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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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…(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.
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)
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)
African kingdom invites migrants to remain instead of risking trip across Mediterranean
April 3rd, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
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)
“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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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 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)
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)
Popular Party wins, but still lacks majority
June 28, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
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)
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)
Spain’s most divisive politician wants independence for Basque Country within two legislatures and insists there will be no return to violence.
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)
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)
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
Profile of regional leader Carles Puigdemont
April 30, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times
Campaigners celebrate victory against Catholic Church
April 21, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times
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
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)
Can the PSOE leader put an end to Spain’s political impasse?
March 1, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico
Roadmap envisages new state by 2018.
Feb. 27, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times
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)
A court case in Argentina forces a fresh look at the civil war.
Jan. 29th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico
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)
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
Real Madrid look set to sack their coach.
Dec 29th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico
The euro zone’s fourth-largest economy is on a knife edge.
Dec. 18th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico
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
After a meteoric rise, Spain’s radical left loses its lustre.
Dec. 4th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico
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)
Forty years after his death, Spain still struggles with a dictator.
Nov. 20th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico
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)
Tensions within separatist movement may stall “democratic disconnection” from Spain.
Nov. 18th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times
Tensions as Melilla refugee centre overflows.
Nov. 7th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times
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
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