beside them marched business people and Mayors of the area concerned about the adverse impact on tourism of the recent demolition of illegally constructed houses belonging to two retired English couples. The digger knocked them down on the 14th October and was still removing the debris two weeks ago, under the helpless gaze of some ten pensioners who witness in the scene the black future of their retirement dreams. Two neighbouring houses in the hamlet of Las Terreras, in Cantoria also await demolition. One of them has already been ransacked'...
From Córdoba comes a small ray of hope. 'The Junta de Andalucía is to amend the decree approved two years ago regarding buildings built on undeveloped land as there hasn't been time, apparently, for the expected results. When this regulation came into force at the beginning of 2012, the Junta calculated that the Decree would immediately legalise one of every ten houses built on undeveloped land and that it would recognise the situation of eight out of every ten homes, which would not be 'regularised' but would be able to receive basic services. The final one in ten would be at the mercy of the bulldozer if the illegal dwelling had not been prescribed by time or if the house was found to be built on protected land or flood-plain. However, those expectations have not been met in Andalucía, nor, specifically, in the case of Córdoba... ...In an interview, and following being named Andalucían Councillor for the Environment and Territorial Planning, María Jesús Serrano said "it was necessary to further develop the decree and see what has been done well and study what can be improved". In addition, in November, the Government representative in Almeria, Sonia Ferrer, announced there the intention of the Junta to amend the Decree since it had not been 100% effective'... Dear Lord, where do they find these people? Ten per cent this, eighty per cent that... Quotes from the Diario Córdoba.
Later, another criticism for the unfortunate María Jesús from another Partido Popular deputy, Miguel Ángel Castellón, who on Wednesday accused the Secretary of 'making the same vapid speech of her predecessor from two years ago' while discussing the Junta de Andalucía's policy for the '13.000 viviendas alegales' in the province of Almería. The word 'alegal' which appears in no dictionary, is used to describe something which is half-way between 'legal' and 'ilegal'. 'What does she plan to do with the 900 homes which, on a recent visit to Almería, she said would never be 'regularised'?... Knock them down'? Asked the deputy during his speech in the Andalucian Parliament. The quotes come from a press release from the PP.
'For the second time in just a few weeks, positive figures have been issued about the property market in Málaga. Last month, figures from the National Institute of Statistics revealed that property sales in the province had risen for the first time since the beginning of the crisis, and now figures from the Ministry of Public Works show that the number of property transactions increased more here than in any other province of Spain in the third quarter of this year, compared with the same period of 2012. There was an increase of 25.4 per cent, bringing the total number of sales to 5,059'... From Sur in English.
'More than nine million foreign tourists visit Spain for sport-related activities, according to the 2013 Sports Statistics Yearbook published by the Ministry for Education, Culture and Sport. With the ski season upon us, one of the strongest times of the year for sports tourism, our country has an increasingly greater interest to foreign travellers as a destination for all kinds of sports'... From Hosteltur. The article doesn't specifically include spectator sports (brief visits for a team football match for example) but they would probably become part of the figures.
The value of Spain as a brand has registered a fall of 20%, going from 908,000 million dollars (661.839 million euros) in 2012 to 725,000 million dollars (528.394 million euros) this year, according to the annual report of Brand Finance on the World's most valuable country brands. ''Brand Spain' is not in the top positions in any of the four sector rankings drawn up by Brand Finance: investment, tourism, products and services, and people and skills'. Found at Ansa Med.
'The Government will come to the rescue of the Murcia phantom Corvera airport, promoted by the regional President Ramón Luis Valcárcel along with local entrepreneurs in the past decade but paralysed from early 2012 by doubts about its viability and the distribution of the financial burden. At the behest of the Ministry of Economy, the official credit Institute (ICO) will make available to the community of Murcia 40,61 million euros to pay off part of an expired guarantee of 200 million euros'... The Corvera airport is just 70kms away from the current Murcia airport at San Javier. It may now open in late 2014, but with the probable closure of its sister airport (and a hefty public payout to Aena of 70 million euros). The story can be found at El Mundo.
In a major article in El País called “We have reformed Spain; now we need change at the EU level”, Mariano Rajoy speaks to the journalists on a wide range of topics (here at El País in English). - 'A few days short of the second anniversary of his becoming prime minister, in an exclusive interview with a team of European newspapers including EL PAÍS, Mariano Rajoy insists that the five-year-long crisis has not resulted in greater inequality in Spain, and that the country’s ailing welfare state is able to cope with growing poverty. He insists that the only solution to the crisis is job creation, which will come as a result of labour market reforms'...
'The economy's salvation, is in her exports', says the Real Instituto Elcano. - 'Spain’s striking export success has enabled the economy to emerge from recession and helped to turn around the current-account balance. Structural adjustment is shifting the engine of the economy from domestic sources of growth into an export-led model.
Exports of goods have risen significantly in the last five years. External demand has been positive since 2008, having been negative for the previous 10 years. Both the destination and the structure of exports have changed, with a larger share going to non-EU countries. The share of exports in GDP is converging towards Germany at a faster pace than in France and Italy, moving the engine of economic growth away from its previous over-dependence on domestic sources, particularly construction'...
'Public spending by the autonomous communities has been reduced by more than 5 billion euros in just two years. Excluding the part relating to interest on debt, working overhead costs of the regions have fallen by 3.38% in the last two years. It would have been much more if it were not for the interests that are paid for accumulated debt have bitten part of the savings achieved. Their basic operation, items of current expenditure and staff costs, have fallen by in almost 4 billion euros compared with 2011. More than 6 billion if compared with 2010'... The story in the pro-Government ABC rates Castilla-La Mancha as the autonomous region that has effected the greatest savings.
'With a runway long enough to land an Airbus A380, the world's largest airliner, and a capacity to handle 10 million passengers per year, the airport at Ciudad Real, some 200 kilometres (100 miles) south of Madrid, has become a symbol of Spain's real estate bubble.
Spain's first private international airport operated its first flight in December 2008 but passenger traffic never took off and CR Aeropuertos, the operator of the terminal, went into bankruptcy in June 2012 with debts of around €300 million'... From The Telegraph.
'THE A369 road south from Spain’s literary retreat of Ronda, the mountain town that so inspired Hemingway, Welles and amigos, meanders photogenically through Andalucia’s famous pueblos blancos, whitewashed villages punctuating one of Europe’s more spectacular mountainscapes.
With their architectural nod to Arabic neighbours, Andalucia’s charming white towns are daubed like splashed paint over verdant cork forests and russet olive groves. The region’s Rio Genal, which locals regard as the continent’s cleanest waterway, burbles through this stunning naturaleza to the Mediterranean’s gates near Gibraltar.
But for all its natural splendour, the A369 is also a corridor that tracks the epidemic of small-town corruption that has crippled Spain — and Europe with it; a cancer infecting communities like these across this once-proud nation, Europe’s fourth-largest economy'... Eric Ellis from The Global Mail on small-town corruption in Southern Spain.
'A jury on Thursday found the former Popular Party (PP) premier of the Balearic Islands, Jaume Matas, guilty of abusing his position to coerce a company into paying his wife 42,000 euros for a job she never carried out. The prosecutor has asked for a fine of 9,000 euros to be levied on Matas.
Matas’s wife, Maite Areal, who is a schoolteacher, was hired as a public relations officer at the luxury Mallorca hotel Palma Valparaiso, which forms part of the Grupotel, and whose owner Miguel Ramis told the court that he did so out of a favour to the politician. Members of the PP and Matas used the hotel on a number of occasions'... From El País in English.
The overall chief of the UGT – the union that is under a cloud in Andalucía for false accounting and fraud – is Cándido Méndez, a bearded heavy who has headed up the union since 1994 and, according to El Espía en el Congreso, likes a little luxury now and again, including his collection of Rolex watches worth 25,000 euros.
'When José María del Nido took over as president of Sevilla Football Club in May 2002, he promised to “clean up the accounts and win trophies.” That he certainly did, through astute transfer business that balanced the books and reaped six titles. On Monday, Del Nido bade farewell to the club at a press conference after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction for embezzlement and perverting the course of justice in the so-called Minutas case, in which Del Nido and jailed former Marbella mayor Julián Muñoz systematically overbilled the town authorities for services'... Del Nido has been sentenced to seven years of prison. From El País in English
(Following on from the above) - 'The Secretary of Organization of the PSOE, Óscar López, warned on Monday that his party will not "allow the campaign of harassment and demolition of the trade unions" by the Right, during a ceremony held jointly with the Secretary general of the UGT, Cándido Méndez.
Lopez has accused the Government of Mariano Rajoy of seeking a triple objective with the labour reform: reducing the cost of dismissals, lowering wages and embarrassing the unions, through "a campaign of harassment and demolition"'... Story at El Mundo.
In a surprise article in Wednesday's El Mundo, it was revealed that 'Over 3,300 senior State employees earn more than the Prime Minister, according to the report which the Court of Auditors has submitted to the Congress of Deputies. This is the number of employees of public companies dependent on the Central Administration with a gross annual remuneration of over 90,000 euros'. The best paying State companies are Aena, the RTVE, Renfe and Navantia. Rajoy, by the way, officially earns 75,000 euros per annum.
Where are the Ecologists? (From Spanish Shilling)
The plastic farms of Almería, the invernaderos, occupy around 260 square kilometres of land: almost exactly 100 square miles. They are sometimes cited as the only man-made thing you can see from space, depending on which part of space you happen to be occupying... However, it's still a lot of land under plastic, about twice the size of the city of Seville. Odd, then, that the ecologists who influence the Seville government don't seem to be fazed by this attack on the environment. There is no doubt but that the ecologists, treated with the same power and fear as was once accorded to the Holy Inquisition, have had a massive effect on the wealth of Andalucía, by ruining the business of residential tourism, and the chance for small villages to grow (through the POTA, a peculiar law which allows villages to expand by a maximum of only 30% of their number of inhabited homes every eight years). Indeed, the area of the Almanzora Valley, where many of those houses planned, built, promoted, sold (to Northern Europeans) ...and only then declared illegal, has a population of 40 per square kilometre, versus the entire province of Almería at 72 and the Comarca del Poniente (where most of the plastic farms are) at a respectable 230 people/sq km. Villages that aren't growing will lose their young. They will move to the cities where there is work, opportunity and diversion. The elderly sometimes retire back to su pueblo and may generate some modest work on the old casa. But the chance of those small villages having much of a future is small. Indeed, of the thirteen municipalities in Andalucía with less than 200 souls, nine of them are in Almería. Here's a quote from an 'Amusing Planet' piece on the invernaderos of Almería from August of this year: '...A few small towns in the area have been completely swamped by the white plastic farms. Plastic manufactures and recycling companies have also set-up in the region, where discarded plastic sheeting and rubbish lies wherever blocking up riverbeds. Last month the death of a sperm whale that washed up on Spain’s south coast was linked to the Almeria greenhouses after it was found to have swallowed 37 pounds (17kg) of plastic waste dumped into the sea. Empty pesticide containers bearing toxic warnings lie among the plastic litter. On the coast at El Pozuelo plastic waste is piled calf-high'... A mess. So where are the ecologists? They are too busy with the 'illegal houses' sold to the northern Europeans between 2005 and 2008 when Len and Helen Prior's house was suddenly bulldozed down on their dime. The Priors have been living in the garage of their home (which escaped the demolition) since January 8th 2008. Six years ago. The area, incidentally, where the Junta de Andalucía - with the connivance of the same ecologists - wants to build a macro-city of 70,000 people to be called El Llano Central (a flood plain, by the way). The best major article on the greenhouses I've seen comes from The Global Mail, an Australian newspaper. Written by Eric Ellis, it's called 'The Stain on Spain'. '...Morrocan Mohammed El Hosni paid a human trafficker 3,000 euros to get across the Straits of Gibraltar to Almeria three years ago. Today, the 33-year-old tends zucchinis for 30 euros a day, going home to his family of five who live in a chabola outside La Mojonera. These crude chabolas are the hovels that punctuate the hothouse region here, and embarrass Spain. Fashioned from scavenged cardboard boxes and discarded plastic, they are erected by homeless Africans on abandoned plots or on land not yet turned into greenhouses. Water is brought in by bucket from nearby wells and stored in discarded pesticide containers. Cooking and heating is by bottled gas, the electricity lifted off the main grid by running illegal, fizzing wires'... Periodically, the Spanish authorities bulldoze down some of these chabolas. Indeed, the 'Defensor del Pueblo', the Andalucian ombudsman, is currently investigating a mass demolition of chabolas in El Ejido from September last year. Again, where are the ecologists? Are they with the Caritas charity, which claims that there are about 10,000 people living in Almería without shelter, including around 7,000 on the farms. Those who live this kind of life won't last long, a study shows their life expectancy to be 20 years less than the rest of us, thanks to their lack of access to the Health System and to proper shelter, and they will be doubly frustrated to know that there are some 25,000 vacant bank-owned homes in the province. More at El Ideal.
...And those bank-owned properties. 2.5 million of them stretched across Spain. Not one of them illegal? How pragmatic of the ecologists! We hear of the old Cortijo del Fraile in Nijar, where Lorca set his play. It's falling down now. So too is the Palacio del Almanzora in the village of the same name. So too (not!) is the enormous Hotel Algarrobico on the coast along from Carboneras. What are the ecologists up to? I imagine them as city folk. Young, serious and bespectacled. They know nothing of economics, and care nothing for the livelihood of the villagers. They love projects, such as the absurd and fiercely expensive tortoise sanctuary built outside Bédar (which houses four tortoises), but they know nothing of the countryside. For them, it's precious walks along old paths used by shepherds in centuries gone by, but now those sheep must wear microchips. The shepherd will be a Moroccan being paid in the black. Almería could have been the Florida of Europe, but instead it has chosen to become the Georgia of the antebellum. I blame the ecologists.
'My recent experience trying to buy property in Tenerife is rather puzzling for a country having millions of unsold houses. I started off with going to a bank in Santa Cruz to open an account. The bank considered my documentation sufficient, however I was informed that I needed a “NIE” to open an account; consequently I went to the national police in Santa Cruz to obtain this. At the police station I was asked to pay a small fee for the “NIE” that had to be paid through a bank (an inconvenient way to pay a negligible fee). Nevertheless I went back to the bank to pay the fee.
Back at the bank I was informed that I had to obtain the “NIE” number before I could pay the fee. Consequently I went back to the police just to be told rather forcefully – no I had to pay first. I went back to the bank again to tell them that I was now really stuck and asked them to call the police officer in question to try to solve the problem which they were not willing to do'... By Thomas Ekvall writing in Standing in a Spanish Doorway.
'Spanish director Pedro Almodovar has attacked his homeland's government as he accepted an honorary prize at the European Film Awards in Berlin.
The 64-year-old film-maker called it "deaf and insensitive" to the country's problems and railed against its "awful cultural policy". Spanish state funding to the arts, including film, has been drastically reduced in recent years. Almodovar called 2013 "the worst year" for his industry'... From the BBC News.
'Marbella Town Hall has launched a campaign to update its municipal census (padrón) and make sure that everyone who lives in the town appears on the register.
Local public services, including health, education, postal delivery, security, among many others, are organised according to the residents on the census. This leaves the town with a year-round floating population that demands services but officially does not exist. While the council is prepared in the summer to cope with the temporary tourist population, the enormous discrepancy in the permanent resident figures causes difficulties.
The local authority, using the volume of rubbish collected in the municipality as a guide to the number of people living there, estimates that 220,000 people reside in Marbella, despite the fact that the ‘padrón’ only shows 147,946'... From Sur in English.
The DGT, the traffic authority, wants to bring in theoretical exams as part of renewing one's licence. Story here.
'The outcry has been huge. Environmental groups, political parties from both sides of the spectrum and the local population have reacted angrily to the government’s plans to sell off one of Andalucia’s most valuable public estates and create an ‘elite tourism’ resort.
Now, a group of leading ex-pat writers has joined forces to oppose it too.
The estate at La Almoraima, close to Castellar de la Frontera, is estimated to sell for between €180 and €250 million. Interested developers an adapt outline plans to build a ‘playground for the rich’ which would include a 5-star hotel, two golf courses, equestrian centre, polo fields and even a private airport. There will also be luxury lodges for hunting the deer and wild boar prevalent in the estate'... From The Olive Press.
'The Spanish government on Friday said that it “deeply lamented” the loss of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, who has died at the age of 95.
“The example of giants such as Mandela, who have gone through public life helping to transform their societies and inspire the best of feelings in their fellow citizens and the rest of humanity, stand out as unrivaled beacons in facing the challenges that lie ahead,” read a statement issued by the prime minister’s office. Mandela visited Spain on five occasions and maintained a close relationship with the Spanish royal family'... From El País in English.
'The new law on private security will allow private security guards the power to identify, search, and even arrest citizens in pedestrian shopping areas or at sporting or cultural shows, but they will also be able to act with these powers in any public space with the appropriate authorisation'... From El Huff Post. More from La Marea, which worries that political parties may make use of this law to hire or control goons to do their bidding. 'The new law on private security approved by Congress with the votes in favour of the PP, PNV and CIU will allow private security companies to perform activities up to now reserved for State security forces'... The report focuses on an extreme right-wing party from Valencia whose leader also has a company providing private security.
El País in English tells the story of David Cameron's concern about European immigrants in 'Mind the doors. Attempts to restrict the freedom of movement of EU citizens simply work in the interests of Europhobes'.
Sunday, December 8. The cultural association Torrijos 1831 held its annual homage in the Plaza de Merced in Málaga, in memory of General José María Torrijos and fifty others shot dead on 11 December 1831 on the beach of San Andrés, Huelin, a neighbourhood of Malaga City, for trying to organize a revolt in defence of freedoms in Spain included in the Spanish Constitution of Cádiz, 1812.
Robert Boyd, born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, a Protestant, was part of the rebel group and also suffered execution. This year, on the occasion of the annual tribute in the Plaza of the Mercéd, an Irish flag was donated to the Torrijos cultural association by the Irish Embassy in Madrid, which will form part of all future events to be organized by the Association.
In 2002, the city of Malága gave the name of Robert Boyd to a city street, located near Huelin. The Anglo/Irishman is considered a romantic hero by the people of Málaga.
Report by José Antonio Sierra
From The Local, what sort of ex-pat are you? 'Spain's ex-pats are a varied crowd. From jet-setters in Marbella to hipsters in Barcelona, it really does take all sorts. But what kind of Spain ex-pat are you? Read on to find out. Welcome to the jungle that is Spain’s ex-pat community. From adrenaline junkies in the Canary Islands to bohemians in the hills of Andalusia, there is a group for everyone'... Amusing stuff, but they miss out the largest group, us old duffers...