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Spanish news round-up week ending 9th September 2016
Heatwave hits the headlines as the wild fires rage in Alicante and Ourense
It has been an unusual week for the Spanish news, with the politicians taking a back seat as the extremely hot weather and related topics made most of the headlines, at least in the first half of the week.
After a relatively cool month of August the southern half of mainland Spain sweltered in temperatures of well over 35 degrees on Monday, with new records for the month of September being set in numerous locations in Andalucía, Murcia and the Comunidad Valenciana. The highest temperature in the country was the 44.8ºC which was reached in Montoro in the province of Córdoba, a figure which was matched in the city of Sevilla, and not far behind were the airport of Cádiz, the centre of the city of Murcia (44.6ºC), and various weather stations in Andalucía.
Temperatures of 45 are hard to bear at the best of times, but coming as they did after it seemed that the summer was coming to a close they were even less welcome than is normally the case and electricity consumption in many areas was the highest of the year as air conditioning units were switched on at maximum power!
In Tarragona, meanwhile, at El Hospital de Sant Joan in Reus, the management was obliged by a wave of heat stroke victims to reinforce staffing in its A&E unit and to install extra beds in rooms which are designed to house only one patient.
Thankfully, on Thursday the arrival of cooler air from the west sent maximums back down to levels which can be considered normal for the time of year, with the temperature falling by between 3 and 12 degrees in almost all of the country except the south-east.
Wild fires in Alicante and Galicia
The first few days of September proved even hotter in the province of Alicante, where residents in various residential developments in the municipality of Jávea were evacuated from their homes on Sunday evening as a forest fire which started in nearby Benitatxell swept across the countryside.
Over 1,400 people were evacuated here and in Bolulla, and police are searching for the arsonists who are believed to have been responsible for the damage to property and to the natural park of La Granadella. So urgent was the need for water that firefighting aircraft had to stock up with water at private swimming pools, whose owners are to be compensated for their collaboration by the Town Hall of Benitatxell.
By Wednesday the flames were under control and the authorities began to count the material and environmental cost, particularly in the La Granadella area.
However, just as some semblance of normality was restored in Alicante, at the other end of Spain in the Galicia province of Ourense the situation was close to chaotic as 40 separate fires devoured large swathes of the countryside. Afternoon temperatures soared into the upper thirties, and this along with the prevailing breezes made the task of the firefighters an even more difficult one. Residents of Nogueira and Espiño were forced to leave their homes, while two large forest fires in Muíños and Oímbra, on the Portuguese border, consumed over a thousand hectares and the natural park of Xurés was affected by the flames.
Unfortunately it is believed that arsonists are once again behind the majority of the fires this week in Ourense, and the reaction of the authorities has been one of outrage and indignation. A 41-year-old man was detained in Maceda on Wednesday morning and is helping enquiries in relation to 14 blazes, and it is estimated that at least 7,000 hectares of land have been affected all told, although it is still too early to calculate an exact figure. Again the environmental damage is considerable, although fortunately no casualties have been reported.
Government and economic news
There has been little visible progress towards the formation of a new national government in Spain since the failure of Mariano Rajoy’s bid to be sworn in for a second term in office last week, and the news regarding the economy suggests that the need for a solution to the stalemate is becoming more and more urgent.
More attention, though, is being paid to the forthcoming regional elections in Galicia and the Basque Country, where the image shows a particularly lethargic response to pre-campaigning as PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez takes a stroll in a Bilbao park!
Anyone who doubts whether the lack of a central government in Spain is having an effect on the regional economies of the country’s 17 Autonomous Communities should look no further than the regional liquidity fund (FLA), where the paralysis of government is set to reduce available funds by 4,000 million euros as a result of the failure to reach agreement among the main political parties.
The latest foreign visitor spending figures for the month of July, which were published this week, show a continuation of the pronounced upward trend of the first six months of the year, reflecting a 7% increase in comparison with July 2015.
Almost a quarter of the 10,257 million euros spent during July was accounted for by those arriving from the UK, suggesting that the theoretical reduced spending power of British visitors which came about as a result of the Brexit referendum and the subsequent fall in the value of the pound appears to have had no immediate effect. Spending by visitors from the UK rose by 13%, equating to an impressive 72 million euros spent in Spain by British nationals per day and underlining the importance of tourism from the UK to the Spanish economy.
Elsewhere, the tail-end of the busy summer tourist season has been marked by controversy and discontent among holidaymakers in the Costa Brava resort of Lloret de Mar, in the Catalunya province of Girona, with four hotels having been forced to close down after it was discovered that they were illegally tapping into the mains electricity supply.
During the last couple of years Endesa has launched a campaign to detect and eliminate cases of electricity fraud of this kind, and in 2015 the 83,522 instances discovered concerned electricity consumption which is equivalent to the amount used in the whole of the city of Sevilla during an entire year.
In Asturias, one of the main tourist attractions is the Cabárceno wildlife park, where the layout calls to mind Jurassic Park and the facilities are home to a wide variety of animals living in semi-captivity, including rhinos, lions, elephants, giraffes and approximately 70 bears. However, it appears in this day and age that for Pokemon Go junkies this on its own is not necessarily enough to make the park worth a visit, and as a result those in charge at Cabárceno have contacted Nintendo with a view to making the most of the Pokemons present (or virtually present) in the park.
It will thus be possible to view poliwags, giraffes, hippos and jigglypuffs in just one afternoon in the mountains of Asturias!
World record pisto sends Ciudad Real town into the Guinness Book of Records
The small town of Villaneuva de los Infantes in the province of Ciudad Real (Castilla-La Mancha) is chiefly known for its Roman ruins and the wealth of architectural treasures it contains, but on Sunday it achieved another claim to fame with a successful attempt to create the largest ever “pisto manchego” in the main square (the Plaza de la Fuente Vieja).
The list of ingredients included 1,700 kilos of raw peppers, 700 kilos of tomatoes and 350 kilos of pork meat, which was added after the pisto was weighed and was consumed in the 10,000 portions which were distributed to members of the public.
A mass assault on the border fence which separates the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the north African coast from the Kingdom of Morocco ended with over a hundred people succeeding in entering EU territory on Sunday afternoon. That they were able to do so despite the installation of anti-climbing mesh on the six-metre-high fence was due partly to the use of studs similar to those which are worn on golf shoes, as well as to their determination and desperation to enter Spain.
This is an attitude which is considered worthy of praise by the Mayoress of Madrid: Manuela Carmena has exalted their spirit of “social enterprise” in risking their lives to reach Spain.
At sea, meanwhile, the calm late summer conditions in the Mediterranean have encouraged hundreds of would-be illegal immigrants to undertake perilous crossings in small boats from the north African coast to EU territory, and there has been a wave of interceptions and rescues by the Spanish coastguards, the Guardia Civil and the maritime rescue services.
Three of these took place on Tuesday in the Sea of Alborán, between Morocco and the coast of eastern Andalucía, and resulted in the rescue of a total of 107 sub-Saharans who were later taken to port in Motril in the province of Granada. Further north in the province of Alicante well over 50 more landed on the island of Tabarca on Tuesday afternoon (the original estimate of 90 has since been revised downwards).
A father and son aged 28 and 54 have been arrested by the Policía Nacional in Tarifa after they were caught attempting to smuggle a young Moroccan woman into Spain, after she was found in a hidden compartment which had been constructed for this purpose inside the boot of the car in which they were travelling into Spain via the port of Tarifa (province of Cádiz). When the 19-year-old woman was discovered she was suffering from heat exhaustion and the cramped conditions in which she had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar.
Accidents and emergencies
Various tragedies were reported this week, including that of a 47-year-old woman who was enjoying the afternoon with her husband and children on the beach of Conil de la Frontera in the province of Cádiz on Friday was killed by a sudden rockfall, the causes of which are now under investigation.
The municipality of Valdemoro in the region of Madrid is in mourning after two tragedies in the space of two days, the second of them involving the suicide of a father whose daughter had died the previous day in a motorcycle accident while riding the bike he had given her as a present, and two men lost their lives on Tuesday when the light aircraft in which they were flying plummeted to earth just a short distance from a house owned by the parents-in-law of one of them, possibly as a consequence of the occupants of the plane attempting to salute relatives from the air.
Last Sunday a 55-year-old man lost his life last Sunday while attempting to perform the “Shepherd’s Leap” across the Barranco de Chamorga in Tenerife, but not all in this section is doom and gloom: a 39-year-old woman gave birth to a baby girl on Friday afternoon in the metro station of Callao in Madrid after suddenly going into labour while on the platform, as fellow passengers hurriedly offered their services as midwives in the station offices.
Crime and punishment
The Guardia Civil have arrested a 51-year-old man in Torrevieja after a search of his home revealed 30 works of art which are described as being of “incalculable” value, and which have now been taken into the custody of the courts. Among the items confiscated are elephant tusks measuring over 1.8 metres, antique coins, clocks, and a 17th century sculpture of the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción. Bizarrely, the raid in Torrevieja was the result of an investigation which was initiated after the reported theft of 400 beehives!
In Mataró, in the province of Barcelona, meanwhile, a 36-year-old man has been arrested in Mataró, in the province of Barcelona, for threatening to carry out a repeat of the massacre in Orlando (Florida) in June of this year in which 49 members of the LGTB community were killed and another 53 received gunshot wounds. The officers who arrested him also confiscated a 9-millimetre pistol with which he had threatened to implement the “policy” of shooting homosexuals in the head.
In the port of Algeciras (Cádiz) another instance of cocaine being smuggled into Spain hidden in cases of bananas has been uncovered by customs officers, resulting in the confiscation of 900 kilograms of cocaine which had travelled to Andalucía from Colombia and the arrests of three of those responsible.
Despite numerous attempts to clarify the rules regarding how to use roundabouts on the road network of Spain, surveys show that more than half of all drivers are unaware of which is the correct lane to choose, others know the rules but fail to put them into practice and the vast majority appear to view the use of indicators as completely unnecessary.
In an attempt to clarify the issue once and for all, the Guardia Civil has resorted to using its Twitter account over the last few days, but the outcome has not been as successful as might have been hoped, and the best advice to drivers who are fully aware of the rules is still to be aware that many other drivers are not: in other words, never fully trust other cars on the same roundabout, as the choice of lane and the use (or non-use) of indicators may have little or nothing at all to do with the drivers’ intentions!
Natural and environmental news
Last week some of the residents of Port de la Selva in the province of Girona mistakenly believed that they had noticed an earthquake, only to find out later that it was the controlled detonation of a World War 2 mine which was laid by the Germans in the port in the 1940s, but on Sunday morning a genuine seismic tremor was felt by numerous others in the La Selva part of the province!
In Valencia this has been a triumphant week for turtle fans, with 21 finger-sized loggerhead babies hatching and making their way (under guidance and supervision) towards the Mediterranean!
Basque and Catalan separatism
It is a sign of the changing times in Spain that crimes and offences related to Jihadist terrorism in this country now outnumber those connected with ETA and the Basque separatist movement, according to sources at the National Court in Madrid, but nonetheless the issue of Basque nationalism is very much to the fore this week as campaigning gets under way for the regional election on 25th September.
It has now been confirmed that the ballot papers used in the election will not feature the name of Arnaldo Otegi, who is barred from standing as a candidate for the post of Lehendekari (president of the regional government of the Basque Country) having been found guilty in the past of trying to resurrect banned separatist political parties related to ETA. However, Sr Otegi is determined to remain at the forefront of campaigning for the EH Bildu party, and has promised to continue as the “face and voice” of EH Bildu.
Unfortunately the pre-campaigning coincided with the heatwave when Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE party visited Bilbao last weekend, hence the rather lethargic response shown by one member of the public in the image!
In Catalunya one of the big stories this week is that Carles Puigdemont, the president of the regional government, has announced that he will be attending the celebrations of the Diada on Sunday 11th September, breaking a tradition which was established by his predecessor Artur Mas during his five years at the head of the government.
The Diada is the “national day” of Catalunya, but in the past Sr Mas declined to take part in the demonstrations which are organized by nationalists in order to safeguard the institutional character of the post of president of the regional government.
Bull-related events: the Toro de la Vega controversy rumbles on
The Toro de la Vega event, which has been held every year in Tordesillas (province of Valladolid) for centuries, has become one of the most widely reviled bull-related festivities in Spain in recent years, but earlier this year when the regional government of Castilla y León issued a ban on it being held the Mayor vowed not to take the prohibition lying down.
It therefore comes as no surprise this week to learn that the matter is to be taken to Spain’s Constitutional Court, where the Town Hall of Tordesillas will argue that their right to decide on autonomous policies has been infringed by the regional authorities.
However, in general terms it appears that what in medieval times was viewed as sport or fun is now viewed as barbaric cruelty, and even in the event of the Town Hall winning a reprieve for the Toro de la Vega in the Constitutional Court the tide of public opinion against it being held is so strong that its reappearance in the future would be sure to spark uproar.
The Jihadist threat
The 1,000-year-old Moorish palace of the Alhambra in Granadais featured at the end of one of the most recent videos to appear on the internet containing propaganda issued by the IS terrorist group.
The authenticity of the video has not yet been confirmed, but the tone is broadly in line with previous propaganda in which Daesh exhorts young recruits to “open up” places such as Al Andalus (the Moorish kingdom which gave its name to modern-day Andalucía) as well as Rome and Damascus.
Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever update
Following the confirmation last week of two cases of Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever in Spain microbiologists are warning that there is an outside chance of more infections occurring in Spanish territory, although the evidence available suggests that the risk may mostly be confined to the south-westerly region of Extremadura.
No more cases have been reported in the interim, but microbiologists studying the ticks which can carry the virus have found only 27 carriers in the last six years, all of them in Extremadura.
At least 4 dead in Galicia derailment
At least four people were killed on Friday morning when a train derailed in Galicia in Galicia, and dozens more were injured. The train was travelling between the city of Vigo and Porto, in Portugal, and was carrying 63 passengers and two crew members including the driver. Spanish media reported the driver was among those killed.
Further evidence of the continuing recovery of the Spanish property market was published on Thursday morning, with the latest data compiled from notary databases showing that average housing prices across the country were 3.9% higher in the second quarter of this year than in the equivalent period in 2015.
As an increase this is admittedly far from spectacular, but in the context of the slump which affected market prices between 2007 and 2014 it is welcome news indeed!
On top of this, prices are reported to be on their way up in all 17 of Spain’s regions, although the rate of increase is far from uniform. The overall average of 3.9% is heavily influenced by the rises of 7.8% in Madrid, 5.5% in Catalunya and 5% in the Balearic Islands, where the market has been especially buoyant so far this year.
These figures tie in with a report published earlier in the week by the analysts at BBVA Research, who are among those who believe that further price increases are on the cards. The team at BBVA research warn that the Spanish market is far from uniform, and that in some parts of the country the market price may not yet have bottomed out, but in general terms economic indicators such as employment data and low mortgage interest rates will continue to encourage demand and exert upward pressure on market prices, with the increase in foreign visitor numbers providing further impetus to property sales as non-Spaniards seek their homes in the sun.
This increased accessibility of property is reiterated by the fact that that fewer people are now finding themselves unable to continue meeting the monthly payment schedule on their homes, as is reflected in the latest mortgage foreclosure figures, which show a pronounced downward curve in the first half of 2016.
Interestingly, 59.4% of all of the mortgages foreclosed in the second quarter were signed in the years between 2005 and 2008, when prices were at their highest during the peak of the property market boom.
The week closed with the publication of the latest residential property sales for the month of July, showing an increase of just 1.1% compared to July last year.
However, one month’s figures are not sufficient to conclude that the recovery is over! The wider picture shows that in the first seven months of this year there were 14% more sales than in the equivalent period in 2015, and similarly, the running 12-monthly total now stands 13.5% higher than a year ago at just over 385,000.
The busiest regional markets in Spain during July were those of the Comunidad Valenciana, the Balearics and Catalunya, underlining the fact that the Mediterranean coastal areas of Spain are among those where there is currently most interest in property.
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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
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