Tuesday, March 30, 2010
By David Eade
The economic crisis that started in the banking sector in the USA quickly spread around the world and engulfed the majority of nations. However it affected different countries in various ways. For instance one of the most visible signs in the UK was the collapse of the banks whereas in Spain the financial institutions have remained fairly stable.
Make no mistake thought the financial crisis in Spain has been severe and it is the only major EU economy still in recession. Unemployment is also the highest in the EU whilst the worst hit sector has been the construction industry.
So it is no surprise that the Spanish socialist government is having to look at drastic ways of dragging the country out of the downward spiral that threatens the financial and political stability of the nation. What has come as a surprise is that the PSOE government has chosen to put pensions in to the forefront of that battle. It has caused a rift between the socialists and those on the far left of Spanish politics in Izquierda Unida and indeed its loyal backers – the unions.
One major difference between Britain and Spain is that whilst centre right and centre left parties predominate the far left in Spain plays a major role whereas in the UK it occupies the fringe. There are IU councillors, town halls and provincial administrations as well as MPs at regional, national and European level. So when the IU decides to mobilise it matters.
At present the pension age in Spain is 65 and to qualify for a State pension you have to be in the scheme for 15 years. What the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is proposing is that the age should be moved to 67 with the suggestion that workers should be in the system for 25 years. That forms part of the PSOE government’s financial rescue plan to be presented to the European Commission in Brussels. If implemented it would affect every worker below retirement age, immediately.
The IU case is quite simple. The pension age should remain at 65; the qualifying period should stand and the current system whereby the value of pensions is maintained because they rise with the inflation index (IPC) should not be altered.
The rise from 65 to 67 is the tip of this iceberg. If the qualifying period was increased from15 to 25 years that would leave many people now at the end of their working lives without any hope of qualifying. Also it has always been accepted that apart from any increases awarded by the government of the day the pensions would keep pace with inflation with the IPC linked annual rise.
In a report on the issue the Secretaría de Economía y Trabajo of the federal IU argues that the socialist government’s policy will benefit the nation’s banks who market private pension schemes. It believes that if State pensions are to be low and difficult to obtain then workers will want to contract with a private pension instead. Is it not ironic that to solve a crisis started by the banks it is those selfsame financial institutions who would benefit at the expense of the workers? Has it not always been so?
The Zapatero government argues that the changes are necessary because currently State pensions account for 8 per cent of PIB (Britain’s GNP). It points out that in Italy pensions account for 14 per cent of PIB but there are no plans to increase the qualifying age whilst in France where the qualifying age is 60 there are no plans to alter the qualifying period. In Spain the pension system is in good shape with an 8,500 million surplus in 2009 – the year the financial crisis was at full force.
The IU is to take to the streets to make its case. It was 11 years ago that the party collected a petition of 500,000 signatures and presented it to the Spanish lower house of parliament, Congress. This action allowed its proposal for the working day to be reduced from 40 to 35 hours to become an Inciativa Legislativa Popular (ILP). Now the federation of leftist groups is to take the same action to keep the pension age at 65 through the ILP voice of the people.
Gaspar Llamazares, the IU spokesperson in Congress, did not mince his words. He stated: “If the Executive does not withdraw this proposal there is no possible negotiation. This cannot be negotiated. The president must appear in Congress and withdraw this measure that breaks the pact with the parliamentary left and the workers.”
The IU is not acting alone and the main Spanish unions, the CC.OO and UGT, held demonstrations that ran from February 23 to March 6 in all the major cities. Over 50,000 people took to the streets in the provincial capitals of Andalucía, 4,000 in Santander, tens of thousands in Castilla-La Mancha and Galicia – throughout Spain the response has been the same.
The battle lines have been drawn. Indeed the UGT and CC.OO have now signed an accord with the DGB union in Germany: “to put people first and not the markets - that without the guarantees of fundamental human rights it is not possible to obtain a stable economic market. Likewise we call for single position amongst European unions to defend the public systems of pensions.”
Now back to Britain. At some stage in the not too distant future the British Government of the day is going to have to tackle the financial chaos. Nothing is going to happen before the next election. However once a government is returned the socialists, conservatives or a coalition who then have a mandate to rule will act. How they act will be governed by their political perspective but act they will and it could well be the State pensions that are in the firing line.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
By David Eade
Every year on February 28 the Spanish region of Andalucía celebrates its national day. It also pays homage to Blas Infante – the father of the modern Andalucía. He died for his belief in a radical, federal Andalucía for as the military coup took hold in 1936 he was rounded up by the Falange and shot. It was four years later – June 1940 – when a judicial death sentence was handed down to justify his assassination – a verdict that still stands to this day.
Blas Infante Pérez de Vargas was born in Casares on July 5, 1885 - today Casares is a small inland village on the Costa del Sol. Blas’ father – Luis Infante Andrade – was licensed in law and was the secretary of the Casares court. His mother – Ginesa Pérez de Vargas – was from a family of farm labourers but was regarded as middle class in the extreme poverty of those times.
Blas studied for his ‘bachillerato’ in Archidona till 1899 when the family suffered badly in the economic disaster of 1898 that saw the country loose its colonies in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines after the Spanish – American War. This forced Blas to leave college with his final course in his ‘bachillerato’ uncompleted. From 1900 he worked as a secretary at the court in Casares and at the same time studied with the faculty of law at Granada University travelling there in June and September to take his exams before finally becoming a lawyer in 1906.
From 1910 he worked as a notary in Cantillana which allowed him to make contact with the intellectuals living in Sevilla where he started to develop his ideas on Andalucía especially with the members of the Ateneo de Sevilla. The hard conditions of the agricultural labourers who worked on a daily basis made a major impact on him forging his socialist beliefs.
It was during the reign of Alfonso XIII that Blas Infante’s political thoughts developed along Republican and federalist lines. He believed in the defending of Andalucía as a Spanish region different from the rest of the country – furthermore he wanted to see Andalucía reconstructed as part of the wider regeneration of Spain.
Around this time he wrote: “My nationalism, before being Andaluz, is human. I believe that by birth nature signals to the soldiers of life the place where they have to fight for it. I work for the cause of the spirit of Andalucía because that is where I was born. If I was born elsewhere I would fight for that cause with equal fervour.”
By 1915 he had set out his personal vision of the history, identity and problems of Andalucía in his most important book ‘Ideal Andaluz’. In 1918 he was present at the Assembly of Ronda, where inspired by the Constitution of Antequera of 1883, it set out the bases for ‘Andalucismo’ in order to obtain political autonomy for Andalucía. This assembly adopted the design of the flag and coat of arms of Andalucía proposed by Blas Infante.
In the 1918 elections Blas Infante attempted to stand in the district elections for Gaucín and a year later there again and in Sevilla but the strong presence of the ‘caciquismo’ – local bosses who protected the political and economic elite - prevented his success. On January 1, 1919, he signed along with other members of several Centros Andaluces the Manifesto Andalucista de Córdoba that defined the concept of Andalucía as a historic nation within a federal Spain.
During the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera he rejected approaches to co-operate with the authorities. In reprisal the Centros Andaluces founded by Blas Infante in 1916 were closed as too was the publication Andalucía in which was set out the platform for andalucismo politics.
When the Second Republic was proclaimed in 1931 he took the post of notary in Coria del Rio where he built a house called ‘Dar al-Farah’ or ‘House of Happiness’ inspired by the architecture of Al Andalus personally overseeing its decoration. He presided over the Junta Liberalista de Andalucía which presented candidates for the Partido Republicano Federal. It did not win any seats in parliament but its manifesto repudiated centralism for federalism, sought a solution to the ‘caciquismo’, the reform of the electoral, economic and justice systems and promoted the freedom of expression amongst its beliefs. He ran for parliament again in the elections of November 1933 for Málaga for a coalition Izquierda Republicana Andaluz formed by the Partido Republicano Radical Socialista and the Izquierda Radical Socialista but its failure left Blas Infante a disillusioned man.
In 1933 Blas Infante proposed that the melody of the hymn ‘Santo Dios’, sung by the agricultural workers when they finished for the day, should form the basis of the Himno de Andalucía. This became the anthem of Andalucía which was adopted along with Infante’s flag and coat of arms when the autonomous regional government was formed in 1981.
After the elections of 1936 and the victory of the Popular Front the Andalucista political movement received a boost. During a conference in Sevilla on July 5 Blas Infante was acclaimed as the president of honour of the future Junta Regional de Andalucía. Just days later the military coup took place that led to the start of the Spanish Civil War. Members of the Falange went to Blas Infante’s house in Coria del Rio and he was taken away to be shot without any trial or sentence being handed down. His assassination took place on August 11 along with two other prisoners at km 4 on the Sevilla to Carmona road.
It was not till four years later that the Tribunal de Responsabilidades Políticas, created after the end of the Civil War, condemned Blas Infante to death and also ruled that his heirs should pay a fine. In a document dated May 4 1940 written in Sevilla it declared:
“...because he formed part of a candidature of revolutionary tendency in the elections of 1931 and in the successive years until 1936 that signified he was a propagandist of a party of Andalucía or a regionalist Andaluz.”
Indeed a Franco regime that brutally repressed the national ambitions of the Galician, Basque and Catalan people was not going to tolerate any suggestion of a federal administration for Andalucía. Blas Infante had associated himself with them as in the late 1920s he travelled to Galicia to meet with independence groups whilst in 1934 he visited Lluis Companys, the president of the Generalidad de Cataluña, who was being held in prison in El Puerto de Santa María along with other members of his government.
It is ironic that whilst the Junta de Andalucía formed after Spain’s return to democracy has adopted the flag, coat of arms and national anthem created by Blas Infante – no steps have been taken to reverse the judicial sentence handed down years after his death. This rankles with many, especially those on the left of Andalucía politics, so perhaps amongst this year’s celebrations for the 125 th anniversary of his birth the father of Andalucía might finally receive justice.
A footnote: since democracy was restored to Spain the socialist-leaning Partido Andalucista has largely failed to capture the imagination of the people of Andalucía. The region has largely been a PSOE socialist fiefdom whilst the Izquierda Unida, formed around the former Communist Party, has returned MPs and holds many town halls. Since 1981 Izquierda Unida - that embraces many of the ideals of Blas Infante - has ruled at Casares town hall apart for a break of four years. It has also been the major protector of the memory of Blas Infante. Mayor Antonia Morera insists that Casares must be included in the 125 th anniversary celebrations whilst the wider IU wants his death sentence withdrawn.
(A version of this article appeared in The Morning Star in Febaruary 2010).
By David Eade
Spain’s highly controversial abortion law has been passed by the lower house of parliament – Congress – but it is still making its way through the Senate. However the Ley del Aborto has already opened up old wounds between the Catholic Church and the ruling socialist party.
First to the law itself. Under its provisions abortions would be available on demand for women of 16 and over up to the 14th week of pregnancy, and up to 22 weeks if there was a risk to the mother’s health or if the foetus was deformed. Women can also undergo the procedure after 22 weeks if the foetus had a serious or incurable illness.
However what has angered the Catholic community most and even some supporters of the PSOE government is the provision allowing girls of 16 to have an abortion without their parents’ consent or knowledge. Opinion polls have shown that 56 per cent of socialists who support the PSOE government are very unhappy over allowing 16 year olds to be able to have an abortion without their parents’ knowledge or consent against 64 per cent opposition across the board.
The protests against the new abortion law have been led by Hazte Oir – a coalition of Catholic organizations. In October over a million people gathered in the plaza de Independencia in Madrid to voice their opposition to the new law. This highly motivated Catholic opposition has been joined by the centre-right Partido Popular that has pledged to ask the Constitutional Court to overturn the abortion legislation when it is passed in to law.
Now we wind forward to the present and the opening up of old wounds. It has come about because of the decision by the Catholic Church hierarchy to ban a leading member of the PSOE ruling party from receiving communion. José Bono is a staunch Catholic but he is also president of the lower house of Spain’s parliament. In an interview with the daily newspaper, El Mundo, he voiced his support for the new law which he voted in favour of when it was approved by Congress in December.
Bono argued in the interview that he supported the new law because he understood that it would reduce the number of abortions and that, according to the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, “politicians can vote for laws governing abortion if they believe that they are reducing the evil it causes.”
However the Spanish Episcopal Conference has refuted this thesis. In a letter to El Mundo the bishops state that this Encyclical allows a Catholic to vote for an abortion law that reduces the injustice of the current legislation but the politician is obliged to vote against any law which does not adequately protect the inviolable right to life of those who are yet to be born.
The Catholic Church in Spain feels itself under attack by the very liberal PSOE administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on numerous fronts including abortion, divorce, gay rights and education. In recent history the church was closely associated with the dictatorship of Franco and hence generations of distrust have grown up between it and those on the left of Spanish politics.
Indeed students of the Spanish Civil War will well remember the role played by the Catholic caucus in the USA in pressuring the president Franklin D Roosevelt from supporting the democratically elected government in Madrid. Catholic activists and writers also rubbished the press reports by Jay Allen on the Nationalist’s slaughter in Badajoz and George Steer’s accounts of the destruction of Guernica arguing they were communist inventions.
The vice secretary general of PSOE, José Blanco, waded in to the battle after the church barred Bono from receiving communion. He has accused the church of “hypocrisy” pointing out that it took no action against members of the former Partido Popular government of José María Aznar that introduced the present abortion law.
Bono accused the Catholic Church of “a permanent contradiction” because it didn’t deny communion “to members of the government of the right under who in our country there have been over 500,000 abortions.”
Thus the fight over the right to life of the unborn child has descended in to old animosities with socialists believing that the church favours its allies on the right above those on the left – even devout Catholics such as PSOE’s José Bono.
Interestingly the well-known Spanish socialist Luis Solana, who was instrumental in establishing democracy after Franco and then serving as an MP as well as heading the telecommunications giant Telefónica and State broadcaster RTVE, has been addressing this issue in recent days. He concedes that socialists who are also practising Catholics have experienced “many bitter times”.
Solana says that as far as the church is concerned the classic socialist is an agnostic. Hence those who follow both the Catholic and socialist creeds such as José Bono are not allowed for by the hierarchy and should says Solana – expect no charity in the treatment of their faith.
He added that a Catholic socialist had many problems in being accepted by the church. So much so that if a socialist politician votes in favour of the new abortion law then he will have insurmountable problems with the bishops. He then begs the question - if you are a Catholic how should you vote?
Solana continues, perhaps with his tongue in his cheek, perhaps not, that the solution for Bono and Christian socialists is to become freemasons. He observes that masons believe in God and another life as do Christians. Masons practice solidarity, equality and justice as do Socialists. Also in masonry there is an organisation and hierarchy as there is in the church and socialist party.
Back in October I wrote in my blog “Tilting at Windmills” about an interview in La Opinión de Malaga with Pedro Moreno Brenes.
“Pedro Moreno Brenes is a communist, the leader of the Izquierda Unida party at Málaga town hall, a lecturer in law at Málaga University and a Catholic. Nor is he a closet Catholic but practices his faith alongside his political beliefs that he has held since adolescence.
“He is quite clear as to how his religion co-exists with his political leanings. He says that the IU respects all beliefs and that for him there is no conflict whether he is invited to a religious or civil event. He added that he was pleased to accept all invitations should they be from the Muslim or Jewish communities or indeed atheists.
“Asked about the antagonism between the IU and the Catholic Church Pedro Moreno Brenes is quite clear. “The party, for example, proposes that there shouldn’t be any tax privileges for religious entities. It is compatible in the respect of - and the separation of - public and religious life.”
“So was Christ the first Communist? Pedro Moreno Brenes is in no doubt that the Christian message of “love one another” is much the same as the communist belief in fraternity and equality.”
However whilst it may be compatible to be a Christian as well as a socialist or communist in Spain - where Catholicism is the only real Christian option - politicians can co-exist happily with Christianity but tragically the Catholic Church is very much at odds with them.
(A version of this article appeared in The Morning Star in February 2010).
By David Eade
The Western Sahara peace activist, Aminatu Haidar, switched within hours from being on the verge of death from an enforced hunger strike in Spain to being held under house arrest at her home in El Aaiún. When you are fighting for civil rights for your country your life is constantly under threat so such radical changes in fortunes come as the norm to the woman described as the “Saharawi Gandhi” for her non-violent protests.
It was on November 14 that Morocco refused to allow Aminatu Haidar to return to her home in the Western Sahara on her return from New York where she had received the Civil Courage Prize for her work in demanding human rights for her homeland. Although she had neither a Moroccan nor Spanish passport she was allowed to return to Lanzarote with the government in Madrid guaranteeing her safe conduct although she was later fined on public order offences.
The Spanish Government offered her a passport but she refused the gesture as she insisted on keeping her Western Saharan status. Instead she vowed to return to her native land “dead or alive”.
Haidar had upset Morocco because she rejected that country’s right to rule over the Western Sahara. The prime minister of the self proclaimed República Árabe Saharaui Democrática (RASD), Abdelkader Taleb Omar, called on the international community to pressure Morocco to comply with international law and appealed to the Spanish monarch, King Juan Carlos, to add his support by interceding with the Moroccan king on Haidar’s behalf.
On Monday December 14 the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, met with the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, at the White House with Haidar at the top of their agenda. The meeting had originally been scheduled to discuss Spain taking over the presidency of the EU on January 1 but as Haidar’s condition weakened it became a diplomatic priority to seek a solution. From the US capital Moratinos issued a plea to Haidar to end her hunger strike.
Morocco stood fast over Haidar. The foreign minister, Taib Fassi Fihri, insisted that his government would make no concessions. He accused the activist of blackmail and said it was a campaign organised by Algeria and the Polisario Front.
Apart from demanding that Haidar be allowed to return to the Western Sahara in dignity the area’s premier Abdelkader Taleb Omar, had also called for the release of all Saharan political prisoners, an investigation in to the fate of those who have disappeared plus the opening of the area to international human rights observers.
Then on Thursday December 17 there was frantic activity as first Haidar was admitted to Lanzarote hospital suffering from abdominal pain as a result of her 32-day hunger strike. With reports that her life was hanging by a thread there was increased diplomatic contacts between the Spanish and Moroccan governments with the latter finally relenting and allowing her to return home.
She was declared free to leave Spain for her home country to be with her children and mother. So at midnight on the same Thursday she was flown in a hospital plane to the capital of the Western Sahara - El Aaiún. She was accompanied on her journey by her sister and the doctor who had been attending her. On receiving the news she was free to go home her protest and hunger strike ended. On leaving Spain Aminatu Haidar declared: “This is a triumph - a victory for international law, human rights and the Saharan cause.”
It was a victory at a price! Haidar now says she has being held under house arrest since her return home to El Aaiún on December 18. Before Christmas the Moroccan security forces prevented a Reuter’s reporter from visiting Haidar at her home so she gave a telephone interview with the press agency’s office in Rabat on Christmas Eve. Haidar said: “My isolation continues. I am under house arrest. The members of my family and friends have problems visiting me. The shops in my quarter are suffering from the isolation.”
She continued: “I have the value of my convictions to continue with the cause of self-determination for the Saharan people. Nothing will make me give up – the threat of jail, kidnapping, torture or exile.” She accused Morocco of using “carrot and the stick” politics with the Polisario Front and the Saharans adding that “Morocco is repressing the Saharan population whilst it is negotiation with the Polisario Front.”
Franco’s dying act
Like many of the troubled lands in today’s world the tragedy of Western Sahara lies in its colonial rule by Spain and Franco’s desire to rid his country of its obligations “muy pronto”. Indeed it was literally Franco’s dying act that his government secretly signed a tripartite agreement with Morocco and Mauritania allowing Spain to abandon the Western Sahara. The agreement was signed on November 14 1975 – days later Franco was dead.
Spain was gone from the Western Sahara within three months. Instead of the tripartite administration envisaged in the accord Morocco and Mauritania each annexed parts of the territory. Morocco seized the northern two thirds creating its southern provinces whilst Mauritania took the southern third as Tiris al-Gharbiyya.
Franco’s Spain may have abandoned its former colony but the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, forced Mauritania to withdraw in 1979. This solved little as Morocco merely moved in to the territory that Mauritania had controlled setting up the sand-berm in the desert to contain the Polisario liberation fighters.
In 1991 the fighting ceased after the UN brokered a peace agreement. However this still leaves the former colony that covers some 266,000 square kilometres of desert flatlands – one of the most sparsely populated nations on earth – in a state of limbo. El Aaiún, where Haidar is now under house arrest, is the Western Saharan capital – home to over half of the more than 500,000 people who live in the former Spanish colony.
So to today where Morocco and the Polosario Front independence movement with its República Árabe Saharaui Democrática (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) government vies for control of these desert sands. It will come as no surprise that the USA has sat on the fence whilst the SADR has won the backing from 46 States plus the African Union and Morocco has the support of the Arab League. Spain is one of those countries refusing to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty claim.
This support swings with the fickleness of international trends and it is left to brave people such as Aminatu Haidar and her Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders to keep the plight of this impoverished would-be nation in the hearts and minds of those who believe in civil rights and the right to self-determination for all.
(A version of this article appeared in The Morning Star in January 2010).