Thursday, June 30, 2011


On Sunday August 31 1997 I drove to a house I was refurbishing in Jimena de la Frontera. It was totally isolated, down a dirt lane with no other houses in the area apart from a hut in which lived Isidro. Isidro was around 80, had bad eyesight, no electricity in his home, his life revolved around the valley apart from the lottery results. As I drove up around 9.00 he rushed out and in solemn terms commiserated with me over the death of Princess Diana in Paris hours earlier. To this day I ask myself, how did he know?
The world in technology terms has moved on but I was still stunned on Saturday afternoon when I received an email from France, from a friend who has no links with Gibraltar, commenting on the attack on Fabian Picardo. Whilst it was hot news in the village that is Gibraltar word had obviously spread to the Global Village too.
What concerned me most was the part that read: “It all sounds worrying after that other politician was attacked some months ago. Is it open season on Gibraltarian politicians at the moment?” So what appears to have been an unprovoked attack on Picardo and his best man at his coming wedding suddenly has become woven in to a scenario of the Rock’s politicians being attacked in the streets.
All the indications are that there was no political motive involved in the Picardo assault, especially as there were a number of other such incidents over the weekend. The vicious attack on Danny Feetham last November was in entirely a different category. When the case comes to court it may emerge the attacker targeted the Minister of Justice but would have done so regardless of who he or she was or the party to which they were affiliated.
So Gibraltar gives a collective gasp of relief the weekend attack was on Fabian Picardo, a light night diner, rather than the leader of the opposition. Indeed sitting outside Gibraltar’s parliament on Friday I marvelled at how just one single policeman guarded the government and opposition inside; how the MPs left and then walked through the streets without the need for a bodyguard.
However it is this friendly face of Gibraltar that was attacked both on Friday night and over the weekend. The Rock is famous for all its ethnic and religious communities living in peaceful harmony in stark contrast to much of the rest of the world.
Yet what if it hadn’t been two able bodied men walking back to their car on Friday night? What if it had been a man or woman alone? What if it had been an elderly couple? What if it had been tourists visiting the Rock. What would the outcome of the fracas have been? What would the news headlines have been both here and abroad?
For whilst it is comforting to know it is not “open season on Gibraltar’s politicians” what message does it send to residents and visitors that want to dine out? The news there were other weekend attacks is not reassuring but more alarming in this scenario.
Make no mistake it was not the leader of the opposition who was attacked on Friday night but Gibraltar’s good name – and urgent government action is needed to ensure all go safely on the Rock’s streets, whatever the hour, in the future. The chief minister turns a blind eye at his peril.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


The chief minister, Peter Caruana, has stated that if he is re-elected for one more term, in all likelihood, it will be his last. He has already been in the post of chief minister for four consecutive terms, no mean achievement. If he makes it one more time he will surpass the success of the ‘Father of the Modern Gibraltar’, Sir Joshua Hassan.
He may argue and no doubt others will on his behalf that this will be his swan song. Give him another mandate then he will be happy to go off, dust down his legal wig and give judges a hard time till he retires. What this of course ignores is that Peter Caruana is an intelligent and ambitious man, a person who has a clear vision of where he wants Gibraltar to go – and he will not be satisfied till he has achieved that objective. Hence his final term could be the most dangerous for Gibraltar for what is equally certain is that the Rock isn’t where he wants it to be.
I am sure I am not alone amongst the journalists who spoke up for Gibraltar at the time of the Blair/Aznar campaign to bounce the Rock in to joint-sovereignty who found themselves targeted in suspicious ways. I was not against joint sovereignty any more than I am against an Andorran solution because quite simply I believe it is solely for Gibraltarians to decide their future status. I therefore campaigned for Gibraltar’s right to self-determination as a basic human right – a belief I hold and speak out for to this day.
I am equally sure that I was not the only journalist to receive phone calls or messages from UK sources suggesting the chief minister had led London and Madrid to believe he could deliver a joint sovereignty deal...and then gone back on his word. Mischief or the truth? I have no idea. However as far as I am aware Caruana has never explained to the people of Gibraltar his apparent conversion on the road to Madrid.
Since I have been writing for Panorama he has told students in Algeciras that he had reached a deal with the Partido Popular before Aznar’s defeat on a Córdoba – Tripartite Accord. Which is curious as it was only months after he had given Aznar a bloody nose in the November 2002 referendum. Also my man who treads the corridors of power in Madrid has never seen any evidence of such a deal, and he’s looked.
We then have the chief minister speaking in Spain on more than one occasion of an Andorra type solution for Gibraltar. Indeed between now and when he eventually leaves office is that the future he seeks for the Rock? I have no personal objection to it but the people of Gibraltar may.
One Panorama reader has no doubts. He wrote to me thus: “Andorra is the end game for Mr Caruana. If we look at the PP politicians during the last Aznar term, Pique and Palacios are out of politics. Acebes is still around and he was Ministerio del Interior from 2000-2004 and Rajoy was then number 2 and will be number one soon. The minister involved was either Acebes or Rajoy. It could not have been anyone else.”
What is curious and offensive at least to that Gibraltarian is to learn your chief minister has been talking to the Partido Popular and pushing Andorra and you only know because it was first reported in Spain. He has never engaged the people of Gibraltar on these issues and it is the very future of the Rock that is at stake. Prescriptions, play grounds, free buses are all well and good but Gibraltar’s future is surely paramount.
So when I hear new whispers this time from Spain that there are done deals or deals in the offing on joint sovereignty and the waters once Gibraltar has been to the polls and Caruana returned with the PP installed in Madrid – are they true or false? I have no idea.
Yet the fact I am writing this article at all about a chief minister of Gibraltar or that a reader doubts his leader is to me incredible. Have there ever been any doubts over where Joe Bossano, Fabian Picardo or Dr Joseph Garcia stand on this issue? None.
If Peter Caruana wants the trust of the people of Gibraltar on the fundamental issue of their future he has to answer some searching questions. Might I respectfully suggest that perhaps Thursday and Friday in parliament would be a good place to start.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


The chief minister got it in the neck last week from the Opposition for having apologised to the people of Algeciras over the effects of the fire. I have no problem with that apology per se but understand the anger over the lack of saying sorry to the people of the Rock and the wider battles or lack of them over compensation.
If we put aside the politics of the bay we have spread around its shores two major ports, a bunkering operation, a refinery, numerous heavy industries and a chronic lack of sewage facilities to EU standards. You do not have to be a wise man or woman to see that is a toxic mix which on occasions will explode.
I never thought the day would come when I would agree with the PP leader in Andalucía, Javier Arenas, but his suggestion that there should be a Gibraltar – Campo accord to deal with emergencies makes sense. Indeed a protocol should exist where not only is there a sharing of emergency response assets but the need for running to the EU or courts for recompense is redundant because there is an agreed route to compensation.
I am now going to change tack slightly and look at the chief minister’s motives for saying “mea culpa” to the people of Algeciras. Many people would argue that when a politician says something you should take it with a pinch of salt. When you are in election mode, which Gibraltar is, then the pinch should be a bucket.
The problem for both voters and journalists is that in this election scenario you have to look beyond the obvious meaning. Hence the decision by the chief minister to say sorry to Algeciras as the new Partido Popular mayor takes office may be part of a different agenda. This certainly could be so as the new mayor is José Ignacio Landaluce who as the Cádiz PP MP hardly ever has a good word to say about Gibraltar or indeed Mr Caruana.
So how does the chief minister seek to play it in the run up to polling day? He could opt for a quiet and peaceful bay. He may want to make peace with those who say he is an environmental terrorist. Not only is the PP now in power in Algeciras but if he is re-elected chances are there will also be a Rajoy administration in Madrid and an Arenas government in Sevilla during his next term.
So what would the PP like to hear from Mr Caruana? Holding his hands up for the fire is a start? Has he signalled he is willing to give way on the Rock’s waters once he is back in office if the Guardia Civil patrols sail elsewhere till polling day? The chief minister has always said he could work with the PP so has there been a private handshake on a sovereignty deal, an Andorra deal, once the pesky Gibraltar voters have been dealt with? Who knows?
On the other hand now the political street fighter Joe Bossano has exited from the centre stage does the chief minister fancy such a role for himself? Will he shout “come on, show us what you’ve got!” and “You and whose army” to Arenas, Rajoy and the PP? Will he fight them on the beaches and in the waters of the bay? Maybe he will, maybe he will wrap himself in the Gibraltar flag to polling day.
So yes I understand the Opposition being angry that the chief minister has given an apology to Algeciras when none was forthcoming to Gibraltar. Yet Gibraltarians must ask themselves was this weakness by Caruana or part of his bigger political game?

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Around a month ago I arrived in the City of London at Fenchurch Street station. I had to make my way to Millbank to attend a conference so walked down to Tower Hill tube station only to find it closed. Worse than that because it was a Saturday the powers that be had decided to close most of the underground network for maintenance.
Luck would have it there was a direct bus from the Tower of London to Trafalgar Square which I duly caught.  As it wove its way through the City of London I reflected that in my childhood, when I’d walked these streets, where now there were high rise office blocks there were then bomb sites, the blackened remnants of the blitz.
However I knew precisely where I was because the layout of the streets was exactly the same as were their names. Indeed you could bring a person back from over a 500-year-period and the grid plus the names of the alley ways and streets would as familiar to him or her as they were to me, albeit they would be looking very different.
Which brings me back to Gibraltar because whilst the “big smoke” it isn’t it is an historic town with every lane, street and building commemorating its heritage. Therefore I find the decision to change the name of Devil’s Tower Road and Cannon Lane mystifying and I am sure for many people it is distressing.
It is a tradition in Gibraltar that those who have served the community right up to today, as the Bishops Devlin and Caruana certainly did, should be commemorated with the naming of a street or building after them. No argument there but the honouring of recent history should not mean that the Rock’s past heritage is ditched. Hence Bernard Devlin should be given the same distinction as Charles Caruana with new street names in the growing parts of Gibraltar.
As I understand it the distinctively named Devil’s Tower Road gets its name from the Devil’s Tower, a seventeenth century watchtower that stood nearby (see picture above bottom left). In its place the government wants to place the imaginatively named North Front Avenue – my goodness, they must have brain-stormed for weeks to come up with that one.
It is entirely appropriate that barrister Patrick Canessa should have organized the silent protest last Thursday against the renaming of Cannon Lane because of its close associations with his family and early life. Streets, lanes, ramps, buildings are not inanimate objects they are the very fabric of peoples’ lives. Hence whenever I have come across a thoroughfare being renamed elsewhere it has been after a lengthy consultation with the residents who have had the right to decide what the street they live on should be called.
The Gibraltar Heritage Trust has come out against the name changes as has the Progressive Democratic Party. The PDP reminds me of the British Liberal Party of old that was famous for engaging in local issues, for speaking up for the concerns of neighbourhoods against the might of the town halls or government. Whether the PDP’s grassroots activism converts in to seats in parliament at the coming election remains to be seen.
The renaming of two streets without consultation may be viewed in the corridors of power as being a minor issue. Sadly the syndrome of not believing the people should have a view or be included in decision making smacks of government by arrogance. Mark my words it won’t be long before instead of strolling down Main Street we’ll be shopping on Caruana Boulevard, and it won’t be named after a bishop.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Gibraltar is a democracy and hence the PDP’s voice must be heard.
Of course every political party likes to steal a lead on its rivals and in major democracies they employ spin merchants and media spokespeople to ensure their voice is heard louder than their rivals. That is all part of the party game but what is not disputed is any party’s right to the airwaves or the print press.
For that reason anybody and everybody in Gibraltar who believes in democracy – be they GSD, GSLP, Liberal or non-aligned – should stand up for the right of the PDP to be able to get its message across.
I will not disagree with the GBC’s stance on giving airtime to Fabian Picardo and the GSLP in its Viewpoint programme. It was an audience winner for a variety of reasons. So when the GBC’s CEO Allen King said: “Joe Bossano stood down as GSLP party leader after more than 30 years, and there is great interest in the community as to what the change in the GSLP leadership will mean. By any standards, this is a major news story” it is hard not to agree with him.
The PDP is led by a former GSD deputy chief minister, Keith Azopardi, and should be up to the political game. Being an unelected party doesn’t help its media cause. So when it demands equal airtime with the GSLP to get its policies across it knows that is not going to happen. Instead it has to ensure that it feeds the GBC and others with “major news stories” then fight to have them aired or printed. If they are not then the party needs to speak out as it has done so in this case which, of course, creates just such a major news story.
However a general election will be soon upon us and the game will change. Mr King has stated: “every party will be given fair and impartial coverage”. The PDP has to ensure that is the case and they are not shunted aside because they are not currently an elected party.
In the 2010 UK general election the Labour, Conservative and Liberal leaders all took part in the televised debates because it was possible that any one of those parties could win the election. However party political broadcasts were also allocated to UKIP, the Greens, the English Democrats – whoever they may be, even the racist BNP plus all the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland regional parties. That is what freedom of speech is all about.
When the Gibraltar general election is declared if the PDP is putting up the same number of candidates as the GSD, GSLP-Liberal coalition – in other words it is a potential party of government - then it should be given an equal hearing and fully share in any debates or discussions.
The important thing is for the PDP to ensure it has that commitment from Mr King now because “every party will be given fair and impartial coverage” does not necessarily equate with “will be given equal airtime and the right to participate on an equal basis in all debates or party political broadcasts”. If that is in the least doubt then the time to argue the point and make a “major news story” is now not then.
There are many who fear for democracy in Gibraltar and the old saying is he who pays the piper plays the tune. GBC is funded by the government but the GBC has to ensure it speaks at all times - but especially at election time - for the people and not its paymaster, the party of power. For whilst the chief minister signs the cheque it is the people of Gibraltar who pay the bill including PDP supporters.