Monday, July 03, 2006

Iberian Notes is back after a month of vacation. The Spain Herald is defunct. They told me they couldn't find advertisers and it was costing too much money. No hard feelings; they always treated me decently. My only complaint, which I've already written about several times, is that I strongly disagree with the conspiracy theory on the March 11 bombings that they're pushing.

Major news from Spain today, unfortunately. A subway train went off the tracks on Line 1 in Valencia at 1 PM today, between the Plaza España and Jesus stations, and at least thirty-five people were killed. Thirty more were injured and taken to the hospital; among them is a woman in the last stages of pregnancy. The first thing authorities did was rule out a terrorist attack as the cause; apparently the train was A) going too fast (how can a subway train go too fast?) and B) one of the wheels broke, derailing two cars. According to TVE, there may still be some bodies that haven't been recovered.

More bad news. Two "sub-Saharan" (Spanish politically correct for black) illegal immigrants were killed trying to cross the boundary fence between the Spanish city of Melilla and Morocco in a group of about fifty who tried to use the "human avalanche" technique, tried several times earlier this year. And about twenty more drowned at sea when their open boat capsized on the way from the West African coast to the Canaries. At least one thousand, and probably many more, sub-Saharans have died at sea so far in 2006 trying to reach the Canary Islands.

This is a massive humanitarian tragedy happening here. It is getting no publicity around the world. The Spanish navy and coast guard seem to be doing what they can, and they've been rescuing most of the open boats, called cayucos, before they sink. Some of the West African countries, like Mauritania and Senegal, are officially trying to patrol their coastlines, but I'm not sure how effective that is. Spain, at least, has gone on a diplomatic offensive in the area, sending special envoys to half-forgotten places like Mali and Guinea-Bissau, for whatever good that'll do.

The most significant news of the month was, of course, Zap's announcement that he's going to negotiate with ETA. My position is that there's nothing to negotiate about except when and where ETA is going to turn over its weapons. I have no problem with dragging out the process a few years, IRA style, as long as ETA doesn't go back to murder and extortion. I'll accept letting them save a little face.

The concession I am willing to make is the relegalization of Batasuna, just as soon as it officially announces that it condemns violence. That does not mean pardoning crimes, such as exaltation of terrorism or conspiracy to extort, that may have been committed by Batasuna leaders in the past. Prosecutions should continue, and, of course, all ETA criminals should serve out their full prison sentences.

Relegalizing Batasuna wouldn't even really be a concession, since as far as I know, the Constitution requires us to do it anyway if they renounce violence.

The extortion, though, hasn't stopped. The basis of ETA's finances has always been the "revolutionary tax" it blackmailed Basque businesses and individuals into paying. Among companies rumored to pay off ETA are Eroski, Azkoyen, and Fagor; there are dozens of others. French Basque soccer player Bixente Lizarazu was the most famous individual victim; he most honorably went straight to the police when he was threatened, rather than pay a dime. I certainly hope that I would have the courage to face down a blackmailer like that.

Big News Number Two was the Catalan statute of autonomy, which was comfortably approved in a referendum. Abstention was heavy. I frankly didn't care much one way of the other, since it isn't going to change things very much. I imagine the statute--the equivalent of a state constitution in the US--will not affect anybody's everyday life. I also think that it will be overturned by Spain's supreme court when the various challenges filed by the PP and several other autonomous regions finally get there, so the whole shebang doesn't much matter anyway.

Big News Number Three is that the Catalan Tripartite has crashed and burned, bringing down Pasqual Maragall with it. This fall there will be early elections for the Generalitat, the Catalan regional government, and PSC secretary-general and industry minister Jose "Josep" Montilla will run as the Socialist candidate. This is the first time a charnego, the pejorative term used by some racist rednecks around here to refer to Catalans of Castilian-speaking ancestry, will have a real chance at becoming regional premier--Montilla was born in Cordoba. Seriously. This is a big deal. It's like Kennedy becoming the first Catholic president, or Reagan becoming the first divorced president, or Condi becoming the first woman and black president all at once. It's symbolic proof that anyone, despite his or her previously despised condition, can rise as high as possible in a society.

Other news: It's hot and it hasn't rained much for a while. We are running the air-conditioner almost constantly, except on the weekends when we go out to the pueblo (Vallfogona de Riucorb, a very pleasant place; there's a "casa rural" there, and the Hotel Regina down at the spa. Yes, Vallfogona was an early 20th-century resort town; the medieval stone town, where the 100 citizens live and which was once a Templar fief, and the spa, which includes two hotels, an old folks home, and some "chalets" for rent, are about a kilometer apart on the road through the Riucorb valley.)

The cats hate the air-conditioner. They insist on going into the back room to sleep. One advantage of running the AC is that you close the windows, which keeps out a good bit of the noise. Just for example, there was this drunk kid stumbling down the street this afternoon, while I had the windows open, singing the Barça song (you know, "Tot el camp es un clam") at the top of his lungs. This sort of disagreeable noise significantly diminishes with the window closed.

Speaking of soccer, of course the World Cup is on. We're down to Germany, France, Portugal, and Italy, and I'm forced to root for France, perish the thought. I hate Italy's football team and could never support it. They cheat, they're dirty, and they're corrupt. Worst of all, they're boring. Portugal has had two dirty games so far, with the Netherlands and with England, and they put on such a pathetic show that I can't support them either. That leaves me with Germany and France, and, well, France was on our side in 1778 back when it counted.

The US was not very good at all; I wasn't surprised. We just don't have any very good players. None of the US team could even hope to play for Barça. Over here we're spoiled; we're used to seeing the best possible football. Of course, any top club team could beat any national team, since A) top clubs can choose from all players in the world, not just the subset from their country, and B) club teams are much more used to playing together and to their positions than national teams are.

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