Spain News Roundup of the Week: March 18 – March 24, 2012

This week, we’ve got planes, trains, and a strike by janitorial services!


Planes first. The Spanish national airline, Iberia, has announced that it has begun operating a low-cost company called Iberia Express. It will be following the model of other European low-cost airlines, the gold standard of which is Ryanair. Like much of life, there are benefits and disadvantages to flying a company like Ryanair – you can cut a 12 hour bus trip down to 2 hours for half the cost! And none of those stupid add-ons either, like those headphones and pre-programmed radio stations that no one in the world ever uses. Just a very fast, very cheap way to get from here to there. Of course, not all add-ons are stupid. Luggage, for example. On Ryanair, you can carry on ONE bag, which MUST be 55x40x20 cm or less. If it’s bigger, you have to check it, and checking a bag at the gate costs a good 10 euros more than pre-checking it online. Now, if you like to pick and choose which add-ons you want, you can do that, but it’s hard to escape feeling nickeled and dimed when you have to pay an extra fee to choose your specific seat, or to sit in the exit row, or to check in when you arrive at the airport, as opposed to beforehand online. Nevertheless, as someone living in Europe on a student budget, I can’t help but be at least a little happy at having more options for my travel. Iberia employees feel differently, however. They have been on strike on and off for the past 3 months for various grievances, one of which is the creation of Iberia Express, which the pilot’s union claims will actually eliminate 8,000 jobs.


So maybe low-cost flights aren’t for you. Maybe you’d like to take Europe’s wonderful, fast, and modern train system to get from point A to point B. Well, I hope you didn’t want to go from Spain to Portugal, because article #2 brings us the news that the high-speed train project between Lisbon and Madrid has been abandoned for good. The contract for building the line was signed in 2010 between the Portuguese government of José Sócrates and Elos, a conglomeration of Portuguese construction companies. The opposing party was against this contract, stemming from irregularities in the business operations of Elos, and the price tag of around 1,400,000,000 euros (1.4 billion for the Americans, 1400 million for everyone else). When Portugal had their elections in 2011 and the opposition party of Pedro Passos Coehlo rose to power, the project was halted, and now it has been definitively abandoned.


I’m burying this story about the janitorial strike in the middle of this post, because, ew. I’ve posted before about Jerez de la Frontera, and how their public servants have gone several months without pay. This includes contractors as well, such as Limasa, which handles the custodial services for the public school system in Jerez. They went on strike on March 14th to protest lack of pay, and according to article #3 after only 3 days the situation was so bad that several elementary schools had to close due to lack of sanitary conditions. I know at first I was thinking, “Sheesh, what’s going on in those schools? Why can’t the teachers just take out the trash themselves?” but after thinking about how many things I have to pick up after only one day of work, I have decided that children are dirt factories and it is amazing that the schools held out 3 whole days. By the time the strike ended a week later, 47 schools had had to close, but the government had opened a line of credit to partially pay the employees.


And now for something less trashy (haha). Last October, the Basque group ETA announced that they were renouncing armed struggle, which is a big step for an organization that has made it onto several terrorism lists next to Al-Qaeda and the IRA. Article #4 discusses the recent decision by the Ministry of the Interior to reduce bodyguard services for those people threatened by ETA. The number of government bodyguards working in the areas of País Vasco and Navarra will be cut from 789 to 364, with the laid-off workers being offered jobs in other areas of government security, like the prison system. Another manifestation of la crisis? A more cheerful sign of these less-violent times? I think only time will tell.


My last tidbit is about “La Pepa”. I am living in the Cádiz province, and the capital of the province – also called Cádiz – is famous for many things, but within Spain it is known as the place where the first Spanish Constitution was signed in 1812. That constitution is no longer the law of the land – the current constitution was signed in 1978 – but the 1812 Constitution of Cádiz is seen as Spain’s “Magna Carta“, introducing such modern ideas as separation of governmental powers into the Spanish state. The 1812 Constitution has several nicknames – sometimes it is called “el Doce” (the twelve) since it was signed in 1812, but more commonly it is called “La Pepa”. I never knew why, but my neighbor explained to me that the day the 1812 Constitution was signed (March 19th) is also the saint’s day of San José. The nickname for José is “Pepe” (and that I REALLY can’t explain), but as the word “constitución” is feminine in gender, it is called “La Pepa”. This past March 19th was the 200th anniversary of the signing and Cádiz had a lot of commemorative events, including parades, musical acts, and fireworks.


Happy travels!


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