From Julen to Franco, a review of some of the year's news stories

Part of the Julen rescue operation.
Part of the Julen rescue operation. / REUTERS
  • As every year, there has been good news and bad, happiness and sorrow, paralysis and progress in our part of the world

  • 2019 could be described as a markedly political year in Spain, with two general elections, the Andalusian government election and the ongoing saga of Brexit

As 2019 comes to an end, we thought we would take a look back at some of the stories that made the headlines in SUR in English during the year.


Tragedy strikes as little boy disappears down a bore hole

The tragic story that gripped an entire nation and has featured in the news all year began on 13 January when two-year-old Julen Roselló fell down a bore hole and disappeared while on a family day out in the countryside near Totalán. The gap was only 25cms wide and at first it was thought that it was too narrow for him to be down there. Rescue attempts were complicated by the fact that compacted soil appeared to have formed a type of plug between Julen and the surface. The shaft was 110 metres deep. Despite using high-tech equipment and specialist mining teams it took 13 days to find the child, and an autopsy later said that he had died instantly from a head injury. Julen's devastated parents blamed the owner of the land for the accident, but accusations flew far and fast on both sides and the legal proceedings are ongoing.

On the political stage, following regional elections the Junta de Andalucía government changed hands after being governed by PSOE for 36 years, and is being run by a coalition between Partido Popular and Ciudadanos with the support of the far-right Vox party.

Meanwhile, Spain and Britain signed an agreement under which British residents of Spain are able to continue to vote in council elections, and vice versa, after Brexit, whether or not the UK and EU reach a deal.


Spain prepares for another election

Spain was confronted with the prospect of an early general election after the PSOE government failed to win approval from MPs for its delayed 2019 budget. Defeat for prime minister Pedro Sánchez had looked increasingly likely as relations with Catalan separatist MPs, whose support was need in the vote, had soured.

Locally, it was revealed that Juan Antonio Roca, the 'strong man' at Marbella town hall during the ransacking of municipal coffers, was now a free man after serving 13 years. Legal sources said that never before had a person found guilty of financial crimes been held permanently in jail for such a long period. Roca received jail sentences for different cases including 'Malaya' (17 years), 'Saqueo 1' (6 years and 10 months), 'Saqueo II' (three years) and 'Minutas' (three years), and although there are still dozens of other cases pending, he will not have to go back to prison. In May 2016 the provincial court in Malaga, the court which judged the 'Malaya case', agreed to aggregate all the cases and allow the sentences to run concurrently, applying a maximum period of 20 years.


Phone tapping shock at Mijas town hall

Mijas council was rocked by a potential spying scandal after an independent audit on a blocked management email account at the municipal TV and radio station appeared to reveal that someone had been eavesdropping on phone calls by members of the board of directors. The board was made up of the mayor, Juan Carlos Maldonado of Ciudadanos (Cs) and eight other councillors from all parties. Nobody knew who was behind the alleged phone tapping.

And from one type of 'dirt' to another: the investigation into the dumping of sewage and polluted water by Coín and Nerja councils threw up some eye-watering data, showing just how much untreated waste is allowed to flow into the Guadalhorce basin or the Mediterranean. Guardia Civil investigators estimated that there is a nine-tonne "mountain" of used wet wipes on the seabed near Nerja, and that Coín council had allowed enough polluted water to flow into its local rivers to fill the equivalent capacity of Malaga city's El Limonero reservoir. Councils are responsible for correctly managing sewage, but in this case officials blamed the regional and central governments for not providing the promised waste treatment works.

Costa del Sol hospital.

Costa del Sol hospital. / JOSELE


Progress on Marbella hospital expansion

It was announced that completing the expansion of the Costa del Sol hospital will require an investment of approximately 30 million euros, and that a new plan will be needed because the project has been at a standstill for ten years and the original one, from 2007, no longer meets the needs of the town and its surrounding areas. It is hoped that the works will begin in 2020.

The regional government also announced a 50 million euro road plan to improve communications with rural villages and boost their populations.

Bob Dylan in Fuengirola.

Bob Dylan in Fuengirola. / AFP


Bob Dylan rocked the Marenostrum

Nobel prizewinning singer-songwriter Bob Dylan proved on the Marenostrum stage in Fuengirola that his art is alive and kicking, performing his classics with fresh and modern arrangements to the delight of his ecstatic fans.

On a more negative note, unfortunately, the authorities expressed their "serious concern" at a rise in violent crime on the Costa del Sol in previous months, including revenge killings, the use of explosives and so-called 'narcoterrorism'.


Fire at San Roque petrochemical plant

The Indorama fire.

The Indorama fire. / EFE

There was concern over the possibility of toxic smoke in the Campo de Gibraltar area when fire broke out at the Indorama petrochemical plant in San Roque. The huge column of smoke could be seen from miles away, people in Spain were advised to keep away from the area and the Gibraltar government asked its population to stay indoors and keep all windows and doors closed until an analysis had been carried out into the content of the smoke. The official conclusion from the regional government was that there was no toxicity, but that was greeted with scepticism by many local residents.

And we discovered this month that Malaga is a hotspot for badly-behaved air passengers. Figures from the air safety agency AENA showed that in 2018 more than 100 flights to and from the Costa del Sol were disrupted and unruly British passengers were among the biggest culprits.


Gib detains supertanker heading for Syria

The eyes of the world were on Gibraltar this month after its government detained a supertanker, the Grace 1, and its captain and crew for allegedly contravening EU sanctions and transporting crude oil from Iran to the Banyas refinery in Syria. An investigation confirmed that suspicions about the cargo and destination were correct. The ship was eventually released by the court six weeks later, despite a last-minute attempt by the USA to seize the vessel under a new legal procedure. She left after being renamed the Adrian Darya and re-registered, and assurances from Iran that she would not travel to an EU-sanctioned destination.


Residents use new law to stop holiday lets

Some communities of owners have successfully begun to use a new law to control how many apartments in their blocks or residential estates are rented out for tourism, and they have the right to vote on whether to increase the community fees of owners who are using their properties for holiday lets. However, experts warned that there is still some confusion over the details of the new regulation.

Drivers began to feel that big brother was watching them this month, as the DGT traffic agency and Guardia Civil began to use drones to spot drivers using their mobile phones or recklessly overtaking. The drone flights, which last for 25 minutes, cannot identify drivers who are speeding.


New UK ambassador to Spain

The new ambassador (r) with the president of Malaga provincial government.

The new ambassador (r) with the president of Malaga provincial government. / EFE

Hugh Elliott took over from Simon Manley as the UK's man in Spain, and presented his credentials to King Felipe at the Palacio Real in Madrid. The new ambassador was previously Director of Communication and Stakeholders at the Department for Exiting the European Union.


Franco's remains are moved out of the Valley of the Fallen

The remains of the late dictator General Franco were removed from the Valle de Los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) mausoleum and memorial to the Spanish Civil War and placed in a simpler, family tomb in a small public cemetery outside Madrid. In a highly symbolic moment for many Spaniards, the acting government, controlled by the PSOE Socialist party, carried out its promise to have the coffin removed from where it was placed on Francisco Franco's death in 1975 ahead of the eventual restoration of democracy. Despite efforts by Franco's family and supporters to block the reburial, the Supreme Court found in favour of the government and allowed it to go ahead.

Franco's remains are carried from the Valley of the Fallen.

Franco's remains are carried from the Valley of the Fallen. / EFE


Intu prepares to start work on mega shopping complex

After years of administrative delays, plans for the new 850 million euro shopping and leisure centre in Torremolinos are finally starting to take shape. It will be 235,000 square metres in size and is designed to resemble a small town with eight different districts. The works are due to begin next year and the complex should open in 2023.

There was a disappointing announcement for passengers who fly between Malaga and New York, as Delta Air Lines has axed its direct daily high season service, at a time when it had been expected to run it all through the year instead.


Year ends in tragedy for a British family in Mijas Costa

Sadly, the year ended the same way it began, with the tragic news that a man and his children aged nine and 16 were found dead in a swimming pool at Club La Costa World on Christmas Eve. An investigation is being carried out.