Madrid

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40.4
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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Cat Cardenas | Daily Texan Staff

MADRID — Pockmarks from German Mauser rifles and graffitied fascist symbols in Spain’s capital city quietly tell the story of the country’s painful past. 

Graffiti can be painted over and pockmarks filled in, but more difficult to move past is a conflict that still lives and breathes in the country’s people.

It has been 78 years since the end of The Spanish Civil War. But with 200,000 casualties and the memory of a 36-year dictatorship, those tensions are still felt today. 

In Alfredo Gonzalez-Ruibal’s household, they didn’t discuss the Civil War or the dictatorship that followed. Growing up in Galicia, Spain, Gonzalez-Ruibal said his grandparents and parents had conflicting views about it and neither ever really broached the subject. 

“The dictatorship was always present in my house,” said Gonzalez-Ruibal, an archaeologist with the Spanish National Research Council. “My grandparents were conservative people, but my parents were not … The Spanish Civil War wasn’t hidden or forbidden to talk about; it was simply something that everybody knew had happened. It was seen as a minor traumatic episode that paved the way to the dictatorship.”

Now, Gonzalez-Ruibal researches modern conflict archaeology and has been coordinating a project on the archaeology of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship since 2006. This summer, I traveled to Spain to participate in a dig led by Gonzalez-Ruibal that centered around Madrid’s Hospital Clinico and the Nationalist troops who fought there. 

Located in a park in Madrid’s University City, our dig was easily accessible to the public; it wasn’t uncommon for people to stop by and ask about what we were doing. While some people were curious, others made it clear they believed the artifacts and structures we unearthed were better left buried.

Gonzalez-Ruibal is used to the criticism. Since he began studying the Spanish Civil War, he’s been frequently attacked online by commenters from the far-right, who usually fling accusations that his work is biased and only seeks to vilify the Nationalists who fought for Franco. 

“People like to be able to cling to the stories they’ve been told,” Gonzalez-Ruibal said. “It’s very difficult and painful to revisit the past and address all the assumptions you have. If it’s something that disrupts the narratives you’ve believed for 30, 40, 50 years, it’s really traumatic to get rid of these wrong ideas and change your mind.”

But studying the war has caused Gonzalez-Ruibal to leave behind some of his own notions as well. 

“As I started reading about it, I realized it wasn’t such an obvious conflict between good guys and bad guys,” Gonzalez-Ruibal said. 

While Gonzalez-Ruibal has also studied non modern societies in Ethiopia and Brazil, the Spanish Civil War is different because, despite the fact that the dictatorship has been over for 42 years, the issues that it created are still alive today. 

The most prominent example is Catalunya. During Franco’s dictatorship, residents of the country’s autonomous region were often subject to censorship, exile and a total suppression of their language and culture. For many Catalans, the violent response of the Spanish police force during the independence referendum on Oct. 1 was seen as an echo of the suppression they experienced during the dictatorship. 

At a time when the country is seeing these decades-long tensions boil over, Gonzalez-Ruibal said it’s more important than ever to study the source of the conflict. 

“The main challenge of the Spanish Civil War is that it’s an ongoing conflict,” Gonzalez-Ruibal said. “It’s not something that stopped in 1939 and not even in 1979 (with the end of the dictatorship.) Most of the things that were at stake then are still at stake today.”

Editor’s note: The Daily Texan’s Helen M. Powell scholarship gives one current or ex-staff member the opportunity to travel and report outside of Austin. This year’s recipient, Cat Cardenas, traveled to Spain to write about the country’s present-day issues. 

People wait in line to refuel their vehicles at YPF gas station in Buenas Aires, Argentina on Monday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MADRID — Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez is attempting to quell increasing unrest at home and boost her popularity with an “unlawful” bid to nationalize YPF, the Argentine oil unit of Spanish energy firm Repsol, the company’s president claimed Tuesday as the group’s shares plunged more than 7 percent.

As Spain’s government prepared retaliatory measures against Argentina, the European Commission added to the two nations’ rapidly rising economic and diplomatic tensions by indefinitely postponing a meeting with Argentine officials over a bilateral trade and economic treaty between the European Union and Argentina.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he was “seriously disappointed” by Argentina’s decision and warned that “this creates an uncertainty which is not helpful to our economic relations and to the economy as a whole.”

Fernandez sparked the firestorm between Spain and Argentina on Monday when she sent a bill to her country’s congress to put a majority stake of YPF in state hands, effectively nationalizing the oil company. Argentina has in the past accused Repsol of failing to invest enough in YPF and its oil sector.

Repsol president Antonio Brufau told reporters that the company demands just compensation and will fight Fernandez’ plan, adding that she “carried out an unlawful act and made unlawful charges after a campaign aimed at knocking down YPF shares and allowing expropriation at a bargain price.”

The decision by Fernandez “is only a way of covering up the social and economic crisis Argentina is facing” amid high inflation and energy prices, Brufau added.

Repsol shares were down 7.1 percent to €16.25 ($21.34) each in early afternoon trading in Madrid, far underperforming the benchmark Ibex index, which was up 1 percent. Analysts were concerned that Argentina has not stated any compensation terms for the nationalization of YPF, which has 42 percent of Repsol’s global reserves.

Brufau told reporters that YPF is worth $18.3 billion, and he valued Repsol’s 57 percent stake in the unit at $10.5 billion. Argentina wants to take over Repsol shares representing 51 percent of YPF, meaning Repsol would be left with 6 percent and shareholders including a rich Argentine family would not be affected.

In a sign of the rising tensions between Spain and Argentina over the nationalization plan, the Spanish foreign ministry summoned Argentina’s ambassador to Madrid for the second time in five days to mount another formal protest.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardon said Argentina’s plan to nationalize YPF “represents an extraordinary political error in the medium and long term.”

Gallardon and other officials suggested Spain would retaliate, but did not say how. Energy Minister Jose Manuel Soria said the government could take action within days and cited possible lines of diplomatic or commercial retaliation against Argentina but did not provide specifics.

YPF is Argentina’s largest company and vital for its energy future, especially after a recent find of huge unconventional oil and natural gas reserves — a discovery that Brufau stressed came from his company’s
exploration efforts.

Spain’s government is seeking to line up allies to contest the nationalization and possibly isolate Argentina economically. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is expected to try to drum up support this week during a trip to Mexico and Colombia.

Brufau encouraged shareholders to take part in the upcoming legal battle, and accused Fernandez of being “an expert manipulator” in her accusations that Repsol underfunded its YPF unit. He said Repsol has invested $20 billion in Argentina since it bought its stake in YPF in 1999.

As Fernandez was announcing the takeover on national television, Argentine authorities went to YPF headquarters in Buenos Aires and expelled Spanish executives, Brufau said.

Their “behavior with our managers and employees was pathetic and embarrassing,” he said. Bilateral accords between Spain and Argentina will allow Repsol to take its case to the United Nations and the World Bank after Argentine lawmakers allied with Fernandez approve the plan, as is expected.

“It will be a long (legal) battle,” Brufau warned.

Spain is the largest foreign investor in Argentina, ahead of the United States. Spanish bank and telecommunications companies have a heavy presence in Argentina, where they have earned strong profits to offset deep losses in recent years at home due to the financial crisis.

Spain’s Telefonica SA operates six companies in Argentina, where it is the leading telecom provider, with revenue last year of €3.17 billion, up from €3 billion in 2010, according to its annual report.

The YPF nationalization has made the business climate in Argentina more uncertain for foreign companies, but experts doubted Fernandez would announce nationalizations affecting others.

“There’s going to be a lot of mounting pressure on Argentina not to do more of this,” said Antonio Moreno, an economics professor at the University of Navarra. “I don’t think they’re going to be able to go on a nationalization spree."

MADRID — The superstar Spanish judge who won global fame for aggressively taking on international human rights cases was convicted Thursday of overstepping his jurisdiction in a domestic corruption probe and barred from the bench for 11 years, marking a spectacular fall from grace for one of the nation’s most prominent citizens.

Baltasar Garzon was unanimously convicted by a seven-judge panel of the Supreme Court. Because he is 56, the punishment could end his Spanish judicial career. Hours after the verdict, hundreds of Garzon supporters braved freezing weather in Madrid’s central Sol plaza shouting “Shame! Shame!” in protest.

It was just one of three cases pending against Garzon, who is still awaiting a verdict in trial on the same charge — knowingly overstepping the bounds of his jurisdiction — for launching a probe in 2008 of right-wing atrocities committed during and after the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939 even though the crimes were covered by a 1977 amnesty.

In Thursday’s verdict, the court ruled that Garzon acted arbitrarily in ordering jailhouse wiretaps of detainees talking to their lawyers, the court said, adding that his actions “these days are only found in totalitarian regimes.”

Ironically, Garzon is best known for indicting a totalitarian ruler, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, in 1998, and trying to put him on trial in Madrid for crimes against humanity. He also indicted Osama bin Laden in 2003 over the Sept. 11 attacks.

Garzon took on cases using the principle of universal jurisdiction — the idea that some crimes are so heinous they can be prosecuted anywhere. He and colleagues at the National Court went on to champion the doctrine and try to apply it to abuses in far-flung places like Rwanda and Tibet.