Author Archives: carlenehempel

Spain’s obesity rates are rising, especially in children

Produced by Gina-Maria Garcia and Danny Mortimer

MADRID – Due to a number of reasons, from a change in lifestyle to a weakening economy, Spain is now one of the most overweight countries in the world. The rate of obesity is especially high in children – a fact that has health officials worried about the future. The Ministry of Health is working to establish a number of new education and fitness programs, but many believe that’s not going to be enough. A change of mindset is what people need, especially from parents and school systems, experts warn. Click below to watch “Child Obesity in Spain” and see how health officials are working to keep the nation’s children healthy and fit.


Spanish rock musicians struggle to find an audience

Story by Shandana Mufti

MADRID – The lighting is dim at Madrid’s Sala Siroco, where local rock bands are about to take the stage on a recent Wednesday night to perform for a crowd of about 30. More people trickle in, but by the end of opener Panicky Wasters’ set, the 200-capacity venue remains nearly empty.

In just a few strums of a guitar, it becomes painfully obvious how vacant the room is: the music is just a little too loud, bouncing from wall to wall. “Open your eyes and tell me that you see/Now it’s time to change your behavior…” The vocals disappear without anyone singing them back. There is no rush to the barrier to be close to the band. In fact, there is no barrier separating musicians from audience, and the stage itself is just one-foot high.

“If the band isn’t famous, [people] don’t want to pay,” says Luis Flores, an event organizer at a local arts promotion agency, DAFY, and the promoter for this concert, where tickets are just 6 euros, or $8.

Piracy Graphic

This scene has become the norm in the city, where waning interest in rock music, the rise of electronica and DJs and pinched budgets due to a struggling economy have converged to create a hostile environment for young musicians. Even this audience of 50 – consisting largely of friends of the band – is now considered a decent showing as bands and concert venues alike struggle to hold the interest of a generation more interested in clubbing than live music. And as the crowds shrink, so does the rock music scene, where the average lifespan of a group is just 2 years.

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In a move to increase efficiency, Spain reconsiders siestas, time zone

Story by Kelsey Luing

MADRID – It’s 2 p.m. on a Monday and downtown Madrid is bustling. Located less than a mile from the center of the city, the Street of Hilarión Eslava is a blur of coffee shops, cheap restaurants, lively conversation and the hum of passing cars. A man on a moped honks repeatedly at the pedestrian in front of him, shaking his finger as he continues on his route.

Local shopkeeper Abdón Bermejo, 63, chuckles at the commotion. Despite all the excitement around him, he affixes a clock to the front of his grocery store, Gourmet de la Alimentación, and slips away to the nearby neighborhood of Sagonia for a home-cooked meal and a nap.

“Here in Spain, the tradition is to have a siesta,” he said through a translator. “You need a few hours of food and relaxation before you face the rest of your day.”

Abdón Bermejo takes care of a final customer before embarking on his 15-minute trek to the neighborhood of Sagonia. Once there, he looks forward to a leisurely lunch and nap.

Abdón Bermejo takes care of a final customer before closing down his store for the afternoon to head home for lunch and his nap. Photo by Kelsey Luing.

For as long as Bermejo can remember, his country has been one of late lunches and split workdays. The Spanish tradition of the siesta, a mid-afternoon break between the hours of 2 and 4 or 5, is one he’s followed all his life. But, in the midst of an economic downturn, a parliamentary commission is advocating for Spaniards to adopt a more conventional schedule in an effort to increase productivity. The initiative is also designed to push Spain closer to its neighbors, such as Portugal and the United Kingdom, located in Greenwich Mean Time.

The committee’s proposals, which call for an abbreviated 9 to 5 workday and a 40-minute interval for lunch, would symbolize a fundamental shift in Spanish culture.

“Spain has some of the longest working hours in Europe, but its productivity [level] is among the lowest in the region,” said Ignacio Buqueras, president of the Association for the Rationalization of Spanish Working Hours. “We are fighting to change this culture of presentismo – or working too long without anything to show for it – and bring Spain in line with the rest of Europe.”

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Madrid to use smart parking meters, other measures, to kick air pollution to the curb

Story by Olivia Sears

MADRID – Dressed in a gray suit and tie, Sergio Gonzalo gazed across the gridlock of cars during rush hour on a central Madrid thoroughfare and stepped down into the Argüelles subway station. For the past three years, he has chosen not to drive his BMW to work in an attempt to reduce his contribution to one of the most polluted cities in the world.

“It is sad to live in a city where pollution levels are so high,” said Gonzalo, 32. The bank employee explains that using public transportation to commute from the suburbs of Madrid is more cost effective and better for the environment.

That’s a message local officials hope will lead to more people leaving their cars at home. But the Madrid City Council is doing more than encouraging a shift. It has passed a new slate of parking fees and created a public bike program meant to give drivers more reason to utilize environmentally friendly forms of transportation. The city also upgraded its fleet of buses, committing to purchasing only energy efficient vehicles moving forward and outfitting old diesel models with filters to limit emissions.

Mariano González, a campaign leader for Ecologists in Action, an environmental advocacy group launched in Madrid in 1998, said the new initiatives come at a good time.

“You want to make Madrid more sustainable in mobility,” he said. “Now is the opportunity. Road traffic has decreased due to economic recession. This is a good opportunity to change our mobility pattern to new ones.”

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Immigrants to Spain are taking jobs but also driving the economy

Story by Caroline Edwards

MADRID – Though conventional wisdom might suggest the ailing economies in Europe want to keep out immigrants, migrant workers are crucial to the productivity and sustainability of the Spanish economy, said Francisco Javier Moreno Fuentes in a lecture earlier this week.

A welcoming mindset toward immigration contradicts political posturing in Spain, where politicians are using an abundance of foreign workers to delegitimize welfare and social spending programs. But Javier Moreno Fuentes, a research fellow at the Institute of Public Goods and Policies of the Spanish National Research Council, said that border and immigration policies are ultimately decided by a country’s economic need at the time.

Francisco Javier Moreno Fuentes says that Spaniards need to accept immigrants as an inextricable, and necessary, part of the workforce.

Francisco Javier Moreno Fuentes says that Spaniards need to accept immigrants as an inextricable, and necessary, part of the workforce. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

Moreno has written four books on immigration and has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at two different universities. He spoke at a local English and Spanish language school about the enormous influence immigrants are having on culture, economics and policy in Spain and the European Union.

He said groups such as the country’s ruling People’s Party push an agenda that paints immigrants as a demographic looking to “come here, not to work, but to commit crimes and take advantage of welfare programs.”

The reality, Moreno said, is that migrant workers are attracted to jobs, not social programs. Plus, immigrants play an integral role in the Spanish economy, filling low-pay jobs that natives don’t want.

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Disenchanted voters help small parties take seats in EU election

By Amanda Hoover, Carly Metz and Mackenzie Nichols

MADRID – Despite predictions that Spain’s Popular Party and Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party would maintain their hold over Spain’s representation in the EU Parliament, smaller parties stole 24 seats in Sunday’s election.

A man places his vote at Colegio Reina Victoria in the Salamanca District. By 3:00 pm, he was one of 150 voters to cast his ballot in this particular zone. Photo by Carly Metz.

At one of nearly 3,000 polling places in greater Madrid, a man places his vote at Colegio Reina Victoria, a school, in the Salamanca neighborhood. By 3 p.m., he was one of 150 voters to cast his ballot in this particular zone. Photo by Carly Metz.

On what has been dubbed “Super Sunday,” 20 of the 28 European Union member states voted to elect or reelect members to the 751 seats of the European Parliament. An uncharacteristically low 46 percent of voting-eligible Spaniards turned out to send 54 delegates to Parliament. Frustrations with Spanish politicians and their lack of leadership resulted in major gains for fringe parties, experts say.

“Institutions [in the EU] are far away. It’s a very complex process. Many do not understand very well what happens there and the impact,” said Francisco Javier Moreno Fuentes, a research fellow at the Institute of Public Goods and Policies at the Spanish National Research Council, or CSIC, in Madrid. “In theory, citizens should be thinking about what is best to do on the European level. This should happen in every country. But in fact, what happens is the opposite. People are thinking more in national terms than European terms.”

The trend was seen across Europe, with peripheral parties gaining ground while populists and socialists suffered. The European People’s Party – which is also the ruling party in Spain – lost 55 seats, while the Party of European Socialists lost another 32.

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Strict new law would force women out of country for abortions, experts say

Story by Carly Metz // Photos by Maria Amasanti

MADRID – For the first time in almost 30 years, women in Spain will have to travel abroad to get abortions if a proposed law passes Parliament by the end of the year.

The legislation would make abortion virtually illegal and would distinguish Spain as one of the most restrictive countries in Europe for people trying to get the procedure. If passed, experts say the new law would force pregnant women into the dark ages of self-inflicted and unregulated terminations.

Olga Sancho Valladolid, spokesperson of Clinica Dator (Dator Clinic), condemned the new abortion reform being proposed by Spain's ruling party, the People's Party.

Olga Sancho Valladolid, spokeswoman for Clinica Dator (Dator Clinic), condemned the new abortion reform proposed by Spain’s ruling People’s Party.

“It’s an absolute attack on women’s autonomy over their own sexual and reproductive health and rights,” said Olga Sancho Valladolid, a spokeswoman for Clínica Dator, an abortion clinic in Madrid. “Women with less economic means or immigrants will find themselves forced to become mothers against their own will or turn to illegal or unsafe abortions, which could put their lives at risk,” she continued through a translator.

Advocates of the proposal, however, say that the reform is necessary in order to restrict the number of abortions occurring each year and to protect the rights of the unborn. “A woman should not have the right to kill a baby because it would be difficult or she feels unprepared to be a mother,” said Alvaro De La Torre, a Ph.D. candidate in Spanish public law and a former analyst for the Foundation for Analysis and Social Studies, a policy and research institute for the ruling Popular Party. “Abortion can not be used as a contraceptive method. It is not a morally acceptable way of controlling it.”

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Spanish wine thrives in global market

Story by Emily Pollak // Photos by Maria Amasanti

SALAMANCA- It was after business hours but before sunset on a Friday afternoon in late May and Hacienda Zorita, a small winery in the Douro Valley region of Salamanca, was still humming with activity.

A walking tour with about 20 people was under way through the vineyard and into a cavernous dark room where hundreds of chest-high barrels were stacked against ancient, damp stone walls. There were people settling down for an early meal at the winery’s restaurant. There were residents of the 192-acre estate – patrons of its five-star hotel – walking the grounds in the waning sunlight.

Jaime Boville Garcia de Vinuesa, President of Hacienda Zoritas, leads a degustation to a group of visitors.

Jaime Boville García de Vinuesa is the vice president of Hacienda Zorita vineyard and also its spokesman.

This celebration of wine and fascination of wine culture is what industry experts such as Jaime Boville García De Vinusa are banking on for the continued dominance of their industry. A vice president at Hacienda Zorita, Boville García De Vinusa is one of many vineyard operators who are capitalizing on a growing world-wide love of Spanish wines. Now the No. 2 exporter behind France globally, Spain is enjoying a production and export boom, and its beautiful vineyards are a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster economy that has seen many other industries cutting staff and reducing services.

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Architectural Review: City’s famous golden stone needs repair, protection

Story by Ian Debevoise // Photos by Maria Amasanti

SALAMANCA – Like many squares in Spanish cities, the Plaza Mayor is Salamanca’s epicenter, but there’s an element that distinguishes this centerpiece from those found in any other city in the country.

The City Hall of Salamanca, in the heart of the Plaza Mayor, is made completely out of the Villamayor stone. Salamanca has been dubbed the "Golden City" for the warm glow created by the sun's reflection on the stone.

The City Hall of Salamanca, in the heart of the Plaza Mayor, is made completely out of the Villamayor stone. Salamanca has been dubbed the “Golden City” for the warm glow created by the sun’s reflection on the stone.

Famously known as the “Golden City,” Salamanca is an architectural masterpiece, built with a certain type of blond sandstone found in the deep quarries in the region of Castile-León. The stone in its pure form is a combination of creams and caramel colors that shine gold in the sunlight. After centuries of oxidation and exposure to the elements, though, the high-iron sandstones are deteriorating, giving the buildings and facades of Salamanca a distinctive reddish patina that dominates the aesthetic of the city today.

Recently, with quarries nearly depleted and fears mounting that their beloved city of gold is vulnerable, historians and scholars have been mobilizing to preserve, restore and protect Salamanca’s “Old City” with the help of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Culture Organization, or UNESCO.

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Spotlight on food: Tapas are Spain’s miniature culinary masterpieces

Story by Bryan King // Photos by Maria Amasanti

SALAMANCA – At the bar Don Mauro, on the east side of the bustling Plaza Mayor, Chef Juan Jose Vega Rodriguez carefully lays out the ingredients for the day’s tapas selection.He’s making gazpacho, the traditional Spanish warm-weather dish. The creamy soup is a customer favorite.

“People like it because it’s a seasonal item,” said Rodriguez through a translator. “It’s only for the summer.”

To begin, the chef loads 20 tomatoes into a large silver pot. He tosses in a peeled, whole yellow onion, four cloves of garlic, a peeled cucumber and red bell pepper. Next, Rodriguez adds a quart of olive oil, two cups of water and a handful of salt.

If he looks poised and confident, it’s because this isn’t the first pot of gazpacho for Rodriguez, 38. He studied at Auxiliar de Clinica, where there is an emphasis on nutrition and health, and has been working at this particular restaurant for four years. He is in charge of the kitchen.

With two hands bracing a heavy industrial Bermixer, Rodriguez purees the ingredients and removes the pulp with a cone strainer. The result is hard to resist, a pinkish-red soup that’s smooth, rich and velvety on the tongue and meant to taste the same as it did 800 years ago when it emerged in the cafes and taverns of southern Spain.

Historically, the word tapas means lid, or to cover – as in to use the food as a cover on top of a glass of wine to keep bugs out. Functionally, the concept is to have a small portion of food that can be held in one hand.

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To Spaniards, tapas are not just about convenience. Their presence in everyday Spanish life is part of the country’s cultural mélange of food, drink and socializing.

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Spain lawmakers tell kids to pick up a broom at home

Story by Gina-Maria Garcia

SALAMANCA – In Spain, children may now be forced to stop – and sweep – in the name of the law.

From toddlers to teenagers, Spanish children under the age of 18 may soon be legally obliged to set down the video game controller and start picking up a broom, according to a draft bill in the Spanish Parliament proposed in late April. If passed through the Senate in May, the Child Protection Bill will technically make it against the law to not help out with household chores.

In other words, the new legislation is a Spanish mother or father’s dream come true because it asks their children to respect them, and, as the language in the proposal puts it,  “[carry] out domestic tasks in accordance with their age, regardless of their gender.”

“They have their rights, but they need responsibility too,” says Alberto Gutiérrez Alberca, the senator of the Popular Party for the city of Valladolid who also clarified that this section of the bill is more like a list of expectations of minors. “It’s more of an inspiration. This is not something that they are going to be punishing anybody for. They are trying to make the youngsters help their parents with the chores in the house, to teach them some responsibility.”

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Social spending cuts leave country’s most vulnerable fearing for food and shelter

Story by Kelsey Luing

SALAMANCA — Jose Luis Martin Halgado considers himself one of the lucky ones. The former construction worker, who lost his job in 2009, was recently given part-time work after putting in long hours at the food bank near his home.


Jose Luis Martin Halgado (right), 40, has been working part-time at the Food Bank of Salamanca since losing his job as a construction worker in 2009. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

“Before, the government would help out [people without jobs], but that isn’t the case anymore,” he said at the start of his five-hour shift. “I try to put on a brave face for the children, but it’s been difficult.”

Halgado, 40, is not alone in his struggle. In fact, the father of two is just one of millions of Spanish citizens who have fallen victim to an overburdened, underfunded system that has made budget reductions to public expenditures in the midst of widespread unemployment and an expanding underclass. These cuts, which dipped into medical care, education and social services, were put in place in 2012 as part of an effort to shrink Spain’s growing budget deficit. But experts fear that the rollbacks have pushed the nation’s underprivileged over the edge to the point that they’re losing their homes, their ability to feed their families and their dignity.

“They are doing it in the worst possible way because it’s [indiscriminate],” said José Garcia-Montalvo, about how all social services – even those for the most needy – have been cut. A professor of economics at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Garcia-Montalvo said that the government is fixing its problems at the expense of the country’s most vulnerable. “You have to take the time to find the expenses that are ineffective and cut those, not make them across the board.”

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Government involvement stymies creativity, interest in film industry

Story by Danny Mortimer

SALAMANCA – Outside, the cafes along Avenida Portugal are bustling with life. Inside the lobby of the Cines Van Dyke, nestled in Salamanca’s lively main street, it’s hard to tell that the movie theater is open for business.

The Cines Van Dyke is one of many Spanish movie theaters dealing with declining attendance raising ticket prices due to value-added tax increases. Photo by Danny Mortimer

The Cines Van Dyke is one of many Spanish movie theaters dealing with declining attendance after raising ticket prices due to value-added tax increases. Photo by Danny Mortimer.

A handful of couples mill about waiting for Sunday night’s 10:30 shows. A lone ticket-holder buys popcorn from the only employee on duty. The poor attendance isn’t due to the film being shown – Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel has garnered strong reviews – but a more practical issue, a local man at the theater says.

“The problem is tickets are too expensive so now people don’t go,” said Juan Villerillos.

Ticket prices in Spain are rising to levels that are causing many Spaniards to spurn the cinema. “A couple months ago, you could buy tickets for about 3 euro,” or a little more than $4, said Isabel Barrios, a professor of Spanish film at the University of Salamanca. “Now they cost about 6.50 euro,” which is about $9.

The reason for the sharp increase is part of an ongoing political dispute. This year, funding for the film industry from the right-wing Partido Popular (The People’s Party) has been cut by almost 15 percent. Additionally, the value-added tax on ticket sales for theaters has been raised from 8 percent to 21 percent, causing many cinemas to increase their ticket prices drastically while others have been forced to shut down. In comparison, in France, the tax is 5 percent; in Italy it’s 10 percent.

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Spain asks citizens to cough, say “ahh” and pull out their wallets for health care

Story by Olivia Sears

SALAMANCA – Over the past two years, Concepción Quill, 85, has seen the cost of her insulin prescription go from nothing to $5.65 a month. Though a small increase, the notion of paying for medications is new to Quill and other low-income Spaniards who are now worried about their access to long-term treatment.

“I have had Type I diabetes my whole life. I need insulin treatments each day, three times,” the Madrid resident said through a translator from her wheelchair on a visit to Salamanca. A retired secretary living off a limited public pension, Quill explained that her family has picked up the bill for her rising medical costs.

Quill is among the 870,000 who have been affected by recent health care cuts passed by the Spanish government.

Dr. Leire Ochoa has worked at the Hospital de la Santísima Trinidad in Salamanca for the past two years, where patients are worried about new legislation that restricts access to health care.

Dr. Leire Ochoa has worked at the Hospital de la Santísima Trinidad in Salamanca for the past two years, where patients are worried about new legislation that restricts access to health care.

As a part of the Spanish government’s austerity measures, state health care spending decreased 13 percent in 2012 and another 16 percent in 2013. The cuts are the result of the passage of the “Royal Decree Law 16/2012” which denies health care access to undocumented foreigners unless they are pregnant, under the age of 18 or in need of emergency care. In addition to eliminating universal health care, the law also reduces financing for more than 400 different medications including insulin treatments for people with diabetes.

In the two years since its introduction, the law has forced patients without private insurance to adjust to a new health care system with narrower coverage options and higher out-of-pocket expenses. Individuals requiring prescriptions for chronic illnesses including Hepatitis B and C, multiple sclerosis, some types of cancers and diabetes are particularly affected.

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Street artists transform, defy and reinvigorate a historic city

Story by Jessica Mendoza

SALAMANCA — On a busy street within sight of the city’s celebrated cathedral, a man in dirty jeans draws on a broken wall. With a practiced stroke, he colors the concrete blue, green, red and yellow; whirls and swirls appear wherever his markers touch.


Iñaki works on his street piece on Salamanca’s Rua Mayor. Photo by Jessica Mendoza.

Behind him, tourists stroll by. Some stop to take photos.

The man, who uses the pseudonym Iñaki, is one of a growing number of artists whose works are transforming the streets of Salamanca. They use the city’s walls and buildings as their canvas, framing their art opposite the Romanesque churches and Gothic structures that characterize Spain’s oldest university town.

“I like my work. It makes the city beautiful,” Iñaki, 47, said through a translator. “[It’s] free and for everyone to see. I love it.”

But it’s more than aesthetics: Street art is a growing part of Salamanca’s urban landscape. In this staunchly conservative city, more artists are using public space as a platform for their work. Some use it to express their political and religious opinions. Others see it as a mark of defiance and daring. It’s also becoming an avenue for attracting visitors and revitalizing businesses in the city’s less affluent neighborhoods.

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Facing grim employment prospects, Spanish students seek jobs abroad

Story by Amanda Hoover

SALAMANCA – When Maria Abellàn began the long process of earning her degree in medicine, she was more focused on anatomy and physiology than the state of the economy.

Maria Alfonso (left) and Maria Abellan (right) are unsure whether they'll be able to work after finishing medical school in Spain's struggling economy.

Maria Alfonso (left) and Maria Abellàn (right) are unsure whether they’ll be able to work after finishing medical school in Spain’s struggling economy. Photo by Amanda Hoover.

“Every year, more and more people come here to study,” said Abellàn, a medical student at the University of Salamanca. Now just two years away from graduation, Abellàn is facing fierce competition for a job in an economy that can barely support those already in the workforce.

“I think we may go to another country in Europe or the USA to work,” said Abellàn, who, like all university students, is studying for her year-end exams in two weeks. She’s afraid that if she does leave, she’ll be forced to take her exams again in another language.

For the sixth year in a row, the unemployment rate in Spain has been going up. Now at nearly 26 percent overall, Spaniards are suffering and scared. Hardest hit are recent college graduates – more than 57 percent of whom are out of work, according to Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Union. Many, like Abellàn, are planning to move because there are no options for them in their home country. Still more are what experts describe as “underemployed” – meaning they have jobs they are overqualified for.

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Students rally in Spain streets to protest rising tuition costs

Story by Julia Moss and Shandana Mufti // Photos by Maria Amasanti

SALAMANCA—Carrying signs and chanting complaints about the public university and Spain’s largest bank, about 300 students rallied and marched through the city’s main streets on Thursday, demanding both an end to cuts in education funding and more scholarships to meet their needs.

Student protesters chant at the end of their march: "Long live the life of the working class." Photo by Maria Amasanti

Student protesters chant at the end of their march: “Long live the life of the working class.”

The students, who have been protesting regularly for months, started at 8:30 a.m. at a University of Salamanca building on the outskirts of the city. They ended at 2:45 at a state government building close to the central plaza where they spoke about how they wanted to keep higher education accessible to working-class Spaniards.

“We’re marching because we want public education,” says Maria Garcia, a 19-year-old second-year student at the university. “We don’t want government to steal our money or steal our lives.”

In Spain, the cost of higher education has increased by about 50 percent in the last year to an average of $2,800. As a result, the rate of college-aged students not in school has risen by 10 percent, according to data provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. The group that organized the protest, called the Colectivo Estudantil Alternativo or CEA – which translates to Alternative Student Collective – described the march as a rejection of Spain’s move to make the people, not the government, pay for education.

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