Saturday, April 30, 2005

THE UNSCUM INVESTIGATION is spreading; first to France, including an arrest (both links via Roger Simon). Now to Germany:
German companies are also involved in the kickback scandal looming over the oil for food program. United Nations investigators recently requested exports files on 50 German firms from the Foreign Ministry.

Saddam Hussein's affection for the Swiss financial metropolis Geneva had a long-running history and tradition. Many times over the past decades, Iraq's former dictator used the fancy and glitzy banking hub on the shores of Lake Geneva as a hiding place for his illegally earned billions. In the late 1980s, Saddam even sent his half-brother to Switzerland, ordering him to protect the money personally.

Bankers in the city along the Rhone River did brisk business with Saddam, even during the United Nations embargo. Saddam's followers secretly demanded their piece of the pie: those "pieces" were shares of inflated bills issued to corporations planning to supply goods to Baghdad as part of the oil-for-food program. As one of several channels, one account held at the tony Geneva private bank Safdie could be used to transfer these kickbacks.
One of these days it'll be Spain. Never too soon.

Monday, April 25, 2005

AT THE START of his latest roundup of good news from Iraq, Arthur Chrenkoff copies the comments to the BBC (not precisely a bunch of warmonger neocons) from seven regular Iraqis on the second anniversary of Baghdad's liberation:
Recently, British Broadcasting Corporation decided to conduct a little vox populi around Iraq: "Two years after the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad, marking the fall of the city to US-led forces, BBC asked seven Iraqis for their thoughts on how life has changed for them since the conflict." The results were surprising, certainly for the BBC, whose attitude towards the liberation of Iraq has always been at best lukewarm. They were surprising for me too, not so much in what the seven Iraqis had to say, but that the BBC still chose to run the story.

Here's Saad, 32, sound engineer from Basra: "Iraqis are feeling better. They are breathing the air of freedom. They read, watch and say what they want. They travel, work and receive a living wage. They use mobile phones, satellite dishes and the internet, which they did not even know before... As for terrorism, we are now beginning to unite against it and to defeat it."

Noura, 32, computer engineer from Baghdad and a Christian: "While we lost security after Saddam's fall, we gained our freedom and a chance to build a new society."

Nada, 32, government worker from Mosul: "We never imagined that the Turkmen community would have a political party representing them in Iraq, but this is happening now."

Kaban, 31, electrical engineer from Baghdad: "There have been many changes since the fall of Saddam's regime, but the most important change was that we feel free... However, those who say that security was better in the past are completely wrong. It is true we did not have suicide car bombings in Saddam's era, but our homes did not feel safe from the intrusion of Saddam's security men, who came in the middle of the night to kidnap, kill or rape."

Waala, 25, schoolteacher from Baghdad: "The Sunnis in Iraq do not live in isolation from the political and social circles of life, as many people outside Iraq seem to believe. Nothing has affected our relationships with each other - we face the same problems. This applies to Sunnis or Shia, Christians or Muslims, Arabs or Kurds. Unfortunately, the refusal by some Sunnis to participate in the elections was the cause of some political isolation."

Imad Mohammed, 25, university graduate from Baghdad: "I am no longer worried about losing my dignity or my life. And I am also getting a higher income, like most Iraqis."

Yes, the sample is hardly representative, and the concerns also expressed by the seven interviewees are many, most notably the still precarious security situation. But the sense of new-found hope and optimism cannot be easily dismissed, particularly since it also seems to be reflected in other interviews, opinion polls, and changes on the ground. Here are some stories from the past fortnight that you might have missed.
You know you want to read it in full.

WHO, AND WHY, kept that information away from the appropriate law enforcement service?
A political row over the al-Qa'eda train bombings in Madrid was rekindled yesterday after it emerged that a police informer had issued a warning three months before that Islamist terrorists were plotting the massacre.

The Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which came to power three days after the attacks, accused its centre-Right predecessor of "lies" and a "monumental lack of foresight" after the information emerged when security services documents were made public by the judge in charge of the case, Juan del Olmo.

The informant, who is under police protection, told the judge in April last year that he heard from his Moroccan-born brother-in-law, a cannabis dealer, that "Moroccans who traffic drugs'' were "going to put bombs on the trains''.

He said he had passed that information on to his police controller three months before the four bombs killed 191 people and wounded 1,500 on March 11 last year.
Zapatero and his government accuse Aznar's administration of lies and monumental lack of foresight because Aznar thought ETA was the author; the Socialists told they knew it was an attack by Islamic terrorists from minute one. In that case, why are they refusing any more testimonies before the parliamentary investigation of March 11?

One would think that it would be Aznar's Popular Party the one to try to close the commission ASAP for fear of getting more egg in the face, if they indeed knew that the authors were Islamic from the beginning. However, it's the Socialist party who is trying to shut down the commission's works when there's still big question marks about who new what and when: Aznar and his people claim that Socialist-friendly law enforcement officers kept that information away from the chain of command and gave it to key Socialist officials first. Coupled with disinformation disseminated via the Socialists' virtual house organ, the PRISA media group (no. 1 in TV, radio and newspapers) -such as the alleged existence of suicide bombers in the trains according to three sources in the police, which has been proven to be false- they created the impression that the government was lying, when actually they were kept in the dark on crucial details of the investigation, and some false information was planted (i.e. the suicide bombers) to make the public think that the government hadn't talked about them because they were hiding it.

So, take this new development, mix it with this and this, and it certainly makes you wonder. For the record, I'm not accusing the Socialist party of having a hand in the attacks, but of using them at their own electoral advantage, four days before the general polls.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

ETA SUSPECTED in bomb chemical raid:
FOUR tonnes of a bomb-making chemical was stolen from a French warehouse, police said today, and Spanish media said Basque separatists were suspected.
"It is a considerable theft," a French police source said, referring to the amount taken.

Spanish state radio, quoting police sources, said investigators suspected the robbery of sodium chlorate fertiliser could be the work of the armed Basque separatist guerrilla group ETA, which is active in Spain and France.

Police have in the past confiscated caches of sodium chlorate they said ETA planned to use to make bombs.

Friday, April 22, 2005

THE LATEST POLL on Zapatero's popularity is very bad news for him:
Since prime minister Rodriguez Zapatero's administration took over power 12 months ago in April 2004, the people's trust in him has declined by 16 percentage points. 44.4% of Spaniards say they have little or no trust in Zapatero, according to the most recent survey carried out by government pollster CIS (Center of Sociological Investigation). Nevertheless, 49% of Spaniards still have "much" or "some" trust in Zapatero.

The survey was taken after the referendum on the European Constitution held on February 20 and was officially presented to Parliament yesterday. 2487 people were surveyed between February 26 and March 4 all over Spain; that is, the survey period ended shortly before the first anniversary of the March 14, 2004 election that put the Socialists in power. According to the survey, 8.3% of Spaniards have "much" trust in the administration, 40.7% have "some" trust, 29.2% have "little" trust, and 13.1% have "no" trust.

When these statistics are compared with the surveys the CIS has produced since Zapatero's accession to power, a sharp decline in the trust he inspires among the citizens is obvious. In April 2004, 66.8% of the people had "much" or "some" trust in Zapatero, while only 27.8% had little or no trust. The percentages of those who trusted Zapatero "much" or "some" have declined from 57.2% in July 2004 to 52.1% in October 2004 to 50.8% in January 2005.

Meanwhile, the percentages of Spaniards who have "little" or "no" trust in the prime minister have risen from 36.4% in July to 43% in October to 44.4% in February 2005. a (36,4 por ciento en julio, 43 por ciento en octubre y 44,4 por ciento hace tres meses). 39.8% of Spaniards consider the administration's performance to be "very good" or "good" in its first year, while 15.2% consider it "bad" or "very bad". 36.6% of those surveys consider Zapatero's performance to be "average".
Note that this poll was carried out by a government pollster (yes, there's such thing in statist Spain). You can guess which way the results are skewed to; my bet is that an independent poll would present a much worse picture; there's lots of "buyers remorse" going on after the March 14 election, held in a very particular climate after the terror attacks three days earlier.

THE TRIAL of Madrid's al-Qaeda cell accused of participating in September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington begins today.

UPDATE. Lisa Abend at the Christian Science Monitor writes that the trial will gauge Spain's ability to confront terrorists (Islamic terrorist, of course; the country has confronted Basque terrorists for decades; it's religion-of-peace enthusiasts which are new here). I wouldn't expect too much from the trial: according to a hyper-legalistic, protectionist towards the accused system, the evidence so far seems rather circumstantial. I predit a 'non-guilty' verdict because of lack of sufficient evidence. We'll see in five months if I'm wrong.

UPDATE II. AP says (via New York Post):
Twenty-four suspected al-Qaeda members — mostly of Syrians and Moroccan origin — go on trial today, accused of hiding in Spain while helping to plot the 9/11 attacks.

The main suspect is Imad Yarkas, a 42-year-old father of six, who is accused of overseeing a cell that provided logistical cover for plotters such as Mohamed Atta, who piloted one of the airliners that destroyed the World Trade Center.

Prosecutors have requested jail terms of almost 75,000 years each for Yarkas and two other defendants.

Yeah, 75,000 years... but according to Spain's criminal law, the maximum effective jail time is 30 years, no matters how long the sentence is. Of course, the guys deserve the death penalty to begin with, but it's banned in Spain,

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said his government is working in every sphere in order to achieve 'the best relations' with the United States.

Washington-Madrid relations have been poor since Zapatero, in one of his first acts after taking office a year ago, pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq.


"Without demands as to time or place or scenes or dinners, we are working in every sphere of responsibility to ensure that happens," he added.

The reference to "dinner" was taken as an allusion to speculations about when he might meet US President George W Bush, who telephoned Spain to personally express his disappointment with the troop withdrawal last year.

After stressing that experts differ in their opinions about political relations between Spain and United States, Zapatero said he was confident the goal of a good relationship would become a reality.

A CANADIAN-STYLE corruption scandal in Seville, a city in Southern Spain:
Five people, among them a former town councillor, have been accused of faking local authority papers and fraudulently charging for work.

The state prosecutor has indicted the five for criminal offences and they have been summonsed to appear for trial in Seville.

The case relates alleged political corruption at the heart of the Seville City Council, in Andalusia, southern Spain.

The former town councillor accused in the case is Jose Antonio Garcia from the Socialist party.

Two businessmen are José Pardo and Jesús Barrera, who were said to have charged the council thousands of euros for non-existent work.

The district official,
José Marín, and municipal employee, Manuel Portela are also allegedly implicated in the scandal.

García and Marín resigned alter admitting that two bills presented to Seville council for work allegedly carried out by the company COS were completely fictitious.

Among 28 bills submitted by Pardo, a number were said to be false, according to Garcia.

Pardo had charged the council EUR 50,000 in May 2003, for work which was never carried out, it was alleged.

In a separate case, Pardo was involved in political corruption in Seville in a scandal involving the ambulance service.
The amount is not too big, but the Socialist party had plenty of big-ticket corruption during the Felipe Gonzalez administration (1982-1986)

UPDATE. More here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

SPAIN'S KING JUAN CARLOS, the next Magneto! At first it looked like a hoax, but it is not. Amazing.

After the dust has settled -- after the processions are over and the Masses have been said, after the new pope has accustomed himself to new apartments, new tasks, new vestments -- Benedict XVI will face an extraordinary list of problems, ranging from the bioethical to the geopolitical. But for this German pope, among his toughest tasks by far will be the battle for acceptance on the continent of his birth.

It sounds paradoxical, given the European splendor in which the church has been cloaked for the past several weeks -- the scenes of Rome, St. Peter's Square, the Sistine Chapel -- but nevertheless it is not Africa, or Latin America, or even the rebellious United States that poses the greatest set of difficulties for the Catholic Church at the moment. It is Europe itself.

By this I don't mean merely that church attendance is falling in Italy and Spain, as is often reported, or that birth control is widely used among European Catholics. Although there is plenty of religious apathy in Europe, it is far less powerful than the antipathy directed not just at the Catholic Church in Europe but at religion in general. It's not that Europeans think the church is out of touch or backward, but that they -- or rather an influential group of intellectuals and politicians -- heartily despise everything about it. Some of this was visible yesterday. Within hours of his election a BBC profile had already speculated that the new pope had honed his rhetorical skills in Nazi Germany (he deserted the Wehrmacht at age 15) while some on the German left were describing his election as a "catastrophe." I expect we'll hear far worse insults in the next few days.
Read the rest.

Monday, April 18, 2005

THE BASQUE ELECTIONS were held yesterday, and the results will make the political life there even more 'interesting': on one hand, the region PM Ibarretxe -for whom the elections were almost a kind of referendum on his secessionist plan- got fewer seats than expected, and is even further from an absolute majority (50% + 1 seat). The good news is that since he won't have an absolute mayority he will have to negotiate; the bad news is that he'll probably will, but with the party to which it seems his more ultra-nationalist went to: the Communist Party of the Basque Lands, a ultra-leftist, pro-independence party who got endorsed by Batasuna, the party which had been banned for its ties to ETA terrorism.

More comment over at Spain Herald:
With their 29 seats, the PNV-EA coalition won. The Basque Socialists (PSE-EE) were second with 18, and the People's Party was third with 15. Then came the PCTV with 9, EB (non-ETA traditional Communists) with 3, and Aralar 1. The PNV-EA-EB troika which has governed the Basque region over the last four years did not reach an absolute majority, with 32 seats of the 38 necessary to govern; a hypothetical constitutionalist PP-Socialist coalition would have 33 seats. Also, a possible PNV-Socialist coalition would be able to govern comfortably, with 47 seats.

The PNV lost four seats over the last election, the PSE gained 5, the PP lost 4, Batasuna-PCTV gained two, EB stayed the same, Aralar (a split off Batasuna-PCTV) gained one, as it had never been represented before. Unidad Alavesa lost its seat. Voter turnout was 69%, ten points lower than four years ago.
The Financial Times sees trouble ahead for Zapatero:
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's long honeymoon with Spain may have come to an end yesterday, the anniversary of his first year in power and the day Basques voted for a new regional government.

The Socialist premier intervened late in the campaign, asking Spain's 1.8m Basque voters to oust the nationalist coalition that has ruled the turbulent region for the past 25 years.

This is the first election in which the Basque Nationalist party has openly campaigned for independence, an issue that has divided Basque society and which has sewn mistrust between Basque leaders and the rest of Spain.

Up to now, Mr Zapatero has adopted a conciliatory stance, rejecting secession but offering talks on more self-government.

Basque nationalists, however, have turned the regional election into a plebiscite on an independence plan, named after Juan José Ibarretxe, the regional president. "The future of the Basque country will be decided here," Mr Ibarretxe promised at the close of the campaign, as supporters chanted: "Independence, independence."

If Mr Ibarretxe's nationalists retain control of the regional parliament, it will be difficult for Mr Zapatero to remain Spain's Mr Nice Guy, says Gabriel Elorriaga, spokesman for the opposition Popular party.

"Zapatero remains hugely popular, but only because he has avoided all the tough issues, at home and abroad," Mr Elorriaga says.

The toughest issue is how he will hold Spain together.

"Spaniards see problems looming in the Basque country and in Catalonia and they are confused by Zapatero's stance," says Victor Pérez Díaz, a sociologist. "Does he want to appease nationalists because the Socialist party does not have a majority in parliament and needs their support to govern in Madrid? Where will he draw the line? There is a danger that the Basque question will become a huge black hole, consuming public energy to the detriment of all other problems." The Basque elections, Mr Pérez Díaz says, may be Mr Zapatero's moment of truth.

If that is so, the 44-year-old premier, who was catapulted to office three days after the March 11 train bombings in Madrid, does not appear to be unduly troubled.

"I thought this business of governing would be complicated," Mr Zapatero was overheard telling a friend, "but really, I've got it licked."
Sad thing, I don't think he was joking; it's very like him to genuinely believe things like these, which is a problem when what he says is so deeply disconnected with reality: people hadn't been so emotionally divided in this country since the restoration of democracy after Franco dictatorship (no relation! my "Franco" is not a surname): during the transition, everybody put their differences behind (both the poeple coming from Franco regime and Socialists communists in opposition or exile) in order to reduce the risk that the still frail process would not succeed. Not that democracy, or at least formal democracy, is consolidated, Zapatero and his guys want to do something that his predecessors (namely, former PM Socialist Felipe Gonzalez) never did: to take revenge for the past. He like to say that he's for dialogue and tolerance, but the truth is that he only listens and tolerates people who already agree with him. He has never tried to reach a wide range consensus with the opposition in crucial matters as the devolution, security or important legislative reforms which he has been pushing through, disregarding the voices of official consulting bodies whose oppinion, though not mandatory, had always been listened to in the past, both by conservative and socialist governments.

But at least when he speaks, Zapatero almost sounds as these naive religious people who ventured into Africa saying, "don't worry, we'll be fine; they'll never do us anything bad, after all we're only trying to convert them to Christianity". Yes, the guys who invariably ended up beeing roosted and eaten by natives. The bad thing is that he's not only gambling himself; he's playing with fire on behalf of the whole country.

GOOD ARTICLE by GEES, a think tank in Madrid, on the current status of Spanish-American relations:
Something strange is afoot when Spanish Public Television starts admitting Spanish-US relations are going through a rough patch. All of sudden we discover Foreign Minister Moratinos’ triumphant visit is not going to be so triumphant. Our Embassy simply could not hide various senators, Kerry included, and representatives’ cold-shoulder, the Administration’s scornful treatment and, in the end, the total non-existence of the Spanish government at the center of world power.

[...] Mr. Moratinos has rectified and joined the “Westendorp Doctrine”: the bad state of relations is not the Zapatero administration’s fault, but the result of former Prime Minister Aznar’s clique’s intrigues. The argument is compelling. On the one hand, it removes all responsibility from the socialists for their policies on Iraq, Cuba or Venezuela, for their out of control anti-Americanism or for incessantly calling President Bush a “criminal”. On the other hand, it paints the picture of a shadow conservative Popular Party (PP) government, plotting away in the very heart of the empire, and being able to determine the “Hyperpower’s” strategic evolution.

We know we are repeating ourselves, but we can only qualify such behavior as adolescent. Not wanting to assume responsibility for one’s own acts is a clear example of immaturity. Not political, but personal immaturity. If one does what the Prime Minister and his buddies have been doing, how can they expect anything other than what has happened? Insinuating that a group of PPers are in Washington making life difficult for the socialists displays a naivety unworthy of an 18 year-old. As they have been able to see up close and personal, this is not about hard core Bushites. The entire American political class is incensed with the Spanish government. No matter how competent or numerous former Prime Minister Aznar’s connections were in the US, winning over Republicans and Democrats goes far beyond his real influence.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

SPAIN'S DEFICITS are literally skyrocketing (emphasis mine just to point out something important after the quote):
Spain's current account deficit widened in January to EUR 4.15 billion, the Bank of Spain said.

The balance of payments on the current account is the main measure of the difference between all transaction flows into and out of a country.

The Spanish central bank said in a statement that the trade deficit had widened to EUR 4.67 billion from EUR 2.98 billion in January 2004, reflecting a strong increase in imports, up 13.1 percent on the year.

Growth in exports marked a "substantial slowdown" meanwhile, rising by just 1.1 percent, while the surplus in services widened to EUR 1.43 billion from 1.29 billion.

The surplus in tourism remained virtually unchanged at EUR 1.59 billion, compared with EUR 1.58 billion a year earlier.
What's conspicuosly absent from this report is previous data on the current account deficit. You know, to compare and all that.

Well, according to this link in Spanish, the current account deficit January this year is a whopping 413.6% bigger. Even worse, the aggregated current account and capital deficits rose from €633 million in Jan 04 to a stratospheric €3.7 billion!

No wonder EFE -a government-run news agency where the report comes from- wanted to hide that!

Friday, April 15, 2005

THE GUY COULD USE a crash course on pol-sci or two:
Spain's King Juan Carlos is "fairly republican", according to Spanish premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

"We have a fairly republican king," Zapatero told the Spanish Cadena Ser radio station.

"For me, a republican is someone who defends institutions, democratic values, who defends public life and who respects the principles of a free citizenship and so in that sense we are very calm and at ease," said Zapatero, a socialist.

Say hello to Mr Oxymoron, he's coined another one for the list. I think I know the reason why this kind of word is composed by to parts: oxy and moron!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

VICTOR DAVIS HANSON demonstrates why he's one of the very best in this relatively short and superbly written piece about why the UN as it is today has failed, and why it's necessary to reform it from head to tow (via El Opinador Compulsivo, a blog in Spanish).

Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA is negotiating long-term oil supply contracts with Spanish firm Repsol YPF and Cepsa.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said that the state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela is looking for direct contracts with the refineries these companies operate.

"We are negotiating long-term contracts with Spanish companies... Repsol and Cepsa," Ramirez told reporters.

Ramirez added that PDVSA won't scrap existing contracts to send oil to Spain. The oil supplied "will come from volumes that are not already committed," he said.
Meanwhile, there's an update on the sale of NBC-related material: Aleksander Boyd received an email message for an official from Spain's Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism:
The €30.374 worth of exports to Venezuela in the first semester of 2004 consisted of CS (chlorobenzylidene malonitrile) gas used to produce tear devices (the gas gets compressed into containers in a facility in Venezuela). It is used to control riots.
However, Aleksander tells me by email that he's not aware that there's any factory with facilities for this in Venezuela; everything is imported as a finished product, not in bulk. At the same time, as I said in previous posts, these sales were under the defense material category, so it should be assumed that it was sold for its use by the military, not the police; however, the use of tear gas by armed forces is specifically prohibited by the Chemical Arms Convention. Therefore 1/ defense material was sold to law enforcement forces and not the military, 2/ it's not clear yet it was indeed CS tear gas.

Aleksander and I have requested further clarification on this to the official, so I hope we'll have some news soon.

UPDATE. Forgot to mention that this issue, and this blog too, was kindly mentioned by Robin Burk during her appearance at MSNBC's segment Connected: Coast to Coast. The video is here; thanks to Trey Jackson for alerting me about it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

YESTERDAY I WROTE that Aleksander Boyd had discovered that the sale of weapons by Spain to Venezuela seemed to be in violation of EU regulation on arm sales. Well, there's already an official request to the European Parliament to have this issue investigated.

And this is just regarding the conventional weapons (planes and boats); we'll have to see what happens when they look at NBC-related material.

A top European Union official said France, Italy and Spain faced a "catastrophic" slump in exports as a fresh batch of gloomy data hit the eurozone yesterday.

French industrial output slumped 0.5pc in February, following a 2.2pc contraction announced last week by Germany. The slide was blamed on high oil prices and the continued strength of the euro against the dollar and key Asian currencies.

The French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin admitted yesterday that he now had no hope of fulfilling his pledge to cut unemployment below 10pc over coming months. The yield on 10-year French bonds fell to near historical lows of 3.58pc.

The aborted recovery is causing growing alarm at the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Both bodies have slashed their eurozone growth forecasts from over 2pc to 1.6pc in 2005.

A senior EU official said the eurozone was now acutely vulnerable to any slowdown in the United States, having failed to generate enough internal demand to sustain recovery.

"I'm afraid there is a high probability that Italy, France and Spain could see a catastrophic drop in exports," he told the Telegraph. The official said the eurozone's problems were rotating from Germany to other countries with fast-rising labour costs, even if German consumers remained traumatised for the time being by unemployment of 5.2m, the highest level since the Great Depression.

The Spanish economy is in the final stages of a credit boom caused by inappropriately low interest rates. Spanish property rose 17pc last year, while the trade deficit ballooned to €60.7billion, or 7.7pc of GDP.

IT'S TIME FOR EUROPE to stop its unilateralism, writes Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution in UK's Prospect magazine. Yes, you read that right; it's Europe who has been unilateral lately, while accusing the US of being so:
As became clear following President Bush’s recent trip to Europe, there is widespread agreement that unrestrained unilateralism is one of the main causes of the recent troubles in transatlantic relations. It is simply impossible, critics argue, to develop a balanced partnership when one of the partners believes it can decide what is right, act as it sees fit, ignore input from others, and expect that the partner will ultimately be obliged to follow along. The critics are right: if the relationship is to improve, Europe is simply going to have to stop behaving this way.

OK, I’m exaggerating. The first-term Bush administration richly deserved its reputation for ignoring allies’ advice and going it alone, whether on Kyoto, missile defence, a range of multilateral treaties, or of course Iraq. But at the same time, over the past few years the Europeans seem to be following Washington’s example and acting unilaterally themselves—even as the Bush administration is starting to understand the limits of its approach.

Europe doesn’t always appear to be acting unilaterally because it is made up of individual countries. So when Europeans together adopt an uncompromising line and ignore the objections of others, the individual countries that make up Europe are technically acting multilaterally. But the tendency to view Europe as individual countries obscures the truth that the continent's major powers increasingly act as a bloc on foreign policy. (The divisions among them over Iraq last year, more the exception than the rule, also help obscure this truth.)

Seen this way, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that in many of the areas where Bush has been most uncompromising, Europe (as a whole) has also adopted a unilateral posture. Today, the US may be the most powerful and most assertive actor on the world stage, but on any number of topics, it’s not the only one behaving unilaterally.
Gordon goes on with several examples, from the International Criminal Court to Iran and Iraq. And he nails it.

(via the Spanish blog Desde el Exilio)

Monday, April 11, 2005

IT'S AMAZING how much difference two years can make, Arthur Chrenkoff writes at the start of his new roundup of good news from Iraq, just when it's two years since the rise of Baghdad. I strongly recommend you to read it from top to bottom; it's filled with most interesting informations.

CHAVEZ may be going the Saddam route not only for his purchases of weapons and NBC-related materials (see previous posts here and here); it seems he also has an oil-for-food-like scheme too:
Confidential documents reveal that high-ranking officials of the state conglomerate Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (Pdvsa) are authorizing the payment of million-dollar commisions for the sale of its products in the international market, through a wide network of intermidiaries [sic] with banking connections in Caracas, Aruba, Panamá, Miami, Nueva York, Madeira and Switzerland.
What, no banking connection in Madrid? Let's complain about that!

ALEKSANDER BOYD has digged further on the sales of defense material to Venezuela by Spain, and finds that Spain violates EU regulations. Analizing the data, the sales were not only during the Zapatero administration, but during Aznar's too. I'm not sure whether it can be argued that Chavez is more dangerous now than what he was a couple of years ago, though it can be argued that selling conventional weapons is one thing, and selling NBC-related material is an entirely different matter.

Friday, April 08, 2005

WHAT ELSE DID SPAIN SELL to Venezuela, besides transport and ocean surveillance planes, as well as patrol boats? Well, according to Spanish news agency Europa Press, during the first half of 2004 Spain sold to Chavez
chemical warfare agents and radioactive materials to Venezuela worth €539.603 according to a report entitled "Spanish exports of defence materials and related products and technologies". The report, produced by Spain's Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, was revealed to Europe Press. Venezuela appeared as the twelfth buyer of such defence material to Spain for the period that saw José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero winning the vote over Partido Popular.

Chemical Warfare

Report's statistics show that Venezuela was the only country under the category "countries to which chemical warfare agents and radioactive materials were sold". Worth noting that the said category includes "biological and nerve agents destined to chemical warfare" of which Venezuela bought €30.374.

Another €509.229 consisted of "paramilitary and security material" which encompasses "firearms or gas weapons, bombs, grenades, explosives, armoured and all terrain vehicles, water canons, telescopic sights and night vision devices, etc."
(emphasis mine; original information in Spanish here)

This is an extremely serious issue, which so far has been virtually ignored by the Spanish press, focused on the boats and planes controversy. No mainstream media have covered this, and I only found three articles via Google News on small local newspapers (one, two, three, all links in Spanish). Interestingly, without reporting on the exact date of the deal, all three blame the Aznar administration for the sale that took place during the first semester of 2004, although Zapatero took office on April 17th. That is, the semester was virtually split in two near-identical halfs, the first one with Aznar as PM and the second with Zapatero.

I still don't have solid information about the date, but I'd be willing to bet that it was under Zapatero. Why I'm saying this? Well, first because after all Zapatero has been getting cozy with Chavez since day 1, and, actually accused Aznar of supporting the 2002 coup that briefly ousted him (why would Aznar sell WMD material to someone he had tried to oust from power?). But mainly because if it had been under Aznar, the issue would not be silenced by the pro-Socialist MSM. I can assure you that it would be all over the place opening TV and radio newscasts, and would be on page 1 on El Pais, almost a Socialist-party house organ, since it would cast a darker picture of Zapatero's predecessor.

The issue merits a close followup, so I will keep you posted as soon as I get more information.

If Rumsfeld was reportedly angry about the sale of planes and boats, boy I can only imagine what he'll think about this.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

FROM SPY CHIEF to glorified concierge:
For Jorge Dezcallar, the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See, preparing for the funeral on Friday of John Paul II requires information-gathering skills honed as the chief of Spain's foreign intelligence services.

These days, Dezcallar, instead of terrorists and money launderers, is gathering intelligence on hotel rooms and air- and land-traffic patterns in an all-out logistical war.

"All of a sudden we're dealing with the biggest event in the world," he said in an interview. "I have members of Parliament and former ministers calling me, begging me, 'Can you help me find a room? Can you get me a seat at the funeral?'
Guess there's no military commitment, or nowhere to withdraw from, so the best way to use the skills of an intelligence specialist is to send him to one of the most pompous, useless works: the embassy at the Vatican.

And not that Zapatero doesn't have reasons to be unhappy with him; as someone close to former Socialist PM Felipe Gonzalez, Dezcallar was Spain's ambassador to Morocco when he didn't foresee the invasion of the Parsley Island, and was after that promoted by Aznar (in a move which was difficult to understand, after all he was close to the Socialists and his work didn't exactly shine considering the military tensions between Spain and Morocco) to top chief of the intelligence services which didn't foresee the March 11 bomb attacks carried by... Moroccan Islamic terrorists.

The man's a real piece of work. Come think of it, maybe it's better he spends his time looking for hotel rooms in the Rome. We'll just have to wait and see if in a couple of years there's a terrorist attack in Spain perpetrated by Italian Catholic terrorists!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

HELEN SZAMUELY at EU Referendum writes about the shameful sale of weapons to Hugo Chavez by Spain's PM Zapatero.

Monday, April 04, 2005

EVEN THOUGH the conclusions of the Madrid terrorism summit (see prior posts) insisted on it, there's once again proof that terrorism doesn't have much to do -if anything at all- with poverty:
"The typical recruit to al-Qaeda is Western-educated and has a wealthy, professional background, according to a new study.

"The analysis of 500 members of Osama bin Laden's organisation has turned Western experts' presumptions about al-Qa'ida upside down.

"Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist who conducted the study, said he assumed it would find that most recruits were poor and ill-educated. 'The common stereotype is that terrorism is a product of poor, desperate, naive, single young men from Third World countries, vulnerable to brainwashing and recruitment into terror,' he said.

"However, his study showed 75per cent of the al-Qaeda members were from upper-middle-class homes and that many were married with children; 60 were college-educated, often in Europe or the US.

"Some, such as British-born terrorist Omar Sheikh, were educated at fee-paying schools before heading for Afghanistan, Bosnia or Chechnya...

"Dr Sageman said most of the terrorists came from a small number of wealthy Arab countries, from immigrant communities in the West or from Southeast Asia. Few were from poor Islamic countries such as Afghanistan...

"He said most grew up in caring families concerned about their communities. The men in Dr Sageman's sample joined al-Qaeda at an average age of 26. About half grew up as religious children, but only 13 - mostly from Southeast Asia - attended Islamic schools."
By the way, the post I'm linking to is Arthur Chrenkoff's, who celebrated his first blogiversary last week. I didn't point it out since I was in slow blogging motion after the hiatus, so I'm pointing it out now. Congrats, Arthur, and thanks for sharing your magnificent insight with all of us.

Friday, April 01, 2005

THIS CAPTION CONTEST is quite funny.

By the way, sorry for the slow blogging; I've been juggling between things, which have let me no time for writing here. I hope to be able to resume posting regularly soon.