Welcome to Spain, Mrs Obama….shame you won’t see any of it.

Tomorrow morning the first lady of the US of A, Michelle Obama, will be stepping from her limo at the front door of the luxurious Villa Padierna in Marbella. She’ll be accompanied by her nine-year old daughter, Sasha, on what is said to be a ‘family holiday’ to visit friends.

No doubt it’s nice to get away now and again for a bit of ‘mom and daughter’ quality time, but with forty rooms booked to sleep the party, you can’t really imagine much time for girly talk.

The Villa Padierna, with its private 2,000 square metre spa, heliport and Roman amphitheatre, is said to be one of the top thirty hotels in the world, and with prices of up to 5,000€ a night, Madam Obama’s four-night stay is going to hit the plastic card pretty forcefully, although whose card that will be, we’re not quite sure. A proposed visit to meet King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, will justify the trip as being at least in part a bit of glad-handing on behalf of the American people, so in that case it’s okay if they foot the bill, isn’t it. Although not for some folk back at home it apparently isn’t – they being taxpayers, many of whom can barely afford to take a holiday on their front lawn, never mind swanning off to distant parts with an entourage of bouncers to keep them clear of the local riffraff.

The Malagueños see it is as a shot in the arm in their attempts to make the town look good again after decades of being seen as a resort peopled by criminals on the run, corrupt politicians and Mafia type gangs of all nationalities. Under the control of Jesus Gil, a mayor so bent he would have been U-shaped if his enormous gut had allowed him to be, the town doubled in size, swollen on vast quantities of bribes and backhanders, misappropriation of land, tax evasion and anything else you can think of that line an opportunists pocket with the folding stuff, including the lucrative rubbish removal business. (As someone commented a couple of years ago, ‘Okay, there was a lot of crime and corruption during Gil’s time as mayor, but at least you could walk the streets safe at night. You can’t do that now.’ So much for an attempt of honest governance!)

Gil was given the elbow in 2002, and his successor, Julián Muñoz, who was basically Gil still under control using a different name, and then his successor, retired folk singer Marisol Yagüe are awaiting trial accused of abusing planning permission, which they both deny. In 2006 the whole town hall administration was flung out on orders from the Central Government, with the chief of urban planning, Juan Antonio Roca, convicted of corruption so vast that it would outdo the storyline of any of the Godfather films. The Spanish newspaper daily newspaper El Pais estimated his wealth at more than 2billion€, not bad for a council official, who owned a stud farm guarded by a tiger.

The rich an famous still flock to the luxurious hotels and golf courses of Marbella and Estepona, but they, like Michele Obama and young Sasha, are safely insulated from the hoi-poloi that stagger along the prom in high-heeled sling-backs, hanging on the arm of some overly-tanned oik with greased-back hair, both of them dripping in ostentatious gold jewellery.

But at least mother an daughter need never feel lonely, because apart from their official entourage, their every move will be covered by a press corps of 660 television companies, 2,500 newspapers, 2,100 digital media, 900 radio stations, 950 general magazines y 900 ‘del corazón’ as the Spanish so nicely put them, dross such as ‘Hello!’ and its imitators.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered

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