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Tragedy down the generations

This week Malaga has been shocked by another case of domestic violence, with the added tragedy of a child being involved.

Estefanía was only 26 when, on Monday, her life was taken away along with that of her five-year-old son. Now, in a prison cell for their murders is the man she had once loved, whom she had known all her life.

Decades ago, when one didn’t ‘interfere in domestic affairs between a man and his wife’ (to quote Tracy Chapman’s Behind the Wall, a song that still sends shivers down my spine), this might have been called a crime of passion.

Millennia ago, it would have been the inevitable final scene of a Greek tragedy. The hero’s love is so powerful he has to kill. Tragic, but inevitable.

But this is the 21st century. Neither love nor passion can be mitigating circumstances in a murder trial. Women are not possessions men can do what they like with. The death of a woman at the hands of her ex- or current partner is certainly tragic, but should not be inevitable. A man who says ‘If I can’t have her, no one can’ is not a hero in a love story.

They say the answer is education, but how many generations will it take before little boys and girls grow up seeing each other as equals in terms of rights, respect and love in a relationship?

What have the children in La Luz learned from this week’s events? That their friend from school has ‘gone to heaven’ with his mummy. That they have to be careful not to make daddy cross. That these things happen.

They, the next generation, will be responsible for showing their children that these things don’t happen.

Greed for power and money – it’s all a game

I confess.

I started off small – just a couple of properties. Then I learned to speculate. I took huge risks. I invested all I had and it paid off. I soon had a property empire – villas and hotels in all the expensive and not-so-expensive locations.

I got swept along by the euphoria of making huge amounts of money and watching others squirm when they were forced to hand over everything they had to me.

I had to buy myself out of jail a couple of times, but then I was the banker. I had total control and I was loving it.

Even when a seven-year-old child was in tears, destitute in front of me, with huge debts he couldn’t pay, I took his last penny and left him in the street…

It was only Monopoly. But it was so easy to get carried away with the sensation of power, driven by greed, anxious to earn more and more money, to own more and more property and be the winner, which necessarily involves trampling on everyone else as you go.

Perhaps it was playing Monopoly that the likes of Luis Bárcenas and Iñaki Urdangarin – to name just two high profile members of a large group of  unscrupulous business owners and bankers – first learned their values.

An initially healthy business success, made easier by knowing the right people, gradually nurtures greed. Caught on a money-making roll, they want more and more and the situation gets out of control. When there are no more properties left to buy the money still has to pile up, kept safe in foreign bank accounts.

Respect for the rules goes by the board. Why obey the law if you can buy your way out of jail, or find a clever lawyer who is always able to throw a double? ‘Get out of jail free’ cards are also available if you know the right people. It’s all a big game.

Now my seven-year-old evicted tenant wants to play Monopoly again. After learning that being sensible and cautious doesn’t get you anywhere – just trampled on by the big fish – he wants to do better next time. He wants to be the one with the power and the money.

I think I’ll suggest Scrabble instead.

Immune to corruption?

The events of the last seven days have shed further doubt on the integrity and honest practice of Spain’s politicians, political parties and even the judicial system.

At the end of last week, former Partido Popular treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, in and out of the corruption-tracking spotlight for the last few years, was finally sent to prison.

According to the judge, Bárcenas was very good with figures and managed to find enough cash to hand wads  of it (allegedly) to party chiefs (among them this country’s current leaders) under the table, as well as sending millions out to his own accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere.

When these figures and names were revealed, some voices within the PP suggested that the party was being unfairly persecuted.

No one seemed very surprised: neither at the idea that a judge’s work could be influenced by his or her political leanings, nor that a politician might make that sort of insinuation.

Now the same thing has happened but the other way round. This week the judge in charge of the Andalucía ERE case (the redundancy fund affair made famous by an official and his chauffeur using funds to pay for cocaine and parties – allegedly), Mercedes Ayala, has named a new list of  suspects, including the former head of finance and former socialist government minister Magdalena Álvarez.

The socialist party has remarked at the strong coincidence in that the names have been released just when the party is about to vote for a new leader in Andalucía: more insinuations that a judge may have let politics influence the timing of the course of justice; and more shrugging of shoulders and unsurprised looks among the general public.

We are being told that there is considerable reason to suspect widespread corruption among politicians, and/or that judges could be letting political issues influence their investigations.

Either way the situation ought to be serious enough to spark a reaction of indignation and anger among the people. But no, we shrug our shoulders and carry on.

Tired of fighting unnecessary battles

There’s nothing worse than finding yourself unable to help someone seeking assistance. However when an elderly lady asks you to change the world because she’s too tired to do it herself, it’s a bit difficult.

Recently Anika came to the SUR offices with an exasperated need to tell her story. I’m sure many readers will understand her frustration.

She had just come from the bank having got nowhere with her complaint at being charged huge commission on a simple transfer from Spain to Portugal.

When she made the transfer, she explains, the nice lady who spoke English said it wouldn’t cost her anything.
After discovering the large hole in her account she came back to the branch in Malaga – by coach from Portugal – to find that the same nice lady was not available.

I’m afraid a tired Anika must have taken out her frustration on the employee who shrugged her shoulders and said she couldn’t do anything about it. Didn’t she realise that the bank she worked for had stolen her money? Why couldn’t she do anything about it? Didn’t she care? Why couldn’t anyone do anything?

Anika will be 80 at the end of this year. Born in Romania, she has spent much of her life in the US and in New Zealand where she worked in a bank. Now, having returned to live out what should be a peaceful old age in Europe, she is upset by problems that are frustrating, even for young adults.

OK, she knows she can make claims and go to the consumer associations, but she’s tired.

Another example: the bus dropped her off at a point where she had to catch another bus to get where she needed to go when the first bus could have stopped there.

If everyone stopped making life difficult for each other we would be healthier, happier and less stressed, she said. We can only agree.

Anika is too tired to go on a campaign to persuade people to be nice to each other. Any offers?

Living up to the stereotype

Those of us who have loved Spain for years and adopted it as our home find it hard not to take it personally when people speak badly of the country. We’re used to getting on the defensive when someone who knows significantly less about the place than we do throws around criticism based on outdated stereotypes.
Yes, people do work hard here. No they’re not getting drunk at fiestas or sleeping siestas all the time. No, the country is not stuck in an old regime run by corrupt politicians and an even more corrupt aristocracy… er, well, perhaps we’re in the territory of wishful thinking.
Events over the last few months have put paid to any of our attempts to convince others that our beloved Spain is emerging from its infamous old ways.
The ruling party in the central government was run for years by a treasurer who had millions of suspicious euros in a Swiss bank account and kept stuffed deer heads at the party headquarters.
Meanwhile we hear that members of the ruling party in the Andalusian government were merrily spending funds reserved for redundancy money on fancy cars, apartments and even drugs and parties.
At least the country has a well-respected, down-to-earth and decent royal family… not any more. For years there has been an unspoken pact in this country that the media and by extension the general public would not dish the dirt on the Spanish royals, even when rumours were rife – a kind of thank you to the nice king for helping build the democracy and intervening in the attempted coup d’état.
Now, in the midst of a serious financial crisis, the Spanish people are no longer going to sit back and watch the illicit shenanigans of the politicians and royals as they would a soap opera. They – we – are indignant, embarrassed, as the rest of the world looks on amused.

Sombre Sunday

Sunday was an emotional day – perhaps because I paid more attention than usual to the outside world instead of walking in the mountains or simply listening to music.

If the weather had been better I probably wouldn’t have watched the video on the El País website showing Spanish soldiers brutally beating and kicking prisoners in their custody in Iraq in 2004.  American and British troops have been caught treating their captured “enemies” as if they were dogs, if not worse. Now – shock, horror – it seems the Spaniards were at it too. The reaction from the authorities is always the same: these are isolated incidents; the majority of troops posted on this kind of overseas missions carry out their jobs with respect. Strange then, that these isolated incidents happen to be caught on camera and happen to end up in the hands of the press.

Someone has been sitting on that video that helped spoil my Sunday for the best part of ten years. Perhaps it takes ten years for the effects of being trained to go to war and kill your enemy to wear off and for an army veteran to see things once again from a human point of view.  I have no idea, but for me the only explanation of how a soldier can deal with going to war is that they don’t think of the guy they might have to kill as a human being. Is it so surprising then that  they have trouble treating that same guy as a human being when he is taken prisoner?

Then it was back to the dramas of this decade. On Sunday 32 immigrants, including one baby, were rescued in the Gibraltar Strait while trying to reach the Spanish coastline. They were drifting out of control; their boat’s engine had broken. They were luckier than the group picked up the previous day after their launch ran into difficulties in the choppy sea. Seven survivors were treated for hypothermia; two of their fellow passengers are missing.

Despite the crisis that is sending hundreds of Spaniards out of the country to find work, Andalucía is still the gateway to Europe for many Africans seeking a better life. They will do whatever it takes to get here, and risking their lives crossing the Strait from Morocco is more attractive than other routes. Last week Médicins Sans Frontiers criticised the increasing use of  ”extreme” violence by Spanish and Moroccan guards against sub-Saharan citizens caught trying to jump over the frontier fence between Nador and Melilla.

Could this be a similar phenomenon?  Are the officers so committed to their mission to guard the frontier that they no longer see the ‘invaders’ as human beings?

I was saved the images of this reported violence, but that Sunday-disturbing internet connection threw up another visual gem: the 20-year-old hidden in a tiny gap underneath the front seats of a car in an attempt to cross into Melilla. And he probably paid a mafia some 3,000 euros for the privilege.

There was plenty of positive news though, once you got past the Cyprus bailout stories, that is.

More and more people are convinced that Pope Francis is going to shake up the Church and change the world.

So that’s alright then.

A threat to the species

The Spanish Interior Minister (or Home Secretary) has shown his real concern this weekend about what is happening at this home he looks after.

Speaking to other presumably like-minded Catholics at an event organised by the Spanish Embassy in the Vatican, Jorge Fernández Díaz clearly believed himself to be far enough away from home to express views that would leave the population disconcerted and enraged.

The minister went further than his fellow conservatives who have expressed their disagreement with the gay marriage law that was passed by the previous socialist government in 2005.

He rejects same-sex marriage “because it does not guarantee the survival of the species”. This, he maintains, is the “rational argument” to be used above “confessional” reasoning.

While the rest of the country is worried about the future of their children, considering whether it is a good idea to bring more innocent creatures into a world of crisis and corruption, a government minister is more concerned about good fertile sperm going to waste when two men sleep together.

I expect he objects equally to contraception standing in the way of procreation which, according to the same extremist doctrine, should be the only motive for sexual intercourse.

Let’s not mention the homosexual couples who are themselves parents – God forbid! (Although I like to think He wouldn’t.)

This is the man who is ultimately responsible for Home Affairs in Spain. A man one would expect, perhaps naively, to be in touch with the reality of his country. A man who, as a government minister, should be seen to uphold his country’s Constitution and keep any radical ideas to himself.

At least here in Spain we no longer need to worry about meteorites, alien invasions or nuclear war – it’s gay marriage that’s going to wipe out the human race.

Criminalising freedom

“All we wanted to do was change the system” said one of the organisers of the Madrid 25S demonstrations last month. Thirty-three year old Elena Martínez said that she had told the judge just that when she appeared last week  in the Audienca Nacional court to answer accusations of  attempting to “attack state institutions”.

Elena was one of eight people identified as the organisers of the protest that was christened ’surround the Congress’. They made it quite clear that their intentions were to ’surround’ the parliament building, not ‘occupy’ it as the Interior ministry inferred. There seems to be a delicate line, though, between freedom of speech and high treason.

Fortunately Judge Pedraz was not to be fooled by those who were busy pulling the gallows out of the basement. The accusations were extremely serious and needed to be studied in depth but he found no evidence that proceedings inside the Congress building had been disrupted in the slightest on the day in question.

The protesters had not planned to invade the building, only to stand outside and call for the parliament to be dissolved, for the Government to resign and for a new system to be put in place. Ambitious, perhaps, but not illegal, and totally within the right of freedom of expression, explained the judge.

It must be very frustrating for a judge in the Audiencia Nacional to have to waste time on this sort of political farse when he must have a huge pile of real crimes to investigate. It’s not surprising that his ruling issued on Thursday contained criticism for the gravity of the accusations made by the police and politicians. Isn’t wasting court time some sort of offence?

However referring to politicians as “decadent” seems to have tipped the balance. His wording, and evidently the nature of his ruling,  sparked criticism from the government and the Partido Popular, his capacity to do his job has been questioned and he has even been accused of committing an offence..

Meanwhile Elena and her companions are planning their next ’surround the Congress’ protest; as before, not ‘occupy’, ‘invade’ or ‘take’, just stand around, and make their presence, and their feelings, felt.

But they are up against tough opposition. Judge Pedraz’s probably too controversial comments have only served to increase attempts to criminalise indignant citizens’ right to protest.

Don’t give up on Andalucía

Is there anybody out there who still has a dream of  coming to live the heart of rural Andalucía? Does anybody still read Chris Stewart and imagine themselves sitting outside an old whitewashed farmhouse surrounded by mountains and olive trees? If the answer is no, it wouldn’t surprise me.

In fact if anyone dared express any romantic ideas of that nature, they would soon be told not to be so silly. When perhaps 20 years ago friends and relatives  secretly or openly envied  those embarking on an Andalusian adventure, now they would manage to convince the dreamers to forget their crazy idea in five minutes.

Let’s face it, events of the last few years and months, have not helped. If their dream rural retreat didn’t turn out to be illegal and face demolition, it would most probably be burned down in a forest fire or washed away in a flash flood.

And if you survive those threats, or choose a more urban residence with greater protection from the elements, there is still the economy. Spain is on the verge of collapse, some say, and so you wouldn’t be able to trust any of the banks with your money,  your business would fold and you house would be broken into, at best by amateur burglars wanting to feed their starving families, and at worst by organised criminal gangs.

Perhaps we have reached the end of an era of Brits, and other northern Europeans, buying their own ‘cortijo’ or villa for a new life in the Andalusian sunshine. A spate of TV shows highlighting the downfalls of  families whose Spanish adventures went disastrously wrong, often with ‘I told you so’ undertones, has not helped the image of this area.

But Andalucía still has the strengths that have always made it such a magical, unique place. Its natural beauty that has seduced so many is still here, waiting to cast its spell on new visitors, the sun still shines and the people are still friendly and hospitable despite the current difficulties.

Don’t give up on Andalucía. Now, more than ever, it needs to be discovered.

A photo

Last Saturday the world’s leaders, while gathered in Chicago for a summit, took a break from saving the world for something far more important: to watch the final of the Champions League.

Politics and football

Chelsea v Bayern, Britain v Germany, Cameron v Merkel, pound v euro… the symbolism could go on forever. I doubt either of the two countries’ leaders is a great football fan, but the moment called for patriotism and the photo shows that this was provided, to a certain extent. Cameron stands arms raised in triumph as Chelsea score the winning penalty while Angela looks a little confused. Fortunately Durao Barroso was at her side to show that at least on the important issue of football he was with the Germans and provided the suitably dismayed look required for the occasion.

Meanwhile between Britain and Germany stands Barack Obama, openmouthed. Is he cheering for Chelsea? Is he yawning? Or is he just gobsmacked, bemused by this odd game played by his European friends, that clearly serves to put trivialities such as the economic crisis and the fate of the euro in their place?

The question that remains is: Where was Rajoy? Why wasn’t he devastated along with his colleague Barroso to score some points with the all-important Merkel? He was probably sulking – after all it should have been Barcelona and Real Madrid, or at least one of them, playing for the cup. If it had been a Spanish final would the likes of Obama, Cameron and Merkel have taken a break from putting the world to rights to watch it? Would it have given Spain more credibility on the financial markets?

Who says politics and football don’t mix?

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