Friday, September 21, 2012


I know that in his youth our Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, flirted with the music scene so might I suggest to him that the name ‘Picardo and the Pirates’ has a certain ring to it. Readers with long memories will remember the successful 50s and 60s group ‘Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’. There is no rule that says you cannot be a chief minister and a pop star.

When news broke of the confrontation in Sevilla, where the Chief Minister was speaking at a lunch forum and was presented with the pirate flag, my mind went immediately to music and Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Pirates of Penzance’. The former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was a keen devotee of Gilbert and Sullivan. I interviewed him at length in 1981 for WQXR – the classical music station of the New York Times. After reviewing his lengthy political life we talked of comic opera and his particular liking for the Pirates. The 1879 musical was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and is as popular now as then. Perhaps a performance could be arranged for Gibraltar’s Inces Hall.

Of course as a pirate Fabian Picardo is in good company. Sir Francis Drake is a national hero in Britain but is viewed as a notorious pirate in Spain. I guess you pay your pieces of eight and takes your choice.

In history pirates did operate out of Gibraltar but the real stronghold was further up the coast in Cádiz. To this day you can walk along the Callejón de las Piratas in Cádiz’s old town: they used to meet and trade their booty in the nearby Posada del Mesón in the calle Mesón.

No great surprise as the city and province was strategically placed to intercept vessels trading between Africa and the Americas and was a pirating hot spot especially in the 17 th and 18 th centuries. The corsair pirate ships used the Cádiz coast as a refuge and also as a centre for their operations.

Although we have a set image of the pirates of old those who operated out of Cádiz had a close relationship with Spanish aristocrats and senior members of the military. I guess the Partido Popular hierarchy and Guardia Civil of today!
The first famous pirate spoken of in Cádiz was Fernando de Sahandra who in the 15 th century made a healthy living by targeting Berber trading ships. He disregarded the protocols of his day and even sunk a Sevilla ship that was owned by the Reyes Católicos.

Around the same time Pedro Fernández Cabrón took advantage of the conflict between Ponce de León and the Guzmans to rob them both. Learning that Fernando de Aragón did not look kindly on his pirating activities he converted to extreme Christianity and was pardoned by the Reyes Católicos in 1478 because of his contribution to the faith.

Then the were the Galindes brothers, Pero and Diego, who with a crew including local fishermen assaulted a Breton vessel owned by John Ropel and bagged a valuable booty of 600,000 maravedíes, a unit of Spanish currency used up to the 19 th century. Ropel protested to the Marqués de Cádiz but as the nobleman wished to keep on the good side of the local people he told him in future to strengthen the defences of his ships and dismissed his complaint.

The next time our chief minister meets a Spaniard waving a pirate flag he can talk authoritatively of Cádiz’s Antón Bernalt, Jerónimo Marrufo and Jerónimo de Cubas who were deemed as legal pirates. They achieved this status because when they sent their corsairs to raid a wealthy merchant ship they had already agreed with the Spanish authorities what percentage would be paid over to the public coffers. How very Partido Popular!