Monday, January 31, 2005

AFTER THE BIG DAY, Arthur Chrenkoff is again with his superb roundup of good news from Iraq, now more than ever. Before going into what had happened the last two weeks, he goes through the big news:
It happened. And they did it.

In scenes unimaginable only two years ago - and scorned as impossible, undesirable and impractical for months - millions of ordinary Iraqi men and women braved terrorist violence and came out to vote for their future government (for a brief election fact file see

The first to vote were Iraqi expatriates around the world, who got the chance to cast their ballots two days before the election day in Iraq. And the first ones among the exiles were Iraqis in Australia. Kassim Abood, a senior adviser to the out-of-country voting program, told journalists outside
a polling station in Sydney, "I think a lot of Iraqis are very proud today. People coming to me, shake (my) hand, hug me, kissing me and tell me 'congratulations', it's wonderful." The "Daily Telegraph" reported that "exiles danced in the street as they cast their ballots at nine polling stations in Australia. Turnout was high and some proudly displayed the blue ink on their fingers which proved that they had cast their ballots, calling it 'a mark of freedom'." You can also read this story of an Israeli who voted in the election. Overall, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which coordinated the overseas vote estimated that around 30% of Iraqis living outside of their country would have voted.

In Iraq, millions came out to vote, despite well-advertised threats of election day violence. Al Zarqawi promised that the streets would flow red with the blood of voters, and indeed at least 36 people around the country died in suicide, grenade and mortar attacks, but the color of the day was not blood red but the
purple marking the forefingers of those who have cast their ballot.

As predicted, the turnout was highest in the Shia and Kurdish parts of the country, moderate in mixed areas and lowest in Sunni strongholds, but everywhere it exceeded expectations. The total turnout figures are preliminary at this stage; Farid Ayar, the spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission says that around 60%, or 8 million, of those registered to vote did so. Earlier unconfirmed figures put the number even higher, at around 72%. Either figure puts to shame the average election turnout throughout the West where there is no danger that the journey to the polling station could be your last.

Throughout the Kurdistan, the turnout has been described as
"very high". In Kurdish Erbil, the lines were lengthy and crowds turned up right from the start, despite the early morning chill. In Basra, a 90% turnout was reported. In other part of the Shia south, the enthusiasm was just as palatable: "Some rode on donkey-carts. Others piled into buses laid on for voters. Most came on foot, steadying the elderly and pushing the disabled in wheelchairs to the ballot box. Voters in Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Najaf turned out in force on Sunday, many walking for kilometres through filthy streets, to cast their ballots in Iraq's first multi-party election in half a century... Some began trickling in as soon as the region's 240 polling centres opened at 7 a.m. By mid-morning queues of voters snaked around schools used as voting places, everyone holding their documents at the ready. 'It is a good feeling to experience democracy for the first time,' said Isra Mohammed, a housewife in the black Islamic robe traditionally worn by women in southern Iraq." 80-year Mahdeya Saleh had this to say: "I had often been forced to vote under Saddam Hussein. Today I come out of my own will to choose freely the candidate of my choice for the first and last time in my life."

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, one
report observed: "With private vehicles banned to prevent car bombs, Iraqis took over the streets of Baghdad, playing soccer and going for walks - even those in wheelchairs were pushed along - as threats of catastrophic attacks failed to materialize. 'Why should I be afraid?' asked Arifa Abed Mohamed, an elderly woman in a black abaya, who was first to vote at dawn on one Baghdad polling station. 'I am afraid only from God'."

Long queues
were reported throughout Baghdad's Sadr City. Elsewhere in the capital, "Western Baghdad polling stations were busy, with long queues of voters. Most went about the process routinely, filling in their ballots and leaving quickly without much emotion. Others brought chocolates for those waiting in line, and shared festive juice drinks inside the voting station. Samir Hassan, 32, who lost his leg in a car bomb blast in October, was determined to vote. 'I would have crawled here if I had to. I don't want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me. Today I am voting for peace,' he said, leaning on his metal crutches, determination in his reddened eyes." Others went to great lengths to vote: "Determined not to be marginalized, a woman who gave her name only as Umm Ali, the mother of Ali, said she moved for three days out of Doura, a district on Baghdad's southern edge thick with insurgents, so she could vote in relative safety. 'I came here to relatives, because in Doura there are many [insurgent] operations,' says Umm Ali, in broken English. 'Everyone in my neighborhood had left to vote. I have no feeling of fear - Allah has won'."

Throughout Baghdad, the turnout (reported
as high as 95%) disappointed the boycotters: "Asked if reports of better-than-expected turnout in areas where Sunni and Shiite Muslims live together indicated that a Sunni cleric boycott effort had failed, one of the main groups pushing the boycott seemed to soften its stance. 'The association's call for a boycott of the election was not a fatwa (religious edict), but only a statement,' said Association of Muslim Scholars spokesman Omar Ragheb. 'It was never a question of something religiously prohibited or permitted'."

While many areas throughout the Sunni triangle (like
Tikrit or Samarra) were deserted, elsewhere throughout this restive area the democracy could not be completely kept down: "Even in Falluja, the Sunni city west of Baghdad that was a militant stronghold until a U.S. assault in November, a steady stream of people turned out, confounding expectations. Lines of veiled women clutching their papers waited to vote. 'We want to be like other Iraqis, we don't want to always be in opposition,' said Ahmed Jassim, smiling after he voted. In Baquba, a rebellious city northeast of Baghdad, spirited crowds clapped and cheered at one voting station. In Mosul, scene of some of the worst insurgent attacks in recent months, U.S. and local officials said turnout was surprisingly high."

To sample some of the joy of average Iraqis undiluted by the media, read Iraqi bloggers.
Mohammed and Omar write in the aftermath of the vote: "We could smell pride in the atmosphere this morning; everyone we saw was holding up his blue tipped finger with broad smiles on the faces while walking out of the center. [We] couldn't think of a scene more beautiful than that." Read also blogger Ali's journey to the polling station. Blogger Zeyad writes: "My mother was in tears watching the scenes from all over the country." Aala wrote about "suicide bombers versus suicide voters;" the latter have won the day. Hammorabi reported on crowds demonstrating when some polling stations failed to open on time in Mosul. And the Friends of Democracy site is running first-hand reporting from around the country.

Overall, the election turned out to be not only less bloody than expected, but it also received a clean bill of health from
observers: "A group that organized 10,000 independent observers said there had been little fraud. 'In general the elections went ahead in an excellent way and there was very little fraud or violations,' a spokesman for the Ain (Eye) non-governmental organisation said."

The results will not be known for 7 to 10 days. The election itself, however, is only a start of a long political journey for the people of Iraq. To find out what's in store in the near future, including drafting of the new constitution read this
Arthur continues from there with all the good in the last two weeks.

Yesterday was the day of the ink-stained fingers and the long queues. What a great day.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

IT'S TOO BAD that none of the Iraqi election officials thought about a slightly different method of marking people who had just voted. If I had been there, I'd have suggested to have the middle finger dipped in purple ink. Just imagine how cool this picture of Iraq's current president al-Yawar would have been, showing it to all the people over the world who have been trying hard to prevent this historical vote:

UPDATED. Changed the original for the photoshopped version; thanks to Mao of Ajopringue for the work!

OF COURSE NOT ALL, but some people in Spain can't fathom that, unlike what happened in Madrid on the general election on March 14, 3 days after the terrorist attacks, there's a dignified response to Islamofascism.

Look at the rally in Madrid today, at the very same moment that Iraqis were voting:

Shame on them.

UPDATE. Just saw that Little Green Footballs has the picture too.

A bomb exploded Sunday in a resort hotel on the Mediterranean coast in southeast Spain, news reports said. There was no immediate word on casualties.

The bomb detonated in the Hotel Port Denia around 3:15 p.m., the news agency Efe reported.

The town of Denia is located in the Spanish region of Alicante on the Costa Blanca.
Spanish press reports (link in Spanish) that two people -one staff and one guest- have been slightly injured.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

BUSH MAY MEET Zapatero next month, finally... although the source is El Pais, the pro-Socialist newspaper trying to sell the idea that the relationship between Spain and the US is not as bad as it really is. The PA (via The Scotsman) reports:
US President George W. Bush may meet Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero during an upcoming trip to Brussels, a move that could help repair relations damaged by Zapatero’s decision to pull troops out of Iraq, news reports said today.

Bush mentioned that he might meet Zapatero during a telephone call with long-time friend King Juan Carlos of Spain who rang Bush on Wednesday to congratulate him on his presidential inauguration last week, the leading daily El Pais said.

The royal palace confirmed that a phone call between the king and Bush had taken place but said it could not comment on the content of the conversation.
This is pure spin, and speculation: not only the conversation was private, but it can't be denied -nor confirmed- by the royal palace because all of the King's private conversations cannot be disclosed. It's a safe move by El Pais, because the royal palace cannot officially say that it's a lie, if that's the case. And in the event that the leak is true, well, what El País reported, literally, was (no link because it's subscription only): "La Casa Blanca no descarta que el presidente George W. Bush mantenga una conversación con el presidente del Gobierno, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, en la visita que tiene previsto realizar a Bruselas dentro de tres semanas, según fuentes de la Administración norteamericana" ["The White House doesn't rule out the possibility of a conversation between Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and president George W. Bush during his planned visit to Brussels in three weeks, according to US administration sources"] (my emphasis).

Doesn't look like Bush is dying to see Zapatero, does it?; it looks more like a "no" in diplo-speak. It's not the first time the Spanish government, with the 'inestimable' assistance from El Pais, spins furiously on this issue. After waiting by the phone for Bush's return call, which hasn't happened yet, Zapatero was like a kid with new shoes when he got a thank-you note from W. (the PA report above mentions this note): "well, he may not have called yet, but he wrote!" was the idea. And even this idea was wrong: a Spanish news organization reported (link in Spanish) that the note didn't come from Bush, nor even from the White House: it was a formulaic note sent from the US embassy in Madrid.

Friday, January 28, 2005

ONE MORE REASON to vote "No" in the referendum on the European Constitution to be held in Spain on February 20; it it has to be promoted with such patently absurd methods:

Spain is handing out cans of a high-energy "referendum drink" in a bid to fire-up younger people to vote in a February poll on the European Constitution.

The black, orange and silver cans of Referendum Plus boast that it offers "energy to decide your future," and campaign posters claim it could change your life.

More than 200,000 of the cans, which have as much caffeine as two cups of coffee, will be handed out at universities, cinemas and other venues ahead of the Feb. 22 poll, Spanish media said on Thursday.

The vote, Europe's first, is expected to produce a comfortable majority in favor of the new charter, but officials are keen to avoid the embarrassment of a low turnout.

"The (campaign) aims to mobilize over 10 million people under 34 years old who have the right to vote, given the high level of abstention that has characterized European elections in our country," the Spanish Youth Council, which is behind the campaign, said on its Web site.

Spain has already harnessed soccer clubs and star players to promote the constitution to the country's football-mad public.

The treaty, which must be approved by all 25 EU members, aims to streamline decision-making in the bloc following its expansion last year.

A recent survey showed 60 percent of Spaniards planned to vote in the poll, although 90 percent of them knew little or nothing about the text.
All propaganda, no substance. Maybe because they realize the substance has an ugly face.

TRYING TO RESPOND to critics about the brouhaha following his anti-Semitic article, Arturo Perez Reverte penned another piece but what he did was to dig further. Naturally, Fausta is still revulsed.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

EUROPE - Thy Name is Cowardice: an article not written by Rummy, Condi or some neocon or other. It's by Matthias Dapfner, CEO of German publishing giant Axel Springer, and was published in the magazine Die Welt (hat tip: HispaLibertas):
And Bush, supported only by the Social Democrat Blair, acting on moral conviction, recognized the danger in the Islamic War against democracy. His place in history will have to be evaluated after a number of years have passed.
In the meantime, Europe sits back with charismatic self-confidence in the multicultural corner, instead of defending liberal society’s values and being an attractive center of power on the same playing field as the true great powers, America and China.
On the contrary - we Europeans present ourselves, in contrast to those “arrogant Americans", as the World Champions of “tolerance", which even (Germany’s Interior Minister) Otto Schily justifiably criticizes. Why? Because we’re so moral? I fear it’s more because we’re so materialistic, so devoid of a moral compass.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

MY BUDDY JOHN CHAPPELL of Iberian Notes will be on Catalan public TV in a program about Bush's second term. It will be around 10 am local time (9 am GMT), and if you understand Catalan, or Spanish (I guess John will be speaking in Spanish) you can watch the live stream: just go to this page and click the icon "TV3", the further left among the four in the section "En directe".

Saturday, January 22, 2005

DAVID BROOKS on Bush's inaugural address last Thursday:
With that speech, President Bush's foreign policy doctrine transcended the war on terror. He laid down a standard against which everything he and his successors do will be judged.

When he goes to China, he will not be able to ignore the political prisoners there, because he called them the future leaders of their free nation. When he meets with dictators around the world, as in this flawed world he must, he will not be able to have warm relations with them, because he said no relations with tyrants can be successful.

His words will be thrown back at him and at future presidents. American diplomats have been sent a strong message. Political reform will always be on the table. Liberation and democratization will be the ghost present at every international meeting. Vladimir Putin will never again be the possessor of that fine soul; he will be the menace to democracy and rule of law.

Because of that speech, it will be harder for the U.S. government to do what we did to Latin Americans for so many decades - support strongmen to rule over them because they happened to be our strongmen. It will be harder to frustrate the dreams of a captive people, the way in the early 1990's we tried to frustrate the independence dreams of Ukraine.

It will be harder for future diplomats to sit on couches flattering dictators, the way we used to flatter Hafez al-Assad of Syria decade after decade. From now on, the borders established by any peace process will be less important than the character of the regimes in that process.

The speech does not command us to go off on a global crusade, instantaneously pushing democracy on one and all. The president vowed merely to "encourage reform." He insisted that people must choose freedom for themselves. The pace of progress will vary from nation to nation.

The speech does not mean that Bush will always live up to his standard. But the bias in American foreign policy will shift away from stability and toward reform. It will be harder to cozy up to Arab dictators because they can supposedly help us in the war on terror. It will be clearer that those dictators are not the antidotes to terror; they're the disease.
And Cori Dauber wisely comments:
After this speech no doubt every time that happens there will be those who will argue that that very fact will mean that the administration is violating its own standards.

But a certain amount of realism is inevitable and unavoidable. As Peggy Noonan said, this ain't heaven, and you need leverage to move the ball along.

The question is what you do with your leverage, and how you behave in those meetings, and what you get for your foreign aid.

Better to meet with those leaders, get assistance in the War on Terror, scold, if mildly, at least not praise, and get some dissidents out of prison, get some wiggle room for newspaper editors, and columnists, for political parties.

Better that, after all, than the way Jimmy Carter talked the talk about human rights and then embraced the dictator Ceausescu as a fellow human rights advocate.

But in any event, there's no question that there are real implications of this speech. Brooks is right about that.

Just consider the difference in underlying assumptions between this speech, which says that we care what happens inside a country's borders, and are right to care and have a right to care, and the assumptions underlying the United Nations, formed in the aftermath of the horror of World War II, which was triggered when internationally recognized borders were violated. For the UN, it's national sovereignty above all else, and if sovereignty is protected, well, all good.

And what you do behind your borders is pretty much your business.

It's like a 1950s attitude towards wife beating, isn't it?

Hey, whatever happens behind closed doors . . .

If you want an analogy for Thursday's speech, the president just announced that we may not always be able to charge into the world's bedrooms, but we will no longer turn a blind eye to domestic abuse.

THE EU is applying pressure to end the best thing that Gibraltar has: low taxes.
The European Commission has called on the UK government to phase out a tax break for offshore companies based in Gibraltar by 2010.

The Commission, which said the practice flouted EU competition rules, gave the UK a month to agree or else face possible legal action.

Under Gibraltar's Exempt Company programme, more than 8,000 offshore firms do not have to pay income tax.

Instead, they pay a small fee. The scheme is a life blood for Gibraltar.

While Gibraltar only gets a fixed annual payment of between £225 and £300 from each company, the programme has encouraged some 8,500 overseas companies to invest in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain.

The presence of these companies has helped fuel Gibraltar's service economy.
So, instead of thinking whether corporate taxes all across Europe are too high, they're trying to stiffle a territory which promotes economic activity. Well done, guys.

Friday, January 21, 2005

GREAT NEWS: Time Magazine has made available its full-text archives from 1923 onwards, free for subscribers or for a low fee for non-subscribers. Alas, in Europe -at least as far as I've seen- only the archives since 1985 can be found. Very interesting, nevertheless.

BALLOTS, NOT BULLETS, will see off Iraq's Islamofascist terrorists, John Keegan writes:
Those who supported the decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein in March 2003 may not now remember why they did so.

I supported the war and, given the emergence of similar circumstances, would do so again. Saddam's refusal to satisfy the outside powers that he no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) justified the use of force against him.

It is more than likely that the proven existence of WMD in the hands of rogue rulers will require force to be used again. Both America and Israel are clearly contemplating military action against Iran, which scarcely bothers to disguise that it has embarked on the production of weapons-grade uranium and already has missile delivery systems.

Yet it is not so much the spectre of WMD that prompted my espousal of the war two years ago but the likely outcome of the war itself. In the teeth of those who warned of hard fighting and heavy casualties, of a Stalingrad-on-Tigris, I took the view that the war would be won quickly and cheaply at little cost in lives to either side.

As things turned out, those who made that judgment were proved right. Iraq's armed forces were demolished and Saddam's regime overthrown, at a cost of 150 coalition battle casualties, in a campaign that lasted only three weeks. Regarded solely as a military operation, the Iraq war of 2003 was a scintillating success. It is the aftermath that has sowed doubt among those who supported the decision to risk an attack.

Casualties among the Western forces have risen. Casualties among Iraqis have risen even higher and continue to rise; not, however, for the reasons foreseen by the anti-war party. It is not conventional force or conventional defence tactics that end lives, but something quite different, which may be called large-scale terrorism, largely by car bombing, suicide bombing and the assassination of Iraqis who co-operate with Westerners.

This is not a new development. What is going on in Iraq resembles the second Palestinian intifada, though it is more intensive and better organised. It is also more difficult to counter, since the Western forces lack the detailed intelligence to which the Israeli security forces have access.
Read the rest.

WHERE ARE WE? Charles Krauthammer ponders:
At this midpoint of the Bush administration, engaged as we are in conflict throughout the world, are we winning?

The great democratic crusade undertaken by this administration is going far better than most observers will admit. That's the good news. The bad news is a development more troubling than most observers recognize: signs of the emergence, for the first time since the fall of the Soviet empire, of an anti-American bloc anchored by Great Powers.
Among the good news: Ukranie, Georgia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, and -yes- Iraq.

Among the bad news: Russia and China.

Read the whole thing (thanks to Jahd for the link.)

I WAS INTRIGUED this morning when I got an email from Arthur Chrenkoff because the title was "Bad News from Iraq", considering he's the author of the superb "Good News from Iraq" roundup every couple of weeks. Has Arthur sullivanized?, I wondered. Then I clicked on the link and understood everything:
Being avid consumers of news, most of us are aware of the consistent stream of negative reporting coming out of Iraq. Death, violence, terrorism, precarious political situation, problems with reconstruction and public frustration (both in Iraq and America) dominate, if not overwhelm, the mainstream media coverage and commentary on Iraq. The readers' reactions to my fortnightly "Good news from Iraq" segments show just how little good news reaches people.

But it's one thing to have a gut feeling about media negativity and another to know exactly how negative the coverage is. So today I decided to do a little tally.
The figures speak for themselves; listen to them, and then this will be much clearer.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

US MUST NOT fight terrorism alone, writes Spain's former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in an oped on the Wall Street Journal today (requires paid subscription, but you can read a summary here):
The world is currently facing a number of very important challenges. Fighting terrorism and bringing democracy to the Middle East are priorities on the international agenda, whilst re-establishing strong and healthy relations between America and Europe -- and enhancing their ability to deter rogue regimes -- constitutes a no less urgent and essential task. It is evident that we must also support the forces of democracy against pre-dictatorial populism in Latin America. Finally, we must find an effective role for the United Nations, an organization that so far has proved itself incapable of reflecting upon its own actions and its own future.

Today a new presidential term starts in the United States. It is the duty of President Bush and his administration to formulate and propose solutions. However, this cannot be the exclusive burden of the United States. The rest of the international community must also bear our share of responsibility. In other words, if we want problems to be solved, Mr. Bush will have to do his job, but the rest of world's major leaders must also play their part.
Meanwhile, W still has Zapatero hanging by the telephone (see here and here for background.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

BUSY TODAY, back tomorrow, sorry. While-u-wait, read this analysis of implications of the car bomb by ETA yesterday. I don't agree with the last bit, though; it's true that some Basques see the Northern Ireland situation as a parallel, so the article is technically true. But it should have noted that the comparison doesn't hold water: in Northern Ireland there are two groups against each other, and therefore Blair caught in between, so to speak. That's not the case in the Basque country, because it's only one faction hitting against everybody else who disagrees, and law enforcement pursuing them (that's been generally so, except during the ominous administration of Socialist PM Felipe Gonzalez between 1982 and 1996, with the GAL death squads and all). So there's nothing to 'broker' between two sides.

Plus, I'm not sure these Basque radicals really see the implication of taking Northern Ireland as a model, because that would mean that their autonomy could be suspended any moment, as Blair did some time ago. Somehow I think they wouldn't be ready to take that specific possibility as an example, would they?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A PROMISING SIGN in North Korea:

Poster of Kim Jung-il

The first known visual evidence of dissent within the world's most secretive state emerged yesterday when video footage taken in a North Korean factory showed a portrait of the dictator, Kim Jong-il, defaced with graffiti demanding freedom and democracy.

The 35-minute video clip, said to have been taken in November, was posted on the website of an opposition group based in South Korea. It shows a poster of Kim scrawled over with the words: "Down with Kim Jong-il. Let's all rise to drive out the dictatorial regime.''
Might not seem a lot, but in a country like North Korea with the world's tightmost regime, this is quite significant.

UPDATE. More reports, this time by the Associated Press.

THE THINKING GOES that, with the Basque secessionst plan -voted by 'moderate' Basque nationalists and three members of the Basque regional parliament for the party who had been banned for its ties to ETA- the terrorist group might be inclined to lay down its arms, right? (scroll down for previous posts, or just type "Ibarretxe" on the seach box above).

According to this logic, "separatist" ETA makes overture for peace, hopes are growing for ETA peace deal despite cautious words, a Spanish government source says that ETA's end may be near because we migh be seing right now the dying days of ETA, since Basque radicals rekindle peace hopes as Madrid discerns ETA's demise just as ETA says it backs peace talks in Basque conflict. Therefore, ETA signals enthusiasm for dialogue with Madrid.

And just a couple of hours ago, ETA has clearly signaled its strong enthusiasm for dialogue with Madrid:
'Eta' bomb explodes near Bilbao
A car bomb explosion has injured a police officer in a town near Bilbao, in the Basque region of northern Spain.

The blast rocked Getxo as police were sealing off the area, 10 minutes after a tip-off from a caller claiming to represent the Basque separatists Eta.

The explosion, at 1430 (1330 GMT) on Tuesday, shattered many windows, the Spanish TV station Telecinco reported.

THE CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP of Mosul, who was kidnapped yesterday, has been released a few minutes ago.

Monday, January 17, 2005

THANK GOD (no pun intended --well, not a big one anyway) that the Pope and the Catholic Church was against the Iraq war:
A Catholic archbishop, Basile Georges Casmoussa, has been kidnapped by insurgents in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

The capture of Basile Georges Casmoussa was announced by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls today.
The spokesman says the Holy See "condemns in the firmest manner this terrorist act and demands that Monsignor Casmoussa is rapidly returned safe and well to his ministry".

UNITED PRESS has an analysis today of the current status of US and Spain relationships:
Shortly after the U.S. presidential elections, George Bush Sr. was in Spain on a hunting trip with friends.

Spanish Minister of Defense Jose Bono asked to see him and, according to a well-informed Madrid source, was very persistent. When the former president agreed, Bono arrived for the meeting with a lavish gift of a pair of hand-made Spanish hunting rifles. His purpose was to ask the elder Bush to persuade newly re-elected President George W. Bush to agree to speak to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, at least on the phone.

G.H.W. Bush telephoned his son at the White House, but the president's reaction was, "tough, rough, and loud," the source said. Sorry, Bush Sr. told Bono, the president was not interested in personal contact with Zapatero at this time.

A Washington insider believes President Bush, who attaches importance to establishing a rapport with other world leaders, had developed a personal dislike for Zapatero that will be hard to repair. First and foremost Bush regarded the Socialist prime minister's decision to withdraw his country's forces from Iraq as an act of betrayal. Zapatero had campaigned in the election on a promise to bring the boys home, and the pullout was one of his very first decisions as prime minister.

[...] Bush has so far not returned Zapatero's call to congratulate him on his re-election. A White House spokesman said that the two leaders had not connected because of problems with their respective agendas; but that was on Nov. 10, and the call remains unanswered. Eight days after his re-election, Bush met Aznar at the White House. "I went to the White House to speak to President Bush for one reason -- because he is my friend," Aznar was quoted as saying later. "I have various friends in America, and one of them is the president."

[...] A leading Spanish business executive told United Press International that U.S.-Spain tensions have not affected commercial transactions between the two countries. He noted that administration spin merchants had not pushed anti-Spain sentiment the way they had the PR offensive against France after President Jacques Chirac opposed the Iraq war. There had been no boycott of Spanish goods in the United States, and the number of U.S. tourists visiting Spain had continued to climb to record levels. While French toast had become Freedom Toast on the Air Force One breakfast menu, a Spanish omelette had not been re-named a Regime Change Omelette.

TIM BLAIR'S BLOG has been hacked, so badly that Tim feared he had lost all archives and all. Luckily, it seems to be OK now.

YET ANOTHER INSTALLMENT of the "Good News From Iraq" series by Arthur Chrenkoff. This is the intro, but there's much, much more at the link:
Marine Cpl. Isaac D. Pacheco of Northern Kentucky enlisted in the Marines on September 12, 2001, and has been serving in Iraq at the Combined Press Information Center. Recently he wrote this for his local newspaper:

"Something struck me as odd this fall as I watched a U.S. satellite news broadcast here in my Baghdad office. Something just didn't seem right. There was the usual tug-of-war between presidential candidates, a story about the Boston Red Sox and a blurb about another explosion in Iraq. The latter story showed the expected images of smoke and debris and people frantically running for cover - images that have become the accepted norm in the minds of many Americans thanks, or should I say no thanks, to the media.

"There were no smiling soldiers, no mention of rebuilding efforts, no heartwarming stories about honor and sacrifice. I could swear I've seen that 'stuff' here.

"I've become somewhat callused to this kind of seesaw reporting because every day I work with the news agencies that manufacture it. However, many service members shake their heads in frustration each time they see their daily rebuilding efforts ignored by the media in favor of the more 'sensational' car bomb and rocket attack stories. Not to say that tragedies don't happen - Iraq is a war zone - but there is so much more happening that gets overlooked if not ignored."

It has been a mission of this fortnightly column, now in its nineteenth edition, to bring to readers' attention all that "gets overlooked if not ignored" in Iraq: the advancements of the political and civil society, the rebirth of freedom, economic growth and reconstruction progress, generosity of foreigners and positive role played by the Coalition troops in rebuilding the country, and unremarked upon security successes. Contrary to some critics, the intention has never been to whitewash the situation in Iraq or to downplay the negative; the violence, bloodshed, disappointments and frustrations are all there for everyone to see and read about in the mainstream media on a daily basis. But to point out positive developments is not to deny the bad news, merely to provide a more complete picture. As voters faced with the defining foreign policy issue of the new millennium we owe it to ourselves to be fully informed about the state of affairs in Iraq. And that means both the car bombs and rebuilt hospitals.

Below is not the full picture of Iraq - merely that part of it you don't often see on the nightly news or the pages of newspapers. This does not automatically make it more - or less important in the scheme of things, merely equally important to consider.
Read every line of the rest.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

ONLY ZAPATERO and the gaffe man, Foreign Minister Moratinos, could award several members of the Morocco royal family and some high officials in the country's regime the highest civilian condecoration, as some kind of preparation for next week's visit to the North African country by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia (this is the link, in Spanish, to the official Moncloa presidential complex with last Friday's cabinet decisions)

It's not just that there are more than a few human rights related issues in the country; the shocking thing is this: do you know what's the official name of Spain's highest medal? It's (emphasis mine), the Great Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic.

Yes, that Queen Isabella: the one who expelled the Moors from Al-Andalus in 1492, ending the 7-century Reconquista.

What a diplomatic faux pas. Just an idea, King Mohammed: when you return the favor, you could award Zapatero and Moratinos the Great Crescent of Tariq ibn Ziyad. Touble is, they may even like it!

ETA HAS RELEASED a message with a statement calling for peace talks, but it's just like one of these tapes by Osama bin Laden saying: "I'm offering you the chance negotiating how and when you're going to do exactly as I say, otherwise it'll be your fault if I kill you for disobeying, you stubborn infidels!". So this is the same, but with a Basque twist:
The armed Basque separatist group ETA has backed negotiations with Spain in a statement but made no mention of laying down weapons as demanded by the government before talks can begin.

The statement from the outlawed group, published in the Basque newspaper Gara on Sunday, followed remarks by Basque politicians that ETA may be eager to call a ceasefire.

ETA has killed more than 800 people since 1968 in a bombing and shooting campaign for an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwestern France. Spain, the United States and the European Union brand it a terrorist group.

ETA said it backed a November peace proposal from Batasuna, the radical political party banned for refusing to denounce ETA violence which proposed "exclusively political and democratic" talks to "take the conflict off the streets".

ETA said it was "perfectly willing to take part in a process of those characteristics" and that it was "essential that the whole society has a chance to participate in such a process".

Defence Minister Jose Bono dismissed both ETA and Batasuna unless they reject violence, telling Cadena Ser radio on Sunday: "You can't talk to someone with a gun in his hand ... Nobody sensible can sit down with these people."
In the same statement, ETA claims responsibility for the small bombs scattered accross Spain last summer and during early December, but it also denies any involvement in the bomb scare that prompted the evacuation of more than 70,000 people from the Santiago Bernabeu soccer stadium.

ANOTHER LETDOWN to Cuba's democratic opposition: after an invitation to fly to Spain to meet with government officials, the talk was called off:
The chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation criticized the Spanish Foreign Minister on Saturday for inviting the organization to a meeting in Madrid to discuss Cuba -- then canceling at the last minute.

The reason for the cancellation, says director Jorge Mas Santos, is pressure from the Cuban government, which has been lobbying the European Union to normalize relations with the island nation after tensions mounted over the arrest of scores of dissidents in 2003.

''Any government is free to advance its own agenda, but it's important to listen to our point of view,'' said Mas Santos, who spent more than eight hours on the flight from Miami to Madrid.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Maratinos was supposed to meet with Mas Santos and two other CANF members Friday evening.

Maratinos, however, canceled about an hour before the planned meeting because of supposed scheduling conflicts, Mas Santos said.

Officials at the Spanish Consulate in Washington could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Relations between Cuba and the EU have been strained since March 2003, when Fidel Castro's government arrested 75 dissidents and sentenced the dissidents to long prison terms.

In response, the EU reduced high-level governmental visits and began inviting dissidents to embassy gatherings.

Cuba answered by cutting contacts with EU diplomats. But late last year, the Cuban government released 14 dissidents, and an EU panel recommended restoring high-level visits to the island.

This month, Cuba announced it had reestablished ties with eight European countries.

Spain's Socialist government has lobbyed for restoration of ties between Cuba and the EU.

FAUSTA IS REVULSED, and rightly so, by Arturo Perez-Reverte, the famous (and vastly overrated in my opinion) Spanish fiction writer who penned a column with one of these casual (but not more excusable) anti-Semitic remarks so common in Europe's intelligentsia (excuse the pseudo-oxymoron; anti-Semitism and intelligence are incompatible).

Roger Simon says he's resigning from the Club Dumas and has, just like Fausta and Jose Cohen to whom both are linking (last link in Spanish), some intelligent comments. And this time there's not an ounce of "oxymoronity" in the word.

A SUPERB ARTICLE by Victor Davis Hanson administering a healthy dose of historical perspective regarding the current situation in Iraq:
[O]ur very success creates ever increasing expectations of perfection for a postmodern America used to instant gratification. We now look back in awe at World War II, the model of military success, in which within four years an unprepared United States won two global wars, at sea, on the ground, and in the air, in three continents against Japan, Italy, and Germany, and supplied both England and the Soviet Union. But our forefathers experienced disaster after disaster in a tale of heartbreak, almost as inglorious as the Korean mess or Vietnam tragedy. And they did things to win we perhaps claim we would now not: Shoot German prisoners in the Bulge, firebomb Axis cities, drop the bomb — almost anything to stop fascists from slaughtering even more millions of innocents.

Our armored vehicles were deathtraps and only improved days before the surrender. American torpedoes were often duds. Unescorted daylight bombing proved a disaster, but continued. Amphibious assaults like Anzio and Tarawa were bloodbaths and emblematic of terrible planning and command. The recapture of Manila was clumsy and far too costly. Okinawa was the worst of all operations, and yet was begun just over fourth months before the surrender — without any planning for Kamikazes who were shortly to kill 5,000 American sailors. Patton, the one general that could have ended the western war in 1944, was relieved and then subordinated to an auxiliary position with near fatal results for the drive from Normandy; mediocrities like Mark Clark flourished and were promoted. Admiral King resisted the life-saving convoy system and unnecessarily sacrificed merchant ships; while Bull Halsey almost lost his unprepared fleet to a storm.

The war's aftermath seemed worse, to be overseen by an untried president who was considered an abject lightweight. Not-so-quite collateral damage had ruined entire cities. Europe nearly starved in winter 1945-6. Millions were on the road in mass exoduses. After spending billions to destroy Nazi Germany we had to spend billions more to rebuild it — and repair the devastation it had wrought on its neighbors. Our so-called partisan friends in Yugoslavia and Greece turned out to be hard-core Communist killers. Soon enough we learned that the guerrillas in the mountains of Europe whom we had idolized, in fact, fought as much for Communism as against fascism — but never for democracy.

But at least there was clear-cut strategic success? Oh? The war started to keep Eastern Europe free of Nazis and ended up ensuring that it was enslaved by Stalinists. Poland was neither free in 1940 nor in 1946. By early 1946 we were already considering putting former Luftwaffe pilots in American jets — improved with ample borrowing from Nazi technology — to protect Europe from the Red Army carried westward on GM trucks. We put Nazis on trials for war crimes even as we invited their scientists to our shores to match their counterparts in the Soviet Union who were building even more lethal weapons to destroy us. Our utopian idea of a global U.N. immediately deteriorated into a mess — decades of vetoes in the Security Council by Stalinists and Maoists, even as former colonial states turned thugocracies in the General Assembly ganged up on Israel and the survivors of the Holocaust.

After Americans had liberated France and restored his country, General de Gaulle created the myth of the French resistance and immediately triangulated with our enemies to reforge some pathetic sort of French grandeur. An exhausted England turned over to us a collapsing empire, with the warning that it might all turn Communist. Tired of the war and postbellum costs, Americans suddenly were asked to wage a new Cold War to keep a shrinking West and its allies free. The Department of War turned into the Department of Defense, along with weird new things like the U.S. Air Force, Strategic Air Command, Food for Peace, Alliance for Progress, Voice of America, and thousands of other costly entities never dreamed of just a few years earlier.

And yet our greatest generation thought by and large they had done pretty well. We in contrast would have given up in despair in 1942, New York Times columnists and NPR pundits pontificating "I told you so" as if we were better off sitting out the war all along.
That's just a bit of an unmissable article; go for the rest.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

THE BASQUE SECESSIONIST PLAN seems to have caused some warming between the Socialist party and the opposition Popular Party, after a very tense period full of mutual recriminations since the March 11 terrorist attacks in Madrid and the general elections three days later which ousted Aznar's party from what it looked a sure victory.

Let's see how much it lasts:
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who on Thursday flatly refused a proposal by the Basque regional premier to negotiate, on Friday agreed to join forces with the main opposition Popular Party to confront the break-away plan.

Facing near-certain defeat in the Madrid parliament, Basque leader Juan Jose Ibarretxe vows to push ahead with a referendum in the restive Basque region on his plan, which he says could end decades of violence by the separatist guerrilla group ETA.

The Basque proposal succeeded in uniting Zapatero and his main political rival, Mariano Rajoy, who leads the centre-right opposition Popular Party (PP) and had been accusing Zapatero of being soft on Basque nationalists.

Zapatero received Rajoy on Friday night, when the opposition leader proposed a bipartisan commission to tackle the Ibarretxe plan and other issues relating to the constitution and home rule for Spain's diverse geographical regions.

The government immediately agreed.

"The Spanish people are asking for stability and certainty, and I have come here to help them get it," Rajoy told a news conference after his two-and-a-half-hour meeting with Zapatero.

Zapatero relies on small regional parties for his parliamentary majority and faces the delicate task of blocking Ibarretxe's manoeuvres without alienating his allies.

Rajoy vowed that his party would back Zapatero in the event that smaller parties withdrew support for his government over the Basque referendum.
Which is probably going to be the scenario, because the smaller nationalist parties backing Zapatero are quite angry about this latest development:
Economic powerhouse Catalonia also wants to wrest more power from Madrid this year, and a Basque referendum would be a threat to the unity of Spain, already one of Europe's most decentralised nations.

The leader of the Republic Left of Catalonia (ERC), which governs in Catalonia with the Socialists, has said his party aims to go a step further than the Ibarretxe plan by winning independence.
He had also said in the past that one of the conditions for his support for Zapatero was that Zapatero could never reach any kind of agreement, nor even negotiate anything, with the Popular Party, or else. A very tolerant and inclusive man, he is. Y'know, for him it's perfectly OK to secretly go to Perpignan for a fireside chat with ETA's top fugitive leaders while being Catalonia's second highest regional officer, but he crosses the street everytime he sees Aznar or anyone from his party so as not having to shake hands or anything.

In any event, Zapatero has a very hot potato in his hands: if he deals with one side, the other's gonna get mad. I'm not sure he'll be skilled enough to handle it; we'll see how it plays out.

Friday, January 14, 2005

THE PRESIDENT of the Basque Parliament officially put the secessionist plan to the Parliament in Madrid today:
In talks with president of the national parliament, Manuel
Marin, he also proposed setting up a joint committee of deputies from the Basque country and Madrid to study the plan before its expected rejection by the Madrid parliament in March.

Marin firmly rejected the offer, Atuxta told a news conference.

"The Basque people will never understand that this project is rejected without first being being thoroughly examined," he said.

"We want to negotiate, we want to talk and we certainly do want to pressure."
In a plan approved with the support of the political arm of ETA, saying "we do want to pressure" is certainly something to make you think.

This afternoon there's been a meeting between Zapatero and Mariano Rajoy, the leader of the main opposition party, the PP. There was just a press conference that I didn't have the chance to listen in full, but there's some signs that they will enter into some kind of understanding: Rajoy offered to give his support to Zapatero's decision to counter the plan.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Thursday rejected a proposal to grant virtual independence to the troubled Basque region and warned the group's leader to comply with Spanish law.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero met for nearly four hours Thursday with Basque regional President Juan Jose Ibarretxe to discuss the Basque proposal for independence from Spain.

The proposal seeks to amend Spain's 1979 charter giving the region broad autonomy by transforming the Basque region into a "free state" associated with Spain. The region would have its own court system and send representatives to international bodies, such as the European Union, under the plan.

"Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero believes the plan is a mistake and leads to a dead end," Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told reporters after the meeting. "It divides citizens, Basque people and Spanish people."

"While Zapatero is prime minister of Spain, the plan will never be approved, thus never be applied," she said.

The Basque parliament approved the proposal on Dec. 30 with crucial help from lawmakers seen as close to the armed Basque separatist group ETA and Spain's Parliament is to debate it in March.
Well, actually these lawmakers are not simply "seen as close" to ETA; they belong to a party who was illegalized for its ETA ties and which is both in US and EU's official lists of terrorist organizations (they still hold the seats until the new regional election, because they won them when their party was still legal and they cannot legally be removed from them). Moreover, its leader in the Basque regional parliament decided to vote for the plan (he had said he was against it because it didn't go far enough towards independence) after reading a letter ¡by ETA's leader, currently a fugitive! explaining the yes vote.

However, no matter what happens, Ibarretxe has announced his intention of disobeying:
Ibarretxe said he formally asked Zapatero to open negotiations with the Basque government and warned that if the requests are rejected, he will go ahead with plans for a referendum in the region.
The Economist has a decent article giving some context.

And read this too, because the separatist position spreads to other parts of Spain, namely Catalonia, the region whose capital is Barcelona.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

MIGUEL ANGEL MORATINOS, Spain's Foreign Minister, is the "gaffe man":
Spanish wine producers are up in arms after the foreign minister said Bordeaux was his favourite wine. In an interview for Spanish broadsheet El Pais, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, a self-confessed Francophile with personal ties to Bordeaux, said his favourite tipple was red wine. 'I know the most about Bordeaux,' he added. The Spanish Wine Federation (FEV) responded angrily to the admission. In a press released issued on Monday, the Federation chided Moratinos for being unaware of his responsibilities.
Well, I don't endorse the view that everyone should buy according to his nationality, I believe in free trade. But one would expect a country's top diplomat to be a little, well, more diplomatic. But in the case of Mr Moratinos, that would be too much to ask.

ZAPATERO'S STANCE on Basques is called hypocritical, says The New York Times:
While Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero tries to stand firm against the Basque region's recent declaration that it has the right to break away from Spain, conservative critics are seizing on his congressional pact with a separatist party from another semiautonomous region, Catalonia, to cast him as a hypocritical and compromised leader.

Mr. Zapatero formed a loose pact with the party, the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, to gain a majority in Parliament after he led the Socialist Party to power in March with less than half the popular vote.

On Tuesday, Mariano Rajoy, the president of Spain's main opposition group, the Popular Party, accused Mr. Zapatero of playing down the seriousness of the threat posed by the Basques because of pressure from the Catalan party, which shares the Basque goal of greater autonomy. "You are a prisoner of the Esquerra Republicana and you don't want your partner to get irritated," he said.

Aides to Mr. Zapatero reject the claim that he has been soft on the Basques, saying he has stated firmly that the declaration of autonomy is unconstitutional and will have no effect on relations between Madrid and Vitoria, home of the Basque regional government.

They also contend that the leaders of the Catalan party have always known that Mr. Zapatero would oppose any declaration of secession rights and that he has made it clear to them that his position is not negotiable.

Criticism of Mr. Zapatero's relationship with the Catalan party began to grow after the party expressed support for the Basque declaration, which was passed by the Basque parliament in late December as part of a complex plan for overhauling the region's legal ties with Madrid. Shortly after, Joan Puigcercós, the Catalan party's secretary general, called the plan "an appetizer" for Catalan requests for greater autonomy that are expected in the coming months.

"I am convinced that what we have seen these days on the front pages would look small" in comparison to what is coming, he said. "Catalonia is surely the biggest problem that the Spanish state has today."
It is getting interesting, eh?

STOP THE PRESSES, that's some news! It took a while to convince him of the need to have an RSS, and then Blogger was doing some odd things, but finally my buddy John Chappell, of IberianNotes, has a site feed.

Be sure you add it to your feed readers/aggregators!

UPDATE. Just fixed the bad links; sorry.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A BAD DECISION by Ukranians, especially in the middle of the escalation of violence by the thugs who want the Iraqi democratic process to fail, and with the elections only 20 days ahead. And right after the death of 8 Ukranian soldiers in what seemed a terrorist attack; a withdrawal will be seen by insurgents as another victory:
The Ukrainian parliament called Tuesday for an immediate withdrawal of the nation's peacekeepers from Iraq. The vote was nonbinding but reflected growing national dismay over the mission.

The call came two days after eight Ukrainian soldiers died in an explosion at an ammunition dump in Iraq. The blast was reported as an accident, but a top commander later raised suspicions it could have been a terrorist action.

On Monday, President Leonid Kuchma ordered the foreign and defense ministries to develop a plan for withdrawing Ukraine's troops from Iraq within the first half of 2005.

But the parliament, in a 308-0 vote, called on Kuchma to accelerate the process by issuing an immediate decree on withdrawal.
UPDATE. But there's also some good news:
The terrorists and those who supported them may not to be from now on as immune as they wish neither they may be safely relaxed in deep sleep.

A new secret organization called (Brigades of Iraqana) issued a statement today threatened to attack and kill the terrorists and their supporters from now on.

They stated that they got the names of many terrorists who where involved in destroying the Iraqi facilities and involved in criminal acts which were collected over the last few weeks based on strong evidence.

They also stated that 3000 dollars is the reward for each head of the small criminals while they put 50,000 dollars for the head of Hareth Al-Thari and the other members of the (Haiyat Olama Al Moslemen) also Abd-Amer Rikabi and Abd Jabar Al Kobaisi.

On the other hand and for the first time Al Arabyia TV showed a group of terrorists captured by the Iraqi forces. They confessed that they were involved in decapitation processes, kidnappings, killings and other attacks. They clam that they have been forced to do so or be killed by the Amer (a title which is usually referred to some one like Zarqawi or his deputies). One of them asked for mercy and pity!!
They confessed about beheading some victims by mentioning their names!

In a press conference Iyad Alawi told that among the arrested terrorists is the leader of (Jaiash Mohamad) who is responsible for many beheadings and attacks and also Saudi terrorist.

JOHN PAWLENKO, a British expat living in Barcelona and author of Barcablog, has moved on and just launched Barcelona Reporter, a brand new site full of news and commentary in English. Go pay him a visit!

Monday, January 10, 2005

AFGHANISTAN SEEMS to have fallen under the media radar lately; I guess it's an indication that the country is really moving ahead (otherwise, it'd get reported, that's for sure). But Arthur Chrenkoff doesn't forget, and he brings a fresh roundup to the good news coming from the country. A lot of them:
Stephen Hayes from "The Weekly Standard", who has traveled to Afghanistan to witness the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai, quotes from the speech by the country's first democratically elected leader:
"Whatever we have achieved in Afghanistan--the peace, the election, the reconstruction, the life that the Afghans are living today in peace, the children going to school, the businesses, the fact that Afghanistan is again a respected member of the international community--is from the help that the United States of America gave us. Without that help Afghanistan would be in the hands of terrorists--destroyed, poverty-stricken, and without its children going to school or getting an education. We are very, very grateful, to put it in the simple words that we know, to the people of the United States of America for bringing us this day."
Sounds familiar? It shouldn't. As Hayes writes, "Sadly, most Americans never heard these words. Gratitude, it seems, is not terribly newsworthy. Neither is democracy. The Washington Post played Karzai's inauguration on page A-13, a placement that suggested it was relatively less important than Eliot Spitzer's decision to run for governor of New York or the decision of the U.S. government to import flu vaccine from Germany." As columnist Charles Krauthammer commented on the mainstream media's reaction to the inauguration, "Miracle begets yawn."

Yet, ironically, one of the most comprehensive and most optimistic overviews of the tremendous progress achieved in Afghanistan over the past three years comes, of all places, from an official Chinese press agency Xinhua (just consider the surreal picture of Chinese newsmen celebrating democratic election and defeat of "anti-US" Taliban). If you want to read the "good news from Afghanistan" in one short, sharp piece, go Xinhua; if you are after more detail about all the positive - and under-reported, yawn-inducing - developments in Afghanistan over the past month, read on.
Don't miss it.

"BALKAN SPAIN", is today's editorial in the Wall Street Journal's European edition (paid reg. req., sorry):
Are Europe's oldest nation states immortal? Spain will soon test this supposition. Basque nationalists late last month put the country's unity in unprecedented jeopardy.

José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the prime minister, is contending with probably the worst political crisis since Spain restored democracy almost three decades ago. The outcome will provide useful hints for the future of Europe's other multiethnic states.

The Basque parliament, by a narrow vote of 39 to 35, on Dec. 30 passed a measure to create a Basque state "freely associated" with Spain, "sovereign" and able to run its own foreign policy, even mint its own currency. So, in all but name (for now), independent.

The Spanish parliament will reject the plan, probably by next month. But Basque leaders say they don't give a whit about the Spanish constitution or the national legislature and promise to call a referendum on the measure this spring. The Basques say they can leave Spain on their own; the rest of Spain disagrees. The potential for a clash is obvious.

Short-term political considerations may help explain Basque motivations but they don't mitigate the danger. Juan José Ibarretxe, the Basque premier, pushed the "autonomy" plan to galvanize nationalist voters ahead of regional elections due this spring. In Madrid, Mr. Zapatero was slow to respond, but last week got around to denouncing the Basque move. The ruling Socialists have assumed that their soft line on separatism would secure Basque cooperation, but this approach has evidently failed. Spain now needs strong leadership. In both foreign and domestic policy over the last 10 months, Mr. Zapatero has inspired little confidence on that score.
The best part of the piece is towards the end:
The Basques certainly have every right to agitate for constitutional changes -- by constitutional means. A four-vote majority in a local parliament hardly gives them the green light to act by fiat. For the sake of all Spaniards, Madrid can't afford to let these local politicians hijack the Spanish constitution. If it does, Spain as a country will be history.

In response, the Basque nationalists invoke popular democracy. That's a sham. Why? In a word, terrorism. The persistent political violence of the past 35 years does not allow room for free choice, nor does it augur well for the future political rights of Basque voters if their politicians somehow succeed in their secession effort.

Since 1968, ETA terrorists have murdered more than 800 people who don't share their views. A crackdown by the previous Aznar government weakened the terrorist group, but didn't put it out of business. Uncounted thousands have fled the Basque country. In this climate, no open debate is possible. So no one can honestly say that the Basques really want more autonomy or independence. Opinion polls in fact show large majorities in the three Basque territories opposed to splitting up Spain. The borders of any future state also would be in dispute. Álava, one of three provinces, wants no part of the Ibarretxe plan -- nor do Navarre or the French Basque regions that nationalists are eager to claim as their own. The financial settlement in any divorce with Spain would be tricky, too.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

CLIFF MAY nails it:
When more than 100,000 people have been killed, and thousands of others are in danger, the international community has a moral obligation to do what it can to limit the damage and reduce the suffering of survivors.

So why is it that the international community so rarely even tries? Oh yes, an unprecedented relief effort is taking place now in the areas of South Asia struck by last month's tsunami. That's laudable.

But when, in 1987-88, more than 100,000 people were killed in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, the international community turned a blind eye.

Those Kurdish victims were overcome not by waves of water but in some cases by waves of poison gas. Why should sympathy for those drowned on a beach be so much greater than for those choked in the streets of their village? More to the point, why should an act of God elicit more empathy than an act of man? The man in question, of course, was then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
There are more example of this double standard: Rwanda, Congo, Sudan at this very moment. May attributes this to several reasons:
Politics is part of the explanation for this double standard. Governments and international organizations can do business with dictators like Saddam and with regimes such as that in Khartoum. Nobody can do business with a tsunami.

The media also contribute. Footage of bodies and mass graves along the Indian Ocean has been relatively easy to obtain and is being seen in the living rooms of millions of people around the world.

By contrast, pictures of the bodies and mass graves of Iraq were difficult for journalists to get and so few people saw such images on the evening news. (And Saddam made it clear what happens to journalists who displease him. In 1990, Farzad Bazoft, a British reporter, was executed for spying on Saddam's chemical weapons dumps.)

Saturday, January 08, 2005

AND THESE GUYS think they have the only moral outsanting to lead and take control of the billions in aid for the tsunami?
Iraqi officials have recently implicated more U.N. staffers in bribe taking during the oil-for-food program in a development that could dramatically escalate pressure on the world body, The Post has learned.

Investigators from the House International Relations Committee said several current and former officials in Iraq's Oil, Health and Transportation ministries have told them that U.N. staffers assigned to the "661 Committee" — the U.N. Security Council group that oversaw sanctions and approved oil-for-food contracts — regularly took bribes and kickbacks from suppliers of aid to Iraq during the program.

Friday, January 07, 2005

KERRY HAS JUST GONE to Iraq, but somehow his gun backfired with the troops:
The senator said he was more interested in asking questions of soldiers, U.S. officials, Iraqis and even the journalists themselves instead of rehashing the political battles of the past campaign season. But in several instances, Kerry attacked what he called the "horrendous judgments" and "unbelievable blunders" of the Bush administration. The mistakes, he said, included former U.S. occupation leader Paul Bremer's decisions to disband the Iraqi army and purge the government of former members of Hussein's Baath Party. Both moves are widely believed to have fueled the largely Sunni insurgency.
But here comes the good part:
Kerry also asked soldiers what he should tell Congress about the war in Iraq and was told that "the good work that they are doing is not getting reported in the United States."
Of course, it's not getting reported in good measure because of the MSM support to him. I bet he was white, rather than orange, when he heard that.

AND WHILE IBARRETXE passes his secessionist plan in the Basque parliament with the votes of his party AND the votes of Batasuna, an outlawed party and in the official list of terrorist oganizations in both the US and the European union because it's ETA's 'political face', one of the most notorious ETA killers is going to walk out of jail soon:
A notorious ETA killer who was condemned to almost 3,000 years in jail will be released next month after serving 18 years behind bars.

Ignacio de Juana Chaos, a former member of ETA's 'Madrid commando' who was convicted of killing 25 people, is to be freed next month, according to judicial sources.

Among De Juana Chaos's victims were 12 Guardia Civil officers who were killed in a single bomb attack in 1986 in Madrid.

De Juana Chaos was jailed for a total of 2,995 years in 1987 for his part in up to 20 attacks and 25 murders.

It was the highest jail term ever imposed in Spain.

His sentence was reduced by 20 days for each year
after he enrolled in an educational course.
Outrageous in itself, but if you think that the guy at least may be rehabilitated and abjured violence, well, think again. This is something the guy publicly said while in prison:
In 1998, after the murder of a council official in Seville by ETA, he wrote from jail: "I love to see the twisted faces of the relatives at the funerals. Here in prison, their tears are our smiles."
And the son of a bitch -there's no other way to describe him- will soon walk free. And maybe bump into relatives of his victims on the street.

MIGHT NOT BE SENDING much money, but the Spanish government has just decided, two weeks after, to send some troops to the tsunami area:
Spain will next week send military aircraft and troops to support the international aid effort in Asian countries hit by deadly tsunamis, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced.

The Hercules transport planes and helicopters will carry field hospitals and engineers to bolster the unprecedented rescue effort, Zapatero said.

But he did not specify how many aircraft and personnel would be involved nor which countries they would head to.
Meanwhile this report, by EFE -the government-owned news agency- also confirms the stinginess and manipularion that I mentioned in my previous post:
The government said at the year's end it would release EUR 50 million(USD 67m) in aid, including EUR 48m as credits at preferential interest rates for disaster-hit countries.
So that would actually be a paltry 2 million euros in direct aid; approximately two and a half million dollars. Just as a comparison, Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher has donated 10 million dollars himself. And somehow I don't think it'll be 'by year's end'.

IF ZAPATERO is sincere in his refusal of the Ibarretxe plan -which may not be a big, but certainly a medium if-, he's gonna get in trouble with some of his coalition partners:
The Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, is facing the biggest test of his authority after a separatist group threatened to bring down his government in an escalating row over Basque independence.

The Catalan Republican Left is angry that Mr Zapatero has rejected a plan for increased regional independence passed by the Basque parliament last week. Mr Zapatero aligned himself with the centre-right opposition in turning down the plan, which he says runs counter to the principles of the Spanish constitution.

[...] The leader of the Catalan separatists, Joan Puigcercós, has stepped up the pressure with his threat to sink the Socialist administration. "The Basques are aware that they [the Socialists] will have to negotiate," he said. "If they say no outright, then this legislature will be over."

Yesterday the Socialists tried to play down the crisis. "We're very relaxed about this," a spokesperson said. "The budget for this year has already been passed so there is no question that we will continue to govern."

Nevertheless, it was clear that the prime minister would find himself severely restricted if the Catalans turned against him. Mr Zapatero's Socialists are 12 seats short of an outright majority in the Spanish parliament. The Catalan Republican Left, with eight deputies, has proved a key ally.
Worth noting too something out of the Guardian report: the Catalan Republican Left party is also key, more than in Madrid because they hold all the decisive seats (not just 8 out of 12 as in the national parliament), of the coalition supporting Socialist Pasqual Maragall as president of the autonomous community of Catalonia, the relevant regions whose capital is Barcelona.

So they have quite a leverage over Zapatero: if they break up, he and his party might even lose both the national and the Catalan government, a country's key region.

Yes, the stakes are that high.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

AT LAST, a positive news item:
The number of jobseekers in Spain fell by more than 2% in 2004, the first yearly decline since 2000, the labour ministry said.

At end-December, a total of 1.67 million people were registered looking for work, a decline of 41,197 or 2.41%.

The ministry said the number of jobless people fell by 12,432, or 0.74% in December from November.

For the full-year 2004, the number of jobless fell in all sectors except services, where it rose by 1,866, or 0.19%.
I'm not partisan, and I don't want to look like one but, how much of this is the sustained ripple effect of the previous administration? It could be, since so far the new government hasn't taken any meaningful economic measure; it has been legislating mainly in political and social matters.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

SO THE US is stingy with it's tsunami-relief aid, eh? Well, all the media in Spain, and apparently quite a few abroad, are echoing the fact that the Spanish government has made one of the biggest pledges:
The European Commission has so far donated $45 million from the EU's common budget, and has said $408 million is available. Among individual EU nations, Britain has pledged $95 million, Sweden $75.5 million and Spain $68 million.
Which is bullshit. Only 5 million Euros (roughly $6.5 million) are real donations. All the rest, that is, almost $70 million, are so-called Development Aid Funds, that is a scheme of low-interest loans (link in Spanish) by the Spanish government to undeveloped countries under the condition that they're spent in Spanish products. It's means they're little more than mere subsidized exports, and will grow the affected countries' foreign debt. NGOs are quite unhappy about this, and rightly so.

And at the same time, the Spanish government grandiously claims it backs debt moratorium for quake-hit countries.

THE THREE-MINUTE silence in tribute to the tsunami victims has ended. Over here, only public-owned TV networks have followed it (at national, regional and local level). Private networks (also at national, regional and local level) have been with their regular programming.

On the radio, only Catalan public radio was silent. All others were broadcasting as usual. Now they're doing a brief roundup of the country, and apparently they're saying that in Madrid the repercusion was unnoticeable. Same here in Barcelona: as far as I'm seing from my window (I live in an apartment at a busy avenue, with lots of traffic and pedestrians) I couldn't notice any change.

I remember back in the past, after some terrorist attack -presumably by ETA- how all traffic stopped, with all cars with their engines off and people standing outside their cars, offices and homes. And I remember the huge demonstrations after March 11. Of course, arguably the popular response to a terrorist attack and a natural disaster cannot be exactly compared, since in the latter case there's no moral agent and therefore no moral choice.

But I'd still would have expected a bigger repercusion of these three minutes. I'll be charitable and say that perhaps it's because there was so little time to disseminate the initiative, since it was only announced yesterday evening, after all.


I JUST HEARD on the radio that at noon (11 a.m. GMT) all Europe is called to keep a three-minute silence in tribute to the victim of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. I don't know if I'll be in front of the computer at that moment, but if I am, Barcepundit will have a blank post during these minutes.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

JOHN ROSENTHAL has a thoughtful post commenting my entries about the Ibarretxe plan and Basque nationalism (see here, here, here, here and here)

A SOBERING READ by an Iraqi who righfully claims that the left, in Western countries, betrayed his country; should be read in full, particularly by the left in rabidly anti-war countries like mine:
We did believe, however, that democracy and human rights were important factors in Western civilization. So it came as a shock to us when millions of people began demonstrating across the world against America’s build-up to the invasion of our country. We supposed the protests were by people who had no idea about the terrible atrocities that the regime had inflicted upon us for decades. We assumed that once they learned what had happened in Iraq, they would change their minds, or modify their opposition to the war.
Boy he was wrong. Naseer, the author, explains how he realized: by talking with Western journalists, peace activists and NGO members, who apparently though they new more than him about his own country (isn't that a form of racism, to think that 'natives' don't know better, and that they have to be lectured in a condescending way about what's best for them?)

Naseer continues:
After those, and many other, experiences, we finally comprehended how little we had in common with these “peace activists” who constantly decried American crimes, and hated to listen to us talk about the terrible long nightmare that ended with the collapse of the regime. We came to understand how these “humanitarians” experienced a sort of pleasure when terrorists or former remnants of the regime created destruction in Iraq—just so they could feel that they were right, and the Americans wrong!

Worse, we realized it was hopeless to make them grasp our feelings. We believed—and still believe--that America’s removal of the regime opened a new way for democracy. At the same time, we have no illusions that the U.S. came to Iraq on a white horse to save our people. We understand this war is all about national interests, and that America’s interests are mainly about defeating terrorism. At this moment, though, U.S. interests are doing more to bring about democracy and freedom in Iraq than, say, the policies of France and Russia—countries which also care little for the Iraqi people and, worse, did their best to save Saddam from destruction until the last moment.

It’s worth noting, as well, that the general attitude of peace activists I met was tension and anger. They were impossible to reason with. This was because, on one hand, the sometimes considerable risks they took to oppose the war made them unable to accept the fact that their cause was not as noble as they believed. Then, too, their dogmatic anti-American attitudes naturally drew them to guides, translators, drivers and Iraqi acquaintances who were themselves supporters of the regime. These Iraqis, in turn, affected the peace activists until they came to share almost the same judgments and opinions as the terrorists and defenders of Saddam.