News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol
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Week February 24th to March 2nd 2005.
HEALTH COSTS SPIRAL
Andalucía Health Service seeks to limit coverage for foreign residents
By Oliver McIntyre
THE ANDALUCÍA HEALTH SERVICE (SAS) HAS REQUESTED THAT MEASURES BE TAKEN TO PLUG THE FINANCIAL GAP CAUSED BY THE LARGE NUMBER OF EU-CITIZENS WHO RECEIVE MEDICAL CARE.
The problem, according to SAS, is that for every non-registered resident (there are an estimated 400,000) it loses 686 euros per year in funding which adds up to 275 million euros a year.
Regional government has brought to the Inter-territorial Health Council (the umbrella body for all of the country’s autonomous regions) a proposal for the creation of a list of basic health services that would be reciprocal between EU countries. It also proposes the creation of a compensation fund and a better system for billing between the different countries.
Because public-health coverage in Spain is more comprehensive than in many other countries, both for treatment and for medications, the creation of such a list of reciprocal services would likely mean a reduction in the fully-covered services offered to non-Spaniard EU residents living here.
“The goal is that there would be a list of basic guaranteed services for EU citizens, but everything else would have to be authorised by their home country,” said María Jesús Montero, head of regional government’s Health Department. Nonetheless, other officials have insisted that the idea should be to ‘regularise, not limit’ the offering of health services.
Health coverage is an important factor in the attractiveness of Andalucía as a destination for so-called residential tourism. While just a few years ago EU-member foreign residents represented 0.5 per cent of SAS’s total costs, they are expected to represent as much as four per cent this year.
DRAFT PLAN READY IN MAY
Central government has said that in May it will submit to the autonomous regions a draft plan for addressing the financing and provision of health services to non-Spanish EU citizens.
Mind what you eat!
British food alert hits Gibraltar and Costa
By David Eade
LAST WEEK THE BRITISH FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY (FSA) ISSUED AN ALERT AFFECTING MORE THAN 350-WIDELY EATEN PRODUCTS AS THEY WERE FOUND TO CONTAIN A POTENTIAL CANCER-CAUSING DYE CALLED SUDAN 1.
This week the FSA has updated its warning and added a further 59 products to the list. Far from the crisis being over the FSA has indicated that further products may yet be added.
Gibraltar imports many of its foodstuffs from Britain and its Environmental Health Agency was checking to see if any of these contained the cancer-causing dye and if so it would ensure they were immediately withdrawn from sale. The giant Morrisons supermarket chain, which owns the Safeways store on the Rock, has already withdrawn all affected products from its shelves.
More than 300 food companies have been affected by the mass recall of products that was started after the discovery of Sudan 1 in chilli powder used in making a consignment of Crosse and Blackwell Worcester Sauce. The sauce was then added as an ingredient to the 418 recalled products. Sudan 1 is a red dye that is used for colouring solvents, oils, waxes, petrol and shoe polish. It is illegal to add the dye to food in the EU and is so toxic is has never been tested on humans as it is believed it can alter a person’s DNA.
SUDAN 1 CANCER-CAUSING DYE
The chief executive of the FSA, Dr. Jon Bell stated: “Sudan 1 could contribute to an increased risk of cancer. However, at the levels present the risk is likely to be very small but it is sensible to avoid eating any more. There is no risk of immediate ill health. The agency is working with the industry to ensure that any remaining affected products are speedily removed. Because of the widespread use of this Worcester sauce to flavour other foods, we may find further affected products. We will continue to take action to remove these and minimise the risk to consumers.” The list of contaminated products includes 68 own-label lines from Asda, Waitrose 55, Morrisons 45, Sainsbury’s 42, Tesco 39, Somerfield 26 Marks and Spencer 15 and Iceland 14. The majority of these are ready-made meals such as steak and kidney, shepherd’s and cottage pies, pasta bakes, pizzas and chilli con carne. Also on the list are Heinz Weightwatcher meals, Walkers Crisps, McDonald’s food dressings and Unilever’s Pot Noodle range.
It is possible that British people on the Costa del Sol could have purchased these products whilst shopping in Gibraltar or brought them with them from the UK. They may also be sold by Spanish supermarkets that import British food items. The full list of recalled products can be found on the FSA’s website at www.food.gov.uk
Brit woman stabs husband
News Staff Reporter
A 54-year-old British woman was detained in Torrox Park on Sunday, accused of stabbing her 61-year-old husband. The victim, also British, was taken to hospital in Vélez-Málaga where he was treated for 11 stab wounds. Police were called to the El Pino camp site by a security guard at 21.50 on Sunday night and arrested the woman who, they reported, was carrying a blood-covered kitchen knife and showed signs of intoxication. She was immediately transferred to the Guardia Civil headquarters in Torrox where she was detained.
The couple, who live in a bungalow on the camp site, are well known in the neighbouring bar where a local Portuguese resident said that it was, "an unusual day which didn't end with them drunk". They are also said to have had frequent arguments and a loud discussion between them was reported to have been heard prior to the stabbing on Sunday evening.
This episode of domestic violence is another blow in a quiet area where recent thefts of a DVD player and around 100,000 euros worth of jewellery have disturbed residents. Some expressed concerns about the lack of security, while others demanded more frequent patrols by local police and Guardia Civil officers. The injured man was reported to be in a serious state in hospital following the attack.
Gibraltar yacht in Sotogrande drug raid
Cocaine busts rock the luxury residential community
By David Eade
Just days after the National Police broke up a Bulgarian-Spanish drug trafficking gang and seized around 800 kilos of cocaine from a house in Sotogrande’s Calle Buenavista, there has been another major drugs seizure in the luxury San Roque urbanisation.
Guardia Civil Organized Crime and Drugs Squad (EDOA) agents from Algeciras discovered the 137 kilograms of very pure cocaine at a luxury house in Sotogrande’s Rivera del Emperador zone. It was part of an ongoing EDOA operation based on a long-held suspicion that recreational boats were being used to smuggle cocaine into Spain via Sotogrande’s port. Investigators believed the drugs were then stored in luxury properties close to the port’s moorings.
The theory would seem to have been borne out by the raid, in which the cocaine haul was discovered inside the house in numerous bags. Officers also seized a Gibraltar-registered yacht, the ‘Esprite’, in the belief that it was used to transport the drugs. No arrests were made and the Guardia Civil have stated that the people involved are believed to be on the run. Officers have not ruled out the possibility that arrests will be made in the coming days.
These drugs raids have again brought unwelcome attention to the luxury urbanizations that make up the Sotogrande area of San Roque. Last summer there was much alarm amongst residents, many of whom are British, after homes in the area were targeted by Eastern European gangs who carried out numerous robberies.
In December of last year the Spanish government set up a special police squad, Greco, to tackle the mafias operating on the Costa del Sol. At that time the Socialist Deputy, Salvador de la Encina, confirmed that the spotlight would also fall on both Sotogrande and La Alcaidesa in La Línea, where it was believed many of the gangs were laundering money through real estate.
Meanwhile, a young Polish man identified as Matiej Morusiewicz and believed to be around 27 years old was found dead near km 130 on the A-7 where a service road leads to the Sotogrande urbanisation. The alarm was raised by one of the urbanisation’s security guards, who found the body. The case is now in the hands of a San Roque court, which has ordered forensic tests to determine the cause of death.
Sustainable Development Platform launches campaign
NEWS Staff Reporter
Benalmádena’s Citizens Platform for Sustainable Development, a collective of residents, neighbourhood associations and Town Hall opposition parties, has announced it is launching an informational campaign regarding the town planning policies of Mayor Enrique Bolín’s government.
The campaign, according to the group’s leaders, is aimed at raising awareness about the Town Hall’s “development excesses”, as well as at keeping alive public interest in the platform itself by showing that it continues to be active. The group first gained widespread public exposure last November, when it staged a large protest march against the Town Hall’s plans for two 20-storey buildings in Arroyo de la Miel and an elevated monorail for the town.
The new campaign, beginning next month, will involve setting up a stand at various locations in the town to provide the public information about the proposed two towers and the monorail plan, as well as other planning and development issues as they arise. The stand will be set up first at the proposed ‘skyscraper’ site, and will then be moved to different locations in each neighbourhood of the town.
Briton arrested in Málaga faces extradition
By Oliver McIntyre
WHEN JOHN PACKWOOD, A 41-YEAR-OLD BRITISH MARINE ENGINEER FROM THE ISLE OF WIGHT, ARRIVED IN MÁLAGA ON OCTOBER 15 OF LAST YEAR TO HELP A FRIEND MOVE HOUSE, HE HAD NO IDEA OF THE NIGHTMARE HE WAS ABOUT TO STEP INTO.
Upon his arrival at the Airport, he was taken into custody on an international arrest warrant issued by Moroccan authorities for a crime committed back in 1997 that, according to the NGO Fair Trials Abroad (FTA) and others, he had nothing to do with. Mr Packwood now sits in a jail near Madrid awaiting extradition to Morocco, while FTA and some governmental authorities lobby for his release.
Mr Packwood’s ordeal stems from a ship-delivery job he performed back in 1997. He was hired as one of a four-member crew to transport an ex-Royal Navy patrol boat from Southampton to Morocco, where its new Spanish owners said it was to be refitted for use as a tourist cruiser. The delivery of the boat became complicated when engine trouble caused the crew to call for an emergency tow into the port at Agadir, which was not their planned port of arrival. Nonetheless, after Moroccan authorities searched the vessel, the crew was paid for their services and given their tickets to fly home.
CLEARED BY INTERPOL
Nearly three months later, the same boat was stopped in connection with a large drug-smuggling operation. According to FTA, Interpol investigated anyone who had had any connection to the ex-patrol boat, including Mr Packwood, who was apparently cleared of any involvement. “He could not have imagined that he would ever be wanted in connection with drug smuggling,” says FTA, pointing out that “drugs are never smuggled from Southampton to Morocco, but always the other way around.”
Nonetheless, the Moroccan authorities apparently issued an international arrest warrant for Mr Packwood, as well as for his crewmates from the boat-delivery job. “This case would appear to be a blatant abuse of the International Arrest Warrants system by the Moroccan authorities,” says FTA. “No attempt was made to execute the warrant in the UK, where a challenge could be made as to the validity of the warrant.”
FTA also says that the members of the drug-smuggling gang, who were caught, tried and sentenced, never implicated any involvement by Mr Packwood or his fellow crewmembers.
SPANISH HEARING FOR APRIL
FTA’s director, Stephen Jakobi, told Costa del Sol News that a Spanish hearing to decide on the extradition issue is expected in April or May, unless the Moroccan authorities withdraw. “We do not think the Spanish legal process is likely to go well,” he said, as the requirements for extradition are minimal. Meanwhile, a cross-party group of British MEPs has raised Mr Packwood’s case with the Moroccan Ambassador to the EU in Brussels, and FTA’s Jakobi says that the Foreign Commonwealth Office is “pushing gently behind the scenes,” which he says is unusual at this stage in the process.
FTA has featured Mr Packwood and his case in the ‘Prisoner of the Month’ feature on its Web site, www.fairtrialsabroad.org, appealing for support from the public via letter-writing campaigns.
Gibraltar and Campo hold second meeting
By David Eade
The joint commission set up between the Gibraltar government and the association of town halls of the Campo de Gibraltar region (Mancomunidad) held its second meeting on Monday. The purpose of the cross-border dialogue is to seek a mutual response and action to problems that are faced by both communities.
The latest meeting was held at the Mancomunidad’s headquarters in Algeciras. After the meeting the president of the Mancomunidad, Juan Montedeoca, said both sides had put into effect the existing good will to reach agreements on three issues. The first is the commissioning of a joint epidemiological study to measure the levels of cancer in the region. The second involves closer cross-border co-operation between police, fire and ambulance services in order to deal with emergencies in the bay zone. The third will see Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar offer a combined tourist product to the tourism market.
On the joint epidemiological study Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, explained that there was concern amongst the population in the bay region about an alleged high incidence of cancer cases in the area. This concern would now be pursued by public health authorities in Gibraltar, the Campo and the regional government. They will share their statistical databases in order to establish whether these fears are justified or not. The Chief Minister said that if the area were at greater risk than other similarly industrialised zones in Europe, a joint epidemiological study would be commissioned with a prestigious international organisation carrying it out. If not, he added, “nos quedaremos mas tranquilos” – “we will all be somewhat relieved.”
Málaga gets opera house plans
Mayor Bolín hands over Benalmádena project
NEWS Staff Reporter
One project that fell victim to the Junta de Andalucía's limitations on Benalmádena's marina expansion plans was Mayor Enrique Bolín's proposed landmark opera house. Having envisioned the project as a chance to create an architectural flourish that would serve as a recognisable symbol of the Costa del Sol - much like the Sydney opera house does for the famous Australian city - the Town Hall commissioned a cutting-edge design from famous Spanish architect Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra. Now, with the limitations on the marina expansion having killed the project in Benalmádena, Mayor Bolín last week donated the architectural plans to Málaga Mayor Francisco de la Torre, in the hope that the 'Palacio de Opera de la Costa del Sol' can find new life in the capital city.
Sr Bolín said he decided to donate the plans after it was announced that Málaga Town Hall had come to an agreement with the Ministry of Culture and the Junta de Andalucía for the creation of such a facility in the city. According to Benalmádena Town Hall, the architectural plans could very well "meet Málaga's desire to create a singular, emblematic building - a structure that in and of itself draws attention and serves to distinguish the capital city."
CARE hospital for Estepona
By David Eade
The health ministry of the regional government has officially asked Estepona Town Hall to provide a suitable site for a hospital centre of high resolution (CARE) that should be operational by 2008.
The announcement came after the provincial delegate for health, María Antigua Escalera, visited Estepona to meet with the mayor and local health officials. Sra.Escalera stated that a site with a minimum of 40,000 square metres would be required.
The mayor, Antonio Barrientos, said a meeting would be held this week with the team drawing up the new town planning ordinance to select an appropriate area. He stated that this would most like be in the Guadalobón zone because it has very good communications and there is land available on sites over 40,000 square metres.
The CARE medical centres are aimed to give rapid attention to patients and to diagnose illnesses using the latest technologies and to have a large variety of specialists in attendance. Similar hospitals are already planned for both Mijas and Benalmádena.
The announcement of the CARE hospital for Estepona is welcome news for a municipality that up to now has had to rely on the services of just one overworked medical centre. Further good news is that the long delayed second health centre is now well underway and its construction should be completed by August. Work will also start soon on refurbishing the existing health centre and will be carried out once the new centre is operational.
Nerja animal feeding organised
Signs have been erected around Nerja as reminders that it is prohibited to feed stray animals. The Town Hall has installed the warnings in many public areas, including the Balcón de Europa and the Verano Azul park, following complaints about the presence of animals attracted by the food left out for them. The cleansing department says that foreigners are principally responsible for feeding the animals, but local residents said that they often had to collect the containers, left full of milk and food which had gone off and had started producing bad smells. The presence of stray animals has also been the subject of complaints from schools, including the Fuente del Badén college, and in areas such as the Bendito mirador where many feral cats are to be found. Meanwhile, in an effort to care for stray cats while eliminating the nuisance their feeding can cause, a Nerja animal charity has opened the town's second Cat Café. The first feeding station for strays, at the Monaco Hotel, has now been followed by another, installed in the grounds of the Hotel Avalon by the Costa Animal Society. This will enable CAS to monitor the local feral population for illness, feed them daily with dry food and water and arrange for them to be spayed. Following the success of the pioneering project, a third Cat Café is planned for the Tropicano Urbanisation.
Nerja market saga provokes more complaints
El Chaparil residents fed up with ‘chaotic’ situation
By Dave Jamieson
RESIDENTS IN THE EL CHAPARIL AREA HAVE REFERRED TO “THE CHAOS” WHICH THEY CLAIM EXISTS EVERY TUESDAY WHEN ALMOST 200 STALLS ARE ERECTED ON AROUND 4,000 SQUARE METRES OF PUBLIC THOROUGHFARE.
Residents say that it is now over a year since the Town Hall announced that the market would be moved out of the town centre to the Almijara area, but that this undertaking has not been met.
Those who live in the affected streets say that, on market days, ambulances and taxis cannot reach their homes and private vehicles remained trapped in underground car parks. Parents of children at a school located on the market’s edge complain that collecting them on Tuesdays becomes “an odyssey” and frequently involves parking illegally, while businesses in the area say they cannot get delivery vans near their premises. All concerned have made a renewed plea to the Town Hall to resolve the situation urgently.
ALMIJARA ALTERNATIVE NOT POPULAR
The choice of the Almijara area, announced last year, proved controversial. The Town Hall said that the 17,000 square metre site would be planted with trees and asphalted, that ample car parking would be available and that a local bus service would be provided from the town centre. Last April was set as the date for the move, diggers moved in and the water authority was asked for permission to use the land. But there was growing opposition over the move with residents of the Almijara zone rejecting the proposal in letters to the Town Hall and other bodies, claiming that the area chosen was excessive for the markets, which require only 11,000 square metres, and suggesting the El Playazo area or the old Larios sugar factory site as alternatives.
In the spring of last year, the market traders entered the debate, criticising the move to an out-of-town location, even if additional public transport were to be provided as promised. The area around the Enrique López Cuenca sports stadium, to the north-east of the centre, was suggested and at one time was reported to have been chosen as the new site.
In the latest development in the saga, the councillor responsible, José Miguel Jimena, said last week that the Sunday flea market, which presently uses the same site as the Tuesday market, will move to Almijara next month, but the produce and goods market cannot move there until work at the Barranco de Traqueones is completed.
Andalucia's unenthusiastic "YES"
By David Eade
THERE WAS RELIEF IN BRUSSELS AND MANY EUROPEAN CAPITALS AS SPAIN WENT TO THE POLLS IN A REFERENDUM ON THE DRAFT EC CONSTITUTION AND APPROVED IT BY 76.73 PER CENT OF THE VOTES WITH JUST 17.24 PER CENT AGAINST.
However, the real story was the level of voter apathy with 42.32 per cent of eligible Spaniards voting whilst 57.68 per cent stayed at home, the highest level of abstention in the country's recent history.
Many of Andalucía's eight provinces recorded abstention levels above the national average. Equally those who did vote in Andalucía gave the new constitution the third highest approval rating in the country. The Canary Islands topped the poll with 86.03 per cent voting yes, followed by Extremadura with 85.19 per cent and then Andalucía with 83.24 per cent. The Spanish enclave of Melilla also recorded a high vote with 84.56 per cent.
The highest yes vote in Andalucía was in Almería with 86.07 per cent followed by Huelva 85.58, Jaén 85.56, Granada 83.49, Málaga 83.19, Cádiz 82.50, Córdoba 82.00 and Sevilla 81.83. Overall 59.32 per cent of the voters of Andalucía opted not to cast their votes with the highest turnout being in Jaén with 48.62 per cent and the lowest in Cádiz with 35.06 per cent.
Bar TV blackout across Spain
News Staff Reporter
Football fans in more than 1,200 bars across Spain faced blank screens last week, after the satellite channel Digital Plus pulled the plug. Almost 2,000 bars and hotels in Andalucía, including 656 in the province of Málaga, were affected by the action which was taken because, according to the broadcaster, they "had not regularised their situation after having been advised that the use that was made of the signal did not meet the terms of the contract".
The channel operates a "pay per view" service for coverage of major football matches, such as Real Madrid versus Barcelona, which generates substantial income for establishments which screen them. Bar owners typically pay 12 euros to receive the transmission of a match, but the terms of the contract specify that this is for private, not public, viewing. It is not the first time that Digital Plus has taken such action against its subscribers - in December 2004, 400 bars in Málaga were disconnected on the eve of an important Barcelona v Málaga clash - but it is reported to be the first operation affecting such a large number, which prevents users purchasing or viewing the broadcasts.
Three weeks ago, Digital Plus advised 19,000 subscribers of its intention to cut off those who failed to regularise their situation by signing up for one of three deals available to bars and hotels, under the banner of "TV Football Club". According to the operator, 45 per cent of the new contracts taken out are for the top service, "Super Football", which permits the holder to show every League and Spanish Cup match for 180 euros per month.
Some weeks ago, the president of Málaga's Association of Hotel Businesses, Rafael Prado, claimed that the subscription fees demanded by Digital Plus for its various services were too high. Many bar owners have come to rely on Digital Plus's coverage of Sunday football to fill their premises but say they find the cost of the pay-per-view coverage to be prohibitive.