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Spanish news round-up week ending 14th October 2016
The Catalan independence issue heats up as rain spoils the national holiday
This week autumnal weather finally arrived in even the southernmost areas of mainland Spain, with the heavy showers which had been forecast duly arriving to coincide with the national holiday on Wednesday and continuing well into Thursday.
For many, particularly those involved in agriculture, the arrival of autumn rain came as a relief, but in Catalunya up to 200 millimetres of rain fell in some areas and one man lost his life when attempting to escape from his car, which was carried along by a flash flood and dashed into a bridge.
In the meantime, try as they might to enjoy the celebrations in Madrid, King Felipe VI and acting President Mariano Rajoy faced plenty of problems during the week, not least among them the escalating arguments over Catalan separatism, the continued failure to form a new government and the high-profile corruption trials which are taking place at present.
Arguments over Catalan independence mar the National Day of Spain
While most of Spain enjoyed a day off work on Wednesday in commemoration of the National Day of Spain and the origins of the Spanish Empire when Columbus set foot on American soil on 12th October 1492, in Badalona the Town Hall went ahead as planned and opened its doors for business.
In a much photographed gesture of disobedience Josep Téllez, one of the senior councilors in the Town Hall, tore up the judicial ruling that the council must observe the holiday like everyone else in front of members of the press, despite an announcement having been made the previous evening that the warning would be heeded.
The reason offered by the Town Hall for the decision to disregard the national holiday on 12th October was that this date effectively celebrates the “genocide” of the native American population during Spain’s empire-building, particularly in South America. Similar gestures were made in around 50 more of the 948 municipalities in the region of Catalunya, including Berga, Celrà, Artés, Cervera, Gerona, Sort, Argentona and Sabadell.
At the Armed Forces Day parade in Madrid, meanwhile, the separatist regional presidents of Catalunya, the Basque Country and Navarra again declined to attend, and although this came as no surprise it was once again the cause of much comment in the media.
However, any temptation to focus exclusively on those who weren’t there was thwarted by Cristina Cifuentes, the president of the regional government of Madrid, who took the opportunity to show her patriotism with an eye-catching umbrella featuring the colours and coat of arms of the Spanish national flag. Felipe VI may be deeply concerned by the vociferous separatist movements which are proposing independence in various parts of Spain, but no doubt Sra Cifuentes’ highly visible umbrella will have been a welcome sight as he presided over the parade in the rain!
At the same time, the 12th October celebrations also featured a pro-Spanish unity march in Barcelona which was attended, according to the Guardia Urbana by around 5,000 people: a reminder that despite the bullishness of the separatist government in Catalunya there is still a very real possibility that if the referendum is indeed held the electorate may well vote for the region to remain a part of a unified Spain.
The day after the national holiday, another topic for argument over the Catalan issue was provided by the regional high court of Catalunya, where is was announced that Artur Mas, the former president of the regional government, will stand trial for allegedly disobeying the national Constitutional Court and organizing the informal independence consultation vote on 9th November 2014.
This is despite the risk that it could backfire and convert the former president into a martyr for the separatist cause: if found guilty, the former president could be disqualified from public service and from standing for public office for 10 years.
While developments in Catalunya hog the headlines, the separatist movement in the Basque Country cannot be completely forgotten, and this week it was announced that the Guardia Civil and French security forces had located a large cache of weapons near Compiègne in northern France. They believe that they have thus dismantled the Basque separatist group’s last major stock of arms, and at the same time it is thought the weapons were to be handed over as part of a deal by which ETA will eventually be disbanded.
It is now six years since the ETA ceasefire came into force and five years since after a definitive end to the armed struggle was announced.
Gürtel corruption trial could threaten the formation of a new Spanish government
Mariano Rajoy, the president of the caretaker Spanish government, adopted a cautious attitude regarding the possibility of his being allowed to form a new PP government as a result of the divisions within the PSOE party, his traditional opponents, when interviewed during the military parade held in Madrid on Wednesday.
“The best thing I can do is keep quiet”, Sr Rajoy responded when asked about the current situation, thus continuing his policy of keeping his comments on the turmoil in the PSOE to a minimum. However, he did take the opportunity to greet the leader of the PSOE’s temporary management committee, Javier Fernández, and went as far as to admit that talking to the PSOE has become “easier” since the resignation of Pedro Sánchez as party leader.
Many are taking it for granted that there will be another presidential investiture debate before the end of October in an attempt to avoid a third general election in December, and this would appear to be the reason for Sr Rajoy confirming that he will not be attending the Latin American summit in Cartagena de las Indias (Colombia) on 28th and 29th October, when Spain will be represented by Felipe VI.
It is now 300 days since the first inconclusive General Election was held and Spain continues without a new government.
However, an eye should be kept on the Gürtel trial in Madrid, where the main event this week was the declarations made in court by Francisco Correa, the man who is accused of being at the centre of a network of corruption in which businessmen and politicians received “commission” from public funds for manipulating the awarding of lucrative contracts.
Speaking in court in Madrid on Thursday, Sr Correa effectively pleaded at least partially guilty, confessing that he did indeed receive commissions of between 2% and 3% on contract adjudications he organized, and that the amounts concerned were handed in envelopes directly to Luis Bárcenas, who at the time was the treasurer of the PP party, between 1996 and 2004.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of these declarations is the degree to which Sr Correa claims to have been an integral member of the PP electoral machinery: the only saving grace, from Sr Rajoy’s point of view, is that he also made it clear that his contribution to financing PP election campaigns ended in 2004, the year when Mariano Rajoy became leader of the party.
With the Gürtel and Bankia credit card trials both under way it is important to point out that the largest bunch of crooks in Spain is not, as some believe, in the courts of Madrid. Instead that distinction belongs to a pensioner in the small town of Saldaña, in the province of Palencia, and Dalmacio Fernández is now in possession of a Guinness Book of Records certificate which proves that his collection of 1,872 hand-made shepherd’s crooks is the winner in this category!
Gibraltar not on the official agenda for Rajoy and Theresa May
Official information from the Spanish government regarding the meeting in Madrid on Thursday between Mariano Rajoy and Theresa May has been thin on the ground, with no press conference being held by the two leaders afterwards, but it has at least emerged that Mrs May pledged to safeguard the interests of the 200,000 Spaniards living in the UK while Sr Rajoy made a similar commitment regarding UK nationals living in Spain, as well as to ensuring that Spaniards in Britian do not suffer as a result of the Brexit process.
However, neither Mrs May nor the Spanish government made any reference in public to the issue of sovereignty in Gibraltar being discussed, although it surely must have been on the agenda following the recent declarations made by Fabian Picardo (the Chief Minister of Gibraltar), José Manuel García-Margallo(the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs) and Boris Johnson (his UK counterpart). This week Mr Johnson has reiterated that there is no reason for British Sovereignty in the Rock to be affected by Brexit, a view which is diametrically opposed to that of Sr García-Margallo.
While the future of Spain’s economic growth is held to be in jeopardy due to the lack of government, the tourist sector appears to be unaffected, and this week it was reported that during September the number of people travelling to and from Spanish airports rose by 10.3% to reach 23.2 million. This prolongation of the peak summer tourist season is attributed once again partly to the instability of other potential holiday destinations such as Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia, and the figures were up at all 16 of the busiest airports in the country, with the most significant increases being those reported at those of Tenerife Sur, Alicante-Elche, Gran Canaria, Málaga-Costa del Sol and Valencia (15.4%).
The correlation between the locations where the September increases were most significant and Spain’s most important tourist destinations is not hard to see, and the year-to-date figures tell a similar story, with the overall total now standing at 178.6 million passengers, 10.8% higher than at the same point last year.
On the downside of the economic news, the Ministry of Hacienda has sent warnings to 14 of the 17 regional governments, advising them that they are likely to exceed their deficit ceilings for this year and demanding that measures be taken to curtail further spending. For many regional administrations these measures consist of halting any further spending before the year end: some did so in August and September, and others are planning to follow suit at the end of October.
Still there is no let-up in the steady flow of would-be immigrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean and reach the Spanish mainland, and last weekend there were various instances of tiny boats crammed full of desperate Africans being intercepted off the coasts of Andalucía and the Region of Murcia. One of them involved 56 people including four babies who were rescued and brought ashore in Málaga, and another concerned 29 would-be immigrants who were spotted on a tiny inflatable launch 50 miles south of Almería.
The extent of the immigration was demonstrated on Tuesday by the decision to release 58 immigrants because there was no room left to house them in the temporary immigrant accommodation centre (CETI) in Motril, in the province of Granada.
By law the police are only allowed to keep illegal immigrants in custody for a period of 72 hours before re-housing them, and when that time was up they were therefore handed over to non-governmental organizations in Madrid and Valencia.
A great deal of attention has been paid in the Spanish press over the last few days to the case of an 8-year-old who was brutally attacked by her classmates at a primary school in the Son Roca district of Palma de Mallorca, and while she continues her convalescence after being taken to hospital the controversy goes on this week.
On Monday many parents gathered outside the gates of the San Roca primary school, and when they saw the attackers entering as if nothing were amiss they turned round and took their children back home with them.
Centuries-old Spanish tapestry factory saved from bankruptcy: the revived company holds a priceless collection of templates by artists such as Goya.
Giant squid dies off the coast of Galicia: the injuries sustained suggest that it may have died as a result of a “battle of the titans” in the Atlantic.
Two Jihadist cells dismantled in Morocco and Spain: two arrested in Ceuta and Altea.
Traffic figures on toll motorways has risen in 27 of the last 28 months: the latest data are the most encouraging data for the viability of these roads since 2011.
Over 400 million euros were collected in traffic fines in 2015: this is still substantially lower than the record figures in 2009 and 2011!
Guardia Civil investigate illegal Alicante monkey vendors: 25 monkeys have been recovered along with macaws, tortoises, parrots and a white starling.
14,000-year-old engravings found in Basque Country cave: the images found are of an almost unprecedented quality and visibility among primitive works of art.
Barcelona tourist attraction falls foul of the city council:The Sagrada Familia basilica was never awarded a building licence!
Don Quijote rides again in Alcalá de Henares: the Mercado Cervantino in Alcala is the largest medieval market in Europe.
Navarra religious vandal to be deported to Morocco: 21-year-old Naoufal profaned two churches and decapitated a statue of San Bartolomé.
Miracle rescue of 78-year-old woman in Albacete: the woman fell 15 metres into a reservoir and was rescued by an anonymous heroine from León.
Unmanned petrol stations illegalized in Castilla y León: Cutting the sale price of petrol is deemed to be against the public interest
Two Rumanians arrested for attacking a homeless woman in Daroca: the attackers set fire to the clothes which the victim had wrapped around herselfas she prepared to spend the night in the street.
Church roof collapses in Talavera de la Reina: none injured in the parish church of San Juan de Ávila in the La Solana district of Talavera de la Reina.
Woman injured as Oktoberfest marquee collapses in Zaragoza: around 3,000 beer drinkers were hurriedly evacuated from the marquee, which hopes to reopen in the near future.
Spanish property news
At least one property portal advertising Spanish properties to the British market is now beginning to feel the effects of Brexit, not in terms of there being less demand – quite the contrary, in fact – but in the fact that the average budget of British buyers appears to have fallen slightly over the last three months.
As a result, cheap properties in Alicante and Murcia are attracting more British buyers, with the continuing fall in the value of the pound against the euro being the main factor.
Whether this will have a significant effect on overall Spanish property sales and prices is a moot point: the issue is a complicated one, and the jury is still out!
Away from Brexit, the latest data published by the notaries of Spain provided mixed news, showing that the number of residential property sales completed during August was 17.4% higher than in the same month last year. However, at the same time the average price per square metre of the properties which changed hands was 4% lower than twelve months previously.
In terms of sales figures, this is the seventh out of eight months in 2016 in which the total has been higher than in the equivalent month in 2015, the only exception being a slight dip in July, but in terms of prices it is harder to identify a definite trend in either direction.
The most probable explanation is that the property market remains fragmented, with rises in value in some regions being cancelled out by further depreciation in others. This tendency is reflected in a report concerning rental price statistics produced this week, where the data show that during the third quarter of 2016 the average asking price for rentals dropped by 3% across.
However, the same data show that prices fell in as many as 18 provincial capital cities, and the only significant increases were those reported in Barcelona, Valencia, San Sebastián and Madrid. Similarly, there were uneven movements in the 17 regions of Spain.
Another interesting property-related story emerged this week in the Madrid town of Pinto, where an elderly illiterate couple are facing eviction from their home after the courts ruled that the house where they have lived for 40 years will be taken over by the bank.
The crux of the defence being prepared for them by lawyers is that the document signed by a notary explicitly states that the relevant agreement had been read out loud to Antonio and María del Carmen and they had understood all of the clauses contained therein. Since they are completely deaf, this would appear to be highly unlikely: click the link for further details!
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Cádiz Province, Andalucia
Granada Province: Andalucia
Huelva Province, Andalucía
Jaén Province, Andalucia
Málaga Province, Andalucía
Region of Andalucia
Seville Province, Andalucía
Córdoba Province, Andalucia
Autonomous Community of Galicia
Castilla La Mancha
Castilla y León
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