Vinicius Jr case opens wider racism debate

May 23rd, 2023. Published by BBC Online

Insults aimed at Real Madrid soccer player Vinicius Jr have triggered a fierce debate about racism in sport and whether Spanish society has a problem with the issue.

Spanish police have arrested three people in connection with racist abuse directed at Vinicius Jr, who confronted fans of Valencia football club in the Mestalla stadium who he accused of directing monkey chants at him. After the match, the Brazilian international said the Spanish football league “belongs to racists”. 

In the wake of the incident, the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, warned against allowing “fascism and racism” to dominate football stadiums and his government issued a statement saying it “deeply regrets” the lack of action by Spanish authorities to fight the problem. 

As the lights illuminating the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro were dimmed as a show of solidarity with the player on Monday, the issue has transcended the borders of Spain and of sport. (See article)

Spain’s Western Sahara pivot raises energy supply fears

Policy change by Madrid has unleashed an angry response from gas-rich Algeria.

March 23rd, 2022. Published by POLITICO

MADRID — A shift in policy on Western Sahara has triggered a sudden reconfiguration of Spain’s turbulent relationship with its North African neighbors while raising questions about energy supply.

The Spanish government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has ended nearly five decades of neutrality on the issue by backing Morocco’s 2007 proposal that Western Sahara should be granted autonomous status, albeit under the North African country’s control. In a letter to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Sánchez described the plan as “the most serious, credible and realistic basis for the resolution of this disagreement.”

Morocco has claimed sovereignty of the former Spanish colony, which is about the size of the U.K., since 1975. Until now, Spain, in line with the United Nations, had called for the Saharawi people to decide their own future via a referendum. The new language used by Madrid marks a subtle but significant revision of its stance. (See article)

Yolanda Díaz and Spain’s new ‘new left’

Profile of the labour minister who is making waves

December 23rd, 2021. Published by POLITICO.

MADRID — A little more than half a decade after Podemos caused a political earthquake in Spain, a new left-wing phenomenon has arrived in the shape of Yolanda Díaz. 

Yolanda Díaz: the new star of the Spanish left.

The labor minister’s stock has soared as she has cultivated a personal brand away from existing political parties, making her a hotly tipped contender to become the country’s first female prime minister.

Polls show Díaz, who also holds one of three deputy prime ministerial posts, has the best approval ratings of any national political leader, marginally ahead of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.(See article)

‘The Technician’ goes on trial

How José Manuel Villarejo’s deep-status apparatus shook the establishment

October 12th, 2021. Published by POLITICO.

MADRID — For the past half-decade, José Manuel Villarejo has been the most mysterious and vilified person in Spain. Now he is due to have his day in court.

The 70-year-old former policeman is widely believed to have been at the center of a deep-state apparatus stretching back decades whose tentacles reached into the media, judiciary, big business and politics. His activities are believed to have tarnished the reputations of an array of ministers, business leaders, senior figures in the judiciary, and even the monarchy.

Villarejo: mysterious and villified.

Prosecutors have probed 30 separate lines of investigation related to his activities and he is accused of a barrage of crimes ranging from bribery and extortion to forgery and influence peddling. The court will try him over the next few months for a handful of the cases in which he has been implicated, along with 32 other defendants. If found guilty, he could face a prison term of over 50 years.

Villarejo has barely spoken to the media in recent years, fuelling his enigmatic persona. And while many expect the upcoming trial to reveal not the truth about his career, he has warned it will also expose how the Spanish state has been complicit in his activities.

“I am convinced that those who see me as a lamb who will quietly go to the slaughter are mistaken,” Villarejo told POLITICO in one written answer to questions given to him via his lawyer. (See article)

A tale of 2 candidates in Madrid

May 5th, 2021. Published by POLITICO.

MADRID — They were born in the same city, Madrid, on the same day in 1978. But 42 years later, the fortunes of Isabel Díaz Ayuso and Pablo Iglesias have diverged dramatically.

Díaz Ayuso, the conservative president of Madrid, scored a stunning victory in Tuesday’s regional election, more than doubling her party’s seats in the local assembly and making her the undisputed star of the Popular Party (PP) and of Spain’s right.

Iglesias, leader of the leftist Unidas Podemos, and not long ago a phenomenon himself, made only modest gains in the election before announcing his resignation from politics.

Both developments have resonance beyond the borders of Madrid and could influence Spain’s national politics.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso: a stunning victory.

Díaz Ayuso’s rise has been swift. She was unknown to most Madrileños when the PP’s young leader Pablo Casado handpicked her to run in the 2019 regional election. The 30 seats she secured then represented the conservatives’ worst-ever result in the capital, as the surging Ciudadanos and the far-right Vox also competed for right-wing votes. And yet, she ended up as regional president, forming a coalition with Ciudadanos and receiving parliamentary support from Vox. (See article)

Ciudadanos in crisis

April 26th, 2021. Published by POLITICO.

MADRID — Ciudadanos was the future of Spanish politics … until it wasn’t.

Now, just three years after it seemed on the verge of a major national breakthrough, the party faces a crunch election in Madrid that could decide its future — and according to the polls, it’s not looking great.

In early 2018, Ciudadanos was riding high. In Catalonia, where the party was born a decade earlier, it had just defeated its pro-independence adversaries and won a regional election. On a national level, it was leading in opinion polls. With much of the media, business community and electorate behind him, its young leader, Albert Rivera, looked every bit a future prime minister.

Albert Rivera: yesterday’s man.

“I’d like to govern this country,” he told a meeting of local leaders in Barcelona, explaining that he envisaged himself heading a “modern, reformist government with a future.”

But there was no such future for him or for Ciudadanos.

Three years later, Rivera has gone, his party crippled by strategic mistakes and humiliated in a string of election debacles. The upcoming regional ballot in Madrid could be the death knell for a party that has experienced a dramatic rise and fall. (See article)

Spain’s governing partners show bad blood in public

March 2nd, 2021. Published by POLITICO.

MADRID — Spain’s biggest political party and its leftist governing partner are making history. They’re also at war.

The Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos (UP) formed the first national coalition government of the modern era in January 2020. The PSOE, of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, is the senior partner and UP has five Cabinet ministers. Together, they have pushed a barrage of legislation through parliament, much of it in response to the coronavirus, while fending off a wave of hostility from the political right.

However, in recent weeks simmering discord within the coalition has reached fever pitch, due to a combination of political differences and personality clashes. The wrangling, much of it played out in public, threatens to overshadow the government’s legislative agenda. (See article)

Strong showing for moderates could ease Catalan talks with Madrid

April 23rd, 2019. Published by BBC Online.

Less than a year ago, Pedro Sánchez was lagging in the polls as the leader of Spain’s opposition, bruised by two resounding electoral defeats.

Yet he goes into this Sunday’s general election as prime minister – and is widely tipped to secure the first victory for his Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) since 2008.

“He has used his time in government to project an image of gravity and of being someone who is suited to the post of prime minister,” says Josep Lobera, a sociologist at Madrid’s Autonomous University (UAM) – who adds that being in government has boosted Mr Sánchez’s standing among leftist voters. (See article)

Spain’s right-wing ‘prince’ divides a nation ahead of election

Popular Party’s Pablo Casado has ramped up his fiery rhetoric in a bid to become PM

April 22nd, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.

Earlier this year, while addressing members of his conservative Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado made headlines when he broached the issue of abortion.

“If we want to finance pensions and healthcare, we should think about how we can have more children and not about aborting them,” the party’s leader said.

Pablo Casado: dragging the PP further right.

His use of Spain’s fragile pensions system to justify rolling back a 2010 law making abortion freely available pleased anti-abortion campaigners, while outraging many on the left. It also received a mixed response within his own party, where moderates fretted that Casado (38), who is the PP’s candidate for prime minister, had strayed into territory that was unlikely to win votes.

The incident was typical of Casado’s tendency to wade into sensitive issues with strong language and an unabashedly right-wing message. With a general election approaching on April 28th and his party trailing the governing Socialists in polls, Casado has made this strategy an integral part of his campaign. (See article)


Spain’s ‘Watergate’ erupts ahead of election

Podemos among targets of political spying, theft and smears as ‘state sewers’ stay active

April 13th, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.

The hacking of a security camera outside the home of a leading leftist politician is the latest episode to cast light on a deep-state apparatus in Spain, which has used espionage, theft and fake news to discredit perceived enemies of the conservative elite.

This week it emerged that the leader of the Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, had complained to the police last autumn when he discovered that footage from a camera installed outside his house near Madrid was being streamed on a website available for free viewing. Iglesias shares the property with his partner, Podemos spokeswoman Irene Montero, and their two children.

Pablo Echenique, a senior figure in the party, linked the incident to a series of scandals apparently exposing the involvement of police officers and government officials in plots against politicians.

“I think there’s a lot of work still to be done to clean up the state sewers,” he said.

While it is still not clear who was behind the hacking of the security camera, Podemos has frequently complained of being the target of such subterfuge and revelations about the activities of the so-called state sewers have snowballed ahead of the April 28th general election…(See article)

Spain’s African enclaves seek to maintain harmony in face of far right

Vox expected to perform well in elections in Ceuta and Melilla on anti-immigrant platform

April 1st, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.

In Ceuta’s bustling commercial centre, large panels on the pavement advertise the fact that the local Burger King’s meals contain halal meat. This meeting of Western and Islamic values is just one of many ways in which the city’s ethnic and cultural mix makes it stand out from the rest of Spain.

Although it is a Spanish territory Ceuta is perched on the North African coast, separated from Morocco only by a six-metre-high border fence. Ceuta and its sister city Melilla along the Mediterranean coast have Europe’s only land borders with Africa.

“Ceuta has a great deal of cultural diversity,” says Mohamed Alí, spokesman for the Caballas political party, which represents many Muslims in the city. “Some of us want to deepen that multiculturalism and respect for plurality.” (See article)

Spanish democracy goes on trial

February 11, 2019. Published by The New Republic.

By the time Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez go on trial on February 12 they will have been in jail nearly 500 days. The grassroots organizers for Catalonian independence will be tried by Spain’s Supreme Court on charges of rebellion and sedition, alongside 10 other defendants, including former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, several of his cabinet colleagues, and former Catalan parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell. All are accused of defying the Spanish state in the fall of 2017 by mobilizing two million Catalans to vote in an unlawful referendum on secession from Spain which led to a unilateral declaration of independence by the region’s parliament…(See article)


Trial of Catalan ‘rebels’ fraught with political baggage

Twelve independence leaders to be tried by Spanish supreme court

February 2, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.

Spain’s foreign ministry announced this week it was preparing to launch a campaign that would explain to the world, with total transparency, the details, as they unfold, of the trial of Catalan independence leaders due to begin this month.

Irene Lozano, secretary of state for the ministry’s Global Spain department, is charged with the task, which she said will include countering a torrent of “fake news” produced by the Catalan independence movement.

“We realise how much is at stake and we have to do this right,” she told EFE news agency.

“It’s clear that they want to discredit our democracy and the Spanish state as much as they can.”

Lozano’s comments underline the expectations that this trial, the most politically explosive in modern Spanish history, has generated…(See article)


Spain’s gender gap

January 23, 2019. Published by Politico.

The far right has made the battle against ‘supremacist feminism’ a key part of its message.

MADRID — There’s a new force in Spanish politics and it has its sights set on women’s rights.

Support for feminism has snowballed in recent years, but now there’s a backlash led by the far-right Vox party, whose success in a regional election in Andalusia has propelled it into the mainstream.

The party recently posted a video onlinethat shows women’s rights activists shouting “abortion is sacred” in the parliament and a politician from the leftist Podemos party bemoaning the situation of women in modern Spain and their vulnerability to violence at the hands of men. After each clip, female Vox supporters respond by saying: “Don’t speak on my behalf.” The video ends with the words: “I am a woman and I don’t want your ideological burqa.”

Andalusia has become the epicenter of Spain’s gender debate…(See article)


Barcelona prepares for ‘perfect storm’ as Spanish cabinet visits

A day of planned demonstrations in the city follows a year of turmoil for Catalonia

December 21, 2018. Published by The Irish Times

Earlier this week, the words “Go home Pedro” were sprayed in English on the outside of the Casa Llotja de Mar building in central Barcelona and a Catalan independence flag was daubed underneath.

On Friday, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez is due to gather his ministers there, the first time in the democratic era that the central government will hold a cabinet meeting in the city. The presence of the Spanish government in the Catalan capital was supposed to reflect their determination to engage with the region, with Sánchez expected to announce several progressive economic and social measures…(See article)


Spain’s 40-year itch

Country braces for upheaval as it celebrates anniversary of democratic transition

October 31st, 2018. Published by Politico

MADRID — Forty years after its creation, Spain’s constitution is back in the political limelight.

Drafted three years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, the document — seen as the linchpin of the country’s so-called transition from authoritarian rule to parliamentary democracy — has attained an almost mythical status among many Spaniards.

But as supporters gathered at a flurry of commemorative events in the Spanish capital this month, calls to reform a democratic system some have taken to calling a “sham” are getting louder…(See article)

‘This is not between Catalonia and Spain. It’s Catalans against Catalans’

Spanish region is split between unionists and separatists, a year on from independence vote

Unionist activists at work in Canet de Mar 4
Unionist activists remove pro-independence symbols in the middle of the night in Canet de Mar. Photo: Guy Hedgecoe

September 28th, 2018. Published by The Irish Times

It is two o’clock on a Tuesday morning and in the seaside town of Canet de Mar a dozen people are hard at work in the darkness. Dressed in white laboratory overalls and goggles, they move silently, plucking cardboard yellow ribbons off trees. Some of them have long-handled gardening shears, which they use to cut down the ribbons that are out of arm’s reach. They gather up the debris in black bin liners and move on.

It may look like an eccentric gardening club but this is in fact a group of political activists who believe they are on the front line of the campaign against Catalan separatism.

The yellow ribbons have become a symbol of solidarity for nine Catalan independence leaders who are in jail awaiting trial for their alleged role in the outlawed referendum on secession held on October 1st, 2017. For the independence movement, the jailed nine are political prisoners. But that’s not how this self-denominated “cleaning brigade” sees them…(See article)

‘We’re doing this to show we’re a republic’

A year on from Catalan referendum, tensions still simmer over independence from Madrid

Pro independence flags on brodge over AP7 road
Catalan independence flags hang over the AP7 highway. Photo: Guy Hedgecoe

September 16th, 2018. Published by The Irish Times

Anna, a 42 year old with tattooed arms and aviator sunglasses, is standing on a bridge looking down on the AP7 motorway between Tarragona and Barcelona. On the railings in front of her a large yellow banner, in view of the motorists below, states: “Catalonia, new European state.”

“Coming up on to the bridges is a way of making ourselves visible, because a lot of foreign people, a lot of tourists, drive along here,” she says.

About 25 people, young and old, are spread along the bridge. Some are brandishing the estelada, the red-and-yellow-striped flag with a single star that symbolises Catalan independence. Others are waving excitedly as cars approach, many of which beep their horns. Pop music pumps out of a large portable speaker and a teenage girl is passing around vermouth served in plastic cups.

This is a Committee for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), one of dozens of small groups that have sprung up over the last year or so to defend what they believe is a mandate for Catalonia to break away from Spain…(See article)

What Digging Up Franco Has to Do With Democracy

Spain’s transition out of fascism occurred within living memory. And it meant ignoring the dead.

September 17th, 2018. Published by The New Republic

“Exclusive: Photograph of the remains of Franco,” a Twitter user posted in late August. It was a joke: The accompanying picture showed not the dusty bones of Spain’s former dictator, but a portrait of the current king, Felipe VI.

Before dying, in 1975, Francisco Franco anointed Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos, to lead the country and keep in place his authoritarian, quasi-fascist “National Catholic” ideology. Instead, the new monarch led Spain into a process of express-speed modernization, helping create a modern parliamentary democracy. Yet four decades on, that transition still feels incomplete to many Spaniards—and nowhere is that more apparent than in the debate over what to do with the former dictator’s remains.

Last Thursday, Spain’s  congress approved a motion to move Francisco Franco from his resting place, a war memorial known as the Valley of the Fallen… (See article)


Migration surge tests Spain’s ‘fragile tolerance’

Increase follows clampdown on central Mediterranean route

July 30th, 2018. Published by Politico

MÁLAGA, Spain – After his sister was lynched for being a lesbian and he was hounded for being related to her, Lassana Koulibaly fled his native Mali.

With the vague idea of reaching Europe, the 20-year-old traveled through Algeria and Libya before arriving in Morocco, where a friend told him to try to get to Spain.

“I had heard that they respect human rights there and that they take people in and would treat me better than in all the other countries I’d been through,” he said. “I needed to have a better life and I knew I could die trying. Either I won and got to Europe, or I would lose and die.”

More and more migrants are making the same journey. As a clampdown on the route between Libya and Italy has taken hold, an increasing number have moved west, making Spain the biggest European destination for those seeking a better life. For Spain itself, their arrival could add another complication at a trying time for its political system… (See article)

Spain’s once-dominant conservatives face an existential crisis

As the Popular Party chooses a new leader, members grapple with a threat of extinction

July 20th, 2018. Published by The Irish Times

EL MIRÓN, Spain — It’s mid-morning in El Mirón and the main square is empty, except for a large stork, which glides overhead to its nest on top of the church nearby. The children’s playground, a strip of grass on the edge of town with some swings and a slide, is empty. And beyond stretch the plains of Castilla y León.

“People here have always had what they needed: a few cows, a home, the countryside,” says Ricardo Enríquez, a local pensioner who was born here, speaking in the local bar.

He describes the main economic activities of the town as “livestock and drawing your pension”, as he points to the predominantly elderly population and the fact that no children live here. (See article)


Tattoo taboo: Spanish woman fights rejection by army

July 9th, 2018. Published by BBC Online

When Estela Martín got a black lotus flower tattooed on the upper part of her right foot at the age of 18, her parents were unhappy about it, but she saw it as a positive symbol.

“I’ve always liked the idea that the lotus represents, which is that you have to fight for what you want,” she says.

But 12 years later, that same tattoo has left her fighting to save her ambition of a career in the Spanish military.

In June, Ms Martín took part in a civil service exam to become a military psychologist. She had left her previous job, in a Madrid hospital, two years earlier in order to study and prepare herself for the highly competitive selection process…. (See article)

The Basque Gerry Adams

Interview with Arnaldo Otegi

April 30th, 2018. Published by Politico.

GERNIKA, Spain — Arnaldo Otegi, who is widely credited with helping persuade ETA to abandon its four-decade terrorist campaign, says the peace now in place in the Basque Country is irreversible and dismisses as “impossible” the prospect of dissidents breaking it.

“Although it has taken a long time, I’m happy that we’re going to see the end of an armed group in Europe,” said Otegi, leader of EH Bildu, the leftist pro-independence Basque coalition…(See article)

The Spanish rappers getting ‘terror sentences’ for songs

March 17th, 2018. Published by BBC Online

César Strawberry has found it hard to concentrate on his music recently.

The singer found fame in Spain with rap-rock band Def Con Dos and their notoriously explicit lyrics.

But his controversial commentary has also brought him into direct conflict with the Spanish state.

“It’s a co-ordinated strategy aimed at making people scared of speaking out, of expressing themselves and at cutting back a system of freedoms,” says Strawberry.

“Sadly, in Spain the government of Mariano Rajoy has embarked on a path which seeks to copy Turkey, rather than France, Germany, Britain or Sweden.”…(See article)



‘Country of thieves’ wrestles with corruption

Flawed judiciary system and legacy of fascism continue to plague Spain’s political parties.

March 7th, 2018. Published by Politico.

MADRID — The stench of corruption clings to Spanish politics — and especially to the ruling Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy.

Between July 2015 and September 2016, 1,378 officials or politicians from across the spectrum faced trial on corruption charges, according to the General Council for the Judiciary.

The PP is desperately trying to keep its litany of scandals off the political agenda. But, with the liberal Ciudadanos party breathing down its neck in polls and high-profile cases rarely out of the headlines, the party has been forced to shift its position. Where it previously insisted allegations were either unfounded or politically motivated, Rajoy’s PP now acknowledges there has been a problem.

Yet in a country frequently wracked by scandal, one particular case promised to shed new light on the shady wheelings and dealings of the ruling party. Even so, few anticipated the frank admission of wrongdoing that a key defendant in the case offered….(See article)

Spain brings up the bodies

Seven families lead an exhumation of the country’s fascist past.

February 5th, 2018. Published by Politico.

EL VALLE DE LOS CAÍDOS, Spain — In a wooded valley some 60 kilometers northwest of Madrid, the wounds of Spain’s violent history are being torn open.

El Valle de los Caídos — or the Valley of the Fallen — has stood largely untouched since a massive war monument was completed in 1959. The site is the resting place of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of Falange, the far-right party that supported him. It is also one of Europe’s largest mass graves, housing the remains of 33,700 people killed in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939…(See article)

Hyper-tourist hub Barcelona at the crossroads

A quarter century after Olympic glory, the Catalan capital counts the cost of success

December 27th, 2017. Published by The Irish Times.

Perched on a hill to the west of the city centre, the Montjuïc Communications Tower overlooks a large esplanade in front of Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium. A coiled spike of white that spirals into the sky, it was designed by star architect Santiago Calatrava for the 1992 Olympic Games.

Montjuïc Communications Tower3

Down below, to the south, the Mediterranean calmly shimmers and stretching away to the west is the Zona Franca industrial area. From this vantage point, the landmarks that help draw around 17 million tourists to Barcelona each year – the unfinished Sagrada Família church and the Güell park, or the bustling Ramblas promenade – are not visible. But the connection between Barcelona’s hosting of the Olympics and the city’s current status as a hyper-tourist hub is undisputed.

A quarter of a century on from the euphoria of that sporting event, the Catalan capital appears to have reached a kind of reckoning. The influx of tourists to the third most visited city in Europe has become so great that it has sparked fierce debate. Meanwhile, the development that has accompanied this popularity has raised concerns that the home of the eccentric modernist Antoni Gaudí is in danger of losing its identity, of being swallowed up by franchised coffee shops, international fashion retailers and tourist traps…. (See article)

Catalonia media reflects polarised Spanish society

October 6, 2017. Published by BBC Online.

The front page of Barcelona’s La Vanguardia newspaper on 4 October was dominated by the ongoing Catalan crisis.

An aerial photograph showed tens of thousands of people demonstrating in the city centre the previous day, when a region-wide strike had been staged in protest at attempts by Spanish security forces to stop people voting in Sunday’s independence referendum.

The article below the photograph underlined how successful the strike had been.

In Madrid, meanwhile, Catalonia was also hogging the headlines but a different version of events was being presented.

El País’ front-page photograph of the strike was of two dozen youths running on to a road to stop a car, suggesting chaos rather than organised protest.

“The Catalan government takes its insurrection on to the streets on a day of disorder,” read a headline above it.

Such contrasting interpretations of what is happening in Catalonia reflect the deeply divisive nature of Spain’s territorial crisis and the media has been a key factor in fuelling the polarisation… (See article)


‘Something has broken today’: Anger on streets as Catalans vote

Spanish government’s crackdown over controversial poll widens rift with region

October 1, 2017. Published by The Irish Times.

Pepa Mainou was the first person to vote in L’Arenal de Llevant school on Sunday morning. She, like dozens of others, had queued outside the building, in Barcelona’s Poblenou district, since 5am. Four hours later, after casting her vote in favour of independence, she was clapped and cheered as she left the building.

“This means a lot to me,” she told The Irish Times. Born in 1935, when Spainwas still a short-lived republic, she said she had waited decades for this vote, which offered the possibility of creating a new republican state for Catalonia.

“I only hope everything can be resolved and will be alright,” Mainou added, bursting into tears. “This is important to me, and for my children as well, they’re with me, hoping things will be sorted out.” (See article)


Battle for Barcelona: a deeply divisive independence vote

Catalonia on verge of biggest upheaval of modern history if poll goes ahead

September 30th, 2017. Published by The Irish Times.

On an overcast evening in Can Dragó, a recreational park, locals are gathering for a small rally in favour of Catalan independence, ahead of the referendum on the issue scheduled for Sunday. The event is organised by the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), a pro-independence party that is a member of the Catalan region’s governing coalition and a small tent has been set up bearing the red and yellow colours of the region’s flag, where volunteers hand out fliers.

On the stage a singer is strumming lively rumbas on a guitar and making jokes about Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, whose opposition to the referendum has made him a figure of both disdain and ridicule to many Catalans.

The mood is festive and there is little here to suggest a region on the verge of the biggest upheaval of its modern history, or that the Catalan situation has thrown Spain into its deepest political crisis for decades….(See article)


Nasty side of Catalan questions deepens rift between ‘two Spains’

Many Catalans, who favor neither independence nor the brand of unity advocated by Madrid, feel left out in the cold ahead of independence vote.

September 27th, 2017. Published by Politico.

BARCELONA — On September 3, a woman tweeted that she had just seen Inés Arrimadas, spokesperson for Spain’s centrist Ciudadanos party, speaking on television and called her “a disgusting b–ch” who deserved to be gang-raped. Ten days later, death threats against the anti-capitalist politician Anna Gabriel, of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), were painted on the sidewalk outside Valencia University, where she was due to talk later that day. “Shoot Ana [sic] Gabriel,” read one, with a crosshair below her name…(See article)

Ripoll: the Catalan community torn apart by terror


August 19th, 2017, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.

RIPOLL —  The Plaça Cívica is at the heart of the small Catalan town of Ripoll. On one side of the square sits a Benedictine monastery founded in the ninth century, while a large Catalan independence flag hanging from the town hall next door reflects the nationalist leanings of many of its residents. A handful of cafés and shops sit on the other side of the square.

However, this calm spot in the Catalan highlands, a 90 minute drive north of Barcelona, has been stunned and bewildered by the news that several of its residents were involved in the two terrorist attacks that killed 14 people and injured dozens…(See article)


Can this man kill Uber? 

Tito Álvarez may be remembered as the man who cut short the tech giant’s European ambitions.

June 29th, 2017, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.

MADRID — Alberto ‘Tito’ Álvarez is a short, pot-bellied taxi driver from Barcelona. He’s also the man who might one day be remembered for bringing Uber to heel.

As a founding member and chief spokesman of the Élite Taxi cooperative, the 40-year-old Spaniard has waged running battles against the California ridesharing company he accuses of unfairly undercutting taxi drivers. As part of his three-year crusade, Álvarez has spent countless hours lobbying his country’s politicians for support, blocking the centers of European capitals together with hundreds of cab drivers and facing down riot police in sometimes violent confrontations…(See article)

Brexit exiles on Costa del Sol fear for their future

For many pensioners, Britain’s divorce from the EU raises the prospect of having to return home.

May 28th, 2017, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico. 

MÁLAGA, Spain — Taking aim at the dart board at a pub in Fuengirola, Alf Brewer looks every bit the British retiree living the good life on the Costa del Sol. But despite his beachwear and sun-reddened face, he stands out among a politically detached British expat community. A long-time member of the Labour Party, he has been tirelessly campaigning for its international branch since moving to Spain 10 years ago.

It’s a tough job. Even with a U.K. general election looming on June 8 and the tumultuous state of British politics, it can be hard to motivate fellow Labour voters. (See article)



Jumping the fence to Europe

At Europe’s only land border with Africa, would-be migrants dream of a better life in Spain.


April 27th, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico

MELILLA, Spain — The immigrant temporary stay center in Melilla is a long way from John Masal’s glamorous idea of life in Europe. But the 19-year-old from Sierra Leone says he’s happy because this is Europe — Spain, to be precise.

Situated on the edge of Melilla, one of two Spanish cities — the other is Ceuta — perched on the North African coast, it is a functional-looking building with a large green gate that occasionally emits distorted loudspeaker announcements. Masal says it is crowded inside and there is a shortage of drinking water. Meanwhile, 100 meters or so away, a six-meter-high triple security fence stretches into the distance. (See article)

Weakened Eta to disarm half a decade after ceasefire

Basque terrorist group to hand over weapons in south of France

April 7th, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times

A group of civil intermediaries is expected to inform the French authorities in Bayonne on Saturday morning of the whereabouts of several arms caches belonging to Eta, culminating, a few hours later, in the disarmament of the terrorist group.

Eta has not killed since shooting a French policeman dead in 2010 during a botched car robbery and in October 2011, it formally declared the end of its four-decade campaign of violence. This decommissioning, therefore, has been a long time coming and is far from unexpected. But it reflects the weakness and desperation of a group that at its peak both recruited and killed with ease. (See article)


Sub-saharans shun Europe to put down roots in Morocco

African kingdom invites migrants to remain instead of risking trip across Mediterranean

Suzanne Niamke, left, in her beauty salon 2

April 3rd, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.

 It’s 10am in Casablanca’s bustling central souk and Suzanne Niamke is opening up her beauty salon. It’s one of several dozen small businesses here that make up a section of the bazaar called the Senegalese Market, a group of shops, services and restaurants run by people not just from Senegal but from all over sub-Saharan Africa.

Niamke, who is from Ivory Coast, says business is good. “[Sub-Saharan] Africans come, Moroccans come, even French come,” she says of her customers. “Life is good here,” she adds. “I prefer it to Europe.” (See article)


Interview with Catalan president Carles Puigdemont

“The alternative to independence is decline”

February 23rd, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.

After several years of steadily increasing tensions between Madrid and Catalonia, in recent weeks the relationship has become particularly strained.

The Catalan government wants to hold a legally binding referendum on independence by the end of September, as part of its so-called “roadmap” towards creating a new state. The Spanish government says any such vote would be unconstitutional. The standoff has been played out recently in the courts, with several high-profile Catalan nationalists on trial or under investigation for allegedly breaking the law by promoting the independence project.

As president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont (54) is the political figurehead of the independence movement and his mood seems to be a mixture of optimism at the prospect of fulfilling a lifelong dream and exasperation at the behaviour of Madrid.

“Finally, we have before us the chance to have the structures of our own state at our disposal and it depends entirely on us,” he tells The Irish Times, in the Catalan government building in Barcelona. (See article)


Spanish ‘psycho-drama’ plays out at top of Podemos

Leaders will battle for the soul of the leftist party at its conference this weekend.

February 10th, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.

MADRID — A battle at the top of Podemos, the leftist anti-austerity party that took Spanish politics by storm three years ago, has spilled out into the open ahead of a big membership conference this weekend.

On January 31, journalists and politicians in Spain’s Congress watched as the party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, became locked in what seemed to be a bitter argument with his deputy, Íñigo Errejón, seated next to him. (See article)

Bankers face backlash from Spain’s boom years

Trial of a former banker and economy minister gives hope to Spanish ‘mortgage victims.’

February 2nd, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.

MADRID — On a January morning outside a government building in central Madrid, a group of campaigners from the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) gathers to hand a document to the authorities, calling on them to ensure that banks pay back in full money to those who have suffered financial abuses.

Among them is Caridad Lomas, a frail-looking woman of 70.“Before, I thought the banks were important,” she says. “But since they’ve bullied me so much, I think they’re bad people — they’ve made me cry a lot.” (See article)


The British ex-gangster helping Irish criminals in Spain

Former bank robber Jason Coghlan says he is the lawyer ‘a Paddy’s going to call’

January 13th, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.


Sitting in the offices of one of his law firm clients, Jason Coghlan, wears a blazer and tie that lends him an air of formality. He could almost give the impression of being a conventional lawyer. However, the illusion is shattered when he starts recalling his shady, often violent past, which has taken him from the criminal underworld of northwest England to professional respectability on Spain’s Costa del Sol.

“I was a gangster,” the 46-year-old Stockport native says matter-of-factly. “I was a bank robber. That was my chosen profession.” Indeed, he was one of the UK’s most notorious, serving 15½ years in jail. (See article)

Catalan separatists defy Spain in pursuit of ‘utopia’

Pro-independence parties prepare for mass acts of civil disobedience against the Spanish state.

December 14th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.

BERGA, Spain — A large Catalan independence flag hangs from the city hall of Berga, a town of 16,000 inhabitants in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Known as the Estelada, the red-and-yellow striped design with a single star is also visible on almost all the surrounding buildings in the medieval square of Sant Pere, reflecting the depth of feeling about Catalan nationalism in the town. (See article)



Catalan unionists struggle to be heard amid separatist clamour

Region split on independence from Spain, but secessionists still dominating debate

December 3rd, 21016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.

Viladecans town hall is a faux-medieval castle. An ochre-coloured building situated in the middle of this small Catalan city, complete with tower, turrets and ramparts, it is tempting to see it as as a garish metaphor for Viladecans’s status as a stronghold of unionism. (See article)


Rap music provides release for Spanish prisoners

Hip-hop trio Flow Kaló make history by recording CD while imprisoned in Burgos jail

November 10th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.

Burgos doesn’t look like a hotbed of hip-hop. Situated on the plains of northern Spain, this picturesque city is known for its quiet streets, 13th-century cathedral and as a stop on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.

But behind the picture-postcard facade is a less manicured place, where joblessness, petty crime and drugs are as common as in many other Spanish towns. (See article)

Protests over death of fish seller remind Moroccans of Arab Spring

Demonstrators blame police for death of Mouhcine Fikri, killed by garbage truck grinder

November 3rd, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.

Morocco’s king Mohammed VI is desperate to prevent a recent wave of protests, sparked by the grisly death of a fish seller, from escalating into the kind of instability the country’s neighbours saw during the 2011 Arab Spring. The death of Mouhcine Fikri (31) last Friday unleashed demonstrations across the northern Rif region, leading to speculation that North Africa’s most stable nation could be facing major unrest. (See article)


Conflict in prospect as Catalans advance independence project

Madrid expected to reject Catalonia’s Scotland-style referendum, slated for 2017

October 15th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.

Last Saturday, the Catalan soccer player Gerard Piqué revealed he will retire from the Spanish national team after the 2018 World Cup.

The surprise announcement followed a bizarre controversy sparked by Piqué’s decision to trim the sleeves of the shirt he wore for a game against Albania. Many outraged fans assumed he had done so as a political statement, to remove the Spanish flag from his shirt. In fact, there had been no flag on the sleeves – Piqué had simply been adjusting their length for comfort – but the damage had been done. (See article)


Revolt in Socialist Party over leader’s refusal to end Spain’s deadlock

All-out, very public war unleashed in heart of party over Sánchez stance

October 1, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.

Long-time socialist voter Francisco Gómez chained himself to the railings outside his party’s local headquarters in the city of Mérida, in western Spain this week. He was protesting about the rebellion against his party’s leader, Pedro Sánchez. A few hours earlier, 17 members of the socialist executive had resigned in a bid to unseat the leader, and as Sánchez and another 17 loyalists stood firm, an all-out, very public, war had been unleashed in the heart of the party. (See article)


Spanish bullfighting’s slow death

Local traditions are under fire for the animal cruelty at their heart and reveal political faultlines of a country in existential crisis

September 29, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.

TORDESILLAS, Spain — The town of Tordesillas has held its annual festival, known as Toro de la Vega, on the second or third Tuesday of September since medieval times. A bull is set loose and runs across the bridge into nearby fields, where locals on horseback spear the animal to death with lances.

Traditionally, Toro de la Vega is a day of celebration. Locals fill the town’s bars in the morning before lining the streets in anticipation of the bull chase as traditional music blasts out over loudspeakers. But this year was different. (See article)

Rajoy’s bid to retain power boosted by regional elections

Rajoy’s position strengthened after Galician victory

September 26, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.

After two years of political upheaval and fragmentation, on Sunday Spain saw something like a return to stability. Regional elections in Galicia and the Basque Country saw the incumbents strengthen their positions with resounding victories which left no question as to their ability to govern over the coming four years….(See article)


Albert Rivera’s Faustian bargain

Ciudadanos party allies with Rajoy in a fight for the political centre – and its own survival

August 30, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.

MADRID — Ciudadanos portrays its deal to help Mariano Rajoy secure a second term as prime minister as an act of selfless patriotism. The risk for the party is that it undermines its leader Albert Rivera’s promise to clean up Spanish politics…(See article)


Rajoy claims victory for conservatives

Popular Party wins, but still lacks majority

June 28, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.


Mariano Rajoy’s politics of inertia

Profile of Spanish prime minister ahead of June 26 general election

June 24, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.

MADRID — As Mariano Rajoy and senior politicians of his conservative Popular Party (PP) gathered in Madrid’s Retiro park in late May for a photo shoot for the coming election campaign, things took an unexpected turn. A man suddenly dashed toward the smartly dressed group, clutching a megaphone and shouting: “Mariano Rajoy, you’re the mafia.… The PP is the mafia!” (See article)


Gypsies struggle for political voice in Spain

María José Jiménez hopes to become first Roma woman to reach parliament

June 24, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times. 

When María José Jiménez was campaigning for a seat in Spain’s congress of deputies on behalf of the leftist party Podemos in last December’s general election, she knew she faced a challenge. Not only was the seat she was fighting for in the deeply conservative province of Salamanca, but she was attempting to become the first gypsy woman to reach Spain’s parliament…(See article)


Interview with Arnaldo Otegi

Spain’s most divisive politician wants independence for Basque Country within two legislatures and insists there will be no return to violence.

Arnaldo Otegi

June 14, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.

As he gazes out across the Bay of Biscay from a restaurant in San Sebastián, Arnaldo Otegi ponders why many Basque nationalists expect so much of him. “I think people want to see in me a reference point to cling to, someone who represents their values, their projects, their principles,” he says, “but that’s asking an enormous amount, that’s frightening. I’m just another person who was born in this country.” (see article)


Spain’s happy ‘indignants’

Protests in 2011 set out to break up a political duopoly. In that, if not much else, they succeeded.

May 13, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.

MADRID — Sunday May 15, 2011 was the day Jon Aguirre Such felt the full impact of the new protest movement taking over the Spanish capital. As a spokesman for what would soon become known as “15-M,” or los indignados, the 26-year-old architecture student from the Basque Country climbed onto the back of a truck and took the microphone. (See article)


Court orders exhumation of Franco victims from Valley of Fallen

First ever such ruling to search for victims at dictator’s controversial resting place

May 9, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times


Catalan premier makes most of Spain’s long political impasse

Profile of regional leader Carles Puigdemont

April 30, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times


Islamic past of Córdoba’s Mosque-Cathedral restored

Campaigners celebrate victory against Catholic Church

April 21, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times


Bullfighting debate enters arena of Spanish politics

Controversial pastime is lumped in with a past Spain’s left wing seeks to obliterate.

March 18, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times


Calls for ‘independentzia’ revived in Basque Country

Release of convicted Basque nationalist Arnaldo Otegi reignites dreams of independence.

March 18, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico

ELGOIBAR, Spain — The main square in the small town of Elgoibar fills up fast as men, women and children arrive, many of them carrying the ikurrina, the red-white-and-green regional flag. A stage had been erected in front of the town hall, decorated with a large image of Arnaldo Otegi, Elgoibar’s most famous son, released from jail just a few hours earlier. His prison number — 8719600510 — is also visibly displayed on a banner… (See article)

Pedro Sánchez’s pretty Socialist face

Can the PSOE leader put an end to Spain’s political impasse?

March 1, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico


Catalan separatists confident of independence despite challenges

Roadmap envisages new state by 2018.

Feb. 27, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times


Spain remains global crime hub and haven for fugitives

Drugs, guns, explosives dominate a scene in which “a new life can be created with ease”

Feb. 19, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times

Spain has long been characterised as a refuge for criminals fleeing the law enforcement agencies of their own countries, a place where fugitives could relax in the sun, safe in the knowledge that the local authorities would not bother them. (See article)

Spain glares into its bloody past

A court case in Argentina forces a fresh look at the civil war.

Jan. 29th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico

Timoteo web pic

GUADALAJARA, Spain — On a chilly January morning in a corner of Guadalajara cemetery, a piece of Spain’s history is being exhumed. A group of men dig into a patch of ground they believe to be a mass grave dating to the aftermath of the 1936-39 civil war. (See article)

Impatient Spaniards call for parties to reach agreement

Politicians are being urged by a frustrated electorate to get on with forming a government

Jan 29th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times


The end of the road for Rafa Benítez?

Real Madrid look set to sack their coach.

Dec 29th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico

The Spanish elections: a primer

The euro zone’s fourth-largest economy is on a knife edge.

Dec. 18th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico



Profligate past colours debate as Spain gears up for election

The town of Navalcarnero has lived Spain’s recent economic rollercoaster in a particularly dramatic fashion.

Dec. 12th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times

Navalcarnero Calvary Roundabout. Author G.H. xx



Has the party ended for Podemos?

After a meteoric rise, Spain’s radical left loses its lustre.

Dec. 4th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe  – published by Politico

Political Party Podemos Faces its First Challenge in Regional Elections
Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)

MADRID — Pablo Iglesias stood on a podium in the massive Puerta del Sol, delivering a speech to 100,000 supporters on January 31. It was the biggest political gathering Spain had seen for years, confirming that the left-wing Podemos — and its leader, Iglesias, dressed in a windcheater, his ponytail swishing behind him — had become a phenomenon. (See article)


The legacy of Franco

Forty years after his death, Spain still struggles with a dictator.

Nov. 20th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico

Valle Caidos

MADRID — A few years ago, the artist Eugenio Merino put Francisco Franco in a Coca-Cola refrigerator. It wasn’t really Franco, of course, but a life-sized, silicon sculpture of the former Spanish dictator, which Merino titled “Always Franco.” The work, Merino says, shows how the former leader is frozen in Spaniards’ consciousness and “still present in Spain. How is he present? He’s present in our politics, he’s present in our historical memory.” (See article)



Standoff puts Catalan independence plan in jeopardy

Tensions within separatist movement may stall “democratic disconnection” from Spain.

Nov. 18th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times

Barcelona poster


Syrians’ African doorway into Europe

Tensions as Melilla refugee centre overflows.

Nov. 7th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times

Refugees in Melilla's Immigrant Temporary Stay Centre (small)


Historic Mosque-Cathedral mired in cultural dispute

In Spain, a dispute breaks out over a medieval Islamic place of worship turned Catholic church.

May 24th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Al Jazeera America



Yes we can: Spain’s Podemos leads electoral pack

Making EU leaders nervous, populist left-wing political group aims to roll back austerity and renew welfare policies.

February 12th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Al Jazeera America

PodemosDemonstration4 small