Larissa Swirski and Gabriel Riera probably never met, although both survived that dangerous and intriguing scenario that was the Strait of Gibraltar during World War II; she, as the Queen of Hearts, a double agent for the Nazis and the Allies in Gibraltar’s espionage network, which the British christened Spy Row; he, as a prisoner forced to eat crushed snails to avoid starvation while digging a huge tunnel under the Carbonera mountain range to be used in a German offensive against the Rock that never transpired. Although the history books dwell on other exploits, a tense and discreet battle was fought in Cádiz in the early 1940s; one of frustrated military operations, spies and battalions of prisoners who built more than 640 bunkers and various military infrastructures that were soon to be abandoned to their fate along the coast of Cádiz.
Bunkers, anti-aircraft guns, command posts, tunnels and even a hidden road to Algeciras are living witnesses to a war fought in one of the essential geostrategic corners of the world in which no shots were fired. The infrastructure that extends along the coastline of Cádiz, from Huelva to Málaga, was part of the so-called Plan of Fortifications of the Southern Border, devised by the artillery brigadier general Pedro Jevenois Labernade in May 1939. Just before World War II, Franco’s military studied a fortification and artillery plan that would officially serve to defend the country against possible incursions from the Allied forces. “We are talking about a very serious project,” says Alfonso Escuadra, an expert on the military legacy in Cádiz and its historical context. “Together with the system of fortifications on the Pyrenees line [the so-called P Line, which consisted of 6,000 bunkers built between 1944 and 1948] they are the great defense constructions of the era.”
But no matter how much the Franco regime insisted the fortifications of the Strait of Gibraltar were only for defense purposes, no one would deny that whoever controlled the Strait and the Suez Canal would have the keys to the Mediterranean. In 1940, the regime erected a fortified line, especially dense around Gibraltar. “All the elements of the artillery system and observatories have an offensive nuance,” says Escuadra. On account of this, Nazi Germany included the bunkers that same year as key aspects of Operation Felix – Hitler’s plan to invade Gibraltar in January 1941.
“Some people still think that in the Hendaye interview [held between Franco and Hitler in October 1940 to discuss Spain’s entry into the war], no agreement was reached, but that is not so,” says Escuadra. “The fortifications were used as a key element in the negotiations.” In fact, secret documents surfaced in the German Bundesarchiv in which the Nazi general Hubert Lanz declares that the Spanish state had “given him several bunkers located in La Línea.” Escuadra believes it is clear that the plan to invade Gibraltar involved a far greater degree of participation from the Franco regime than has been historically assumed. But the preparations for the seizure of the Rock ended up going awry, as they overlapped with the operation for the German occupation of the USSR, and the subsequent shift of advantage to the Allies.
A discreet war
Meanwhile, on the ground in the Campo de Gibraltar, there was plenty of espionage and even double agents, like Swirski, whose fascinating life has been documented by the journalist Wayne Jamison.
And if it was possible for Franco’s dictatorship to erect more than 640 defensive constructions in just a few months, it was because the state used private contractors, the military and, above all, thousands of prisoners forced to work in extreme conditions. The historian José Manuel Algarbani has calculated the existence of as many as 43 disciplinary units from May 1939 to 1944. “There is the well-known case of the Valley of the Fallen, where there were up to 20,000 prisoners who worked on its construction, but here were 30,000 here, something that few people are aware of,” he says.
According to the journalist and researcher Juan José Téllez, “we have lived under the illusion that Spain did not participate in World War II. But tell that to the residents of La Línea de la Concepción, who were at the receiving end of an Italian bombing of Gibraltar by mistake [on July 11, 1941, with five fatalities].”
When the humid easterly wind from the Strait of Gibraltar mixes with fog, the Rock disappears behind clouds. Looking out from a bunker in the Sierra Carbonera, the apparent absence makes the existence of the bunkers seem even more futile as well as the suffering their construction entailed. “This is only a part of it; in San Roque we have a bunker for every square kilometer,” says Carlos Jordán, who works in the city’s department for tourism and is responsible for cultural routes through these dilapidated structures. “There are more than 180 in the municipality alone.”
Gabriel Riera, a native of the island of Mallorca, was one of the prisoners who worked on this infrastructure and he documented his experience in Chronicle of a Mallorcan Prisoner in the Concentration Camps (1936-1942): “One day, an inspection team showed up with a colonel of health,” he wrote. “The remaining members of the company were made to line up; there were no longer many of us, and, as we crossed the wire netting, he said: ‘This is a graveyard of living men!’” The lack of food, the diseases, accidents plus work shifts of more than 10 hours a day caused the death of at least 500 prisoners, according to Algarbani. They were useless fatalities, the price of building a fortified line that was never used and which fell into disuse as soon as Franco saw that it was not going to serve either to attack or to defend against the Allies.
Today, the bunkers barely survive as megaliths along a coast that has remained, to a large extent, natural and wild due to the military needs in the area. Mired in a tangle of administrative and property ownership issues, there is no consensus as to how many there are. In 2001, Escuadra and Ángel Sáez made a catalog for the regional Ministry of Culture in which they documented some 500 structures, but Escuadra believes there may be more. Jordán, meanwhile, estimates more than 640, for which he calls for protection as assets of cultural interest (BIC), something promised by the regional government in September 2019. Consulted by EL PAÍS, the Andalusian department of culture has not specified whether it will declare them assets of cultural interest but says that “as part of defensive architecture, the bunkers already have the consideration of BIC in application of the 1985 Heritage Act.”
Algarbani and Escuadra have both been working for decades to rescue the buildings from oblivion, as they are located in areas with undoubted tourist appeal. Eager that the role of the bunkers as places of historical memory should be recognized, Alharbani says, “We have to explain how they were built and why, in order to make them places of memory, and not to destroy them.”
Escuadra goes further. “In two decades, they will be 100 years old and they speak to us about our history,” he says. “Plus this is not a local issue; it places the area in the context of European and world history.”
English version by Heather Galloway.
Paschal Donohoe plans bank levy extension but lower haul
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will continue the Irish banking levy beyond its scheduled conclusion date at the end of this year, but plans to lower the targeted annual haul from the current €150 million as overseas lenders Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland retreat from the market, according to sources.
Reducing the industry overall levy target will avoid the remaining three banks facing higher levy bills at a time when the Government is seeking to lower its stakes in the bailed-out lenders.
AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB paid a combined €93 million levy in each of the last two years, according to their latest annual reports. A decision on the new targeted yield, currently linked to deposit interest retention tax (DIRT) collected by banks on customers’ savings, will be announced at the unveiling of Budget 2022 on October 12th.
Originally introduced in 2014 by then minister for finance Michael Noonan for three years to ensure banks made a “contribution” to a recovering economy after the sector’s multibillion-euro taxpayer bailout, the annual banking levy has since been extended to the end of 2021.
A further extension of the levy has largely been expected by the banks and industry analysts, as the sector has been able to use multibillion euro losses racked up during the financial crisis to reduce their tax bills. A spokesman for the Department of Finance declined to comment on the future status of the banking levy as planning for Budget 2022 continues.
AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB (PTSB) alone have utilised almost €500 million of tax losses against their corporation tax bills between 2017 and 2019, according to Department of Finance figures.
Sources said that the Government will be keen not to land a levy increase on the three lenders at a time when it is currently selling down its stake in Bank of Ireland and plotting a course for the reduction of its positions in AIB and PTSB in time.
The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which holds the Bank of Ireland stake on behalf of the Minister for Finance, sold 2 percentage points of holding in the market between July and August, reducing its interest to just below 12 per cent.
Meanwhile, it has been reported in recent days that the UK government is planning to lower an 8 per cent surcharge that it has applied to bank profits since the start of 2016. It comes as the general UK corporation tax is set to rise from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023.
“The optics of reducing the surcharge might still be bad politically, but it would signal the partial rehabilitation for the nation’s banking sector,” said Eamonn Hughes, an analyst with Goodbody Stockbrokers, in a note to clients on Tuesday, adding that he continues to factor in a retention of the Irish banking levy in his financial estimates for banks over the medium term.
The macro pig farm threatening a historical gem in northern Spain | Culture
Christians and Muslims fought over the castle of Gormaz in Soria in the Spanish region of Castilla y León for two centuries. Now, after a lapse of hundreds of years, it is once again under threat – this time, from a macro pig farm for 4,200 animals. The proposed farm is within two kilometers of the fortress, and will be visible from its impressive caliphal gate, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the medieval site.
Environmental and neighborhood associations, architecture and restoration professionals, as well as the town councils of Recuerda, a village of 70 inhabitants, and Gormaz, a village of 20, call the plans an “attack” on one of the most impressive Islamic fortresses on the peninsula. With a perimeter measuring more than one kilometer, the castle of Gormaz was once the largest in Europe. It was this fortress that the Caliph of Córdoba, Al-Hakam II, ordered to be reinforced and expanded at the end of the 10th century to stop the Christian advance from the north.
Meanwhile, the company behind the project, Agro Peñaranda Esteban, insists it will comply “strictly with the law” and that if the permits are not issued, it will go elsewhere. “It’s great to eat torreznos [a kind of fried bacon snack] from Soria in a good restaurant in a big capital city,” says one of the shareholders, who is from the area. “People must think that they fall from the sky.”
The castle of Gormaz was built in the 9th century to strategically support Medinaceli, the capital of the so-called Muslim Middle Frontier. Divided into two large areas separated by a moat, there is the fortress with the tower of Almanzor and the caliphal quarters, and then the area for the troops, where the main entrance is located. Altogether, it has 28 towers with battlements and arrowslits.
The Soria fortress defended the routes to the north of the peninsula that followed the banks of the Duero river and was coveted by a number of figures, including Count García Fernández, Sancho II of Pamplona, Ramiro III of León, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar and the de facto ruler of Islamic Iberia, Almanzor. And so it passed from one side to the other until, in 1060, Fernando I of León seized it once and for all. During the reign of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, it was turned into a prison as it no longer had any strategic value.
But now it is administrative forces that are advancing on the castle. On June 29, the Castilla y León regional government published “the announcement of a pig farm of 4,200 pigs in plot 20114 of industrial estate 1 of the municipality of Recuerda,” which backs onto Gormaz. August 10 was the deadline for anyone wishing to take issue with the environmental impact assessment, which states that the farm would not alter the surrounding landscape. “It is a landscape altered by human activity, due to its agricultural use, with no dominant variations or striking contrasts,” claims the report.
This contradicts the regional plan for the Duero Valley, approved by the Castilla y León regional authorities in 2010, which mentions a series of Landscape Management Areas (AOP) needing a specific regime of protection, management and planning. One such area includes the castle of Gormaz and the surrounding area where the farm would be located.
Luis Morales, architect and member of the Soria Association for the Defense of Nature (Aseden), points out that the castle’s environment is “totally agricultural – fields and forests – and very similar to what it might have been in the Middle Ages, when Gormaz was built. To put an industrial complex of enormous dimensions to house more than 4,000 pigs, which is what they intend, is barbaric,” he adds. “It breaks up the landscape from the same caliphal gate, the one that is so often photographed for tourism purposes.”
Morales also believes that the municipalities have the means to stop the project, “because the land is rustic and can therefore be classified as protected, which would prevent the livestock complex from being built.” Meanwhile, the Aseden association points out that the regional authorities were responsible for the White Paper of the Territorial Enclaves of Cultural Interest (ETIC), which selected 111 locations of cultural or heritage interest, one of which was Gormaz.
According to the NGO Ecologists in Action, in this type of facility whose surface area would be 4,000 square meters plus another 2,000 for slurry, “the problem of odor emissions is very important because of its proximity and orientation with respect to inhabited areas and other places of interest.” It explains: “In this case, the farm would be to the west, 1.3 kilometers from Recuerda and two kilometers from the castle of Gormaz. According to data from [Spain’s national weather agency] Aemet, the prevailing winds are from the west. In other words, it would bring unhealthy smells for most of the year to Recuerda. Surprisingly, the project says that the prevailing winds are from the northeast.”
Consuelo Barrio, mayor of Recuerda, agrees. “It is not only the visual impact, which is very important, but also the environmental impact due to the possible contamination of the water from the slurry as we are in an area of aquifers; this is in addition to the smell that would come our way as we are barely a kilometer from it.”
Meanwhile, the company behind the project considers it is under “unjustified attack.” According to one 38-year-old businessman involved in the project, “in this part of Soria there are at least three farms: Quintanar, Gormaz…. And if ours smells, it means they all smell. It’s not like years ago, when pigs were thrown into the Duero – some of which I have seen floating – or the slurry was dumped down drains. No. There are strict environmental laws and we will comply with them. It is easy to talk about ‘deserted’ Spain and all the things the politicians are saying, but when you try to create wealth, obstacles are thrown up because you can be seen from the castle two kilometers away. If they don’t let us set up here, we’ll go somewhere else,” he adds angrily.
Marisa Revilla, president of Amigos del Museo Numantino, is particularly upset by the visual effect of the pig farm. “The impact report does not take into account the horizontal impact. It only states that they are going to put up some hedges to hide the farm. But the installation will not only affect the castle, it will also affect the nearby Romanesque San Miguel hermitage.” This hermitage was inspected in the 1990s by architect José Francisco Yusta, who specializes in historical monuments and also opposes the construction of the farm. “There is no justification for breaking up the landscape,” says Yusta, who has worked on such architectural gems as the cathedral of Burgo de Osma, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and castle of Gormaz itself.
“I believe it is not worth destroying our landscape for the two jobs that the macro-farm will provide, which are those proposed by the promoters,” says architect Luis Morales. “If there were only 200 for deserted Spain….”
English version by Heather Galloway.
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