Costa del Sol News - 6th March 2008

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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The Costa del Sol weekly newspaper, on sale at newsagents.

Week 6th March - 12th March 2008

PEDALLING IN THE SUNSHINE

A record number of cyclists turned out for Nerja's 20th Día del Pedal last Thursday. Warm sunshine greeted those who gathered on the Balcón de Europa to mark Andalucía Day, the anniversary of the successful autonomy referendum vote on February 28, 1980.


PHONE RAGE

Expat customers angry at English-language phone service broker

By Matthew Pritchard

A company offering telephone lines and internet connections to the expat community has been the focus of growing anger this week.

The webpage, Telefonica in English, describes itself as “an independent service acting solely as agents for Telefónica products and services in Spain and its islands” and claims to have “exclusive offers which other distributors simply don't have.”

But many customers have ended up paying installation fees after applying for deals claiming installation would be free.

Dave from Los Carasoles placed an order with Telefonica in English at Christmastime last year and said engineers from Telefónica came three weeks later. He was charged an administrative fee of 68 euros by Telefonica in English only to find this week that he would indeed be charged a further 112 euros for installation despite claims on the Telefonica in English webpage that “if you order a telephone line through us the installation fee is completely free of charge.”

The same thing occurred to Dawn Hudson of Los Garcias. She contracted a telephone line and internet deal last August and was charged a 109-euro administration fee. Six months later, when the phone line was finally installed, Mrs Hudson discovered she too had to pay more than 120 euros to Telefónica for the installation despite signing up for a free installation deal with Telefonica in English.

Criticism has also centred on the exact purpose of the “one-off administrative fees” the company charges for arranging Telefónica services. One man, who did not wish to be named, said: “Basically, I have been charged 120 euros by this company just for them to pass my order on to the real Telefónica when I could have phoned the Spanish company directly and avoided the admin fee.”

The company’s webpage claims to offer an online operator service to deal with queries and complaints but an investigation by this newspaper revealed the service was never available and customers were directed to contact the company via email.

Company responds

Sergio Agostino, sales director of Victoria Calls SL, the company that owns Telefonica in English, defended its record. He said the administration charges covered the translation services offered by the company, as well as the English manuals, the cost of calling technicians and the bilingual operator service. He said: “We emphasise who we are and what we charge on every single page on our website.

“Customers confirm to our Terms and Conditions before they can order a product or service.”

Sr Agostino said it was no longer possible to contact the company via telephone as the lines had been closed down due to spiralling costs. He went on to explain the company’s policy regarding complaints and queries. He said: “Our objective is to answer all emails within 24 hours - unfortunately due to demand and response from technicians this is not always achievable.”

Sr Agostino rebutted criticism of the free installation deal and placed the blame with customers. He said: “Our current offer is for free telephone line installation, by which the customer only pays for the admin charge, which is 59 euros including IVA.

“However, many customers become impatient and make numerous applications through various distributors including 1004 and local Telefónica agents.

“Should the application be processed through any other distributor than ourselves we cannot guarantee an installation fee will not be charged.”

Virginia Rojas, a representative of Spanish communications giant Telefónica, said she had never heard of Telefonica in English and confirmed “they have nothing to do with us.”

The Junta de Andalucía said that no official complaint had ever been lodged against the company.


Two dead in family shooting tragedy

Two dead in family shooting tragedy

By Dave Jamieson

Police investigating the murders of two brothers in Villanueva del Trabuco have detained two suspects. The bodies of the victims, both in their 40s, were found in an olive grove three kilometres outside the town on Sunday. The pair arrested are understood to include a third, younger sibling of the two deceased.

The tragedy is believed to have taken place around midday when the dead men were shot in the head with a hunting rifle while working on the Rajaestacas finca, owned by one of them. Although both lived in nearby Archidona, they are reported to have been very well known in Villanueva del Trabuco, about 20 kilometres east of Antequera, where they lived with their parents, now both deceased, for many years.

The bodies appear to have lain where they fell until about 8.30 pm when the victim’s younger brother and another man reported them. They told the local police that they had set out to find the two men after they had failed to return home. The remains of their lunch and their 4x4 vehicle were found nearby.

A family inheritance could be the motive

On Monday, after interviewing the men, Guardia Civil officers arrested both of them, suspecting the brother’s friend of having fired the shots.

While remaining open-minded about a motive for the murders, investigators think there may have been had some sort of financial dispute over a family inheritance between the dead men and the younger brother. They also think he could have been involved in criminal activities with the fourth man, suspected as being as the hired hit-man.

An official day of mourning was held on Monday in Villanueva del Trabuco, a town of around 5,500 residents.


Financial struggles threaten Cudeca

The cancer hospice seeks additional fundraising sources

By Oliver McIntyre

The Cudeca Cancer Foundation’s 15th anniversary celebrations ended on a bittersweet note last week with a closing ceremony that highlighted the history and achievements of the charity hospice but also revealed that it could be forced to shut down its inpatient unit by year end unless new sources of financing can be found.

Cudeca’s founder and president, Joan Hunt OBE, confirmed that “expenses for the last two years have exceeded revenues.” The foundation’s financial director, Rafael Olalla, explained that the opening of the inpatient unit in 2005 practically doubled Cudeca’s expenses, to around two million euros a year, while current fundraising efforts – including the charity’s second-hand shops, a wide array of events, collection jars, private and corporate donations, etc – bring in revenues of around 1.5 million euros.

Cudeca says it is committed to finding the funding necessary to maintain the inpatient unit, which has the capacity for 15 terminal-stage cancer patients and has treated around 200 people over the last two years. One underdeveloped fundraising tool, said Sr Olalla, is the foundation’s membership programme, with just a couple of hundred donor-members despite the centre having provided its free services to more than 5,000 patients and their family members over the last 15 years.

Medal of Honour

The closing ceremony for the anniversary ended on a happier note, as Cudeca presented its Gold Medal of Honour to the Junta de Andalucía’s government delegate in Málaga, José Luis Marcos, for his tireless support of the foundation over the years. Benalmádena’s mayor, Javier Carnero, and other dignitaries were on hand for the tribute.


Demonstrations planned for Gibraltar border

The border is to be the scene of two separate major protests this week

By David Eade

Two demonstrations are scheduled for this Thursday and Friday in La Línea at the border with Gibraltar. Neither are intended to impede access to and from the Rock but delays are expected.

The Thursday demonstration is organised by environmental groups Verdemar and Agaden, both linked to Ecologistas en Acción. Under the banner ‘Never Again’ this will set out to highlight the pollution problems surrounding the ‘New Flame’ that ran aground off Gibraltar’s Punta Europa in August. The wreck has caused pollution on the beaches of Algeciras and was the subject of a recent Greenpeace protest.

The second demonstration on Friday involves Spanish workers who ply their trade in Gibraltar. Fittingly their protest will end at the statue of the Spanish worker with a bicycle by the border entrance.

Unions want equal rights

This protest is supported by the Spanish workers’ associations, ASCTEG and CITIPEG as well as the UGT and CCOO unions who are demanding that Spanish workers in Gibraltar should have equal rights on pensions and social benefits as those who work in Spain.
However it has always been the policy in Gibraltar that workers, of whatever nationality, receive the benefits that apply on the Rock. This would not seem to be unique as other nationals working in Spain would expect to be on a par with Spaniards not the people in their country of origin.


Police suspicious over mayor's spending

JCash real estate purchases were beyond his means, say investigators

By Oliver McIntyre

Investigators in the ‘Troya’ corruption case in Alhaurín el Grande have uncovered suspicious spending by the mayor, Juan Martín Serón (Partido Popular), who along with his wife allegedly made cash real estate purchases far in excess of what their official income would allow. A police report submitted to the investigating court states that in 2005 the couple spent more than 51,000 euros on real estate investments, while their income would not have allowed a saving capacity of more than 26,000 euros. The same year they purchased an Audi car for around 30,000 euros.

Over a three-year period the couple spent more than 73,000 euros in real estate purchases, all in cash, according to the report, which says the spending and other details of the couple’s bank account activity suggest the existence of cash “from unknown income sources.”

Mayor Serón was arrested in the ‘Troya’ case in January 2007 along with his town planning councillor, Gregorio Guerra, for their alleged involvement in a bribery scheme in which builders were charged for the concession of licences or increases in allowable construction. Around 20 builders or developers were also arrested in the case. The mayor and councillor have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Mayor responds

Following the release of the report, the mayor defended his spending and reiterated his accusation that the whole case is a mere political ploy by the socialists (PSOE). He and his wife’s “modest investments” were paid for by “savings generated from her and my honest work,” he said, noting that their tax returns from the period he has been mayor show income “way above the amount spent on the investments.”


Maro bridge was started illegally, confirms mayor

By Dave Jamieson

Nerja’s mayor says work on the pedestrian bridge being built in Maro has started without the necessary permission. José Alberto Armijo was speaking last week after receiving a letter from the provincial Culture Department.

The plan is to build a steel bridge 65 metres long and three metres wide to link the two halves of Maro, which have been parted by the coastal autovía. It is to be supported by a single tower on the south side of the motorway and has a budget of 1.2 million euros.

Last month, however, Mayor Armijo wrote to the relevant authorities noting the project is within an area classified as a cultural interest site (BIC) because of its proximity to the Nerja Caves (CDSN, Feb. 21 – 27). He claimed then that municipal engineers had detected that the work had affected some of the infrastructure and queried if the project had been properly authorised.

The reply from the province, said the mayor, “has demonstrated that the work was started without asking permission from the Culture Department and without being licensed by the municipality.” He said the town hall wanted to collaborate “to overcome these obstacles,” adding that while the bridge was being built on land expropriated for the motorway construction, it should not free the project from requiring authorisation from the Culture Department and from the town hall.

However, the province’s culture delegate, Francisco López, said he believed the work did not require a licence from Nerja town hall, claiming that the mayor was using the subject “politically.” The head of the foundation that manages the Nerja Caves, Ángel Ramírez, who is also the opposition PSOE leader at the town hall, again accused Sr Armijo of putting obstacles in the way of the bridge, which, he said, does not require a municipal licence. For his part, Mayor Armijo said he hoped Sr Ramírez would “acknowledge his error.”


Estepona joins 'transition towns' project

The man behind the local scheme is Briton James Machin

By David Eade

A group of people in Estepona, largely members of Ecologistas en Acción, are launching a new environmental initiative called "Estepona - Ciudad de Transición' which is based on a rapidly growing movement in the UK called Transition Towns.

The man behind the scheme in Estepona is a Briton, James Machin, who is also acting as the coordinator for the venture. A long-term resident of the rural area around Estepona, James is well-known for his school science films and has been an active promoter of 'peak oil' for a number of years.

James told the Costa del Sol News: "We are starting with a promotion, the object of which is to pass on the agricultural knowledge based on growing without chemicals from the older generation to local youths before it disappears."

Eighty million hectares for biofuel

The project is linked to 'peak oil' and James explained: "World oil production has been on a plateau for four years now at 85 million barrels a day. Demand has however been increasing. The gap has been plugged so far by biofuels. From almost nothing five years ago we are now planting 80 million hectares for biofuel production."

"This land was formerly dedicated to food so we have also passed to 'peak food' on an industrial basis and hence the 'huerta' [market garden] initiative."

If you are interested in learning more about the Transition Towns project in the UK you can find out more by visiting the website www.transitiontowns.org.


Foreign custody cases increase in Málaga courts

Majority are British men whose ex-wives brought kids to Costa

By Dave Jamieson

Málaga courts are reported to be handling an ever-increasing number of cases where one parent of a foreign family has brought children to live in Spain without the other parent’s consent. Around a dozen such disputes now come before judges in the city every year, the majority involving British subjects.

Almost 90 per cent of the complaints come from men whose former partners have moved to the Costa del Sol, taking the children with them but failing to consult the father. Typically, court action follows after the intervention of family and friends has failed to produce results. Legal sources say that while the mother may have legal custody of the children following separation or divorce, she is obliged to advise the father if she leaves the home country, a requirement some mothers may not be aware of.

Spain’s Ministry of Justice has devolved responsibility for such cases in the province to Málaga’s family courts, which require the parent raising the action to be represented by a state lawyer. The presiding judge then has to weigh up the request against the other parent’s reasons for allowing the children to stay in the country, which often include allegations of lack of interest and sometimes violence.

Possible jail sentences

Orders to return a child to his or her home country are generally observed, say judges, but occasionally threats of further legal action have to be made. A change to Spanish law in 2002 allows for offenders to be jailed for up to four years.

One Málaga judge has called for an international family mediator who would be able to give an expert view on family conflicts which cross frontiers, and break down the barriers of language and international legislation.


Restoration underway at Alhaurín quarry

The seven-year plan calls for the planting of 121,000 trees

By Oliver McIntyre

Restoration work has started at the Taralpe quarry in Alhaurín de la Torre, the largest of the town’s quarries and the first to start restoration work under the quarry agreement reached two years ago. On Monday officials from Alhaurín town hall, the Junta de Andalucía and other members of the quarry restoration follow-up committee visited the site to see the early progress.

So far nearly two hectares have been replanted, with 12,000 square metres of pine trees and 7,000 square metres of cypress and fruit trees. In all, the seven-year restoration plan (extendable to 10 years under the quarry agreement) calls for the planting some 121,000 trees.

Critics say plan is a ploy

The quarry agreement, including the restoration plan, was the deal that was reached to end the quarry workers’ strike in late 2005 and early 2006 over the uncertain future of the quarries, which had been in operation for years but were illegal due to a lack of the proper licences. The restoration plan for the four affected quarries remains controversial, attacked by critics as a ploy to continue extracting materials from the sites for seven to 10 years as the restoration work proceeds.

However, the mayor, Joaquín Villanova, says the agreement and the restoration plan are a boon for the town, bringing “economic benefits” while “reforesting [the quarries] for their maximum integration into the natural landscape” of the sierra.


Woman sues hospital over undetected breast cancer

The Mozarabic site is believed to be town’s oldest monument

By Oliver McIntyre

A Coín association, in collaboration with the town hall, is seeking protected status for an ancient Mozarabic cave church that is believed to be the town’s oldest historic monument. The site, a complex of man-made excavations known as the Cuevas Rupestres, is believed to date from sometime between the eighth and 10th centuries, built as a Christian church in Moorish Spain.

The cultural association Fundación García Agüera is working to get the cave church, located on the road that leads out of town toward Monda and Marbella, declared a Site of Cultural Interest (BIC) by the Junta de Andalucía. Toward this goal, as well as to raise general public awareness about the site, it has drafted a detailed report, a copy of which was submitted it to the Junta’s Department of Culture. The report (in Spanish), along with numerous photographs, is available on the association’s website (www.fundaciongarciaaguera.org).

Architectural features

The cave church complex consists of three main chambers – the longest jutting nearly 18 metres into the hillside – and two secondary ones, plus an interior hallway connecting the three main chambers, and an exterior entrance patio. Its architectural features include rounded arches, support buttresses, niches and other elements, all carved into the solid limestone hillside. It is one of five such cave churches in the province of Málaga, including two with similar characteristics in Ronda and Archidona.


Lead shot law brings out protesters

By Dave Jamieson

Spain’s King Juan Carlos has been attacked for his views on hunting as thousands took to the streets of Madrid to protest against anti-hunting laws.

It was revealed last week that the King had a private meeting with the Environment Minister, Cristina Narbona, shortly before a new law was passed in December banning the use of lead ammunition in wetlands. Lead pellets are believed to kill many partridges every year when the birds mistake them for food. An estimated 6,000 tons of lead are reported to have been polluting the ecologically important areas annually.

A statement from the Zarzuela Palace said that the King is a hunting enthusiast but also has concerns for the environment, “and this was the focus of his concern.” However, Ecologistas en Acción described as “lamentable” the fact that the King had used his influence and spent time paid for by taxpayers, “to help his friends in the hunting lobby.” They are also angered by reports that Juan Carlos has been in touch with Spain’s Hunting Federation, which opposes the new legislation with claims that it effectively outlaws the activity in almost a third of the country. Cristina Narbona has rejected this view, saying the legislation simply reaffirmed laws in place since 2001 and only affects hunters in 0.1 per cent of Spain.

The minister described her meeting with the King as “private” and refused to answer questions about their discussion, instead accusing those who are against the law of “distorting” the issue for party political purposes. Critics, however, say the meeting broke a long-standing tradition by which the monarchy does not become involved in politics in the public arena.

Last Saturday’s protest in Madrid saw a crowd estimated at 35,000 march through the streets in hunting clothes, many accompanied by greyhound dogs, which are traditionally used in the hunt in Spain. Archers and bird-handlers also participated under the slogan, “For the countryside, hunting and conservation.” However, the event as been slammed by the PSOE as an electioneering rally organised by the opposition Partido Popular, only a week before the general election.


Bank of Spain warns of sharper economic downturn

By Oliver McIntyre

Spain’s central bank, the Banco de España, has warned of a sharper deceleration of the country’s economy during early to mid-2008, due in large part to “increasing tensions” in the international financial markets.

While the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 3.8 per cent during the whole of 2007, growth dropped to 3.5 per cent in the last quarter of the year. Now the bank is warning of a possible further drop to around three per cent in the first quarter of 2008. That would be lower than the government’s previously stated estimate of 3.1 per cent growth during the course of 2008.

The economic picture painted in the Banco de España’s latest bulletin is bleak on numerous fronts. It cites plunging consumer confidence – which dropped in January for the sixth consecutive month, to its lowest level since May 1994 – rising unemployment, particularly in the sharply slowing construction sector; a 12.7 per cent year-on-year drop in new-car registrations; and drops in equipment spending by businesses.

On the positive side, the central bank cites the “high level of solvency” of the country’s banks and the low rate of mortgage loan defaults. It says Spain’s banks have maintained relatively strict criteria for approving loans, thus preserving the quality of their loan portfolios, in contrast to the sub-prime mortgage market in the United States that led to high default rates and ultimately sparked the international credit crunch.


Arrest in Chiclana shop murder

Just over two weeks after the stabbing of Dolores Amaya in the mattress shop where she worked in Chiclana the Guardia Civil have arrested a man suspected of her murder. The 24-year-old, known only as JMJS, allegedly confessed after officers found blood-stained clothing at his apartment.

He subsequently revealed that he had thrown a kitchen knife with a 25 cm blade into the Iro River. Divers then searched the river and its banks and recovered what appears to be the murder weapon.

The detained man, who said his motive was robbery, has committed previous offences in Chiclana and is well known to the police. He is also suspected of carrying out a recent robbery at a sportswear shop in the town in which an employee was again threatened with a knife.

He is now being held in custody in the Puerto de Santa María III prison without bail while undergoing psychiatric tests. Guardia Civil sources indicate that he produced documentation showing that he is receiving treatment for schizophrenia.

Reinforcements

The crime provoked widespread alarm among residents in the Chiclana area, leading the Spanish Home Office Minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, to bring in more officers to help resolve the case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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