Please take me home with you

Today I’ve been looking at a different newspaper, La Vanguardia, which is based in Barcelona and covers both Catalan and Spanish news from a centrist perspective (it has good international coverage too, with articles and blogs from international correspondents covering everywhere from Korea to Shetland).

As the scheduled but disputed Catalan independence referendum comes ever closer, La Vanguardia includes an analysis of the draft legislation that pro-independence parties hope will govern the early stages of the new state if it does break away (La ley de desconexión catalana, en 19 preguntas y respuestas). The proposed new law sets out, among other things, who should have the right to Catalan citizenship (any Spanish citizen who has been living in Catalonia since December 2016, anyone not now resident but who has lived there for at least five years at some stage in the past, anyone born there and any child of Catalan parents). It also lays down an impressively detailed process for the formulation of a Catalonian constitution, starting with six months of work by representatives on proposals and culminating in another public referendum. Helpful, but as the author, journalist Jaume Pi admits, many of the really big questions around independence, including the issue of EU membership, would be for negotiation not legislation.

Today’s issue also gave the latest instalment of another story that has been getting a lot of coverage in the Spanish press – the fight by Juana Rivas to win custody of her two younger children from her Italian ex-partner, who was convicted of abuse against her in 2009. Rivas, who is accused of absconding with the two children, aged three and eleven, has been released on bail but yesterday had to comply with an order to hand them over to their father (Juana Rivas entrega a sus dos hijos a la Guardia Civil).

Finally, someone on the paper is a dog lover. The article Rescatado con vida a un perro que cayó por un acantilado desde 30 metros de altura is about a dog that had to be rescued by firemen after a thirty-metre fall off a cliff near Cadiz (the dog is doing well), while El abandono de un cachorro desnutrido al que arrancaron el chip indentificativo publicises the Guardia Civil’s appeal for help in identifying the owners of an abandoned puppy that was found in Almería, sick, starving, dehydrated and minus its chip. The puppy was taken to an animal rescue centre which is now looking for a new home for him.


I picked up coverage of the terrorist attacks on Sunday, when some of the shock of events on Thursday had started to be replaced by other emotions,  and reports of the ongoing police investigation, eyewitness accounts and emerging information about the victims were accompanied by a lot of articles trying to piece together the motivation for the attacks and their likely impact.

High on ABC’s front page was a story about the reactions of relatives, friends and neighbours of the men identified as the perpetrators of the attacks, talking to reporters at a gathering organised in their home town of Ripoll to express solidarity with the victims (La madre del terrorista huido: “Creemos que ha habido una cabeza más grande que les ha lavado”) . Speaking through a relative, the mother of Younes Abouyaaqoub, suspected of driving the van used in the attack in Las Ramblas, condemned the attacks and called on her son to give himself up to the police. She believes he and the rest of the group were brainwashed. Others at the meeting expressed their shock at the terrible actions of a group of boys they had seen as totally normal; for some their world has fallen apart. The paper’s reporting shows some more familiar concerns starting to show through the narrative as well; there is indignation about a politician interviewed on Friday who referred to some victims as Catalans and others as Spanish (El conseller catalán de Interior distingue entre víctimas españolas y catalanas).

El Mundo includes a piece by expert on terrorism Pedro de Baños, trying to find answers to the questions of why us and why now (La mutación del terror salafista). He argues that the attacks have to be seen in the context of recent history in Syria and Iraq and the emergence of IS/Daesh from the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s army and intelligence services, amid the confusion of the Arab Spring. While many Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe can be ascribed to the backlash against the countries including the UK and France who had participated in armed intervention against Daesh, the attack in Spain owes more to the symbolic importance of Spain in IS ideology and reflects the group’s shifting strategies; rather than trying to get agents across borders, now too difficult, the aim is to instigate action by disaffected European Muslims. The piece highlights the success of IS in capitalising on the cultural dislocation often experienced by second and third-generation immigrants and the association between economic and social marginalization, petty crime and radicalisation; it also points to some more specific issues affecting Spain’s large Moroccan community including the impact of Spain’s continued presence in its North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. The piece emphasises the need to guard against the backlash; the author concludes that “every hate message on social media is a small victory for the terrorists”.

Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa picks up on some of the same themes in El País but explicitly rejects the argument that discrimination and deprivation are fostering terrorism, instead placing the blame squarely on a form of fanaticism which, like its historical predecessors, deprives followers of their ability to empathise with those outside the group or to tolerate differences (Sangre derramada: Los fanáticos nunca van a ganar la guerra) . This is an angry piece redeemed, for me, by Vargas Llosa’s funny and affectionate stories of the time he spent living in Barcelona, at a point when, he points out, the city was well ahead of the rest of Spain in throwing off the shackles of Francoism. He finishes with a warm tribute to Barcelona as a meeting place of different races, cultures, languages and ideas. Hear, hear.

Latin America faces the spectre of US intervention

This week I have been following coverage of the worsening crisis in Venezuela and its impact on other South American countries. El País has been reporting on the dilemma facing left-leaning politicians in Latin America who are under pressure to define their position on Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro’s regime. Mexican presidential contender Andrés Manuel López Obrador, for example, has resisted calls for direct condemnation of the Venezuelan government but is arguing for a dialogue supported by the Pope.

The big story in the last few days, however, has been Donald Trump’s apparent threat of military intervention, which has produced almost universal opposition in the region. The paper reports that Trump’s initiative has brought together both pro and anti-Maduro administrations (Las Potencias de América Latina rechazan una intervención militar en Venezuela) in a determined if in some cases diplomatically worded rebuff. The message may be getting through; at a meeting with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos on the first leg of a tour of Latin American nations, the US vice-president yesterday notably toned down the rhetoric (Mike Pence se distancia de Trump sobre una intervención militar en Venezuela). Santos reportedly emphasized that armed intervention was not an option; Latin American countries have been working on a range of alternative approaches announced in Lima on 8 August.

Meanwhile, in response to a highly critical report published by the UN on human rights abuses in Venezuela, journalist Maolis Castro gives the accounts of four victims of police beatings (Las voces de la tortura en Venezuela), including one man who lost an eye; other victims alleged sexual abuse, and threats of rape and “disappearance”.



Goats, chickens, rabbits and a donkey

It’s summer and although political battles, the constitutional crisis over Catalan independence and corruption scandals are still there in the background, the lead in El País yesterday went to other stories, including the rising backlash against tourism, or at least unrestricted tourism, and the impact it is having in some parts of Spain.

Alongside reports of protests and local authority action to regulate the industry (Grupos radicales actúan contra el turismo en Baleares y Valencia), journalist Thiago Ferrer Morini writes about the long term challenges facing Spain’s tourist industry. Tourism generates over 11% of national GDP at a time when economic recovery is still relatively fragile, but this has come at a considerable social and environmental cost, and the industry is now seeking ways of increasing tourist spend rather than numbers (¿Qué hacer con la primera industria de España?).

My eye was also caught by an interview with the widow of campaigner and MS sufferer Luís de Marcos (“Han hecho sufrir a Luís más de la cuenta”). Asun Gómez-Bueno speaks about the mix of grief, anger and relief she is experiencing after the death of her husband, who had argued for the right to assisted suicide; by the end he could not even bear the texture of hospital bedlinen and she had to fight to get him the right mix of sedative and pain-killing drugs.

There is a happy ending to another story. The paper records the joy of residents of Moropeche who found their animals safe and well after the village was threatened by a forest fire (Nacer dureante el fuego: los primeros vecinos evacuados por el incendio de Yeste, ya estabilizado, vuelven a sus casas). Moropeche was evacuated on Sunday and 81-year old Amada Ruiz told the paper that she left a candle burning in a bucket to pray for the donkey, five goats, six sheep, rabbits and chickens that she had to leave behind. Someone must have been listening because they all survived and by the time she got back on Wednesday, one of the goats had given birth to two little kids. The forest fire is now under control but the area is still being doused with water by firefighters.