While America’s establishment media remained fixated on Mitt Romney’s Big Bird–related faux pas and President Obama’s lackluster performance during the presidential debate, tens of thousands of people marched through Madrid and Barcelona in opposition to the Spanish government’s recent announcement that there will be further austerity measures inflicted upon citizens.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced that the government would be cutting an extra 13 billion euros in 2013. In total, the government plans to cut 150 billion euros from the budget over the next three years.
“They are taking away the health system. They are taking away our basic rights and that’s not fair. Those who started the fraud should pay for it,” said one protester.
“They want to ruin the country. We have to stop them,” a banner read, and protesters chanted slogans against cuts, waving signs that read, “Youth without jobs, society with no future.” Spain’s unemployment rate has been hovering around 25 percent, but youth unemployment surpasses 50 percent.
“They are abusing the lower social classes,” 54-year-old teacher Luis Diaz said to the AP. “By backing banks, they are torturing the working class and badly affecting public education, health care and pensions when what they should be doing is exactly the opposite.”
Euro News spoke with retail worker Carmen Lopez, who joined a rally in the Spanish capital Madrid.
“They are reclaiming almost all social benefits. It’s shameful that we are losing everything. We threw out Franco’s government and we’re going to do the same with this one,” said Lopez.
Spain’s budget has already been criticized by the central bank chief — not because it will inflict damage upon Spain’s citizens — but because the chief thinks the finance ministry’s forecasts for economic growth are too optimistic.
Spanish labor unions have threatened a national strike in November unless the right-wing government cancels the planned cuts.
As an estimated 60,000 demonstrators flooded the centre of Madrid, protesters carried signs that read: “Their plunder, my crisis” and “No more unemployment, no more cuts.”
Around a quarter of Spain’s population is currently unemployed, a rate worse than Greece’s levels and the worst figure in the industrialized world.
“It’s up to the government whether there’s a general strike or not. If they were going to hold a referendum things would be completely different,” said Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, head of Comisiones Obreras, the country’s biggest union.
The Spanish population overwhelmingly supports the protests (77 percent of Spaniards support the actions), and it seems as though activists are gearing up to expand the resistance, especially in light of regional elections coming up in Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque country. RT reports that the crisis has exposed “rising tensions” between the austerity-happy central government and autonomous regions, who are hesitant to inflict further cuts on citizens, and many of these regions “have threatened to break away altogether.”
Spain’s government has been warned that if they don’t cut its deficit, they will not receive more financial assistance from the EU, even though the government has pushed through nine straight months of harsh austerity measures, forcing Spain’s seventeen regional governments to slash spending in healthcare and education; and the country is currently enduring its second recession in three years, with the number of people registered unemployed rising to 4.71 million in September as the tourism season ended and businesses let workers go.
“I work in a hospital, but I’m about to end up unemployed,” 58-year-old nurse Victoria Gutierrez said to the AP. “On Oct. 30, my temporary contract will finish and it won’t be extended.
“We have minimum cover on every floor at every hospital,” she said. “This is affecting not just hospitals, also education and civil services, everything.”
Spain’s government has been accused of “medical apartheid” as it looks to cut health programs. Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants have been excluded from the healthcare system under a new law that allows free medical treatment only in emergency cases and for children and pregnant women.
Kimberly Farias, a HIV positive undocumented immigrant from Argentina, received free medical care and antiretroviral medicines in Madrid. In September, Farias’ healthcare card was deactivated under the revised law. Now, she can’t visit her doctor or get her medications because she can’t afford the $1,075 monthly bill.
“I’m really worried because it’s a matter of life or death for me,” Faraias said to Global Post.