Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Madeleine case slips into its ninth year

The mystery of what happened to Madeleine McCann is slipping unsolved into its ninth year. Investigations seem set to continue at high cost but dubious worth.
The Metropolitan Police Service investigation codenamed Operation Grange has so far cost £10.5 million (the official figure), but has it come up with any substantive evidence to show what happened to Madeleine?  The Met is not saying.
We have not given a running commentary on the investigation, have not discussed ongoing lines of the investigation and the enquiry has not reached a conclusion,” a spokesperson reiterated at the weekend, adding that “there are still focused lines of investigation to be pursued.”
In a Christmas message expressing “new energy, new opportunities and new hope,” Kate and Gerry McCann thanked the Met for the “progress” made over the year, but they are reportedly poised to use the £750,000 left in their Find Madeleine fund to hire a new team of private detectives when the Operation Grange investigation ends.
The Met disclosed in October it was scaling down the Operation Grange team from 29 full-time officers to just four.
In its early review work starting in 2011, they collated more than 40,000 documents from UK and foreign law enforcement agencies as well as various private investigation companies. 
Some of this had to be translated into English, facts had to be cross-referred and diligently analysed in the search for new lines of inquiry before the review was turned into a full-scale investigation in mid-2012.
Since then the Operation Grange team say they have raised 7,154 actions and identified 560 lines of enquiry, taken 1,338 statements and collected 1,027 exhibits. More than 30 international requests have been sent to various countries asking for work to be undertaken on behalf of the Met. 
Officers have investigated more than 60 persons of interest, considered 650 sex offenders and looked into reports of 8,685 potential sightings of Madeleine around the world. 
That all seems clear enough, but to many sceptics who have followed the case closely it is all a show, a sham, a cover-up, a whitewash, a conspiracy to hide the truth. They allege the claim that Madeleine was abducted, which her parents have always been adamant about and which the police and mainstream press in the UK seem to accept, is a fabrication.
The Met, of course, will have none of it. Poring through a vast wealth of information and theories in the extraordinary circumstances of investigating a missing child years later in another country was always going to be an immense task and required a full team of 29 staff working on it, is the official view.
While there remain lines of enquiry to follow, the vast majority of the work by Operation Grange has been completed,” according to the Met.
The team now consists of a detective sergeant and three detective constables who have been working on the case for a long time. They will continue to be overseen by Detective Chief Inspector Nicola Wall. Officers will deploy to Portugal if required to do so.
The Met’s Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley has stated that every possible measure is being taken to find out what happened to Madeleine. 
We still have very definite lines to pursue which is why we are keeping a dedicated team of officers working on the case.
The Portuguese police remain the lead investigators and our team will continue to support their inquiry. They have extended every courtesy to Operation Grange and we maintain a close working relationship. I know they remain fully committed to investigating Madeleine's disappearance with support from the Metropolitan Police.” 
The willingness of Madeleine’s parents to go private again begs the question of how any latter-day team of private detectives could hope to solve a case that seems to have stumped not only Operation Grange, but two lengthy investigations by the Portuguese judicial police and expensive probes by three previous teams of private detectives?
An unnamed source quoted by in the British press shortly before Christmas said: “We don't know exactly when Operation Grange will end but while it continues it has the finest technology and analysts.”
The source added poignantly: “Private investigations are expensive and do not have anything like the range and capabilities available to the Yard.”
The Operation Grange inquiry may close in a few months by which time another landmark in this costly case will probably have been reached. A ruling could come at any time now on former detective Gonçalo Amaral’s appeal against the outcome of the civil action brought against him by Kate and Gerry McCann
The McCanns were awarded €500,000 plus interest in damages over his book, Maddie, the Truth of the Lie.
As to what really happened to Madeleine in Praia da Luz in May 2007, with the passing of each year we seem no closer to learning the whole truth.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Spain, like Portugal, leaning to the left

At the start of what is being hailed as “a new era” in Spanish politics, there is no clear indication as to who is going to be running the country, but a left-wing arrangement similar to that in Portugal is one of the strongest possibilities.
Given that none of the four major parties emerged from Sunday’s general election with anything close to a majority of seats in the legislature, the most rational coalition might be between Spain’s two most established rivals, the centre-right Popular Party (PP) and the centre-left Socialists.
As was the case in Portugal, Spain’s conservatives have said they are open to the notion of a grand coalition, but the Socialists are not, certainly if the PP leader, Mariano Rajoy, intends to remain as prime minister.
Commentators are pointing to collaboration between the Spanish Socialists and the radical Podemos as the more likely formula for a new administration, which would be similar to the set-up between the Socialists and far-left in Portugal, minus the Communist Party that is.
The Socialists and Podemos together would not have enough seats to form a majority and so would need the backing of some of the smaller, regional parties.
While the surge in popular support for the anti-austerity Podemos (‘We Can’) party has been spectacular, the other new party, Ciudadanos (‘Citizens’) fell short of expectations even though they still did well.
Ciudadanos could play a pivotal role in the formation of a new government, but being centrist and business-friendly they would be more at home with the right than the left, especially the far left.
The idealogical differences, amid accusations about high-level corruption and inefficiency, are such that is is hard to see how numbers can be successfully stacked up to form a plausible government.
Of the 350 seats in the legislature, the Popular Party won 123 (29% of the vote), the Socialists 90 (22%), Podemos 69 (21%) and Ciudadanos 40 (14 %).
As in Portugal after the October election, intense inter-party discussions are now likely to go on in Spain for weeks. If no viable solution is found, Spanish voters will be back at the polling booths in the next few months.
Meanwhile, unease over the country’s security and financial stability is inevitable just as everyone is hoping for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Spain to follow in Portugal’s footsteps?

Not for the first time, Spain looks like following in the footsteps of its much smaller neighbour.
It’s not quite on the grand scale of the Spanish taking their cue from the Portuguese in the Age of Discoveries, or in switching from dictatorship to democracy in the 1970s.
However, the outcome of Sunday’s general election over the border may turn out to be as muddled as the recent political events in Portugal, giving rise to even greater worries within Europe about instability as Spain is the EU’s fourth biggest economy.
The pre-election polls in Spain showed not much separating the conservative Popular Party, the centre-left Socialists and the slightly right-of-centre Ciudadanos (‘Citizens’) party.
The recent rise of Ciudadanos to rival the two established patries has been spectacular. The surge in popularity of the new anti-austerity Podemos, follows that of Portugal’s Left Bloc and Greece’s Syriza.
To form a government straight away, one of the parties must win more than 50% of the seats in parliament in Sunday’s election.
As with the conservative coalition in Portugal before the 4th October election here, the PP in Spain are likely to gain the most votes but not a majority.
If so, King Filipe VI will enter the fray as did President Aníbal Cavaco Silva here. He will nominate a prime minister who will then seek the backing of at least 50% of the elected members of parliament.
This will involve horse-trading in which the party with the most votes might be able to drum up support from one of the others and emerge with a mandate to govern.
If such a backing does not materialise, the Spanish tradition is to have a second ballot among elected members of parliament within 48 hours.
Ciudadanos might not win the most votes at any stage but they could be pivotal. As a centrist party they might give conditional backing to either the conservatives or the socialists - or they might receive such backing.
A grand coalition between the conservatives and socialists is thought unlikely. Where, of if, Podemos could fit into any mix is anyone’s guess.
But the improbable is not impossible as demonstrated in Portugal where a trio of losing parties ended up determining the government.
The voter turnout in Spain may be higher than in Portugal because of the colourful choice of characters involved.
The PP’s Mariano Rajoy, 60, has been a surprisingly introverted prime minister who asked his deputy, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, to replace him in a televised debate with the other party leaders. On Wednesday he was punched in the face by a teenager at a campaign rally in his home region of Galicia.
The relaxed, down-to.earth, Pedro Sánchez, 43, is a tall and handsome former economics professor and basketball player who towers over his political opponents physically.
The gentlemanly leader of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, is only 36-years-old, a lawyer who first came to prominence by appearing on a campaign poster naked but for a leather jacket.
Pablo Iglesias of Podemos is a easy-going 37-year-old professor of political science who in a way epitomises the radical left by shunning quality suits and sporting a pony-tail hairstyle.
One way or another, it’s measuring up to be an unusual Christmas for politicians over the border. If things remain messy rather than merry, a second general election will have to be held two months into the new year.

The Socialist , Podemos and Ciudadanos leaders at a televised debate at which the Popular Party was represented by its deputy leader (far right). 

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Algarve oil and gas fight goes on

As the implications of the Paris agreement on climate change began to hit home in countries around the world this week, there was no great sigh of relief in the Algarve where concerns are running high about oil and gas explorations.
With the future of the planet at stake,195 countries agreed in Paris to cut carbon emissions in an attempt to limit the average rise in global temperatures to well below 2C, and maybe even below 1.5ºC.
Twenty years in the making, the agreement is a recognition that without curbs on carbon emissions, temperatures could rise well above 2ºC, with catastrophic consequences.
The agreement envisages an end to the age of fossil fuels by the middle of this century. The goal is to replace oil, coal and natural gas with renewable, low carbon forms of energy.
Widely described as “historic”, the agreement still has to be ratified. And then it has to be implemented, which will be all the more difficult because it is largely based on voluntary promises that are not legally binding. In other words, the agreement is far from perfect.
Portugal’s Secretary of State for the Environment, Carlos Martins, welcomed the accord, but said there was “demanding work ahead.”
Whatever its shortcomings, thrashing out the Paris deal required a lot of information sharing, transparency, public scrutiny and open dialogue. This was in stark contrast to the conniving that has been going on in Lisbon over fossil fuel explorations in the Algarve.
Through the association of borough councils (AMAL), the Algarve’s mayors recently added their voices to those of campaigners who have long been critical of the cloud of secrecy behind the issuing of  concessions for coastal oil and gas explorations.
The latest announcement of  licences for onshore exploration almost right across the region came without the opportunity for any prior public discussion.
An AMAL statement denounced as unjustifiable “the constant absence of information either to councils, the inter-municipal community of the Algarve or Algarve citizens by successive governments.”
The authorities in Lisbon have turned a blind eye to serious concerns expressed by campaigners about the impact drilling for oil and gas could have on the quality of life in the Algarve and its most vital economic activity, tourism.
In the light of the Paris accord, the world’s fossil fuel companies, especially those that have not diversified into other forms of energy, will now have to figure out the way forward. And could it be that the government in Lisbon may have to re-examine the readiness to hand out concessions?
In the forefront of the Algarve anti-exploration battle, Laurinda Seabra of the Algarve Surf and Marine Activities Association (ASMAA) remains resolute.
Based on the fact that direct mention of fossil-fuels is lacking in the Paris agreement, I very much doubt that this agreement on its own will motivate the Portuguese government to change its current position regarding fossil fuels and the continued promotion of its exploration and commercialisation in Portugal,” Seabra told us.
She added: “This means that the fight by local residents and friends of the Algarve has to escalate seriously if we want the Portuguese government to change direction.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Portugal in global climate risk top 20

Portugal was among the 20 countries in the world most affected by global warming over the past 20 years, according to a Global Climate Risk Index report presented at the climate change conference in Paris.
The Index indicates the level of exposure and vulnerability to extreme events that countries should understand as a warning to be prepared for more frequent and more severe events in the future,” says the report.
The 20-year index covering the period 1995 to 2014 is dominated by some of the least developed countries in the world.
Portugal appears in 19th place, third in Europe after Germany and alongside France. The UK, which was struck this week by devastating floods, is well down the list at 58.
The Index says there have been more than 15,000 extreme climatic events over the past 20 years resulting in 530,000 deaths, immense wastage in food production and financial losses exceeded 2.8 trillion euros.
The Rockefeller Foundation estimates that over the past 30 years, one dollar in every three spent in development was lost as a result of recurrent climate crises.
Behind the most obvious extreme events, such as floods, landslides, heatwaves and droughts, lurk melting glaciers, increases in ocean acidity and ominous rises in sea levels.
Sea levels along the shores of mainland Portugal have been rising annually over the past decade by more than four millimetres, twice as much as in the previous two decades, according to a report commissioned by the government and published last year.
Increases in average summer temperatures of 1ºC to 2ºC in the Azores, 2ºC to 3ºC in Madeira and up to 7ºC on mainland Portugal have been predicted by climate specialists.
The aim expressed during the Paris conference is to keep average global increases to below 2ºC. Feared average increases of 4ºC could elevate sea levels to a height that would swamp almost every coastal town and resort in the Algarve, as well as the lower parts of Lisbon and two-thirds of the world’s other major cities.
At the start of the Paris conference, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon launched an initiative aimed at “anticipating the dangers, absorbing the impact and reshaping development” to avoid the risks of climate change facing 634 million people living in coastal areas and drought and flood zones.
It is expected that detailed agreements on this and other measures will be signed before the talks wrap up in Paris at the weekend.
Meanwhile, the authors of the Global Climate Risk Index acknowledge that individual extreme events (such as in Albufeira last month) cannot necessarily be attributed to climate change caused by humans.
Moreover, the authors recognise that their latest report is only one piece in the complex jigsaw of climate change statistics. The events recorded do not serve as a projection for future occurrences – but they are certainly an indication that should be taken very seriously.
The good news is that during a recent congress of the Portuguese Association of Renewable Enterprises, the state energy secretary, Jorge Seguro, emphasised the importance of investing in the renewable industry. He said that with the help of green energy investments this country had already reduced its fossil fuel dependence from 85% to 72%.
Between 2010 and 2013, Portugal saved €5.3 billion in imports of fossil fuels (gas, solid fuels and oil) thanks to renewables. The industry created 40,000 jobs and exported products worth €300 million.
The goal is to increase the use of renewables in Portugal to 31% by 2020.