Everything grows

After a brief summer hiatus for the past week or two, I’m back with a meditation on the interconnectedness of the world, especially in the realm of trade. In the process, I’ll be recommending 2 books: A Splendid Exchange which deals with the history of trade, and Beneath the United States which examines US-Latin American relations throughout history. They are both excellent books in their entirety – in fact, I used to read sections of Beneath the United States for fun, until I lent it to a student who never returned it. But for this post I am going to focus on their discussion of the history and use of the Panama Canal, mostly because this tiny isthmus is in the news right now, causing effects far beyond its borders.

 

First, some history from Beneath the United States. Building a canal across the Isthmus of Panama was a concern of the US as early as 1787 (Beneath the United States, 6). Several presidential administrations had investigated canal routes through Central America, with Panama being the first choice due to its narrowness and therefore ease of construction. Running a close second was a route through Nicaragua, which had the benefit of having a navigable river and lake bisecting most of the country already (152-153). Still, several treaties to purchase land from either Central American country and begin building a canal had been proposed and rejected (153).

It wasn’t until 1879 that a land grant to begin construction on a canal in Panama was given to a French naval officer, who sold the concession to a French company – the same company that had recently built the crucially important Suez Canal in the Middle East (91). The grant was given by Colombia, since Panama was a province of that country. Digging began to much fanfare, and then the company went bankrupt in 1889 (159). After financial ruin and a lawsuit by former investors, the Panama Canal Company tried to recover its losses by lobbying the US government to purchase what was left of their assets: “a partially dug canal, the Panama railway, some rusting machinery, and, most important, a concession from the Colombian government” (159). The sale finally occurred in 1902 (162), but Colombia dug in their heels on the transfer of the commission to the United States. What to do? The US had everything they needed except for permission to continue digging, so they turned to those who would give them that permission, and with American help, Panama declared independence from Colombia at the end of 1904 (167). Construction began again the following year (170).

 

What does this have to do with current affairs? I think a lot of people (and I know I was one of them before I read A Splendid Exchange) tend to think of trade by ship as something from Columbus’ time, sending spices and cloth and exotic foods from Asia to Europe and between the Old and New Worlds. I guess I thought – we’ve moved past ocean transport! We have airplanes, for crying out loud! But despite all our technological advances, seaborne commerce is still the most effective way to transport goods – especially oil (A Splendid Exchange, 367). And among the seven maritime “chokepoints” in the world – where ships and therefore goods pass through very narrow passages which are crucial to control to ensure smooth transport – is, you guessed it, the Panama Canal (368). Interestingly enough, the Panama Canal is a man-made chokepoint, and the only other one in existence is the Suez Canal, built by the original designers of the Panama Canal. 400,000 barrels of oil pass through the Panama Canal every DAY (368), so it’s important that the Canal continue functioning, and functioning well, which includes keeping up with current maritime technology. Which includes expanding the Canal to accommodate larger ships.

 

The drive towards larger and larger ships began in the 1950s and was spurred by the advent of machine loading/unloading of ships. Since machines can move larger containers than humans can, you need larger ships to carry these larger containers (Progress and Pollution, A471). 16% of the world’s container fleet is now too large to pass through the Panama Canal, so Panama is building a third set of locks that can accommodate larger ships, to be completed by 2015 (A471). West Coast ports think this is awesome, since most already have 50-foot deep harbors in which these large ships can dock, but ports to the east of the Panama Canal don’t, so there is a scramble to enlarge East Coast ports so that they too can benefit from expanded trade (A471).

It isn’t just the ports either. Once these large containers get on land, they have to go somewhere. I don’t gas up my car at a port, after all. So we’re talking railroads that can carry double-stacked containers, for example (Expanded Panama Canal, 36). We’re talking improving and widening roads (37). Effects that go far beyond Panama itself. It just fascinates me that a tiny little waterway built over 100 years ago can still create so much change and growth in the world.

 

Anyway. Very good books, if you are interested in trade and history, especially as it relates to Latin America. Citations below. Comments welcome!

 

Bernstein, William J. A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008.
Hricko, Andrea. “PROGRESS & POLLUTION PORT CITIES PREPARE For The PANAMA CANAL EXPANSION.” Environmental Health Perspectives 120.12 (2012): A 470-A 473.Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 July 2013.
Krizner, Ken. “Expanded Panama Canal Puts Northeast Ports In Line For New Business.” World Trade: WT100 25.4 (2012): 34. MasterFILE Complete. Web. 21 July 2013.
Schoultz, Lars. Beneath the United States: A History of US Policy Toward Latin America. Harvard University Press, 1998.
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What’s so special about Ecuador?

So, I guess I should talk about Edward Snowden, huh?

Ok, so I’m only tangentially going to talk about Edward Snowden. What I really want to talk about is, why Ecuador? Snowden makes the second person, after Julian Assange, that has sought refuge in Ecuador after leaking classified information to the press. What is there about Ecuador that makes it attractive to those seeking asylum? And what is there about Ecuador that makes them so eager to accept those seeking asylum?

I think the reason this question is so important is because we really don’t hear much about Ecuador in the news here in the US (well, until now). Typically there is a lot of news about Mexico, being our neighbor, or Venezuela, being so vehemently anti-American, or Spain, being in crisis. But you really have to dig to find news and information on Ecuador in the US press. The reality is quite interesting, although not sensational.

 

Ecuador has historically been an unstable country. A quick glance at a list of Ecuador’s presidents tells the story pretty clearly. Ecuador also suffers a slight crisis of identity. Ecuador has formed part of the Inca Empire, the Spanish Empire, and the independent nation of Gran Colombia before becoming its own country. It has lost territory to Peru and lost its own currency to dollarization in 2000.

Things started changing when the current president, Rafael Correa, was elected in 2007. His campaign was based on the idea of “la Patria” (the homeland), an idea which resonated with the Ecuadorean people, as he has now been elected 3 times, most recently in 2013. He has also made anti-imperialism a central tenet of his presidency, which involves harsh criticism of the United States. Despite what I am about to relate, Correa is ENORMOUSLY popular in Ecuador. My host family was very pro-Correa. Posters around Quito proclaimed “Finally we have a president. We have Correa!” and graffiti throughout the country promoted messages equating anti-Correa forces with terrorists.

There is a whole other blog post percolating that discusses why these things always seem to go hand in hand, but. Although Ecuador has an enormously popular president who has accomplished a lot in his two (now 3) terms . . . personal and especially press freedoms have been restricted in the country since his election. Interestingly enough, the most recent display of these restrictions is a law that could make WikiLeaks cables illegal to publish in the very country harboring their leaker. All is not sunshine and roses in the Republic of Ecuador, is what I’m trying to say.

So, to answer: why is Ecuador the mecca for leakers like Snowden and Assange? The answer is not because Ecuador is such a champion of press freedom, but merely because Ecuador is willing to take them in. And why is Ecuador so willing to take in leakers, despite their restrictive press laws? Mostly as a way to say “Up yours” to the US, to be honest. A bit hypocritical? Perhaps. But if you think of it as an illustration of the Ecuadorean government’s priorities it’s telling, yes?

 

The current state of affairs, as we know, is in limbo. Snowden is still in Russia, and Ecuador seemed to be eager to accept him as a refugee, as they were with Julian Assange. However, there has been some internal confusion, which the Wall Street Journal uncovered last week. It seems that although Ecuador wants to take this opportunity to give the US a metaphorical poke in the eye, they don’t want to go whole hog and do so against international law. Internally, many in the Ecuadorean government feel that Julian Assange is far too involved in this process. It remains to be seen how it will all shake out. Personally I think Snowden faces the same fate as Assange – safe in an Ecuadorean embassy somewhere, probably in Russia, but not actually in Ecuador.

La Torre del Tweet

I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of monuments and historic places. I’ve been to quite a few of them after all, being somewhat of a history buff. But I recently became fascinated by the ways in which historic sites and monuments can tell us some startling truths about the identity and culture of a people in our current times. Even though we as tourists go to a monument to “look at history”, the place we are visiting is never exactly like the original site, even taking into account the normal process of decay. We don’t like to admit this fact – visitors tend to think of historic places as frozen in time somewhat. That is, this place that we are visiting, it is exactly what and how the original builders meant it to be, and any restorations are in the spirit of the original construction. When we encounter evidence to the contrary it’s a bit jarring; for example, my sister came to visit me in my town here in the US and during our tour of the historic district, we learned that many of the houses and buildings had been moved from their original sites, which left us with a vague sense of disappointment. We wanted to see THE early American town, after all, not a reconstructed replica. Visitors to other historical sites are no different. When you visit Guernica, in the Basque Country of Spain, you want to see the actual, original Tree of Guernica, which no longer exists, by the way. The original tree is long since dead, and the second tree is a trunk sitting in a little gazebo. The third and current tree which is planted behind the house of government is genetically related to the Tree of Guernica . . . but it is a modern version by necessity. When you visit Toledo, you want to see the original Cristo de la Luz Mosque, although the name alone should tell you that the site did not remain in stasis. The building is still there, but the site was quickly appropriated for use as a church after the Reconquest.

Even the existence of the sites themselves reveal a modern bias and show what is currently important to a country and a culture. The things we save are the things we think are important enough TO save, after all. What we do with photographs and scrapbooks in our personal lives, countries do with their monuments, showcasing the important events of their histories. To take up the Guernica/Toledo example again, in Guernica my tourist map showed me which buildings were original and thus had survived the Civil War bombing, and which were reconstructed. It also highlighted the Basque government offices and a museum of Basque history. Toledo’s map, apart from being full of museums, pointed out the current or previous location of every synagogue and mosque within the old city walls. Now, are there mosques in the Basque Country? Definitely. Synagogues? Yes, although on the French side. Did Toledo suffer damage in the Civil War? Yup. But the focal point of each area’s history, the central identity of each town, is reflected in the sites that Guernica and Toledo found historically important.

The point is, although most tourists go to a site to learn about what is past, historic sites are not static and they refuse to remain in the past – instead they show the march of time as well as highlight current concerns and opinions at least as much as they showcase an area’s history. This has often been controversial – after all, how long has it taken to construct the Sagrada Familia? But I find it fascinating that sites that are quite old have so much to say about current cultural identity.

 

These thoughts have been rattling around in my head ever since I read a fascinating article called ¿Publicidad en la Alhambra? (no English version, sorry). The Alhambra is the Moorish palace in Granada, Spain, and seriously, if you have never been there, you need to go. Anyway, recently Granada was host to the first ever Twitter conference, which took place June 20-21, 2013. Apart from being surprised that this was the first ever Twitter conference, I was also a little confused as to why Granada was chosen as the location for the inaugural event. After all, when most people think about Granada, they think of . . . the Alhambra. (Seriously, just go visit already). Not exactly part of the Twitter Generation.

Since Granada is a city so steeped in the past, it’s not too surprising that some eyebrows were raised at the projection of the Twitter logo onto the Torre de la Vela for the duration of the 48 hour conference. But I assumed that the eyebrows were due to the clash of old and new and the use of a historic monument for promoting, well, anything. I thought that the controversy stemmed from the view that historical monuments should be representations of a static past, the same issue that has plagued restorations and gift shops around the world.

Not so. The Alhambra has been host to numerous modern messages throughout the years, with the Torre de la Vela proudly displaying posters protesting the widespread eviction problem in Spain, calling people to a general strike, and even publicly disagreeing with administrative changes in a local art gallery. The real issue here is using the side of the Torre de la Vela to show ADVERTISING, to specifically disseminate a message intended to influence people to use a particular good or service. It seems that the intent of the message matters when it comes to putting it on a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The issue is not that the Alhambra must always remain the same as it was when Ferdinand and Isabella stormed the city in 1492. The issue is using a symbol of Moorish history and therefore Andalucian culture (very important) as a commercial for Twitter (not important), although it may be used to highlight other important causes, like worker’s rights and economic suffering. And I think this says something a bit deeper about the nature of the Alhambra’s importance, something that goes beyond “the history of Spain”. The Alhambra and its history belong to the people of Spain in the way popular movements do and the global economy does not. The debate over advertising on the Torre de la Vela throws into relief the importance of the Alhambra to Spanish culture, not because it is a thing that was built in the past, not because it was historically important, but because it represents a current, modern collective identity. Although it is a historic site, it allows for modern usage within certain boundaries, and those boundaries can deepen our understanding of Spanish culture today.

11-M/Terrorism

I’m sure my title will bring a lot of interesting traffic to my blog, but I wanted to write about the news stories I’ve been reading lately about the three suspected terrorists arrested in Cádiz. I know that whenever I read about terrorism in Spain, I think about the March 11th, 2004 bombings of the Cercanías train in the Atocha station of Madrid. It is very similar in impact to the US’s 9-11, although the shorthand for the 2004 bombings is 11-M (once de marzo). There are songs in tribute to the victims, and Spain has a version of “truthers” who think that the bombings were an inside job (although all of the Spaniards I met that held that belief were nice sensible people . . . not at all like the American truthers that get on TV. Perhaps I need to meet a crazier set of Spaniards . . . or I need to watch less TV).

 

So, the Cádiz terrorists. The story caught my eye since I had lived there for the past year. Two of the three suspects were arrested in Ciudad Real while on a bus trip from Cádiz to Irún (Socibus Secorbus!!! I took that bus line!!!). The third was arrested in La Línea, where all three of them lived (well, technically, the two bus guys lived in San Roque). Many things about them are in dispute; for example, the suspects who took the bus were first reported to be Russians, then Chechnyans, and then simply, “from a former Soviet satellite”. The motive for their bus trip is unknown, although it is what prompted their arrest, as the government had been aware of their terrorist links and feared that they were going to Irún to cross the border into France. Even their suspected terrorist activities are a mystery, since police found only 100 grams of explosives, which the Minister of the Interior insisted could be enough to blow up a bus when mixed with shrapnel. Police also found materials during the search of the suspects’ homes that bomb-sniffing dogs indicated had once held explosives, but had been recently cleaned.

 

Although the suspects had military training – evidenced when one of the Russo-Chechnyan Soviets put up quite a fight during his arrest – and even documentation on flying drone planes, it’s unclear whether these men were actually members of Al Qaeda or another manifestation of the “lone wolf” that Europe has seen so much of lately, most tragically in the Brevik Norway shootings and the Toulouse anti-Semitic gunman. Of course, both possibilities are frightening, but I would actually feel more reassured if it turns out that these were unaffiliated terrorists. Trying to identify and stop members of a known violent group must be hard enough, but successfully stopping someone working alone gives me hope that tragedies like those in Norway and France can be avoided. However, the fact that these suspects seem to be working, if not alone, then at least without coordination from the main Al Qaeda network, means that it will be difficult to prove criminal intent, especially since the men were arrested before actually blowing anything up. It’s not that these men didn’t do anything illegal – there are pages and pages of very dense laws on the books having to do with the production and possession of explosives. But we’re wading into some interesting legal territory here, and I’m interested to see how it develops.

 

My news feed on the right has a few articles on the arrests. The first is from the Christian Science Monitor and summarizes the events in English. El Mundo gives some early news in the second article, but the third El País report is definitely the best, although it is in Spanish (sorry guys). The fourth article from ABC is a bit newer and discusses the search for explosives in the houses and businesses of the 3 suspects, and the fifth article isn’t about the Cádiz terrorists at all. Bringing this post full circle, article #5 brings us the news that the newest installment of the “Medal of Honor” first-person shooter will include . . . scenes intending to reference 11-M. Although they don’t come out and say, “This is Atocha and these are the 2004 bombings”, they reference Madrid, and that screenshot of the train station looks and awful lot like Atocha, doesn’t it? As the cut scene goes on, a group of men with vaguely Arab features blow up a train.

 

Most interesting to me is that the writer of article five is barely restraining his disdain for what he suggests is a sales tactic. And the first comment? “Come on, they say that this looks like 11-M, when they put Arab features on the one who set the bombs it’s just for show. They should put Iberian features on him, since the ones who did it were from here instead.” [Translation mine]

Spain News Roundup of the Week: May 6 – May 12, 2012

Economic news dominates this week’s roundup with two – count ’em, two! – stories about money matters. Let’s start with a continuation of a topic we discussed last week.

 

The Bolivia Red Eléctrica story has stretched from last week into this one. Proving once more that your economic power is only as strong as your reputation, after the hand-wringing and general complaints about the YPF nationalization in Argentina, followed by exactly no action on the part of Spain, Bolivia has announced that it will be paying a small fraction of REE’s value, “or maybe nothing at all“. This was not entirely unexpected on Bolivia’s part. The Hydrocarbon Minister (what a fun job that must be) announced early on in the week that most of the cables, towers, and so on that the government would be taking over from Spain were old and in very bad condition. But you can see the downward turn of events here: first the government of Argentina decides to buy the shares of its oil company that are owned by Spain. Feeling encouraged by their success, the government of Bolivia then decides to buy up the Spanish-owned shares of its electric company. Argentina then announces the price it will pay for the oil company shares, which is far below what Spain expected to receive. Now Bolivia is trying to do the same for the electric company shares. Article #1 is a very interesting interview with Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs about both cases. He argues that punitive measures against either country would harm the people of Argentina and Bolivia instead of their governments. Best quote: “What would have been the forceful response? Send the Army to Argentina?” [“¿Cuál hubiera sido la respuesta contundente? ¿Mandar el Ejército a Argentina?”, translation mine]

Money matters internally are thorny as well. The saga of Bankia began on the 7th, when the bank’s president, Rodrigo Rato, resigned. This isn’t just a guy who wated to retire either; this decision was made under pressure from the highest levels of government. The bank is considered the keystone of the government’s plan to restructure the financial system in Spain. Rato suggested a replacement and assured investors that the bank was still solvent, but once again, reputation is key in the financial sector. By the 8th, the Minister of Finance had to announce that the government had no plans to nationalize Bankia and El País was publishing a FAQ for those who had money in Bankia accounts. On the 9th, the government announced that it was “studying” a partial nationalization of the bank, and by the end of the day it was all over: Article #2 announces the nationalization of Bankia. Will it help? Time will tell . . .

Article #3 caught my eye because I find everything to do with Gibraltar fascinating. I think it is because I never knew how bitter feelings were over British ownership of the territory. Prince Edward (Charles’s younger brother) and his wife Sophie will be visiting Gibraltar (although the article mostly refers to the place as “el Peñon”- the Rock) on June 13th, and the Spanish government is not happy about this. The King and Queen of Spain once even boycotted the royal wedding when Charles and Diana stopped over in Gibraltar. So now, the article strongly hints that the Spanish government is studying possibly standing up the Queen of England and refusing to send King Juan Carlos to the Olympic inauguration at the end of July.

Speaking of the Olympics, article #4 discusses the crucial intersection of athletes at the pinnacle of fitness and fashion. Oh, you didn’t think that was crucial? Think again; the clothing designs for the Spanish Olympic athletes are coming under heavy criticism. The main complaints are that the designers are Russian, not Spanish, and it would have shown more Spanish pride to highlight a national company at the Olympics. Also, that the clothes are ugly. Government officials have defended themselves by saying that the designs were offered to them free of charge, while a Spanish designer would have charged money. Unsurprisingly, this has not quelled the controversy. A recent political cartoon manages to link Olympic uniforms AND the financial sector, depicting athletes in patchwork clothes and naming the designer as the IMF. Meanwhile the Russian company claims that the images shown to the public were not the final designs.

There are so many soccer leagues here in Europe that I can’t keep them all straight. First there was the Copa del Rey, the final of which will be played in a mere 12 days – Athletic Club de Bilbao and Barça. Then there was the Champions League, in which Real Madrid and Barça both had a shot, but both teams lost in the semifinals. Then there was the League championship, which Real Madrid won last week. Now the soccer news is about the Europa League, which had two Spanish teams make it to the finals – Athletic Club de Bilbao, and Atlético de Madrid. They played each other in Bucarest on the 9th and Madrid won, sparking intense celebration at the Neptune fountain in Madrid (each team has an area where they congregate when their team wins, which is kind of interesting. Real Madrid gathers at the Plaza de Cibeles). Article #5 details the win, along with the 3 other times Atlético has won the Europa League.

 

I’ll sign off here for now this week. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for next week’s roundup – the 1 year anniversary of the May 15th protests is on Tuesday, and I want to save the news stories I have accumulating on that for my next post. Until then, may your Olympic gear be the height of fashion.

Spain News Roundup of the Week: April 29 – May 5, 2012

Back again after somewhat of a hiatus, and it feels good to be news-ing again. I have a bit of catch-up to do with the Royal Family, and then some business and sports news. The title says April 29th to May 5th, but some of these articles and comics are older – I’m sure you don’t mind.

So let’s get to it with the Royal Family. It hasn’t been a great few months for King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia, their children, or their grandchildren. Recall that el Caso Noós tangentially involved the king’s daughter, the Infanta Cristina, by virtue of being married to the man under investigation for embezzlement – Iñaki Urdangarin. Juan Carlos’s second daughter, the Infanta Elena, joined the news cycle when her son, the king’s grandson Felipe, was accidentally shot in the foot during target practice with his father. And then Juan Carlos himself joined the party when he went on a safari in Botswana to hunt elephants and fell and broke his hip. There have been some interesting comics on the subject, such as this one, showing an elephant crushing the king, this one, echoing criticism that the crown shouldn’t be taking hunting trips during an economic crisis, and this one (my personal favorite), in which Juan Carlos cries from off-screen “My hip! My hip!” and an elephant repeats the king’s famous comment of 2007 to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, “Why don’t you just shut up?” Article #1 in the sidebar gives a good overview of the changing image of the royal family in Spain, which may not have actual political power, but wields a great deal of soft power in the country.

Article #2 is a follow-up to the March 25th elections in Andalucía. I mentioned before that the ruling party, the PSOE, was expected to lose big time, but although they did lose their majority, the opposition PP didn’t gain a majority either. This means a coalition government, and after much debate and compromise, the PSOE and the IU reached an agreement that allows José Antonio Griñán, leader of the PSOE, to remain president of Andalucía – even though he did not win the elections. The PSOE and the IU together have 59 seats in the Andalucian Parliment, while the PP has 50.

In article #3 we move to business and economic matters. It has been a big deal here that Argentina decided to nationalize YPF, an oil company that was controlled by Repsol, a Spanish company. Now Bolivia is jumping in with its nationalization of TDE, an electric company in Bolivia in which REE (la Red Eléctrica Española or the Spanish Electric Network) had a majority stake. Considering that the Christian Science Monitor used the word “decline” in the YPF story I linked, this is becoming cause for concern here in Spain.

Article #4 highlights the power of social media against government policy in an interesting way. The hashtag #novullpagar, which means “I do not pay” in Catalán, has been used to draw attention to a campaign against toll roads in Catalunia. There are 632 kilometers of toll roads in Catalunia, which is the highest percentage of toll to non-toll of all 17 communities in Spain, and the No Vull Pagar protest involves . . . not paying the tolls! I really want to know how this works. Do they drive through the gates? I mean, even the electronic toll lanes have a gate on them; you drive into them, the machine detects the transponder, and then the gate opens and you go on. Anyway, there have been rumblings from the central government about increasing the number of toll roads throughout the country, so I expect this will continue, and I’ll figure out how the protest is carried out.

Sports! When it comes to sports in Spain, there is only fútbol, and when it comes to fútbol, there are only two teams: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Accordingly, the faces you see most on the sports segments of the evening news are José Mourinho, the trainer for Madrid, and Josep (Pep) Guardiola, the trainer for Barcelona. These faces will be changing soon, since article #5 announces that Guardiola oversaw his last game as trainer on May 5th,  retiring after leading Barça to 13 titles in 4 years. Mourinho will be staying, however, and I seriously hope the man starts smiling soon, because I have never seen him do so. Even when Real Madrid won the League title I didn’t see him smiling! Maybe if he had come to the first communion party I went to yesterday, and heard the group of incredibly tipsy guys spontaneously break out into song, he would have smiled a little. I sure did, considering the song was the chorus of “You’re Just Too Good To Be True”, with all the words replaced by “José Mourinho” (“José Mourinho! Da da da da da da, José Mourinho! Da da da da da da!”).

 

Well, that’s all for this week. May your drunken songs to your favorite sports team be at least a little more creative.

Spain News Roundup of the Week(s): April 1 – April 14, 2012

While I am formulating my thoughts on Holy Week for a post, I’ve also been sorting through the news. A couple of items on this list I have wanted to post about before, but más vale tarde que nunca, am I right?

Article 1 is a story that has been allllll over the news here for several weeks. It is referred to as the case of the “stolen babies” and refers to a movement of women, some who were teenage mothers, some who were separated from their husbands, and some who just had the bad luck to give birth in the wrong place at the wrong time, who are searching for their birth children. All of these women gave birth in maternity clinics run by nuns, and after giving birth the attendants took their babies away, never to be seen again. Some of the mothers were told that the baby would be better off being adopted by someone else, while others were told that their babies had died. In reality, the babies were allegedly sold to adoptive families for hundreds of thousands of pesetas. The most astonishing thing about this case is both the scope of the operation and the fact that it was perpetrated by nuns. The reason the story is in the news now is because one of the nuns, named Sor María, has been charged in court for stealing one baby in particular named Pilar. So far in the case two people have spoken in court, or in Sor María’s case, not spoken, because she claimed the right to not respond to the charges in court. The other person who spoke before the judge was Alejandro Alcalde, who adopted the baby in question and claims to not have paid any money for her.

Article 2 is an update, more or less, on the new Spanish government’s reforms. It’s been almost 5 months since the national elections brought the PP to power, and President Mariano Rajoy promised many reforms during the campaign. One of them is the hotly debated labor reform, which has caused very vocal opposition and the nation-wide strike of March 29th, and which has not yet been brought to the congressional floor.  The other big reform is the “Stability Law” which attempts to address the difficult state of the economy. This law is actually an outgrowth of a constitutional amendment mandating various spending limits that was passed 6 months ago and had the approval of both major parties. However, the law passed with zero support from the opposition party, the PSOE. Among other things, the law sets limits on government debt with the goal being 0% by 2020. This measure was the sticking point between the PP and the PSOE, who wanted to set that 2020 limit to 0.4%. The PP was able to negotiate with several minor parties so that they would at least abstain from the vote, but despite discussions that went to the last minute, the PSOE delegates voted against the measure. It didn’t matter, because the law passed 192 to 116, with 4 abstentions.

Article 3 is also economy-related. Complaining about gas prices is something I think is common to everyone who owns a car, because it is expensive everywhere nowadays. Here in Europe things have suddenly gotten worse after the EU agreed to stop importing oil from Iran as a form of economic sanctions. This is a problem for Spain (and the rest of Europe I’d imagine) because most of Spain’s oil, and therefore its gasoline, comes from Iran. In fact, Spain imports 99% of its oil. So King Juan Carlos took an official trip to Kuwait on April 4th to discuss importing more oil from them to make up the shortage.

Some science for you all. Article 4 is about a recent find in Cantabria, a community in the north of Spain best known for beaches and cave paintings. Now it can also be known for its mineral diversity, because a new mineral called “zaccagnaite-3R” was discovered in a cave called “El Soplao”. Besides being really cool, the mineral is also the first of its type to be found in a cave, as opposed to the microscopic finds of a variety of zaccagnaite in marble located in Italy and possibly Greece. Zaccagnaite has a lot of industrial and health uses, and the variety found in Cantabria has a higher concentration of aluminum than the Italian 2H type. Scientists have learned much about the mineral in general through the analysis of the new 3R variety.

And now for something completely unscientific. Eurovision 2012 is upon us! Every year since 1956, members of the European Broadcasting Union have participated in a song contest, giving the world such hits as “Waterloo” by ABBA. Spain’s entrant this year is a singer named Pastora Soler and a song called “Quédate conmigo” [Stay With Me]. Article 5 gives some information about Soler’s backup singers and choreography for the performance, which will be on May 26th in Baku, Azerbaijan.

 

That’s all for now, folks. Enjoy your Europop.