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Banana farmers lose livelihoods as lava devours La Palma

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euronews– His home went first. Then the house his father built. Then the lottery stand and hardware store he owned succumbed.

Lastly, Antonio Álvarez had to watch as lava from a volcanic eruption slowly devoured the remaining pillar of his family’s wealth: the dozen acres he dedicated to growing the Canary Island banana that for generations has provided the agricultural lifeblood of the Atlantic Ocean archipelago.

“My father always told me ‘don’t make the house too big, it won’t make you money; invest in banana! The bananas will give you a house.’ And it’s true,” Álvarez said. “When I filmed (the lava destroying) my father’s house, it was seeing him die all over again. That house was a part of him.”

Álvarez, 54, is one of thousands of farmers and workers on Spain’s La Palma island whose livelihoods have been put in jeopardy by the destruction wrecked by volcano that is still going strong six weeks after the ground first broke open on Sept. 19.

The regional government of the Canary Islands, an archipelago including La Palma located off the coast of northwest Africa, estimates that the volcano has already caused €100 million in losses for the island’s banana industry. Over 158 hectares of land used for banana farming have been covered by molten rock, and more than 300 hectares have been cut off after roads on the island’s western side were enveloped by lava.

The banana growers association for the Canary Islands, ASPROCAN, estimates that around 1,500 of the island’s 5,000 owners of banana plantations have been hurt. Most owners have small patches of a few acres. Many, like Álvarez, have seen their land burnt and crushed. Others have lost harvests because they can’t get to their trees. And many more have seen their product become unmarketable due to the volcanic ash that has ruined the banana peels.

It’s been an shock wave for an industry that provides 30% of the economic life of the island, according to regional government statistics. There are entire businesses dedicated to packing and transporting the fruit, which, along with tourism, keeps La Palma going.

“They say it has wiped out 10% of the island’s economy. I think it is more. It wasn’t just the bananas, or the apartments, or the bed and breakfasts, it has taken everything,” Álvarez said. “What has happened to us has happened to 90% of the people here.”

La Palma, an island of 85,000, is the second-largest producer of banana for the eight-member archipelago, which at its nearest point is 100 kilometres from Morocco. Last year it produced 148,000 tons of the local banana, most of which were shipped to Spain’s mainland. While usually more expensive than imported bananas from Latin America and Africa, the smaller Canary Island banana is often preferred for its sweeter taste and meatier texture.

Authorities have pledged financial aid to help the sector and fund furloughs for workers. They have also promised to revise a law that says that new land formed by the lava is property of the state.

Desalination plants have been shipped in to supply the water-dependent banana trees at points where lava flows have wrecked the irrigation systems. The island’s government has asked for the military to consider taking farmers in by boat to tend to farms that have been isolated by the rivers of lava.

The lava, however, keeps spewing from the Cumbre Vieja ridge, threatening to widen and consume more land as it churns its way downward to the Atlantic, where a new patch of lava land is forming.

The house of farmer Jesús Pérez is still at risk, but for him the most important property he owns is already gone.

“I would have preferred to lose my house instead of my banana trees,” the 56-year-old Pérez said. “The trees give you life, the house gives you nothing. I have sacrificed all my life, and for what, nothing?”

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Man jailed for WhatsApp threats to kill Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

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A man has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for threatening to kill Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Manuel Murillo Sanchez was found guilty by Spain’s National Court of preparing to commit assassination and illegal weapons offences.

The 65-year-old former security guard from Tarrasa was arrested in 2018 after making deaths threats in a WhatsApp group.

The court heard how Murillo Sanchez had offered to act as a “sniper” and “hunt down” the Spanish PM “like a deer”.

The suspect’s comments came after the Spanish government had ordered for the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco to be exhumed.

The court rejected his defence that he had been intoxicated when sending the WhatsApp messages and sentenced him to two years and six months in prison for attempted murder.

He was also given a five-year sentence for possessing illegal weapons and banned from owning any firearms for eight years. The verdict is subject to appeal.

The remains of Franco were removed to a cemetery on the outskirts of Madrid in October 2019, prompting anger from far-right groups in Spain.

In a WhatsApp group, Murillo Sanchez had allegedly told fellow users that he was a “sniper with a precise shot” who could target Prime Minister Sanchez.

“We cannot allow them to humiliate Generalissimo Francisco Franco … If necessary, I will go armed and sit on Franco’s tomb, and if they come close, I will shoot”, he reportedly wrote.

The court said the man’s “determination” and the number of weapons seized from him shows “a high level of danger” even if he had not made any specific plans to kill the Spanish PM.

The suspect had repeatedly expressed “his intention to finish off the president of the government” to “bring about a change in the Spanish political situation”, a court statement read.

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Barcelona seeks to ban smoking on all beaches, after positive pilot scheme

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Barcelona City Council is seeking to ban smoking on all of the city’s 10 beaches from this July, following a successful pilot scheme that was carried out on four beaches last summer.

‘The measure aims to facilitate healthier places to live together, with less waste and respect for the environment,’ the council said.

It said that there was a ‘good reception’ to the pilot test of smokeless beaches carried out last year, and which was assessed positively by the public with a score of 8.2 points out of 10. It also resulted in ‘a significant reduction of highly polluting cigarette butts abandoned in the sand’, the council added, resulting in the authorities pushing for an extension of the ban on all 10 beaches of Barcelona’s coastline for this summer.

The council said on Friday that it would be launching a campaign this month to inform residents of the new measure, as well as spreading awareness of its benefits. When the restriction comes into effect in July, it will be monitored by the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB).

Last summer smoking was prohibited on four of the ten beaches in Barcelona (Sant Miquel, Somorrostro, Nova Icària and Nova Mar Bella) from 29 May until 12 September. The regulations last year did not allow Barcelona City Council to actually apply sanctions, but bathers could be told to stop smoking by police officers, and if they then refused to do so, they could have faced fines for disobedience.

According to reports, only 2.6% of beach-goers defied the ban at the four beaches last summer, whilst 19% of those at the city’s other six beaches smoked.

The campaign last year highlighted that 13.8% of deaths annually in Barcelona are attributed to tobacco consumption – some 2,200 people. The campaign also focused on the danger of second-hand smoke, considered particularly harmful for children. A study last year revealed that more than 135,000 cases of respiratory diseases and over 3,000 hospitalisations in children aged under 12 in Spain are attributed to passive smoking.

According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking, approximately five billion cigarette butts end up in the sea each year. Discarded cigarettes contain substances such as cadmium, iron, arsenic, nickel, copper, zinc, or manganese – some of which are toxic to both human and marine life.

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Body of US software mogul John McAfee still in Barcelona morgue, seven months after his death

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The body of American anti-virus developer John McAfee remains in a morgue in the Barcelona City of Justice complex, in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia, seven months after his death. It is currently located in the Legal Medicine Institute (Imelec), a grey building with honeycomb windows, while a judge has been preparing a report on his death.

That report, released this week, has determined that the software mogul died by suicide in his prison cell in Barcelona province on June 23, 2021 as he awaited extradition to the United States on charges of failing to file US tax returns from 2014 to 2018.

The 75-year-old’s family had raised questions about the circumstances of his death, even though an autopsy concluded that McAfee hung himself inside his cell at Brians 2 penitentiary in Sant Esteve Sesrovires. Prison workers found a suicide note in the pocket of his pants.

The months-long investigation is not quite over yet, as lawyers for McAfee’s family have appealed the Spanish judge’s decision to provisionally close the case. The provincial court of Barcelona must now decide whether to confirm the judge’s decision or order him to keep the investigation open. The family has argued that the autopsy was incomplete and lacked the “basic elements” to draw definitive conclusions about the cause of death, according to defense sources.

The building in Martorell (Barcelona) that houses the court that’s been investigating the case has so many structural deficiencies that in 2019, Spain’s legal watchdog, the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), ordered two courtrooms closed because of safety hazards. The legal staff in this building is also dealing with a severe backlog of work, which partially explains the delay in concluding the McAfee investigation.

The cybersecurity entrepreneur’s family was very critical of the process from the beginning. His ex-wife, Janice McAfee, traveled to Barcelona and met with three prison officials at Brians 2, but she remained unconvinced by their explanations and questioned the suicide hypothesis. “The last thing he told me was ‘I love you and I’ll call you this evening. Those are not the words of someone who is suicidal’,” she said at the time.

Clear case

But medical experts who examined the body always believed it was a clear case of suicide. McAfee was found hanging from his cell, where he had asked to spend time. He was in pre-trial detention after being charged with tax evasion by the United States. He had been in prison for more than eight months while Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, considered the extradition request for failing to file tax returns between 2014 and 2018. On Wednesday morning, McAfee’s lawyers told him that the court had decided to approve his extradition to the US and in the afternoon he killed himself, according to the investigation.

McAfee was the creator of one of the most popular antivirus software programs on the market and was considered a genius in the tech world. His life, however, was plagued by controversy. In 2012, McAfee was named a person of interest by authorities in Belize investigating the murder of his neighbor, but he never faced trial because he fled before he could be questioned. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, McAfee was in Spain’s Catalonia region, where he spent most of the lockdown. Authorities believe he lived in a semi-abandoned hotel in Cambrils called Daurada Park Hotel. Two years earlier, during an administrative inspection, the Catalan police had discovered a cryptocurrency operation in the basement of the hotel.

In July 2021 Spain’s National Police were notified by Interpol about the charges for tax evasion and arrested him on October 3 at Barcelona’s El Prat airport as he was about to fly to Istanbul. The court’s extradition decision, however, could have been appealed, and McAfee’s defense was already working on this process.

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