People who can’t access their life savings in the bank, judges being stripped of their title and careers for throwing criminals accused of embezzlement in jail, children starving in the summer because they only eat at school; these stories left me with a profound sense of sadness.
In a recent trip my boyfriend and I took to visit our families in Spain, we were devastated to hear some of the things that were happening. With the same enthusiasm and detail as Spaniards would tell us about enjoying life and the history of each pueblo we’d visit, there were equal accounts of hunger and injustice. This prompted me to go on a research frenzy upon my return and shed some light with the local perspectives we encountered.
Diminishing freedom of speech
Most recently, a new law titled "Ley Mordaza" (or "Gag Law") was passed in response to rising protests in Spain. The freshly-approved legislation strips locals of their right to peacefully assemble. Under the new law, any “spontaneous protests” will be subject to fines as much as €600,000 (US $745,000). Additionally, those who “disrespect” law enforcement are subject to additional fines and punishment. The broadly defined terms of this law appear as though the government is slowly interfering with its citizens’ freedom of speech. This is but one example of laws proposed in Spain to protect the government. Like this there are plenty of examples, such as the law prohibiting the recording of public officials abusing citizens in order to protect them.
One Spanish woman told us her father was denied access to his life savings from the bank. They simply told him “no” when he went to withdraw his own money. After he wrote letters to the bank’s upper management and sat outside the actual branch in protest, he was told to stop disrupting. Eventually, he was able to access his funds . . . nearly a year later.
Economic havoc and the euro
The switch from pesetas to euros, one of Spain’s most drastic economic changes, was another topic of which many locals spoke. The euro, which is worth more than the peseta, raised the prices and taxes across the country. However, people’s salaries did not rise to compensate. Over the last 10 years, the cost of living in Spain has raised by approximately 30% and wages have only increased by maybe 10%, if that. This discrepancy, which some have speculated came as a result of a “perceived booming housing economy,” has not been properly addressed by the government. Between poorly handled bailouts and debt and a widespread problem of public officials stealing billions of euros from an already suffering country, Spanish citizens are the ones literally paying for this crisis.
One local told us of a friend who had purchased a house for which he could no longer pay the mortgage. He was finally kicked out of his home and left homeless. Without a job, he is still expected to pay the remaining amount owed on the house, even though it has since been sold at market value. Additionally, it is a normal occurrence to hear of people living in homes they are not paying a cent for, slowly waiting to be kicked out.
Unemployment and loss of talent
Many of the bright minds, who study careers like engineering or medicine, are graduating and working at bakeries or the like. This problem is old news and has not been addressed as the unemployment rate (up at 25% according to the most recent figures) continues to increase. Originally reported in 2008, approximately 31% of people in Spain were employed in jobs well below their education and qualification levels. This data, which is severely outdated, is scary, to put it lightly. Seven years later and the country is still experiencing the same problem, except now citizens are refusing to stick it out. The result is Spanish brainpower slowly fleeing to nearby economic respites, such as Germany.
A few of our local friends shook their heads disappointedly as they discussed that even in Germany, where Spanish citizens are paid sometimes half of an appropriate salary for a given job, is better than remaining in Spain.
These stories infuriated me the most. Regardless of where hunger happens, it is a grave concern. Many would be surprised to know that there is even hunger in the States. Hearing of Spanish children who don’t eat in the summer because school meals were their only sure source of food broke my heart. Hunger is a very real problem affecting more areas of the world than it should.
It may shock you to know that people in the metropolitan areas of Spain are actually considering migrating back to rural areas, where food is more secure and life can be lived relatively inexpensively. This is happening and it’s 2014. A local couple shared with us that their elderly grandmother recently walked them through their rural family property explaining what food could be cultivated should Spain go through starvation once again. The woman, who grew up in Spain’s civil war era and experienced the hunger that came with it, is spotting familiar patterns and early warning signs.
Some say this crisis is getting better and project it to be lessened in 3 years. Most Spaniards we spoke to laughed at that. It hurt to see a country that should be flourishing suffering from injustices that could be solved. When more people are informed, it’s the first step to real change. We have the opportunity to disseminate awareness and make sure we do not suffer from the same. So, I'd like to ask you to please research and share these stories because knowledge is power.
It starts at home
It’s easy to forget as Americans that an environment far less free or just than ours exists. At this moment when we are discussing who we will vote for, a system that has its own flaws and corruption, there are people who are denied access to their life savings and as a result are kicked out of their homes.
Right here in Miami, political apathy and a general lack of awareness is prevalent. Hard statistics were shared after our recent election for Florida Governor stating that the results did not reflect the general population’s wishes. Both candidates were called everything from Voldermort to “Giant Douche vs. Turd Sandwich,” yet people didn’t turn out to vote. Regardless of your beliefs or political affiliations, we urge you to take action and never take your liberties for granted.
Most importantly, give back. While people in many parts of the world are hard-pressed to donate money, we all have an opportunity to give something. Whether that is your money or your time, giving back is how we keep our communities thriving. Tackling issues like starvation abroad is imperative, but so is taking a look at our own back yard and helping locally.