Friday, October 28, 2011

Spanish News: Perhaps No News is Good News

Yesterday, at a meeting of the Congress of Attorneys in Cadiz, Gregorio Peces Barba, former President of the Spanish Congress, made a couple of interesting comments concerning Catalunya.

First he said,
            What would have happened if we had gone with the Portuguese and without the Catalans?  Maybe things would have gone better.

Coming from someone high up in the Socialist party, the party of the nation’s President Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, this is not a statement to inspire national unity nor very respectful to Catalunya.  He went on later to add, after a comment that Spain is fragmented with people seeking independence, that he is not pessimistic:
            We are better off than in other times.  I don’t know how many times we had to bombard Barcelona.  I think this time we can resolve the problem without having to bomb Barcelona.

I sincerely hope I am not living here if those bombs from Madrid ever arrive because in the Spanish constitution is says that the army has the responsibility to maintain the unity of Spain.  Many in the military (and also not in the military) take that to mean they will attack any area that wants to secede.  Is this a not-so-veiled threat from the Socialist party to the Catalans who want independence?  Or just a thoughtless remark from a person of high standing in one of the country’s two largest political parties?

On another Spanish note, we have the issue of the 300,000 babies that were stolen from their mothers upon giving birth in hospitals and given to families more appealing to the Franco regime.  Looking into various crimes committed during the Franco regime is not legal in Spain.  It was what got the Supreme Court Judge Garcon removed from the bench.  Luckily, there are others who are also interested in some of these crimes.  Here is a short video report on the stolen babies.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sell, Sell, Sell!

My desire to sell my house turned into a need and has now become an obsession.  I don’t think obsessions are a good thing, but there you are.  Might as well call it what it is.

Under normal conditions, this house would be easy to sell.  It’s cute.  It has a lovely garden and pool.  It’s a two-minute walk to the sea.  It’s well priced.  Lots of agents are peddling it (there are no exclusive listings here and no MLS).  And furthermore, the owner is willing to negotiate.

But the market is lousy.  It’s not only that prices have dropped (and so has mine), but that there are not many buyers.  Those buyers who are out there need to have lots of cash because the banks aren’t giving much in the way of mortgages.  And yet there are buyers out there and some of them do buy.

One realtor told me it will take five to ten years to sell.  That’s not a realtor I care to talk to often or that has the right attitude to get the deed done.  After all, a buyer could walk through the door tomorrow and how the heck does he know that one won’t?  The truth of it is, a realtor needs several buyers in the course of a year in order to make a living.  But I need only one.  One qualified buyer to see my house and fall in love with it, or see it as the good rental-income property that it is, and voila!

The cats don’t give me any encouragement because they don’t really want to move.  The two words “move” and “cats” don’t fit well together.  The apartment we will all be moving to will probably be small, but there will be windows and I’ll get them a big indoor cat tree and they’ll be happy.  After all, it beats being an orphan, wounded, and living out on the street.  So really they shouldn’t complain no matter what kind of digs I provide for them.  And sweet cats that they are, once they get over the car journey to wherever we move, they’ll be just fine.  I know they will.

So please, think “sell, sell, sell.”  And send me your good wishes or karma, or pray that I sell the house soon, very soon.  Thanks!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Spain's Secret Conflict

Today, rather than write, I am providing a link (below) to an excellent video (provided to me by my good friend Trini) that addresses the issues of Catalan independence and does it extremely well.  It is titled Spain's Secret Conflict, it's in English and easy to understand, however, it is 40 minutes long, so you need to set aside some time to watch it.  If you are at all interested in the issue of Catalan independence, Catalan relations to the rest of Spain, or just modern Spain in general, I highly recommend that you watch this.

Briefly, some of the topics covered are:
  1. That within what is supposed to be a democratic country, a referendum on the subject of independence is not allowed by the Spanish government
  2. That the extreme right is the main driving force behind anti-Catalan sentiments and misinformation
  3. That several of the current EU nations became independent by the process of referendum and are now viable countries
  4. That although it is constantly criticized for not paying its way and being selfish, Catalunya actually enjoys less benefits from the general taxes it collects (which are sent to Madrid and then reapportioned) than other Spanish communities
  5. That the strong feeling behind those who maintain that Spain is indivisible reaches irrational, religious fervor, with people saying “One Spain blessed by God, great and free!

A question that isn’t dealt with and that I have wondered for years is why, if Catalunya is so vigorously disliked by the rest of Spain, do the Spaniards not want it to separate and go off by itself?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Spanish Mortgage

Even capitalist countries tend to reject the practice of systematic usury.  If bankers don’t, governments usually do by imposing limits to protect (at least somewhat) consumers.  Spain, however, as Catholic as it might be, has been comfortable with usuary embedded into its system of mortgages.  At least it did until today. 

Today Spain, or at least Catalunya, made a pass at leaving its outdated and usurious practice concerning mortgages behind and joining the enlightened world.  Today a court tribunal in Girona ruled that the owner of an apartment that was repossessed and sold at auction by the bank, now owes the bank nothing.  This is something new here.

You might think that of course the former owes nothing once his property is repossessed.  But that hasn’t been so here in Spain.  Here, when you obtain a mortgage, you are not only using the property as collateral, your total personal worth is also part of it.  What had happened with this owner, and what happens with every property owner in Spain who has a mortgage and his property is repossessed by the bank, is that the owner still owed the bank the money.  The amount the property sold for at auction was deducted from the original value at the time of purchase and the property owner owed the remainder.  In this case, it was over 100,000 euros, and the bank had taken steps to put a lien on the owner’s salary.

This is the first court decision giving the right to the property owner who loses his property to lose no more than the actual property that is mortgaged.  Until today, in the case of repossession during a period of time when prices have fallen, the owner lost his home and still owed.  There was no way out of this forced and unfair debt.  Usury is nothing compared to this.  For the average person, it meant being left without a home and owing money forever for the home that the bank now owned and perhaps had resold.  It has made me very worried about my own situation, owning a house I can’t afford to keep and not being able to sell it either.

I understand that this decision, which took place in Catalunya, will stand as a precedent for future court decisions and the application (or change) of the law in all of Spain.

Well good.  One more small step forward.  Perhaps next, someone will take a look at the local governments who take private property, paying little or nothing for it to the owners, and turn it over to private developers.  If the First World contains those countries who embrace capitalism and the Second World those who subscribe to communism, Spain seems to still sit firmly in the Third World.

This afternoon, after writing the above post, I went to a party.  Most of the people there were British plus one Dutch guy and one American couple.  From my English friend Dorothy I learned that mortgages work the same way in England.  If your house is repossessed, you still owe the full amount of the loan, which can be reduced by the amount that the bank sells it for.  I couldn’t believe it.  England allows such a barbaric way of doing mortgages?  Then from across the table, Hans told me it’s the same in The Netherlands.  What!  The Netherlands too?  Yes, said Hans.  In fact, he said, it is the same all over Europe.

I follow the news here in Catalunya regularly.  Ever since coming here, I’ve always made it a point to know and to try to understand what goes on around me.  But I never knew that about the rest of Europe.  My first thought was to rewrite the post now that I know that Spain isn’t the only country with kind of mortgage practice, but then I thought, no.  I’ll just leave it as I wrote it, and add this note at the end.  The people at the party all seemed to think that this was normal.  But from an American perspective, or at least from mine, it’s outrageous.  It’s interesting, though, to see how much one’s assumptions are based on the society from where one comes.