Saturday, November 29, 2014

Madness

2390E7EB00000578-2853540-image-49_1417209296708 Black Friday is an American import that we could well do without.

Scenes in Britain show that the concept brings out the very worst in people.

Shops opened at Midnight to let the huge queues into Asda and Tesco stores up and down the country.

What followed was all out war to grab the bargains, people fighting to get their hands on electrical items like flat screen TVs which in some cases had been discounted by just £60. Scuffles broke out and some shops had to close to sort things out.
23900DDF00000578-2852585-To_me_to_you_People_struggle_to_carry_their_purchases_as_they_ma-75_1417213384301 One women had gone out to buy a flat screen TV but when she saw the mayhem that surrounded the display, bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner instead even though she didn’t need one.

The TVs that people were picking up from Asda were not even premium brands. Hopefully, they all work because I doubt that an exchange will be readily available.

How do you like your coffee?

10440815_294217747443052_8356998815502773493_nSome variations for you to choose from not all of which will be available at your favourite coffee bar.

Friday, November 28, 2014

As it was and is now

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This aerial photo of Bigastro was posted on Facebook by FontaBigastro.

I have no idea when it was taken but I am guessing it was sometime in the 60s.

Just to orientate you, I have circled the church in black.

Untitled-1 This is a recent aerial view from Google, again I have circled the church.

Artists in Bigastro

1402446_743782999029679_6807922855578534401_o Entries from the drawing competition organised by the Alzheimer Association in Bigastro.
1836948_743782955696350_4133738184049439595_o  
10511457_743783025696343_3743213957040336012_o  
10699694_743761382365174_1936480060539329477_o Congratulations to Ana Gonzalez Navarrete for her winning picture which will be used on the poster for the Gala this year.

A change of mind

Up to two weeks ago, the Secretary General of the PSOE defended the former mayor of Bigastro but in a press conference yesterday he said that Raúl Valerio Medina is doing great damage to the image of the party  and should consider resigning.

There are six cases in which the ex mayor is involved.

Most recently the town was fined 60,000 euros for the fraudulent payment of contributions for 45 “ghost” workers which enabled them to claim benefits and pensions. This practice dated back to the time of José Joaquín Moya  and continued with Raul Medina Valerio.

He is also accused of spending 24,000 euros using the town’s credit card for travel, dining and meals during his time as mayor.

The Gota Fria

PREDICTION
Saturday 29
Precipitation: Strong and persistent rain that could reach 100 litres per square metre in Valencia and Castellón and 60 in Alicante.
Temperature: Similar to today.
Wind: from the east with strong gusts.
Sunday 30
Precipitation: Locally strong in the northern half of the region.
Temperature: With few changes.
Wind: From the northwest.
Monday 1
Precipitation: Possibility of a weak shower first thing in the morning.
Temperature: On the rise.
Wind: Moderate northwest.

There are two phases to this gota fria, the first started yesterday when the province of Castellón was on orange alert for rain and Denia got a soaking along with hail. The second will start on Saturday and will affect the whole region. By Sunday the wind will veer to the northwest which will improve matters considerably.

The last time we had such heavy rain was in 2010. I recall that the roads going into Torrevieja were virtually impassable as water came down from the adjacent fields and flooded sections.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The chickens are coming home to roost

With elections on the horizon, the local parties are considering their options to win the votes.

If you recall, the PP dropped Aurelio Murcia before the last election in favour of Charo Banuls who they saw as a safer leader to gain the votes they needed. As it turned out, Aurelio formed his own party and gained two seats which meant the PP had to form a pact with him to hold a majority in council.

The Socialists are now nervous of going forward with Raul Valerio Medina as their leader. He is involved in several court cases along with the former mayor, Jose Joaquin Moya which could well turn voters away. He, of course, insists that he is still a candidate. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

End of the good weather

Untitled-1Like October, November has so far been unusually warm and dry but that is set to change as the wind veers around and we see some rain coming in.

Expect it to be light tomorrow getting heavy by Friday and then easing off as we move into next week. 

What is going wrong?

For the past few nights, we have had the lights dipping and then coming back. This morning my UPS is going mad as it detects the low input voltage and transfers power to the battery. Nominally, the voltage here is around 225v but keeps dropping to 200 or lower.

I have the high voltage trigger point on my UPS set to 253v and the low to 200v with a nominal transfer voltage of 230v. Each time the voltage dips I can hear the UPS go onto battery and see the orange transfer light come on. If the voltage keeps dropping (or rising) to the trigger voltages set, then I get a warning on the UPS interface.

The UPS is designed to cope with these sort of problems but if they are regular and the UPS has to transfer to battery too often that reduces its life considerably. My UPS is now six years old and on its second battery which is over two years old, I may have to replace it if the problem persists. APC will exchange my UPS for a new one for 218 euros giving me a 72 euro discount off the full price. 

Out of date information

SUMA, the agency that collects local taxes on behalf of towns and cities in the province, uses information from cadastral to assess the amount of IBI that each house should pay.

For Orihuela, it seems that this information is not up to date and the city estimates it is losing out on one million euros each year as a result.

These are not illegal homes, that is another issue, but rather ones that have been extended by adding storage facilities or enclosed terraces. In all there are 1,600 homes that fall into this category. Add to that, 1,200 that have not been recorded yet, between 1,000 and 1,200 that have pools which are not listed, 1,700  buildings that are over 100 years old before Cadastre existed and 2,000 constructions on farm land. The possibility is that there are 7,700 buildings that are not being taxed.

So what are they going to do about it?

Well, the city council  will be conducting a tour of the city using a camera with a GeoLocator to compare the data held by cadastral with the actual data on the ground. In the case of discrepancies, people are urged to volunteer this information so that it can be included on their tax return.

As you can imagine this is going to be a long drawn out process.

Monday, November 24, 2014

That is too kind

"Gracias por su excelente trabajo. Es usted un gran fotógrafo. Plasma como nadie el día a día del pueblo de Bigastro. Y todo de una manera desinteresada. Bien merecido su descanso." Chapeau

For the benefit of my English readers, the comment says – “Thank you for your excellent work. You are a great photographer. You capture, like nobody else, the day to day life of Bigastro in a selfless manner. A well deserved rest." Chapeau.

In fairness, the work that the musicians put in far exceeded mine.  

Still, it is those sort of comments that make the effort taken to record these events worthwhile.

Chapeau, I am glad that you like my photos.

Light diversion

1402174_390494207771728_4086277313241067761_oSunday November 30 at 6pm in the Municipal Auditorium Francisco Grau, the City of Bigastro offers "Jo, Mama" by the musical comedy group Regomello. 

This is a free music and theatre show, aimed at all ages.

I need a rest

Following a long walk around the town on Friday, I was down at the Auditorium on Saturday morning for the final rehearsal. Judging by what I heard, we were in for a real treat at the concert.

Saturday, 8pm, the auditorium was packed, the audience ready for what was to come. First order of the day, introducing new members to the band. Then the presentation of silver pins to three musicians who are long serving members and have made a significant impact on music in the town.

Finally the concert could start. On the programme we had; Suspiros De Espana by Antonio Alvarez Alonso, George Bizet’s Carmen, Four Scottish Dances by Malcolm Arnold. the Witch and the Saint ( a German piece) and a composite of music from the film A West Side Story.

Afterwards two thoughts came to my mind. 1) the band were playing with greater precision – hitting the notes just right with immaculate timing and 2) there was a lot more confidence about the solo parts. In the past, the solos have been good and in some cases delivered with panache by the best of musicians. Some of the younger players though have sounded nervous and perhaps rushed. Not so on Saturday, it was all as close to perfection as we are likely to hear.

At the end of the concert, the band were given a well deserved and rare standing ovation by a discerning audience who clearly appreciated the effort that had gone into the performance.

Not able to rest on their laurels, the band were back in action on Sunday morning as they processed Santa Cecilia around the streets to the church for a special mass. I didn’t stay for the mass but I am told that the band’s performance there was equal to that on Saturday night.

After all that hard work, it was time to relax and enjoy a good meal. The lunch that Pam and I were very kindly invited to was definitely special. We came away with very full stomachs and that satisfying feeling that only comes from eating tasty food in great company. 

My albums of photos are available for you to view – just select them from the left hand sidebar. You can also download any photos that you like in a size suitable for printing by going to my Dropbox at  https://www.dropbox.com/sh/6n2erdekf2vhu9k/AAA0qJ9pwbAGaCNWA-w4ouGIa?dl=0

Finally, I would like to thank the band for doing me the honour of asking me to take their photos, for the warm hospitality they showed me and for the wonderful lunch that Pam and I enjoyed. The task I undertook was both enjoyable and exhausting in equal measures.

¡Viva Bigastro, viva la banda y viva Santa Cecilia!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A long walk

Last night, I joined the band in their tour of Bigastro to collect the musicians that are joining the band this year. I was only relieved that we did not have to climb some of the steeper streets of the town on the trip nor did we have to walk up to the estate where we live.

It was an enjoyable journey made special by the reception of the proud parents who came out for photos.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

The ground shook again

1307423According to information provided by the National Geographic Institute, a magnitude 1.9 earthquake occurred at 14.26 hours off the coast of Torrevieja and Orihuela. The epicentre of the quake was located in the sea, 5 km deep.

This small earthquake is one of many that occur annually in the Vega Baja, an area of high seismic risk. Many go unnoticed but some of them are felt and heard as in this case.

Generally speaking, earthquakes off shore that are deep down are not felt at all but this one was quite shallow.

Not on the list

The Audit Office has sent a request to 55 municipalities, 21 associations and 21 consortia urging them to submit their accounts. 

The external control body, responsible for monitoring the regional and local public sector, has sent the reminders indicating that the deadline of the 31st of October has expired and they must complete their legal requirement to submit their accounts.

Of the 55 municipalities that have not submitted their accounts, 19 are in Alicante, namely Orihuela, Benasau, Beniarrés, Benigembla, Cocentaina, Crevillent, El Campello, Jacarilla, La Torre de les Maçanes, Llíber, Monforte del Cid, Monòver, Rafal, San Fulgencio, Sant Joan d'Alacant, Santa Pola, Senija, Vall de Gallinera and Vall d'Ebo.

Notice that Bigastro is not on that list – kudos the the local council here.

The flamboyant Dutchess of Alba has died

The Duchess of Alba, known as Cayetana in Spain, has died at the age of 88. Her full name was María del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James-Stuart y de Silva. She  was the 18th person to inherit the title and had 39 other titles to her name. She leaves behind her husband of 3 years and six children who will inherit her estimated 3.5bn euro fortune.

Besides her vast and luxurious palaces in Madrid, Marbella, Ibiza and Seville, and the fabulous works of art which they contained — the Liria Palace in Madrid housed 219 paintings alone — her library has been valued at over £20 million. It contains a first edition of Don Quixote by Cervantes, Columbus’s first map of the Americas, and an Alba family Bible dating from 1429.

 Among the paintings were priceless works by Rembrandt, Titian, Rubens, Velazquez, Goya and Renoir.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A weekend of photography

This Saturday I will be at the concert for Santa Cecilia taking photos. Before that though, I have been asked to take pictures of the new recruits as they arrive at the Auditorium on Friday night. The tradition established here in Bigastro is that, the statue of Santa Cecilia is paraded around the town before the concert. The procession visits the homes of the musicians who are about to join the band and collects them up. Eventually, they will arrive back at the Auditorium for my photoshoot.

On Saturday morning, the band will have its final rehearsal and that will be a great opportunity for me to take pictures that are difficult to capture during the concert. At the rehearsal I can mingle with the musicians on stage and get some candid shots of the individuals that make up the band.

On Sunday, Pam and I have been invited to the lunch for the band - another opportunity to capture some informal shots of the band.

Before that though, there will be a special mass in the church on Sunday morning. The statue of the saint will be carried from the Auditorium to the Church to preside over proceedings. The band will of course feature heavily during the ceremony and again this is an opportunity to get some nice candid shots of the band in action.

Following all that I will be processing the results and looking for some good shots to publish on Flickr and here. It has been awhile since my cameras have seen some intense activity, I am really looking forward to it.

The ecology party

The socialists in Bigastro are fast turning into ecologists.

First they complained about the palm trees that had not been cleaned which could have been affected by the weevil. Then they showed concern about the pine trees at La Pedrera that are in danger from the insect that has devastated trees on the Sierra Orihuela.

Now they point out that the prunings from palm trees that were taken to the eco-park on the 5th and 13th of November have just been left there untreated. They should have been sprayed with pesticides. The socialists say that, if the council do not have the staff to deal with this, they should employ a certified company to do it for them.

The new musicians

1902722_694684417312821_214841391093635569_nThe following musicians, who have studied at the School of Music and have passed the admission tests, will be joining the Bigastro Symphonic Band on Saturday.

-GUADALUPE BELMONTE SÁNCHEZ (Piano).
-SARA BELMONTE CAÑIZARES (Horn).
-BLANCA PÉREZ ESQUIVA (Clarinet).
-INMACULADA GÓMEZ GONZÁLEZ (Tenor Saxaphone).
-BRENDA LÓPEZ LARROSA (Clarinet).
-ARANCHA MEDINA PLAZA  (Clarinet).

The future of Band is in their hands – Congratulations to them all.

PS Ladies, remember to pause and smile when you are presented with your pins and certificates so I can get a decent photo of you.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A big thumbs up for Darren and Hazel

1465790_739549112786401_2698793378525869912_o
The Bar Terraza will be opening its doors next Wednesday in support of the Alzheimer's Association in Bigastro.

Live music starring Tony Kelly, Alan Warden and Sandy Fitz along with others should keep the customers happy. Five hours of entertainment that all will enjoy and for just 3 euros.

Just to prepare you; when Tony Kelly asks (as he usually does) for the names of the five members of the Rat Pack - tell him, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.

Well done Darren and Hazel, I hope the event is hugely successful and raises much needed cash for this most worthy cause.

Know your town

1232969_785263754852842_1628523893432307363_o
10428379_785269461518938_3288641833375169728_o
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Publicity from the Ayuntamiento proudly telling us about some of the features that our town has to offer. I am proud to say that there are quite a few of my photos in there which means I have been able to make a contribution. 

Spanish justice

Losing your home because you have failed to make the mortgage payments is one thing but to lose it because of a corrupt mayor is something else.

In 2005, two couples bought their dream homes in Cantoria, southern Spain for £140,000. In 2012 a court found the mayor, who had sanctioned the building,  guilty of falsifying documents and sentenced him to two years in prison, deferred because it was his first offence. He and the developer were ordered to compensate the owners but of course by this stage they were declared bankrupt.

An expensive ten year appeal eventually came to nothing even though there was widespread support from the campaign group AUAN along with a dozen local mayors. The Junta de Andalucia decided that the houses had to be bulldozed and they were.

There are an estimated 300,000 illegally built houses in southern Spain including 5,000 in the Almanzora valley  where this one was situated. So this is a situation that could well be repeated over and over again.

If the houses had a legal license in the first place which was later revoked, then the state would have paid compensation but these couples, like many others, had been duped by the mayor. He and the developers had not sought approval from the region but rather produced false documents to show that this had been granted.

We all understand that it is not right to build on protected land but in this case the guilty have got away scot free whilst the victims have lost their homes. They are not the first and will not be the last to suffer from the harsh decisions made by the region.

Band Aid–a sticking plaster

The ebola crisis in parts of Africa prompted Bob Geldorf to resurrect the Christmas hit Band Aid. Thus he gathered together a legion of singers both old and new to produce a new version which he hopes will sell well enough to raise money to help the cause.  Unlike the previous single buying this one is simple, you can download it in seconds from a number of sources. For sure, the artists involved will feel that they have helped and those that donate will gain that warm feeling that comes from “doing your bit”.

However, many Africans believe that the approach taken by Geldorf is flawed. The lyrics of the song are a concern because they portray a negative impression of Africa as a country riddled with disease, torn apart by war and mostly impoverished. Lines such as, “where a kiss of love can kill you and there is death in every tear” and “there is no peace and joy in west Africa this Christmas” do not portray the Africa that many Africans would recognise.

It is understandable why Geldorf and others since the 1980s have painted this type of picture because without it nobody would have donated. Unfortunately though, these images do not truly reflect the majority of the continent which is far from poor, is happy, secure and rich in resources. They serve to deter visitors and prevent people from investing in one of the fastest growing economies of the world.

Of course, everyone is moved to assist in those countries that have suffered from the deadly ebola virus but for the rest of the continent, this type of portrayal is counter productive to their achievement.

I am not suggesting for one moment that we should not donate, those countries affected need all the aid they can get at this time. We should however remember that it is not the whole of Africa that is suffering any more than believing the whole of Europe is in crisis.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Things are different in Spain.

In England, immigration is the issue that is drawing people to Nigel Farrange and his right wing UKIP party. In Spain things are very different. The party that is catching the imagination of the young and in many cases, the not so young is Podemos.

In the early nineties, less than on in one hundred living in Spain were immigrants. In 2000 there were 924,000 immigrants registered here. By 2009 that number had risen to 5.6 million. You might have thought that a clampdown on immigration would be a vote catcher but it isn’t.

Instead, Podemos is traditional left wing and centres on core values other than problems with immigration. It seeks to free Spain from both the right wing People’s Party and the centre left PSOE and is led by the charismatic, Pablo Iglesias.

Of course, corruption in the two main parties is a big issue here which may not be the same in England. Following the many cases that have come to light, very few trust politicians from the PSOE and perhaps even more so from the PP. With only a short history, Podemos may be the only “clean” party to vote for.

A bit of a leak

rotura-trasvaseIt is only when a transfer of water from the river Tajo to the river Segura is taking place that problems with the pipeline can be seen as in this photo from Informacion.

There are always leaks that can be seen when a transfer is taking place but none as bad as this.This joint was pouring out thousands of litres of water and caused a closure of the road.

I don’t think that can be cured with a roll of Duck Tape.

Another reminder

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tall palms

A tall palm tree fell in Elche yesterday narrowly missing a passer by. It was brought down by a wind gust of less than 60kms per hour and highlights the dangerous state that some of these trees are in. When you look at the height of some Washingtonians and see them sway in the wind, you do wonder why this does not happen more often.

On the 5th November, the top fell off one of the palm trees on the corner of  Avenida General Bañuls  and Calle La Balsa here in Bigastro. Nobody was about so there was no danger. Another tree has lost its leaves at La Paz school, again when there was nobody about.

These occurrences highlight a problem, one which the Socialist Party have complained about. They say that many of the palms in Bigastro have not been treated for the palm weevil and further more they have not been pruned of their dead leaves. 

The ones in the park at the bottom of our estate were pruned this year, the first time since we arrived here 10 years ago. Those in the Plaza de la Constitución though look as though they need some attention.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Spanish humour

10337736_276681349196692_5825199650783015931_nWhatever you do, you can’t win.

For the young ones

1801157_386095874878228_5996335605685876065_oThose who have been down to the park will not have missed seeing the annual fair set up for the young people in the town.

One euro for a ride on the dodgems is remarkably good value.

A must

10407185_692079434239986_28676011326063637_nWe look forward to this concert each year. Apart from the homage paid to the patron saint of music, this is the one where new musicians are introduced to the band.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

More about the earthquakes

It seems that it very much depended upon where you live as to the effect of the two earthquakes on Friday. We definitely heard the rumble but felt nothing. Others say the sound of the quakes was more like an explosion and they certainly felt the effects. One neighbour thought that it was a gas explosion and went outside to investigate, another said that their house shook. A different neighbor, next door to the one who thought it was an explosion, said that he neither heard nor felt anything – he must be a very sound sleeper.

I can only imagine that the reason for different reactions lies with the land that houses are situated on.

We like paella

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Pales in comparison

Whilst we focus on corruption here in Spain, the level pales into comparison with that found in five international banks.

Traders in those banks were rigging the foreign exchange market to benefit their companies and also to earn huge bonuses for themselves. The investigation into this practice says that the banks were not complicit but should have exercised more control. In total, the fines imposed on the banks amounts to £2bn.

Interestingly, more than 30 traders have been fired, suspended, put on leave, or resigned since the probes started, and the Serious Fraud Office has launched a criminal investigation - but there have been no arrests. 

More cases of corruption

This time it is Operation Creeper which has resulted in the arrest of 30 people in 12 provinces of Spain. Since the operation is ongoing, there may well be more arrests to come.

The municipal officers and technicians are accused of accepting bribes in exchange for awarding contracts to maintain and care for green areas in their towns.

The two companies involved, Fitonova and Fitiverde, grew out of all proportion from 2003 as a result of winning contracts. They have admitted to giving large sums of money to the councillors involved in order to obtain these contracts.

Here in Bigastro, José Joaquín Moya is once again under the spotlight. This time he, along with José Pérez Moya, José Pérez Moya  and the ex-secretary Anonio Saseta are accused of exchanging premises in Calle La Purisima for land in the industrial zone  without permission from the Generalit. The green belt land in Zone ZV3 was to be used to build warehouses. It is alleged that money passed illegally between the ex-mayor and the two entrepreneurs during the exchange.

In November 2008, Operation Bigastro resulted in the arrest of the mayor with at least six cases against him. Some of these have already gone to trial and have been dismissed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Catalonia

What will Madrid make of Sunday’s vote in Catalonia?

Out of the 5.4 million entitled to vote, over 2 million turned out and of those 80% voted for independence. They answered two questions; whether Catalonia should be a state and then if it should be independent.  Only 4.5% voted no to both questions.

The vote was purely symbolic because it had already been declared unconstitutional by the government in Madrid. Even still, it would be hard for the fact that it happened and the result to be ignored.

Whether a true referendum, like the one in Scotland, would have produced the same result is debatable. There is a big difference between voting for something symbolic and for something real. I guess we won’t know the answer to that unless there is a dramatic change in tactics by Rajoy. 

They have a point

The Bigastro socialist group complained yesterday about the poor state of the bus shelters and bus stops throughout the town. The glass panels are shattered and  the roofs are broken so they no longer serve the purpose of sheltering passengers waiting for a bus.

The question is, “why are they in such a bad state?” The answer is simple, vandalism. The same thing happens to bus shelters in England and probably in other countries as well.

In Liverpool the bus shelters were all like that. The council there replaced the panes with toughened glass and even that got broken. Then they tried plexiglass which got scratched so you could no longer see through it. For some reason or other, bus shelters seem to be a magnet to vandals who presumably never have to use them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Makes sense to me

I think even the most hardened smoker would agree that smoking by children is irresponsible. The Department of Health says that 300,000 children a year visit GPs in England every year with problems linked to second-hand smoke. That is a frightening figure.

To smoke in the confines of a car will now become a criminal offence in Britain and that makes a lot of sense. When someone smokes in a car, whether there are children in it or not, is disgusting. There is no escaping the fumes which hurt your eyes and discolour the upholstery.

The amendment to the law in Britain will come into effect next October and brings with it fines of £800 to passengers who light up, even more for the driver who allows it.

In fact, statistics show that fewer people smoke in cars these days than they used to and certainly do not do so when there are children as passengers. The law therefore only serves to reinforce what has become common practice. 

Every bit helps

Alicante Provincial Council has awarded Bigastro 47,991.34 euros which represents 80% of the budget for reforms to the sports facilities in the town.

They have also awarded the town 5,500 euros to disinfect the sewers and hence control the plague of cockroaches and rats.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

We were right

It was an earthquake that we heard last night, our friends Mel and Lillian Leach reported it to me today. How they knew about it is a another mystery because they now live in Liverpool. I doubt they could hear it there!

In fact there were two quakes just as we thought.

1305275 This was the first one close to San Miguel de Salinas at 23:14.

It was 15kms underground and measured 2.0 on the Richter scale.
1305282 The second one was a little further south at Pilar de la Horadada and occurred at 23:29.

That one was 16kms underground and measured 1.8 on the Richter scale.

Neither shook the house but we did hear the rumble.

She could face trial

Next to unemployment, corruption ranks as the greatest concern for Spaniards. In a previous post I  reported the case of  51 people – including six sitting mayors – who were arrested on charges of bribery and embezzlement. Another 86 politicians and bankers connected to savings bank Caja Madrid are also being investigated over alleged misuse of company credit cards, after racking up charges of more than €15m on everything from groceries to safaris.

Now a Spanish court has approved charges of tax fraud against Princess Cristina de Borbón, the sister of the recently crowned King Felipe VI – paving the way for an unprecedented criminal trial. The more serious charge of money laundering has been dropped.

It is one thing for a local mayor to appear in court, quite another for a member of the Royal family. Imagine in England if Charles, Anne, Andrew or Edward were in the same situation. They have had their fair share of scandal between them but nothing along the lines that Cristina faces.

Cristina will now likely be taken to trial but could still be saved by a precedent known as the the Botín doctrine. It allows a person to avoid trial if no formal accusation is made by the public prosecutor or those directly affected by the offence. The public prosecutor has consistently opposed the charges against Cristina and the criminal complaint came from the activist anti-corruption group Manos Limpias – or Clean Hands. The decision of whether or not to apply the precedent rests with the investigating judge.

The case centres on Cristina’s husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, who is charged with fraud, falsifying documents and embezzlement.

You will recall that Urdangarin ran a charitable foundation – the Nóos Institute – which is accused of siphoning off €5.8m in public funds. Under the guise of consultancy and organising sports and tourism conferences, it is alleged Urdangarin and his former business partner, Diego Torres, used their connections to win public contracts, overcharged for services and funnelled the money into privately owned companies and offshore tax havens.

Cristina was a board member of the institute and together with her husband owned another company, Aizoon. In his June ruling, investigating judge José Castro noted that Urdangarin’s alleged crimes would have been “difficult to commit without at least the knowledge and acquiescence of his wife”. Indeed, not only would she have known about what he was doing, Cristina would have benefited from the proceeds of the crimes. In court, she failed to answer any of the 400 questions put to her.

Both Cristina and her husband have denied any wrongdoing.

A mystery

As we were just going off to sleep last night, we heard what sounded like an explosion in the distance. Several minutes later there was a second explosion. Our thought was that is might be a minor earthquake because the sound was similar to that we had experienced before. There was no movement though.

This morning I have checked on the Ministry website and the last earthquake recorded was both two days ago and was nowhere near. I then checked the local newspapers to see if there was a report of a mishap but there is nothing to report there either. It is early though so there may be a news item later in the day.

Until then it remains a mystery.

Friday, November 07, 2014

A sorry picture

The economic crisis in Spain is selective and hits the weakest. One in three in Valencia (31.7% versus 25% in Spain) are at risk of social exclusion, according to a report by Caritas and Development Foundation for Social Research and Applied Sociology (FOESSA). Two out of three people who are now in distress.

The statistics of the study are not encouraging: 16% of the Valencian households can not afford medical treatment and 13% do not have adequate food.

Nearly 1.6 million people in Valencia are at risk of social exclusion, 210,000 households (760,000 people) are in the critical profile of severe exclusion.

Unemployment
The main concern for Valencia is unemployment: 49.5% suffer exclusion in employment. In children under 25 years  the figure is even higher at 55%. The long-term unemployed account for almost 60% of social exclusion.
There is a wide division between those who have nothing and those who have a lot and of course there are some who have benefitted from corruption at the expense of the poor. 

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Spending to save

The one hundred and twenty million euros invested in Valencia to improve energy efficiency has resulted in savings of 626 million euros. The savings have been made across the board from private companies to families.

The cuts in cost have been made by improvements in distribution networks, renewal of appliances with more energy efficient ones, replacement of incandescent light bulbs with low energy ones and the promotion of bicycles as a form of transport. 

The biggest savings have been made by those industries that use the most, for example the ceramics industry which is one of the largest consumers. 

Operation Punica

On October 28th, Operation Punica took effect resulting in the arrest of 51 people, most from the ruling People’s Party.

The operation, focussed on Madrid, Murcia and Valencia, uncovered contracts between local councillors, civil servants, middle men and key companies worth 250 million euros in the last two years alone. In all, the police searched 259 properties, 400 banks, insurers and various companies. As a result, bank accounts and assets have been blocked according to Reuters news agency.

Among those involved are; Francisco Granados, former general secretary of the PP in Madrid; president of the Deputation of Leon, Carlos Martinez; Jesus Norberto, secretary of the Murcia Institute of Tourism; six mayors from the Community of Madrid and the former PSOE mayor of Cartagena, Jose Antonio Alonso.

Following the operation, the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy felt obliged to make a statement about the situation and issued an apology to all Spaniards.

‘I apologise in the name of the PP to all Spaniards for having given positions of responsibility to individuals who were not fit for it,’ he said. ‘I understand and fully share citizens’ indignation. I deeply regret what has happened and understand the weariness of the Spaniards. These issues are particularly hurtful when Spaniards have had to make many sacrifices and efforts to pull the country out of the crisis ,’ he went on and said that operation Púnica was about the ‘personal greed’. In summing up though he cautioned that, ‘this kind of behaviour leads to a generalised suspicion, but one that unfairly tarnishes the image and reputation of most party members.’ 

Rajoy repeated his commitment to ‘clean up public life’ by introducing anticorruption measures, something he is battling over with the PSOE at the moment. ‘Democracy cannot allow anyone to play with the trust the people place in politicians. That is why we are going to pass two pending anticorruption measures as soon as possible. If we can reach consensus with the opposition, all the better, but if not, we will push ahead with anticorruption measures with the PP’s own votes,’ the Prime Minister said. He wanted Spanish citizens to trust in the process of law because he said that what has happened over recent cases proves that the justice system works.

Sadly, this is likely only the tip of the iceberg that has been uncovered. Corruption has been and continues to be endemic in Spain at all levels from local councils to parliament itself. It will take many more operations like Punica to uncover the full extent of corruption in Spain. Hopefully, the process will continue and those that have benefitted from their greed will be brought to justice eventually. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A child’s view of the town

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10712438_382307865257029_5403135197377209939_o Bigastro "A bird's eye view."

Third grade students from the Colegio San José de Calasanz worked with their teacher, Carmen Garcia Perales, to produce guides to the town.

The location, attractions, festivals, food, etc., are some of the things that can be found in these charming "Bigastro guides.

Ghost labourers

When the PP, led by Charo Bañuls , took office in June 2011, it became clear that there were people whose were registered for social security by the town but didn't actually have work contracts.

In total there were 45, mostly elderly women who benefited from this irregularity which dates back over 9 years to when José Joaquín Moya  was mayor and continued under his successor, Raúl Valerio Medina.They were supposedly hired under the Special Agricultural Scheme but their contracts were in fact just a simulation.

The ghost workers would have benefited from social security payments during so called “grace” periods and now collect pensions. 

The perpetrators and collaborators in this fraud now face a possible prosecution case led by the city and the city faces the possibility of a 60,000 euro fine.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A little assistance for the hills

10284713_935750306435219_1782569472333212033_oThe hills this side of Bigastro are a bit of a challenge for those who ride a bike.

I bought a bike soon after arriving here with the intention of using it to keep fit. My intention was to ride it in the cooler months of the year to explore the Huerta. On the flat and slight inclines I had no problem but riding back up the hills on our estate proved to be too much of a challenge for me. I am ashamed to say that I resorted to pushing the bike up Calle Irlanda to get home.

Instead of buying a conventional bike, perhaps I should have considered one of these electric bikes that the car dealer Rubio Movil sell. You can ride them as normal by pedalling but when you need assistance, the electric motor is available. Whether the motor on them would be powerful enough to propel the bike with my weight on top up a steep hill is of course debatable.

Pine trees at risk

The picuda roja beetle has destroyed thousands of palm trees in the area, now it is the turn of the Tomicus destruens insect to do the same for the pine trees.

Those of you who have visited the Sierra de Orihuela will have noticed that the pine trees that clad the mountain are turning brown and may have thought it was the very dry summer that has parched them. Apparently that is not the case, it is an insect that is sucking the life out of the trees turning the leaves from green to brown.

Of course, the insect won’t stop at Orihuela, it will spread to other municipalities with the same deadly effect. At La Pedrera, we have thousands of pine trees that were planted there. If the insect is not stopped it will decimate them as well.

Monday, November 03, 2014

An end to the Indian summer

October is normally the wettest month of the year but not this time. Less than half the average rainfall was recorded this October. Temperatures were higher than expected with an average of 22 degrees. In fact out of the 31 days, the highest temperature reached over 25 degrees.

That is all set to change tomorrow when a cold front will blow in and drop temperatures to around 19 degrees. We could also see some rain in the morning. From then on the weather will settle and we could be back to sunshine and temperatures in the low 20s by the end of the week.

Remember that infuriating Rubik’s Cube?

The craze for the cube spread like wildfire. Trying to work out how to get all six sides back in order was a real challenge. I confess that I only managed it by carefully following instructions.

Once people had mastered the process, the contest was to complete the cube in the shortest possible time.

In nearby Catral, they hold an annual competition with up to 30 participants in different categories. Apart from the fastest time, the contestants also solved their puzzles blindfolded, single handed and even with their feet.

The winner yesterday was Jorge Castillo who managed to complete his cube in 10 seconds. He was closely followed by José Ángel Montesa at 11 seconds and Rafael Rodriguez at 11.5 seconds.