Category Archives: Reporting from Madrid

Spanish bullfights: the tradition and its uncertain future

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Spain’s housing crisis: evictions rise, as developments remain vacant

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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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Lucrative branding deal of historic landmark has angered many in the capital city

Story by Nicole Esan

MADRID- On his way to work every morning, Davide Ibáñez Cocho passes at least one or two vandalized Vodafone logos at the Sol metro station and rolls his eyes. Since its name change from Sol to Vodafone Sol last April, Cocho, 28, has been disappointed to see one of his fondest childhood places in Madrid commercialized.

“[An unbranded Sol] is something I grew up with,” said Cocho,” a finance controller at LTK, a technology development company in Madrid. “I don’t want to see it change.”

Vodafone is a phone and internet service provider – one of the five most popular in Spain. The company is paying Metro de Madrid 3 million euro, or about $4.1 million, over the span of three years to be placed along with Sol on all references to the Metro stop including official Metro maps, inside all the trains and on all the platforms underground.

The lucrative deal marks the kind of commercialization that has become standard throughout the world, most predominantly in the United States, where everything from sports arenas to art galleries bear the name of corporate entities. Critics of the practice believe that some things, particularly public spaces, should not be used for what is effectively an advertisement. But the math is hard to deny. A town, city, non-profit agency or private entity scores easy money by selling naming rights. The corporate brander gets a high-profile slot in an area frequented by tens of thousands of people each day.

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Renewable energy subsidy cuts rattle Spain’s wind energy businesses

Story by Ian Debevoise

Until now, wind power has been a success story like few others in this country.

Turbines meander over hilltops and through fields. They can be seen in the same frame as a crumbling castle on the southeast coast of Valencia. They’ve even been proposed as part of a large wind farm off the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, on the site of the famous 1805 Battle of Trafalgar.

But advocates and industry leaders fear that political decisions brought on by the country’s struggling economy could slow progress considerably only a year after wind power was rated Spain’s top energy source.

The Spanish government announced it would be cutting subsidies for renewable energy from 8.77 billion euros or $11.9 billion in 2010 to 7.63 billion euros, or $10.4 billion. This, as the country tries to meet goals set for 2020 as part of the Climate and Energy Package, which the EU approved in 2007. The package aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the amount of energy from renewable resources.

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Infographic: the Spanish economy at a glance

Reported and designed by Julia Moss

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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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Spain’s declining birth rate equals “a demographic winter,” say experts

Story by Olivia Sears

MADRID- A temporary security guard at a tire company, María del Valle Soto waited years to achieve the financial stability she felt she needed before starting a family. She put off having children to earn her degree in sociology from the University of Basque Country. Then, she wanted to find a stable job and eventually buy a house before she settled down.

Now 41, Valle Soto and her boyfriend, José Miguel Solas, 28, have no kids, are renting an apartment and work odd jobs to pay their bills. She feels she waited too long and that the chance to be a mother has slipped away.

“I was waiting for stability, and I never got to that point,” she said through a translator. “Now I am too old and realize I will never have children.”

Following the trend across the European Union, Valle Soto and an increasing number of women in Spain have decided against starting families, or, they are having fewer children. As a result, it is the only country in Europe projected to see a decline in population in upcoming years, which means its already-struggling economy will get worse, experts say, because there won’t be enough people to fill critical jobs.

Alejandro Macarrón, the general director and economic consultant for Demographic Renaissance, calls it a “demographic winter.” “In this type of society, democracy will be dominated by the elderly,” he said. His nonprofit organization, based in Madrid, seeks to raise awareness about the consequences of low birth rates and aging populations.

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Young Gypsies feel empowered, poised to break age-old stereotypes

Story by Amanda Hoover

MADRID – Taking shelter from the hot, empty, streets of his graffiti-scarred neighborhood, Cristian Motos Heredia sat in his living room, surrounded by family and photos of faraway places. The Eiffel Tower on a table cloth, the Brooklyn Bridge aglow against the Manhattan skyline on the wall, bright red double-decker buses in gray London streets behind him. He’s never been to any of these place, but he would love to see them all.

“I want to achieve something with my life, step by step. I want to have new experiences,” Motos Heredia, 16, said through a translator. “Usually, Gypsies are set to be venders. I want to be something beyond that.”

Inside Motos Heredia's apartment, he spends a lot of time with his close-knit family. Here, he sits with his father, mother and grandmother. Photo by Amanda Hoover.

Inside his apartment, Cristian Motos Heredia spends a lot of time with his close-knit family. Here, he sits with his father, mother and grandmother. Photo by Amanda Hoover.

The teen lives with his parents, grandmother and three younger siblings in an apartment in Orcastias, a primarily Gypsy neighborhood in southern Madrid. In one of the poorest areas of the city, there are few opportunities to pursue an education or save money for travel, but Motos Heredia has found a way.

This October, he will participate in Miss Gypsy, a beauty competition for women and men that seeks to empower young Gypsies, known as Gitanos in Spain. Making up one of the most oppressed minority groups in the country, many Gitanos live in concentrated, lower-socioeconomic communities and have struggled for centuries to integrate themselves into mainstream Spanish culture. Discrimination and a history of exile has plagued many of these Spaniards who remain without a voice, misunderstood and encumbered by stereotypes.

“They tend to be of a very particular status. There’s no question that there is historical deprivation in access to education,” said Yaron Matras, author of the 2014 book, I Met Lucky People: The Story of the Romani Gypsies. “There’s a very distinct sense of identity. They don’t even use the term Roma to refer to themselves and there’s many issues of culture that have changed.”

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Despite efforts, anti-Semitism is practiced openly in Madrid

Story by Emily Pollak

MADRID – On a wild Saturday night in late May, thousands of chanting, screaming soccer fans fill the streets to support their local team, Real Madrid, as it plays for the championship in neighboring Portugal. But in the midst of the revelry, a disturbing symbol emerges. The swastika. Hundreds cheer around a man waving a flag bearing this universal symbol of anti-Semitism and hate. Nobody does a thing, or seems to care.

A Nazi flag is displayed as Real Madrid fans celebrate near the Bernabéu Stadium before the start of the UEFA Championship finals, on May 24 in Madrid, Spain. Real Madrid's now-disbanded hooligan group Ultras Sur has a long history of strong anti-semitism and violence.

A Nazi flag is displayed as Real Madrid fans celebrate near the Bernabéu Stadium before the start of the UEFA Championship finals on May 24 in Madrid, Spain. Real Madrid’s now-disbanded hooligan group Ultras Sur has a long history of strong anti-Semitism and violence. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

It has become an increasingly familiar sight in the capital city of Spain, a country with a history of showing hostility toward Jews. And not surprisingly, as a result, the rise of white power groups has unnerved human rights advocates, business owners and members of the region’s Jewish community, a minority that represents less than 1 percent of the population.

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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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Madrid’s aging LGBT population will soon have a safe, accepting home

Story by Jessica Mendoza

Though still energetic at 60, Elianne Garcia Ruiz can already foresee the struggles of growing old as a transsexual woman.

A former night shift attendant at a home for the aged, Garcia Ruiz has witnessed firsthand the kinds of abuses that elderly lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals receive from workers and other residents: Sexist slurs, she said, are only the most common. She recalled a lesbian married couple leaving the residence because they had been forced to live separately. Garcia Ruiz later learned that their relationship had made an employee, who saw them kissing in their room, uncomfortable.

“In normal residences, they label you,” Garcia Ruiz said through an interpreter. She declined to name the institution, located fewer than 30 miles from the capital, where she had worked for five years.

The alternative to living in a group home, however, is a lonely one. Garcia Ruiz has neither a partner nor family and is by herself in an apartment in the small city of Robledo de Chavela in greater Madrid.

Her situation is not unusual. About 42,000 LGBT people above the age of 65 reside in Madrid, based on calculations using a 2011 study by UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. Many of those people have little support.

Federico Armenteros, president of the December 26 Foundation, at the organization's headquarters in Madrid. Photo by Maria Amasanti.

Federico Armenteros, president of the December 26 Foundation, at the organization’s headquarters in Madrid. Photo by Maria Amasanti. 

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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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Match is a tale of two teams, one city, for fans in Madrid

Story by Danny Mortimer, with Bryan King and Julia Moss

MADRID – Outside City Hall late Saturday night, a man is on his knees, hands over his face, head pointed toward the sky as if in prayer. The screaming fans running past barely notice. They’ve got enough to think about. Real Madrid has won the championship in one of the most unexpected and anticipated contests ever between this city’s greatest rivals.

The party, which began hours earlier, shows no sign of stopping. “My family, my family,” the man on his knees repeats. “Congratulations, my family.”

Amid the celebration following Real Madrid's EUFA Championship celebration in the streets of Madrid, Eugiano Maloto was so overcome with emotion he dropped to his knees and prayed. Photo by Danny Mortimer.

Amid the celebration following Real Madrid’s UEFA Championship celebration in the streets of Madrid, Eugiano Maloto was so overcome with emotion he dropped to his knees and prayed. Photo by Danny Mortimer.

For more scenes from Madrid during the UEFA Final, click here.

For a commentary on covering the UEFA Final, click here.

Hours earlier, the battle lines were drawn. On every street and in every bar near the Plaza Mayor, the solid white of powerhouse Real Madrid can be seen alongside the striped uniforms of their scrappy, underdog neighbors Atlético Madrid.

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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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