Thursday, March 31, 2011


February 23 1981 marked a significant day in Spanish history. It was the day the fledgling democracy of Spain was almost brought to its knees by the attempted coup in which the Guardia Civil Lieutenant Coronel Antonio Tejero marched in to the Spanish parliament, confronted the MPs and fired shots in the chamber.

In the event apart from holding the MPs in Madrid at gunpoint with support from an uprising in Valencia the coup fell flat on its face with a significant role in its downfall being played by King Juan Carlos I. However it is clear from statements made on the 30 th anniversary that those on the left and the unions feared for their very lives.

One of those, Antonio Herrera, now in charge of the health section of the CC.OO union told how shortly after Tejero had stormed Congress and the coup was underway he left one of Málaga’s hospitals. He saw youths wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the Spanish flag. He went with union colleagues to the Nadiuska restaurant in Gibralfaro and then to the Cádiz road. It was there that the Communist MP, Paco Vázquez, offered to take him to Gibraltar. He declined and says that later friends in the police told him at the time they knew exactly where to find each and every one of them.

Whilst the coup would have been largely a blow against those on the left the current level of political corruption in Spain strikes at democracy itself. This May there are the elections for the country’s town halls and next March it is the Spanish general election as well as those for many of the regional governments. So the question is begged: what is the biggest threat to democracy – the coup of thirty years ago or the present high level of political corruption.

The esteemed Spanish journalist, Francisco Rubiales, who was an Efe correspondent in Cuba, Central America and Italy, pointed me in the direction of the fascinating website ‘Corruptódromo’. It is published by the “No les votes” action group and details many of the major political corruption cases that are assaulting Spain. I say many because the list is not updated daily so for example, the false ERE lay off claims and the misappropriation of European funds to combat the unemployment in Andalucía involving at least 1,600 companies have not been fully included.

To quote Francisco’s words: “After a visit to the Corruptódromo, a decent citizen experiences disgust, indignation, and the firm intention of not voting for the parties that are tainted with this horrendous scourge.” Francisco has his own website “Voto en Blanco” and argues the Corruptódromo is the best possible motivation for making a “blank vote” or abstaining.

Francisco goes on to say a glance at the Corruptódromo shows that Spain is infected by the worst political, social, cultural and human cancer – deep and rampant corruption which closes off the country’s road to the future and snatches away the dignity of the Spanish people.

Indeed there is a serious quandary facing the Spanish – a quandary that actually threatens democracy in Spain. For it is not just one party or a group of people that are mired in corruption it engulfs the ruling socialist PSOE, the main centre-right Partido Popular opposition, various regional parties –indeed the only party that largely escapes is the far-left Izquierda Unida.

The Corruptódromo lists 154 major corruption cases but of course there are far more. For instance just one of those cases involves 1,700 PSOE town halls alone that are under investigation for town planning offences; the Gürtel case involves numerous PP mayors and ex-mayors in Madrid plus construction and other companies in a massive fraud; Francisco Camps has been convicted of bribery yet is the PP’s candidate for president in the Valencia regional elections next year; the Unió Mallorquina now the Convergencia per Illes Balears is accused of misappropriating public funds on a massive scale; the CIU in Cataluña of diverting 35.1 million euros destined for the Palau de la Música, and the Coalición Canaria in various frauds which could total 100,000,000 euros. These are just a few examples I have picked from the tip of a very smelly dung heap.

The problem for voters is that many of the politicians involved in these corruption cases like Camps will again be seeking re-election at the coming polls. Even in those cases where they have been removed from office many are still the power behind the throne or the same corrupt party structure remains in place. Not only are the political parties mired in corruption they show a total contempt for the people who vote them in to power and who they are supposed to represent.

I asked Francisco how he saw the situation now compared with 1981. He told me: “Spanish democracy cannot be in danger because it doesn’t exist. The corruption is the great problem of Spain, but not only the corruption of the persons, that allows them to abuse power, to rob and to enrich themselves illegally, but the corruption of the system, that is more serious. I do not see the risk of some State coup similar to 1981. The major risk is that the country goes on sleeping, and that the politicians, that are the great problem of Spain, they carry on degrading it. There is a principal that says the worst of society comes to power every two or three centuries. Some countries manage to avoid it because there are filters and cautions. Spain has failed and we have the worst in power.”

As Izquierda Unida – a far left coalition including the Partido Comunista - is relatively untouched by the corruption scandal I also asked Gaspar Llamazares, its spokesperson in Spain’s lower house of parliament Congress, how he saw 1981 and today. He told me: “At the time it was the military threat. Today the threat to democracy comes from the markets - and corruption is one of its effects.”

I agree – Spain has moved on; the army or Guardia Civil will not rise again and even if they did who would they propel to power as the centre right is as corrupt as the centre left? Spaniards feel betrayed as it is they who battle the economic crisis, face massive unemployment, the slashing of their pensions whilst the political cast are protected as they have their collective hands in the corruption barrel.

The day of reckoning will surely come for Spain when protests and marching are not enough – but what then?

(The above article appeared in Panorama on March 21 and 22 and a version in The Morning Star on March 31 2011)

Corruptódromo website:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


The commercial accord between the EU and Morocco that is currently going through the approval process in the European Parliament has been labelled as illegal and immoral. These were the conclusions reached at a seminar on the treaty held last week in Spain.

In a statement one of the participants, Ecologistas en Acción declared: “The conclusions are clear: it is an illegal accord because of the judicial situation of occupied Western Sahara, it is immoral because it includes resources of this territory and it is socially and environmentally prejudicial because it favours the benefits to the large corporations to the detriment of small farmers and the environment.

Juan Soroeta, an expert in International Law, stated that the accord was illegal, because amongst other reasons, “the natural resources of the non-autonomous territories, that is to say, the pending decolonisation of the Western Sahara – can’t be exploited to the detriment of the population and without the approval of the legitimate representatives, in this case Saharan – the Polisario Front that openly rejects the accord.”

Pilar Ramírez of the Western Sahara Resource Watch added: “the accord on the subject of fishing is also illegal. From the ethical point of view because they are exploiting the resources that are the property of the Saharan people.”

International maritime legislation says that you cannot negotiate with the fishing resources of a country that doesn’t have the pertinence of those waters and up till now nobody has recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over this maritime space.

From the political point of view, Alí Mojtar of the Polisario Front protested that “with this accord, Europe supports directly the Moroccan cause to keep the Western Sahara territories” and as a result violates the Declaration of Human Rights and worsens the situation under which the population of the Western Sahara lives.

Pressure is now being applied to Euro MPs not to ratify the new Accord of Association which sets out to liberalise commerce and agriculture between the EU and Morocco. In Spain demonstrations will be held against the agreement and in the country’s lower house of parliament, Congress, MPs are being asked to protest to the Spanish Government about the serious illegalities and violations of human rights.

The King of the Poor has 2,000 million euros

Meanwhile in Morocco itself the move towards democratic freedom amongst Arab nations is being keenly felt. This has led to the Moroccan monarch, Mohamed VI, moving to head off demonstrations that could endanger his regime.

Although Mohamed VI is known in Morocco as the “King of the Poor” he has five palaces in Rabat, Fez, Casablanca, Meknes and Marrakesh plus another in Bets in France some 70 kms from Paris which he inherited from his father Hassan II. The 47-year-old king is the seventh richest monarch in the world and according to Forbes has an estimated personal fortune of 2,000 million euros.

This puts him in a stark contrast to the average Moroccan who earns $3,000 per annum, slightly above the Egyptian norm but behind Tunisia with $4,100 and the highest earners in the Maghreb, Libya with $12,000.

However it is the jobless that were behind the power change in Tunisia. In Morocco the figure is around 10 per cent compared with 14 per cent in Tunisia and Algeria. The main problem facing Mohamed VI is that amongst his 35 million subjects half are under 25 years of age and these have been hit hard by juvenile unemployment. Mohamed VI has already doubled the subventions on basic food stuffs and domestic gas but this has not proved enough.

Wikileaks revealed that a US diplomat reported “the corruption in Morocco extends to the royal palace”. Now Moroccans want more transparency and given what has happened elsewhere in the Maghreb the king has decided to act.

Last week Mohamed VI announced a fundamental reform of the constitution that has been in place since 1996 and was introduced by his father. In a TV address he has spoken of giving total responsibility to the government, ensuring the independent power of the judiciary, and ceding to parliament the functions of representation, legislation and control.

It remains to be seen how the Movement of February 20 will respond. It has called for massive demonstrations on March 20 to demand political change, more employment, actions against institutionalised corruption and the reform of the Constitution.

Osama El Khlifi, one of the young people that started the movement on Facebook, says the king’s speech has changed nothing. “We are going to demonstrate on the 20 th with the same demands. There will be more people on the streets than in February.”

It remains to be seen how Mohamed VI will react.

(A version of the above article appeared in the Morning Star on Wednesday March 16 2011).