GOVERNMENT SECRECY

Spain's Foreign Ministry: a jealous guardian of official documents

Researchers find that government passed a secret accord in 2010 limiting disclosures

What do the negotiations for the release of kidnapped Spanish aid workers in Mali and Somalia have in common with the preparations for the king's trip to Brazil and Chile or the support the government has given Repsol in its fight with Argentina over the expropriation of its YPF affiliate?

At a simple glance all these issues are in the public interest and have generated news coverage that has sometimes rocked the walls of government. But now they also form part of a list of 17 topics the Foreign Ministry has officially deemed "secret" or "confidential" subject matter that cannot be released to the public.

This is what two academic researchers, Álvaro Jiménez Millán and Carlos Sanz Díaz, found out last March when they filed separate petitions to the ministry's general archive for their investigation. Jiménez Millán wanted information about Spain's relations with Japan and the Philippines between 1975 and 1982 while Sanz Díaz was looking for records of Spanish-German relations from 1970-1982. They both received the same letter rejecting their request, basing it on an agreement made by the Cabinet on October 15, 2010 under the previous Socialist government.

To their amazement, there is no record of such an agreement and nor was it published in the official BOE gazette. When Sanz asked, he received a copy earlier this month of the Cabinet's agreement in which it describes in vague terms the categories that should be kept secret or confidential. Among them are "information concerning the Spanish position in international conflicts;" "questions about asylum and refuge;" and "questions that affect the sovereignty, independence or territorial integrity of Spain or its friendly countries."

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