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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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Real Estate Market Graphic

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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.

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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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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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.

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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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