Let the march continue
The protest marches against austerity measures and the strict policies of the European Union continued last month across Spain. On 19 June, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in major Spanish cities, including Madrid, to vent their anger against the Euro Pact, the belt tightening policy agreed last March by Euro Zone nations. The marches and demonstrations are part of the 15 May Movement that started as a mid-size protest in the Spanish capital and developed into a nationwide camp-out in major squares in different cities. Activists who had set up their tents in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol began packing up their gear early last month while some die-hards have decided to stay on. Business owners in Madrid’s famous plaza complained that the protesters were scaring their customers, with some merchants reporting a 70 percent loss in sales since the demonstrators took the square.
Violence broke out in Barcelona when police were called in on several occasions to dissuade the demonstrators as city workers tried to clean up their camp in Plaza Catalunya. In Valenica, 15 May Movement participants surrounded the regional parliament in an effort to prevent lawmakers who have been fingered in corruption probes from being sworn in for new terms of office. Police were also called to the scene. After the mass marches on 19 June, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero recognised the “deep message” the citizens were trying to get across. Among the demands of the movement are more government accountability, better representation, improved measures to combat public corruption, and an alternative government rather than one that is based on political parties. Without addressing the other demands, Zapatero said there was no way Spain could change its current democratic system. A major Madrid rally is expected to be held on 24 July.
And what about that early race?
Some Socialists last month said they believe that calling early elections is a good idea. Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba’s peak in popularity over his expected rival Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party is overwhelming. In a Telecinco poll last month, Spaniards gave Rubalcaba a 65.1 percent approval rating over Rajoy, who garnered 34.9 percent. When the same television network asked viewers if they would like to see early elections, 66.56 percent said yes, with the remainder preferring to wait until next year. But others see dissolving parliament and holding an early race only as sending cloudy signs to investors overseas. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who still has a host of legislation to get through Congress before he bows out, says he wants to complete the current term, which should end next spring. Besides economic reforms, the government is due to present a bill that would change criminal trial procedures. Rubalcaba and his team still have a lot of work to do inside the party, including mending breaches caused by the rift from Defence minister Carme Chacón’s last minute pullout from the primary and the disastrous losses the Socialists suffered in the polls on 22 May.
No more bodyguards
Concerns are popping up in the Basque Country and Navarre over the government’s discreet but ongoing measures to scale-back the number of bodyguards assigned to town councillors who have in the past been threatened by ETA. Designed as a cost-cutting move, the task is also being seen by some as a good faith measure to let the terrorists and other radical groups know that the government believes ETA wants peace. But councillors from both the Socialists and Partido Popular (PP) are quite upset.
The scaling back began some months ago. Former councillors who left office will no longer get bodyguards while those who are still serving will be assigned one instead of two. These publicly paid human “shadows” are also being taken away from judicial officials, journalists and other groups who have received threats in the past. Compounding the situation is a new policy being implemented by the pro-Basque independence coalition Bildu to prevent bodyguards from entering town halls and other public buildings. On 20 June in Andoain, Guipúzcoa province, where Bildu Mayor Ana Carrere recently took office, councillors from the Socialist and PP were told by municipal police that they could not enter the town hall with their protectors. In San Sebastián, where another Bildu mayor took office, the city council is expected to discuss implementing a similar measure.
Bildu says it wants to push for peace in the Basque Country and Navarre so it wants to do “its part” to ease the tensions by telling councillors it is safe to walk the streets alone at night. And what about the bodyguards? It is expected that nearly 1,500 will lose their jobs once this elimination process is completed, with little chance of finding work in their specialist field.