Costa del Sol News - 13th July 2005

News from Andalucia & Costa del Sol

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

Week July 7th to July 13th 2005.


Mayors unite in their response to regional government curbs


The move has caused alarm among town halls who support the theory that growth should be sustainable and reasonable, but who fear that the Andalucía authority will exercise too much control.

Estepona’s Mayor, Antonio Barrientos, is highly critical of regional government’s proposed changes. He says his administration will do everything in its power to oppose them, as he doesn’t wish Estepona to be ruled by regional town planning.

The neighbouring Mayor of Casares, Juan Sánchez concurs. He said that his administration would not agree to a POT plan which was detrimental to the municipality’s development, nor would it allow regional government to interfere in matters which in his opinion come under the local authorities’ jurisdiction.
However, the Mayor of Manilva, Pedro Tirado, pointed out that the mayors on the Costa del Sol would be able to appeal against the plans if they did not agree with them. A similar ‘wait and see’ line was also taken by the Mayor of Mijas, Agustín Moreno.

Meanwhile a number of professional bodies and individuals in Nerja are expecting a busy summer as they prepare their responses and proposals to a plan which could define the future shape of the eastern coast. A meeting has been held to outline the Axarquía POT (Plan de Ordenación del Territorio Litoral Oriental-Axarquía de Málaga) – submissions for which have to be lodged by September 5.

Mayor José Alberto Armijo described the recent session as principally “information and participation,” but described the document as being of “vital importance” to Nerja. As it stands, three action areas are defined in the POT for the municipality – Playazo, El Tablazo and Maro.

Further meetings to debate the subject are planned throughout the municipality in the coming weeks. Jesús Pastor is fighting for the rights of constructors and promoters which have met at Lake Viñuela to discuss their response to the proposals. He agrees that aiming for some discipline and putting a brake on certain practices is required, but adds that, “businesses cannot allow the Axarquía to pay for the excesses which have been committed on the western Costa del Sol”.
Last week’s meeting agreed to lobby for greater freedom for construction in country areas and less control by the Public Works department on local Town Halls.


Tourist season attracts petty criminals

Tip sheets for tourists to be distributed by police


More than 500 such crooks are expected to descend on the region to take advantage of distracted beach-goers, tipsy revellers and disoriented visitors, according to police unions. The Costa, due to its convenient location just hours away by car from all over Spain, attracts three times more seasonal delinquents than other holiday hotspots like the Balearic Islands, they say.

While some of the holiday poachers come to dedicate themselves more or less full time to their ‘work’, others arrive on the Costa to enjoy a little summer break of their own, just swiping the two or three wallets a week necessary to pay for their stay. Others come and get legitimate jobs as waiters or bartenders, but make their real money by using those positions as a platform for dealing drugs to high-paying tourists. Some make their summer bundle picking pockets, others snatching purses and still others plying tried and true scams, from bogus timeshare operations to rigged ‘games of chance’ on the street.

In addition to bringing in summer reinforcements and stepping up patrolling, the police have printed up tip-sheets for tourists, which are being distributed in airports, hotels and other locations. In eight different languages, they offer tourists such advice as to always keep an eye on their belongings, watch their wallet or purse in crowded locations and beware of strangers who act suspiciously, offer unsolicited help or propose easy-money deals. The tip-sheet is titled ‘Welcome to Spain! Be Safe and Enjoy.’


Casares blaze closes toll motorway

By David Eade

A summer fire broke out in the western zone of Casares at 17.45 on Monday afternoon. It started in the Cortijo de La Hoya area and fanned by 40 kilometres winds soon spread rapidly through the zone towards Manilva destroying in total 50 hectares of scrubland. The smoke from the inferno was so thick the AP-7 toll motorway had to be closed to traffic at 22.00 where as the A-377 Manilva to Gaucín road was cut earlier from 19.45.

Around 150 personnel from the Infoca specialist fire teams plus the fire brigades of Estepona and Ronda attended the scene. Two amphibious aircraft, two light aircraft and six helicopters poured thousands of litres on to the inferno. Seven dwellings in the rural area of Casares were evacuated as a precautionary measure. By Tuesday morning the blaze had been put out and an investigation to its cause was underway. The initial belief is that it was caused by an explosion in a fuse box in a rural house at Cortijo de La Hoya.

La Línea inferno was deliberate
The Cádiz province delegation of the regional government’s ministry of the environment has confirmed that the fire that destroyed more than 300 hectares of the Sierra Carbonera in La Línea and San Roque was started deliberately. Officers of the Andalucía police and the environment department are continuing their investigations to establish exactly how the inferno was started.

As reported in last week’s Costa del Sol News the blaze started at 19.00 last Monday but was not fully extinguished by the specialist Infoca fire fighting teams till around 9.00 last Thursday. Although the fire was brought under control on the Tuesday there followed continuous new outbreaks before the ground teams and water tanker aircraft finally won the day. The fire fighting effort had been carried out by 140 personnel, four fire engines, a control aircraft, six water-carrying helicopters and two amphibious aircraft. Help to fight the blaze came from the provinces of Málaga, Sevilla and Huelva.
The regional government was keen to stress after the blaze that its Infoca fire plan is not designed for local or even provincial use but covers the entire area of Andalucía. Hence in the case of the Sierra Carbonera inferno assistance not only came from local units but also neighbouring provinces.

The Sierra Carbonera fire was the third serious blaze of the summer, which has only just started. The first major fire was in Ojén on June 13 that destroyed 225 hectares whilst 250 hectares were burnt in the blaze on land used by the military at the Sierra del Retín in Barbate, for which a naval officer has been arrested for negligence with ammunitions.

Publicity campaign underway
Coinciding with the Sierra Carbonera fire the regional government has launched a new operation against the summer blazes that will remain in operation until September. The ministry of environment has established 34 fire fighting bases and made available 62 aircraft as well as 10 specialist brigades. In addition a publicity campaign is underway to educate people as to the vale of the environment and the need to prevent fires. Statistics suggest that the educational campaign is timely as according to the ministry’s figures more than 90 per cent of fires are started by human intervention, albeit the majority by accident or neglect.


Police arrest 20 for illegal construction in Cárta

By Oliver McIntyre

Regional police have arrested 20 people in Cártama for the alleged illegal construction of a complex of houses on non-developable rural land. All of those arrested, some of whom are foreigners, were charged and released, according to a Junta de Andalucía statement. One of the homeowners reportedly resides in the United States and has yet to be located by police.

The houses, in the Dehesa Alta-Maguarra zone, are built on land that officials say is not only classified as non-developable but also sits in a flood plain of the Río Grande. Agents of the regional police, following a tip-off from the Town Hall about the illegal homes, discovered that the owners had formed a neighbourhood association and had pooled resources to create dirt roads connecting the houses.

The fate of the houses will not be known until the judicial process runs its course, but because there is no chance of them being legalised since they sit in a flood zone, it is possible that authorities will order them demolished. Such was the fate of a small illegal home in Estación de Cártama, which was demolished by court order in June despite strong protests from local residents (CDSN, June 16 – 22). Authorities indicate that they are taking a hard line on illegal construction and that such demolitions are a much stronger deterrent to other potential offenders than simple fines.

Owners of illegally-built homes, many of whom say they were duped by sellers or real estate agents and didn’t realise their houses were illegal or their land non-developable, are both nervous and upset. The neighbours of the Estación de Cártama couple whose house was demolished organised a protest the following weekend to demand solutions.

Planning authorities now estimate there are more than 4,000 illegal homes in Cártama. However, the architect drawing up the town’s new local development plan (PGOU) has indicated that it will include mechanisms to rezone certain areas to allow the legalisation of many of these houses. But others, particularly if built in protected ecological or agricultural areas, or in flood zones, will no doubt remain outside of the legalisation process.


Big hash haul on Sotogrande yacht

Officials say Cádiz is drugs gateway to Costa del Sol

By David Eade

The discovery was part of an ongoing EDOA operation at the port and on the Cádiz coast in general. Officers believe that hashish is being smuggled into Spain aboard recreational vessels via Cádiz province for distribution on the Costa del Sol.
The Guardia Civil has not stated why the yacht ‘Violeta Uno’ became the subject of its investigations, but once the drugs were discovered, the vessel was taken to the port of Algeciras for a more detailed examination. The ‘Violeta Uno’ is a white, 6.75-metre-long cabin cruiser with a 175 hp engine.

EDOA officers have stressed that the investigation surrounding the yacht is still ongoing and they are seeking to arrest all those involved in the drug-trafficking network that has been using Sotogrande as the entry point for the hashish.

The Guardia Civil has also reported some success in its follow-up investigation after another big drug haul in Sotogrande, on February 15 of this year. On that occasion 137 kilos of cocaine was found in a luxury house in the Rivera del Emperador urbanisation and officers also seized a 15-metre British-registered yacht that was used to bring the drugs into Spain. Now investigators have arrested two people alleged to be members of the international drug-trafficking gang involved. One, a Bulgarian citizen resident in Germany, is the owner of the house and yacht whilst the other, also Bulgarian, was arrested in Marbella.


Bank-fraud arrest in Benalmádena

NEWS Staff Reporter

Police have arrested a Lithuanian man in Benalmádena for alleged Internet and bank fraud. Manis L. was picked up while trying to make a $5,500-euro transfer from a bank account that was not his, according to police reports. He had allegedly captured the victim’s account information and personal data via a method known as ‘phishing’, in which an e-mail appearing to come from the target’s bank asks for confirmation of data such as PIN codes or other account-access information. In other instances, say the police, such bogus e-mails may infect the victim’s computer with a ‘Trojan horse’ programme, which automatically seeks passwords or other sensitive data.

Police say the arrest was part of an ongoing investigation into a Lithuanian network committing this type of Internet and bank fraud in the Costa area. The operation remains open and further arrests are expected, they say.

Police officials urge the public to never respond to or follow the instructions of e-mails coming from a bank and requesting personal or account data. Banks “never contact their customers in this manner and certainly never to request passwords” or other sensitive account information, say the police. When in doubt, they say, customers should contact their bank directly.


Málaga councillor sacked

By Dave Jamieson

The Málaga councillor whose personal security file was leaked to the press has been relieved of her responsibilities. Confidential details of the private and public life of Councillor Rosa Agüera were leaked in May, sparking safety fears amongst her colleagues and calls for the source to be traced. Since then, weeks of internal political debate have attempted to place blame for the incident, with the councillor herself maintaining the momentum of the enquiries.

Last week Mayor Francisco de la Torre told Councillor Agüera that he had “lost confidence” in her and was relieving of her of her post as councillor for the central district of Málaga, although she would remain on the city’s Council. Her duties are to be taken over by the councillor for Culture, Diego Maldonado. It is reported that Sra Agüera does not intend to resign as a councillor at present, but wants time to analyse her situation.

The councillor’s sacking came five days after her defence lawyers declared that a number of senior Town Hall staff were implicated in the leaking of her security dossier. Mayor de la Torre rejected the claims, saying there was nothing concrete to link them to the incident, except a “series of situations which have been produced in recent weeks.”
However, the Agüera case is far from over, with further calls for Mayor de la Torre to explain certain aspects of the incident.

The dismissal weakens the position of the ruling Partido Popular on Málaga’s Town Council, which has 31 seats. Combining the responsibility for Culture and the central district reduces the number of PP councillors on the Council to 17, and with one on sick leave the party’s majority is just barely maintained.


Campamento Benítez to become a public park

By Oliver McIntyre

The long battle between the Ministry of Defence and Málaga City Hall over the future of Campamento Benítez, a closed military base in the city, ended earlier this week with the announcement of an agreement to turn the site into a huge public park containing a national museum.

The nearly 300,000-square-metre property on the western edge of Málaga has sat idle and abandoned since being closed as a military base in 1995. Originally municipal land that was ceded to Defence in 1925 for the creation of the base, the site became a sort of no-man’s land, with the city demanding the return of the property at no cost while Defence insisted that the free re-transfer of the land to the city was illegal and impossible.

Now a deal has been struck with Defence by Development Minister Magdalena Álvarez, a Málaga native, under which the land will be ceded to Development for the creation of a metropolitan park and transportation museum, and in exchange Development will build a military facility in the Madrid town of Torrejón de Ardoz.

While the agreement does not hand ownership of the land back to the city, Mayor Francisco de la Torre, speaking from Singapore, where he was part of the Spanish contingent supporting Madrid’s 2012 Olympics bid, said he viewed the solution as “favourable.”

Minister Álvarez said the transportation museum will be a tribute to the history, as well as the social and economic significance, of land, sea and air transportation. It will be “the Picasso Museum of transportation,” she said.
The surrounding park will be created by improving and adding to the site’s existing landscape elements. The facility contains a wide variety of mature trees, shrubs and other plants, as well as large open areas currently covered with wild grass and scrub brush.

No details have been given regarding the timetable or budget for the creation of the museum and the conversion of the old base into a park.


Benalmádena marina expansion moving forward


The announcement last week by Town Hall officials came as the culmination of some eight years of municipal efforts to get the expansion project green-lighted. The only remaining step, say officials, is to get administrative permission from the regional Port Authority (EPPA) to put the construction contract out to bid. They say the contract could be awarded by as early as the end of this year and that, once started, the work will take two to three years to complete.

The final expansion plan approved by Public Works includes a thousand new moorage spaces, bringing the marina’s total to about 2,000 and making it, according to municipal officials, “the biggest marina on the Mediterranean.” It will include moorage for yachts of up to 60 metres in length.

Thanks in part to the recently created tunnel access to the marina and in part to an EPPA-mandated reduction of the projected commercial space and parking capacity at the site, no additional access roads will have to be created. The approved plan calls for the creation of about 360 surface parking spaces, compared to the 1,100 initially envisioned. Municipal officials estimate the overall cost of the expansion at 60 million euros.

In the special security crackdown carried out at the Benalmádena marina nightlife zone (CDSN, June 30 – July 6), the National Police seized a total of 50 weapons, mostly knives and clubs. They also made 41 minor drug busts, confiscated two vehicles and arrested six people, three of them on drug-dealing charges and the other three for being in the country illegally. The police operation was carried out on Friday and Saturday nights, from shortly after midnight to 08.00.


Ecologists highlight beach contamination

Gena asks regional government to take action

By Dave Jamieson

With the arrival of summer, complaints have increased from residents and tourists about the unpleasant floating mix formed from plastics, un-decomposed materials, oily water and foam. Gena, the group of “Ecologists in Action” east of Málaga, has written to the provincial environment office of the regional government and to the association of Axarquía municipalities asking them to investigate the possibility of establishing coastal observations from the air so that those boats detailed to remove the nuisance could be better directed.

The collective says that the present state of beaches in the area is “not coherent with the position of the coast of Málaga as a European tourist destination,” adding that sufficient time has now been given to studying the formation of the scum and ways of eliminating it. Gena believes that excess organic waste from waste water is responsible, in part as a result of poor maintenance of recycling plants, and says the solution should come from better control of waste water by individual municipalities.

Its president, Rafael Yus, believes the manual removal of the problem using boats could be improved with air support directing operatives to the worst affected beaches.

Gena reports that it has already had exploratory discussions with the Málaga Aeroclub, based in the Axarquía aerodrome at El Trapiche from where numerous light aircraft take off to display advertising banners to those relaxing on the area’s beaches. The idea is for the pilots of these planes to monitor the state of the coast and feed information to the boats, and according to Sr Yus, the aeroclub has indicated it would be prepared to participate.


Skin cancer on the increase

Málaga hospital pioneers new treatment in Andalucía

By Dave Jamieson

The frightening statistic was unveiled as Málaga’s Hospital Clínico Universitario announced that it has become an Andalucían pioneer in new treatments for a problem which is often the result of excessive exposure to the sun.
The director of the Dermatology Unit, Enrique Herrera, said last week that recent studies in the province showed an skin cancer incidence of 11.7 per 100,000 of the population, a fifth more than up the previous year. However, he added, more cases are being diagnosed early, thanks to information campaigns, allowing many patients to make a complete recovery.
Dr Herrera explained that the new therapy developed in Málaga avoids surgery for patients in risk categories and those of advanced age, and confirmed that it has been in use for the last month in treating two forms of the illness. He explained that the practice, said to be successful in up to nine out of ten cases, involves applying a photosensitive cream to the skin, covering it for three hours, and then exposing it to red light for ten minutes, a procedure which allows a number of lesions to be treated in the space of one morning. It is only recently that the treatment, already in use for other cancers, has been applied to carcinomas of the skin and the 12 patients already treated in Málaga are reported to have responded well. The downside, however, is the cost of the cream which comes in at 240 euros for a two milligram tube, although as the hospital points out, this is much less than the cost of surgery.

Experts advise that to reduce the risk of contracting skin cancer, avoid sunbathing between noon and 16.00h. (4 p.m.) when the damaging radiation from the sun is at its most lethal. Another doctor at the hospital, Ricardo Bosch, even went so far as to say that beaches should be closed during such high risk periods. A protection cream should be used and reapplied after bathing, while hats, t-shirts and sunglasses should be worn. Doctors also advise extreme caution when taking very young children to the beach.


Green light for gay marriage

Controversial law finally passed by Parliament

By Oliver McIntyre

The festive, rainbow-hued celebration of homosexuality took on a special significance this year, coming on the very day that the Spanish government published the Official State Bulletin legalising same-sex marriages and allowing gay or lesbian couples to adopt children.

With the passage of the law, Spain became the fourth country in the world (after Belgium, Holland and, just last week, Canada) to officially allow same-sex marriages, and the only majority-Catholic country to do so. The law was passed in a 187-147 vote by the lower house of parliament last Thursday, over a previous veto by the Senate. The ‘nay’ votes came principally from the main opposition party, the conservative Partido Popular (PP).

The move to legalise same-sex marriages came as the fulfilment of one of Socialist (PSOE) Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s campaign promises leading up to the 2004 elections. It has been a hugely controversial issue in recent months as it made its way through the legislative process, pitting the Spanish government against the Catholic Church and sparking a major Church and Partido Popular-sponsored protest that drew well over a hundred thousand marchers to the streets of Madrid on June 18.

Following its passage last week, Sr Zapatero said the new law created a country that is “more decent, because a decent society is that which does not humiliate its members.”
PP leaders announced that they plan to challenge the law before the country’s Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday of last week Parliament gave final approval to legislation that makes divorce easier and faster. The new law removes the requirement that couples be legally separated as a preliminary step in the divorce process. They can now go directly to the divorce proceedings, making the process speedier and less costly.

The legislation allows for no-fault divorces at the request of either party any time after the first three months of marriage. It also provides for joint custody arrangements, established by the court in cases where the parents do not come to their own amicable agreement. In non-contested divorces, the entire process is expected to take about two months, while contested divorces could take about six months.


Telefónica's cheapest info line

By Dave Jamieson

A consumers’ group has denounced Telefónica for failing to publicise its lowest cost information service. The Federación de Consumidores en Acción (Facua) says that while the telecommunications company operates a number of such services, each on a different tariff, it does not mention in any of its radio, television or press advertisements the existence of the line which is cheapest for the user. The number 11818 was introduced to replace the old 1003 information line, and costs a caller from a fixed-line phone just over 35 céntimos regardless of the duration of the call, and can be used completely free of charge from a public pay phone. Other such lines operated by Telefónica are 11888 which costs 25 céntimos to connect plus 50 céntimos per minute, and 11822 which costs 22 céntimos to connect plus 1 céntimo per second from a fixed-line telephone. Thus, a one minute call to each of these three services would cost 35, 75 and 82 céntimos respectively while a two minute call would rack up 35, 125 or 142 céntimos. Facua says that Telefónica have a legal obligation to provide an information service an economic rate, but choose not to publicise it. Although it is listed as “Servicio Universal” in the telephone directory, no indication of the call charge for any of the information services is shown. Telefónica’s international enquiries line, 11825, is charged at a whopping 1 euro connection plus 75 céntimos per minute, pricing a two minute call at 2.50 euros.

Studies published by Facua have shown that a two minute call to an information service from a fixed-line phone can cost as much 464 per cent as much as Télefonica’s 11818 service, depending on the operator used. The group says that a failure to publicise the most economical service could be contrary to a European Directive, embodied in a 1998 Spanish Royal Decree, which requires the provision of an information service at “an accessible price”.


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