Tag Archives: Gürtel

Scissors and Suits

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The Popular Party should have been delighted yesterday. Zapatero announced a drastic and severe plan to cut the national deficit in a bold and unexpected move, given that he has always rejected such action.

The measures are a combination of spending and salary cuts, mixed with the freezing of pensions that have been dubbed the ‘tijeretazo’ or ‘Giant Scissor Plan.’ The main victims are going to be the civil servants and public sector workers who are going to see their wages fall on average by 5% and frozen in 2011, along with the pensioners whose state pension will also be frozen at its current level. The cheques for each new baby will be shelved and general spending cuts in the public administration are planned, all of which will attempt to find €15 billion. Given the size of the civil service and public sector, which is around 20-25% of the active population, this is going to affect most families across Spain and the two main unions UGT and CC.OO. are already talking about strikes.

Why now? It’s clear that this is a knee-jerk reaction in response to the EU talks last weekend and the attacks on the Euro. Spain’s international economic credibility is low and Zapatero was left with no choice except to try and do everything possible to placate the shadowy gods of speculation.*

The problem is that these measures won’t address the fundamental issues at the heart of the civil service (its lack of productivity and the fact that it is too top-heavy) and the people consider it unfair for them to pay for a recession created by speculation and the construction bubble.

As for the leader of the opposition, he enjoyed his moment of severe criticism of the measures in the Spanish parliament yesterday. Rajoy continued to promote his delusional plan to save the Spanish economy through destroying the Ministry of Equality and eliminating the Third Deputy Prime Minister of the government. The Popular Party will only have the authority to criticise the government’s economic strategy when they apply their own philosophy to the public expenditure in their own Autonomous Communities. Practise what you preach.

Rajoy should have enjoyed the fact that the news story which was expected to make all of the headlines was pushed lower down the list because of the drastic economic adjustment plan. That particular news story was the reopening of the corruption case against Camps, the President of the Community of Valencia, for his acceptance of three suits. This is bad news for Camps. He, and the PP in general, had hoped that this particular case would be swept under the carpet so that they could continue to portray the Gürtel scandal as simply a few people and businesses who have taken advantage of the party. Camps is still at the heart of the scandal and despite his cries of innocence, there is evidence of the illegal financing of the Valencian PP.

Rajoy, nevertheless, continues to say that Camps is definitely the PP’s candidate for the regional elections this year. It’s a breathtakingly hypocritical move that they themselves are now putting pressure on the judicial system, given how the PP protested so vehemently against the demonstrations in support of Garzón.

An interesting day, all in all, between scandals and drastic measures. The PP should have been delighted that Zapatero managed to steal the headlines from Camps and he did it through announcing spending cuts that the PP has been demanding for months and months. The PP should have been clapping themselves on the back, but instead they launched a ferocious attack on the measures and the negative effects they will have on Spanish families, in a completely illogical u-turn. Or maybe not. In Spanish politics it’s not what your stance on certain issues is, it’s how you differ from your political opponents. The PP will never applaud any measure adopted by the PSOE even if they agree with it. Criticise for the sake of criticising, oppose whatever your opponent says, that’s Spanish political tactics.

*It’s interesting to note that whilst I write this the shadowy gods have rained benedictions down on the Spanish economy thanks to the severe measures. Spain has been graced with the rising of the international markets. The citizens will pay for the recession. Amen.

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The Gürtel scandal: The missing debate

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Whilst the newspapers debate whether the Popular Party has taken advantage of the corruption money at the heart of the Gürtel scandal* (for those looking for a quick guide to the scandal please see the bottom of this post) or rather several members of the party have in fact taken advantage of the party itself to make money, there is another more pressing issue about which nothing has been said or written. It’s about the way in which contracts are agreed with private companies and the lack of transparency inherent within this part of the political system.

In these cases of corruption (see the Matas case as well) the Popular Party swings between a policy of inactive denial and political counterattack against the Socialist Party by making claims about falsified evidence or dredging up examples of corruption in the Socialist Party from the past. The government, on the other hand, tries to make stern comments about honour and keeping promises about anti-corruption policies whilst trying not to gain political leverage from the scandal by being strongly critical.

The scandal will not have an important, lasting and direct effect on politics. The voters are apathetic and uninterested; in their eyes both sets of politicians are as bad as each other. The respective cohorts of each party accept the bad behaviour of their leaders because their hate of the other party is a lot stronger than their reaction against corruption. In other words, the Gürtel scandal will not affect the stance of the voters.

What the Gürtel scandal should call into question is the way in which the regional governments work. The current system is opaque. Contracts are signed and money passed under the table without any kind of third party critique or review of the process. Presently, there are too many interests at work that are self-protecting and protected by the upper strata of society, to the detriment of the majority of the population. Costs are inflated, there are delays, and yet no questions are asked. Basically, the system is too easy to manipulate and the use of illegal methods of payment is too easily accepted by business and the public at large. How can it be that Correa can go ten years without declaring anything to the tax office? How can Camps declare his worldly goods to be half of a flat, an old car and 2,000€? We all know that it’s not true. In essence the money has been stolen from public funds and stuck in private bank accounts abroad, from which it is impossible to retrieve it. This is why the judge ordered a €200m bail charge, in an attempt to recover these funds.

The Gürtel scandal is yet another in the long list of deplorable diseases of corruption that Spain seems to suffer. It demonstrates how the oligarchic political class continues to look after its own interests using public tax money. Whilst the politicians squabble about points of law, political advantage etc, they continue to sit at the top of a system that serves their interests and not those of the people. Surely we have a right to know where our money goes? We need a full review of the system of agreements with private companies and whether we citizens are getting value for money, or simply lining the pockets of the political class.

*The Gürtel scandal in less than 270 words:

What is it?

A network of private businesses headed by Francisco Correa (supported by associates such as the sinisterly named ‘Mr Moustache’), such as Orange Market and Easy Concept, that received contracts for organising events from local and regional governments in Valencia, Madrid and Galicia. Members of these governments received expensive gifts from Correa’s company in exchange for the contracts. There is evidence of money being paid ‘under the table’ (known as black money in Spain) to avoid paying tax. The money was moved between businesses and was laundered in foreign companies and bank accounts. Correa has not declared any income to the tax office since 1999.

What has been the fallout?

Several members of the Popular Party have been suspended or forced to resign, such as three members of the Madrid Assembly and the number two of the PP in Valencia, Ricardo Costa. Luis Bárcenas, (ex-)treasurer of the PP, is currently being investigated. The reaction of the PP has been disjointed and improvised to say the least. Camps (President of the Community of Valencia) has avoided appearing in the Valencian regional assembly, Rajoy (leader of the PP) has not really commented, some members of the PP have hinted at ‘invented’ evidence and Aguirre (President of the Community of Madrid) claimed she uncovered the scandal before going back on her remarks the following day. On 6th April 2010 the 50,000 page judicial summary of the evidence was released. The scandal continues to rumble on and will continue to do so for some time yet.

And finally, why is it called the Gürtel scandal?

Gürtel is the German translation of the Spanish surname Correa (which means leash), although it can also be translated as belt.

Here’s an excellent account of the scandal.

Listening to the Ghost

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I remember watching a programme about double jeopardy in Britain. A man was taken to court for the brutal rape of an elderly woman: she suffered numerous injuries and was left locked under the stairs for several days before she was rescued. The offender was freed without charge because of a legal issue: the DNA evidence that implicated the rapist had been traced through a DNA database and the man’s DNA sample (from a different offence) had been kept for longer than the legal maximum. The evidence was therefore invalid and the rapist was free to roam the streets (he couldn’t be retried with new evidence because of the double jeopardy law.)

I understand that the rule of law is paramount in society and that it must be respected in every case. However, it should not be possible for evidence that clearly demonstrates infringements of the law to be invalidated and thrown out of court because of the way in which they were obtained. I don’t want a CCTV society. I believe in freedom and civil liberties. But when corrupt politicians are conspiring against citizens and the judicial system in the Gürtel scandal, I think there should be an exception to the law. The use of this evidence is in the country’s interest. It’s completely legal to annul the use of the recordings, but that doesn’t make it right. Should the readily manipulated intricacies of law be above morality and ethics, above the interests of the people?

I haven’t finished with Garzón, and unfortunately neither have the Supreme Court nor the numerous forces arrayed against him. It’s clear that the illegalisation of the recordings is the start of the case against Garzón. It is the tip of the iceberg, the first toe dipped in the water to check the temperature, and the reaction of everyone else. Garzón will be prosecuted for everything he has tried to do recently. They’ll throw enough shit at him that some will inevitably stick and, using their usual tactics, they’ll use this as a lever to manipulate the rest of the case. Eventually all of his investigations will be completely annulled.

The last time I checked, Spain was a constitutional monarchy, not a dictatorship. But there are certain forces at work that reveal that Francoism is still the most powerful force in this country. The investigation of the past is being criminalised, in addition to the investigation of corruption. No questions can be asked.

The dead dictator’s spectre casts a long shadow and will continue to do so until light is shed on the truth of what happened.

Transition? What Transition?

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The Garzón fiasco continues to rumble on, with the politicians and judiciary both taking sides in the dispute.

The Supreme Court seem to have hatched a plan to try and destroy the investigation into the Gürtel Case for once and for all. Their plan is: remove Garzón and you remove the problem. Not only that, Garzón has also been digging up problems from the Francoist dictatorship that the right had long thought buried. Getting rid of Garzón would eliminate the risk of him trying to drag ex-members of Franco’s political class before the judge. Of course it would also mean deposing one of the most tenacious magistrates that Spain (and the world) has in pursuing terrorists and international war crimes. Some people, it seems, have a lot to lose.

Let’s not forget that the UN has made it clear that it has serious concerns about the way in which the dictatorship is being dealt with in Spain. It is in no way acceptable that a forward thinking country that brands itself strongly internationally should still have thousands of people buried in unmarked graves. It goes against human rights, religious belief and above all, human dignity. Countries in South America have been far better examples of how to reconcile a country’s present with its past, through the use of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. In Spain, the only organisation is the grassroots NGO ‘Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica’, which is doing a fantastic job despite limited resources and even less political support.

Consequently, to prosecute Garzón is to strike a blow against all of those bodies lying in common graves. To accuse him of prevarication is a downright disgrace. If we can prosecute criminals from the Second World War, why can’t crimes from the dictatorship be denounced?

Here’s an idea that no one’s going to like. There never was a transition in Spain; it was simply a myth to pacify the population. Some of the mechanisms of power changed: elections, parliament, laws, government etc, but the true power, of the political class and above all, the judiciary, still lies in the same hands that is always has done. The real power has never changed hands. The rich Francoists are still rich. Fraga is still the ceremonial head of the PP. The current system is just a loosened version of the dictatorship with a new face. The money has never moved. The oligarchic system hasn’t changed.

The politicians have taken sides and it’s now time for the people to do so. 61% of the people surveyed by El País believe that Garzón is being hunted down specifically. It’s now time for the people to show their support on the streets, demonstrate their desire to see justice and the defence of human rights, and to reject the oligarchic system of hidden interests and alliances that damage Spain not only internally, but also on the international stage.

Football and Politics

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Maybe in Spain football and politics aren’t so different. I mean, not just in the historical sense of Catalan identity expressed at the Camp Nou during the Francoist dictatorship, rather the way in which they are both ‘played.’

I remember reading an interesting article on the BBC a few months ago about football cultures around Europe. It explained that for the British football is a game to be played by the rules, which are there to be respected at all costs, whereas in Italy it’s a game of life and death between different cities. In Spain it’s entertainment, a piece of theatre, in which diving and trying to cheat the referee are all intrinsic parts of the spectacle. Deception is therefore legitimate and positively encouraged: if the player gains an advantage he’s congratulated and feted, look how clever he is, the little bugger!

Maybe in Spain politics works in exactly the same way. That would be why Francisco Camps, the man at the centre of the Gürtel corruption case and President of the Communitat of Valencia, can declare his possessions to be two bank accounts of with a value of about €3,000, an old car, a small pension plan and half a flat worth €110,000. He knows that isn’t true. Everyone else knows it isn’t true. But the people keep supporting for him. They perhaps even admire him for it, despite the money coming from their taxes (after all he has an annual salary of €79.546.) The people would rather vote for a corrupt local politician than a different party.

Look how clever he is, the little bugger!