SPAIN’S ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CRISIS

Spanish State: ‘We Must Continue to Widen the Cracks that have Begun to Open Up’

By Josep Maria Antentas | Global Research

Six years have passed since the ‘official’ start of the crisis, when Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008. Four years since [then president Jose Luis Rodriguez] Zapatero announced the first big package of cuts in May 2010.

Three years since 15-M (the May 15 Movement) exploded onto the streets.

Two years since the large demonstration for independence in Catalonia on September 11, 2012. During this time, the economic and social crisis has morphed into a political crisis and a crisis of the regime. Discontent with the political system has reached levels never seen since the transition [from Franco's dictatorship to parliamentary democracy in 1978].

The May 25 European elections represent, at a statewide level, the first electoral impact of three years of interrupted, but real and intense social struggle. With a turnout similar to that in 2009 (44.9 per cent then, 44.84 per cent now) it is evident that the two-party system is crumbling at a rapid speed.

In 2009, the Partido Popular (conservative Popular Party, PP) won 6,670,377 votes (42.12%) and 24 seats, while the Partido Socialista Obrera Espanol (social-democratic Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, PSOE) won 6,141,784 (38.78%) and 23 seats. Together, they garnered 12,812,161 votes (80.9%) and 47 deputies.

This time around, the panorama is vastly different: 4,070,643 (26.06%) and 16 deputies for PP and 3,596,324 (23%) and 14 deputies for the PSOE. Together, this adds up to 7,663,943 votes (49.06%) and 30 seats, 60% of what they got in 2009.

Those times when the two parties alternated in power is over. When one side governed, its support deteriorated, while the other recovered in opposition. Now, both the PP and PSOE, no matter whether in government or opposition, are going downhill.

Tilting Toward the Left

Overall, the crisis of the two-party system is, for now, tilting toward the left. This is worth noting given that across Europe, reactionary forces advanced everywhere. The vote for the left to the left of social democracy in the Spanish state is possibly, together with the vote for Syriza in Greece, the only two bits of good news at a continental level.

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EUROPEELECTIONSSource: WikiPedia 2009 results, 2014 results

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Parties such as Unión Progreso y Democracia (Union, Progress and Democracy, UPyD) have not been able to polarize the situation toward the right in any noticeable way, despite having increased their vote (1,015,994 votes, 6.49% and four deputies, as compared to 451,866, 2.85% and one seat in 2009).On the left, things have changed drastically: the combined vote for the two main statewide lists to the left of the PSOE, Podemos (1,245,948, 7.96%, five seats) and United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU, 1,562,567, 9.99%, six deputies) was 2,808,515 (17.95%) and 11 deputies, not far behind PSOE (3,596,324, 23% and 14 deputies).

If we add to this Primavera Europea (European Spring) [an alliance involving Compromis (Commitment) and Equo, the local Greens party] and its 299,884 votes (1.91%), the total becomes 3,108,399 (19.87%). Furthermore, we could also add the 324,534 votes (2.07%) obtained by Los Pueblos Deciden (the People Decide), led by Euskal Herria Bildu (EH Bildu, Reunite the Basque Country) and the Bloque Nacionalista Galego (Galician Nationalist Bloc, BNG).In places like the Community of Madrid, Podemos (248,888, 11.27%) and IU (231,889, 10.5%) outpolled the PSOE (417,993, 18.93%).The PSOE is still a long way from following the trajectory of PASOK [its Greek social-democratic counterpart]. It has not completely rotted out. It will be obligated to make changes and could garner support from unlikely places. But its electoral base has been shattered. With no political credibility left, and unable to offer anything that differs it from the right, it is gradually losing the only strong argument it had left: that it was the only force capable of being an alternative to the PP. Never has the chance to sink this ship been so close.

These types of chances rarely come around more than once.

Podemos (We Can)

There is no doubt: the sudden appearance of Podemos is the big news at a statewide level. A spectacular eruption both because of its results and what it represents.The purpose of the new formation in the short term is clear: destabilize the political system and open up cracks in the two-party system, given the inability of the traditional left to have done this on its own. Podemos’ success is magnificent news for those who do not feel represented by any of the existing political forces, for those who feel helpless or that they have nothing to hold onto, for those who were convinced that a new player was essential to liven up the game. Something to shake up the flow of the game, that comes in from the sideline and rapidly situates itself in the centre of the field and on the attack.

Its emergence will shake up the party game, shifting the entire political map, and all of the left.As of now, Podemos faces a great responsibility. Being the newest force, the most fragile, the least structured, it has a great weight on its shoulders: to not defraud the hopes many have placed in it (it’s not very often that something political enthuses those who are not already part of the active minority!) and continue playing the game it has so brilliantly started.The success of Podemos is also an excellent surprise – and so it should be – for those IU militants, sympathisers and voters who wished their party had a more dynamic way of doing politics, less ensconced in the institutions and more in tune with popular aspirations post-15-M. Podemos will act as a prod that obliges IU to change. This is good news for followers of this party who have received unexpected help from Podemos.

Finally, the emergence of Podemos is also good news for those of us who view things from Catalonia (or other nations without states that today belong to the Spanish state). The appearance of a new force at the statewide level with a clear discourse, and a lead candidate who has not been afraid to get his hands dirty, on the issue of the right to decide and the November 9 referendum on Catalan independence, is important news of unimaginable strategic value.

The bipartisanship of the PP-PSOE, the ‘PPOE,’ is suffering from a growing crisis that is not only reflected in declining votes but, above all, in a loss of credibility, an inability to even generate illusions among those who continue to vote for them.We should not however, take from this that the two-party system and the political regime has no room to maneuver, nor that the crisis will have a democratic and social outcome. The regime could recompose itself, with a mixture of re-legitimization and authoritarian and neo-centralist involution from above.Alternatively, the political vacuum could end up being filled by demagogic and reactionary alternatives as a form of replacement in extremis if the ‘PPOE’ was to definitively fail. Although this is not the dominant tendency registered on May 25, events in other countries, such as the alarming results in France, show that this danger is always present.

Build a Majority for the Left

This is not the time for business as usual, for grey routines on the left. It is not the time for forces such as IU to continue with its institutional inertia and the mentality of being a complement to the PSOE. It is not the time for social activists to continue to focus solely on social or trade union activism. While this is the basis for any change, on its own it is not enough: it is necessary to put forward a political alternative. It is also not the time for the anti-capitalist and alternative left to content itself with simply being a disgruntled minority that is not focused on becoming a majority, and instead prefers to narrowly focus on building their own organization.

“It is time to work toward gathering an anti-austerity socio-political majority that supports the opening up of a democratic constituent process(es) that ruptures what was bound up by chains of fear in 1978. ”

We should not be passive observers of this crisis of the regime. We have to get in the ring without any hang-ups. Always, of course, without losing sight of our objectives, without confusing dedication to become the majority with programmatic dissolution, making sure we don’t mix up audacity with reckless blunders. It is time to work toward gathering an anti-austerity socio-political majority that supports the opening up of a democratic constituent process(es) that ruptures what was bound up by chains of fear in 1978. It is time to act with the dual perspective of unity and radicalism, of will to be a majority… to change everything. To put an end to our interminable and particular ‘nightmare on Elm Street’ of neverending austerity plans, of permanent authoritarian blows and perpetual negation of our basic democratic rights.It is, however, not in our interest to generate false illusions. Cohering a political majority in favour of rupture will be a complex and difficult process, full of marshlands, fake paths, tracks that lead us nowhere and shortcuts that take us backwards. It will require a broad process of alliances and discussions, between different statewide forces and those fighting for sovereignty in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia.

Today we can only barely begin to imagine the shapes and forms these will take.We must continue to widen the cracks that have begun to open up. Working with a serene quickness and runaway calm, with a dream-like realism and a rational imagination. The crisis of the PSOE and PP, together with the emergence of Podemos, is a first shake up that can only be understood as a prelude to what’s about to come. May 25 should be ‘the beginning of the beginning,’ electorally speaking.

Catalonia

In Catalonia, the mobilization behind the nationalist and pro-independence vote was very important, as the increase in participation shows (47.63% against 36.94% in 2009).

We have confirmed the existence of a broad majority for parties in favour of the right to decide. There is no doubt about it. The results show, once again, the impasse faced by the Partido Socialista Catalan (Catalan Socialist Party, PSC), which has no credibility either at the social or national level (358,539 votes, 14.28%, compared with 708,888, 36% in 2009). An exhausted PSC that won less votes than those obtained in the combined good showing for Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds-Esquerra Unida i Alternativa (Initiative for Catalonia Greens-United and Alternative Left, ICV-EUiA, 258,554, 10.30%) and Podemos (117,096, 4.66%).May 25 also reflects the existing equilibrium, one which polls had been predicting since the last election for parliament, between an Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia, ERC) that is affirming itself as the main political force in the Catalonia (594,149, 23.67%) and a declining Convergència i Unió (Convergence and Union, CiU, 548,718, 21.86%).

The celebration of the multi-referendum, held alongside the elections but unfortunately disavowed by a Central Electoral Court that continues to be a faithful exponent of the increasingly cosmetic character of our parliamentary democracy, has put on the table a big strategic question in the midst of the independence debate: broaden the right to decide to include all spheres of society.

Looking to the future, the proposal formulated by the Procés Constituent (Constituent Process) headed up by Arcadi Oliveres and Teresa Forcades for the next elections, of the broadest possible electoral bloc against austerity and in support of a Catalan republic, begins to resemble, in a strategic manner, the shake up that could see a new political actor emerge in Catalonia with the capacity to influence a dynamic in which the key party of the Catalan right, the CiU, is suffering what appears to be an irreversible decline.

And one in which those of us who want to “decide on everything” cannot content ourselves with being spectators or a minor nuisance.The next few months will be decisive. We are reaching a new period of acceleration of politics as the moment of truth approaches: the November 9 referendum. Far from being a solely Catalan affair, the independence movement summons together a whole set of political and social-democratic forces that support egalitarian social change of the whole state.The lack of convincing and audible voices supportive of the right to decide at the Spain-wide level has so far been deafening. The discomfort that the issue causes for the Spain-wide left is as understandable as it is strategically blind: if Rajoy is defeated in Catalonia, he will be mortally wounded, as will the regime for which he acts as guarantor.How can we support the Catalan independence movement in a way that does not aid the Spanish right’s ability to cohere its social base but instead helps to break through the dam of the transition? That is the question.

We need a dual strategy: first, the willingness of the Catalan left and the pro-sovereignty movement to seek allies outside of Catalonia and not confine itself to simply accumulating forces at the national level (which, moreover, creates an internal pressure toward “patriotic unity” under the leadership of [current president of Catalonia and chairperson of CiU, Artur] Mas); second, political solidarity from the Spanish wide left with the right to decide in Catalonia.

There, Podemos could play a key role.Although lop-sided, the game remains open and the ending is yet to be determined. In the future, when we look back, we will see that the current period was either the time when we suffered a historic defeat that led to a massive impoverishment of the majority of the population and an anti-democratic involution of the political system. Or alternatively, as the time when we pushed the “second Borbonic restauration” off its tracks.Which of the two alternative futures will win out? Without doubt, today we are determining what happens tomorrow.

SPAIN’S GAME OF THRONES

King Juan Carlos Exits the Stage

Royal Palace, Madrid.

Royal Palace, Madrid. (Bernard Lafond / Flickr)

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By Omar G. Encarnación | Foreign Affairs

When King Juan Carlos abdicated the Spanish throne earlier this week, Spaniards were caught off-guard. As recently as April, Juan Carlos, who is one of the modern era’s most successful monarchs — he assumed the throne in 1975 following the death of General Francisco Franco and is widely considered to be the father of Spanish democracy for having orchestrated a widely-praised democratic transition that became a model for many other countries — was shutting down rumors that his transfer of some responsibilities to his son, 46-year-old Prince Felipe, was a sign that he might step down. “Abdication is not an option,” said a royal spokesman at the time. His statement was in keeping with Juan Carlos’s longstanding pledge that “he would die with his crown on.”

Juan Carlos’ sudden resignation is a gamble to restore the monarchy’s luster. Although the king is generally lauded as a class act, his exit from power has been anything but graceful. For the last two years, the king’s conduct, and that of other royals, has provoked unprecedented criticism from the media, the general public, and the political class, with some calling for the outright abolition of the monarchy and the return to republican government. Such calls represent the views of a small minority of Spaniards, but they are suggestive nonetheless, if only because of the infamy surrounding republicanism in Spain. The country’s last experiment with it, the short-lived Second Republic, ushered in the horrific violence of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and nearly 40 years of Francoist dictatorship in 1939.

Curiously, Juan Carlos’ gamble also entails a high stakes game of political brinkmanship for the incoming king, not unlike the one he himself encountered after Franco’s death. Felipe, like Juan Carlos, comes to the throne as a young and untested leader (Juan Carlos was 43 when he was crowned king). The current economic crisis is the most severe Spain has experienced since the one around the time of Franco’s death, which saw an economy that had been enjoying decades of dramatic growth take a nosedive thanks to the international oil crisis. And today, as in the early years of the newly created constitutional monarchy, restive regions are trying to break away from the Spanish kingdom.

But many things are different in 2014, making the challenges for Felipe arguably more daunting than those faced by Juan Carlos in 1975. Gone is the euphoria for democracy created by the end of the long dictatorship. Gone, too, is the faith that the monarchy can keep the country together. Ironically, in recent times, no one has done more damage to the monarchy than the very man who made the country believe that the institution was indispensable.

THE MONARCHY’S UNDOING

Spain’s sour national mood is not surprising. Severe economic decline since 2008 has left nearly a quarter of the population unemployed, the highest rate for an industrialized country. In turn, the monarchy has started to seem like a luxury that the country simply cannot afford. But anti-monarchical sentiment goes deeper than that. Juan Carlos’s abdication comes after a cascade of embarrassing revelations spoiled the royal family’s squeaky-clean image (at least compared to more scandal-prone European royalty, especially Britain’s Windsor clan, to which Juan Carlos is related by blood as Queen Elizabeth’s third cousin).

In 2012, for example, Juan Carlos drew unwanted attention when he was rushed to the hospital after a fall during an elephant-hunting trip in Botswana, a trip that was previously unknown to the public. Aside from a cringe-worthy picture of him standing next to a freshly killed elephant (which prompted the World Wildlife Fund to unceremoniously drop Juan Carlos as its honorary president), the king faced harsh criticism for his apparent insensitivity about the economic plight of his fellow Spaniards. El País estimated that the Botswana jaunt cost $60,000, about twice the annual salary of the average Spaniard. It was also revealed that the king’s traveling companion was not his wife, Queen Sofía, but a German aristocrat long rumored to be his lover.

In the wake of the Botswana scandal, the media began to pry into the king’s finances and business dealings like never before. An especially damaging revelation, unearthed by El Mundo, was a secret overseas bank account containing an inheritance from his father, Don Juan de Borbon, Count of Barcelona. The revelation was notable because of the size of the inheritance (some four million euros) and the absence of any evidence that it was ever reported to the tax authorities. Even more damning, it seemed to contradict the royal family’s claim that the family was left destitute after the declaration of the Second Republic in 1931 and the overthrow of Juan Carlos’ grandfather, King Alfonso XIII.  Forced to leave everything behind, the royal family fled to Rome, where Juan Carlos was born in 1938.

If things weren’t bad enough for the royal family, the king’s son-in-law, Duke of Palma de Mallorca Inaki Urdangarin, an Olympian turned businessman, was indicted on charges of racketeering, money laundering, and tax evasion. This was the first time in Spanish history that a member of the royal family had faced such criminal charges. Making things more embarrassing were revelations that Juan Carlos’ daughter, Urdangarin’s wife, had profited from her husband’s wrongdoing. In 2013, during her appearance in court to answer questions about her involvement in her husband’s alleged crimes, the Spanish press had a field day reporting on her extravagant spending on the so-called Little Palace, a residence on the outskirts of Barcelona reportedly outfitted with some four million euros worth of furnishings.

ROYAL GAMBLE

Public opinion polls reveal the heavy toll that the scandals have taken on the monarchy. Historically, the crown led all Spanish institutions in trustworthiness, but that is hardly the case today. In a 2013 survey by Spain’s Center for Sociological Studies, the monarchy received its lowest ranking since polling on the issue began: 3.6 out of a possible ten. It came in behind the police, armed forces, the media, and the public defender. More alarming, perhaps, the public is increasingly polarized over the monarchy. For much of the post-Franco era, it has enjoyed support from across the political spectrum. Today, the only portion of the public that gives the monarchy more than a five on the trustworthiness scale is right-wing voters affiliated with the governing Popular Party. Those on the left evaluate the monarchy more harshly, with a paltry 2.7.

The monarchists hope that the king’s abdication will serve as some kind of redemption. And, in fact, there are already some signs of that. News coverage of his decision has focused on how Juan Carlos’ reign has touched the lives of all Spaniards: His stunning betrayal of the Franco regime in 1975, when he ordered the military to ready the nation for a transition to democracy; his speech to the nation on the night of the 1981 military rebellion, in which he reassured Spaniards that the transition to democracy would not be reversed; his comforting appearances following the 2004 bombing of Madrid’s Atocha train station that killed some 200 people.

It isn’t clear, though, that the goodwill generated by Juan Carlos’ abdication will transfer to the future king. It should help that Felipe is untouched by scandal and that he is popular; more than 60 of the public has a favorable opinion of him, according to recent polls. (It doesn’t hurt that a married a commoner, Princess Letizia, a former television anchorwoman.) But the challenges that he will inherit are formidable. Despite signs of a nascent recovery, the economy remains fragile. Even though the monarchy has no direct control over economic matters, the severity of the crisis tends to color how Spaniards view almost everything. This point was underscored by the anti-monarchy rallies that broke out in major Spanish cities the day of Juan Carlos’s resignation, including one in Madrid that drew some 10,000 people demanding a third republic.

The monarchy is also in dire need of reformation. In light of the recent scandals, the left-wing parties have called for greater transparency in the royal household’s use of public funds. One draft law making its way through the Spanish parliament would compel the monarchy to report its expenses like any other public institution. Juan Carlos, to his credit, has embraced this idea. An unaddressed problem is that the current law of succession does not allow Felipe and Letizia’s oldest daughter, Infanta Leonor, to inherent the throne. Indeed, if they had a boy before the law of succession is reformed, he would be the legitimate heir to the throne. This would be quite ironic — and embarrassing — in a country that prides itself as being one of Europe’s most socially progressive, as suggested by its ban on sexist advertising, gender quotas intended to ensure parity between the sexes in the workplace and government, and the legalization of same-sex marriage, the first Catholic-majority nation in the world to do so.

FELIPE’S FOOTHOLD

It is regional separatism, the defining issue in Spanish politics, however, that poses the greatest challenge (and creates the biggest opportunity) for the next king. In November, the autonomous region of Catalonia will put the issue of independence to a pubic vote. Madrid opposes the referendum, claiming that it is illegitimate because the constitution that was adopted by popular referendum in 1978 explicitly states that the Spanish territory is “indivisible.” Catalan leaders remain undeterred and have already announced that Juan Carlos’ abdication will not derail their plans. But this is not to say that they would dismiss an intervention from the crown.

Some suspect that the Catalan political leadership is not really after independence — a tall order to be sure, and something the Basques have already unsuccessfully attempted — but greater accommodation from Madrid on a wide range of cultural, political, and economic issues. This provides an opening for the crown to work behind the scenes to facilitate negotiations between the conservative administration of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Catalan regional authorities. These negotiations could be timed to coincide with a reform to the law of succession, which is expected shortly before or after Felipe’s coronation.

The extent to which the next king will get involved in the explosive politics of separatism, and the degree to which he can make a difference on this matter, is unclear at the moment. Diego Muro, a scholar at Barcelona’s Institute of International Studies, notes that Felipe will enjoy some “sympathy” in Catalonia during his honeymoon period, despite the Catalans’ traditional disdain for the monarchy as a symbol of Spanish absolutism. “But whether he decides to use some of this political capital to become a game changer in the dispute between the Spanish and Catalan governments remains to be seen.”

How Felipe choses to play his cards on the issue of Catalonia’s separatist aspirations and the other challenges ahead of him will define his rule, and possibly even Spain’s fate. And observers should not underestimate him. It is worth remembering that Juan Carlos ascended to the throne with the moniker “Juan el Breve” (John the Brief), since few thought he would be around for very long. The young king had been seldom seen or heard after his arrival in Spain as a ten-year-old in 1948 — the result of a deal between Franco and Juan Carlos’ father to restore the monarchy in exchange for Franco personally grooming the future king. Thus, Juan Carlos’ legitimacy at the inception of his reign was tenuous at best, resting primarily on having been handpicked by Franco. By contrast, Felipe enjoys broad support, giving the monarchy its best chance at redemption. This is, after all, at the heart of his father’s gamble: that momentary enthusiasm about a new king could turn into a long-term rehabilitation of the monarchy.

SPANISH STATE: AFTER THE ABDICATION OF THE KING, IT’S TIME TO CHECKMATE THE REGIME

By Esther Vivas | Global Research

The regime is collapsing, it is dying and in its last-ditch struggle to survive, the king has abdicated. Never has the regime resulting from the Transition (The Transition is the name given to the political process following the death of Franco, which culminated in the Constitution of 1978) been as widely challenged as it is today.

The regime is collapsing, it is dying and in its last-ditch struggle to survive, the king has abdicated. Never has the regime resulting from the Transition (The Transition is the name given to the political process following the death of Franco, which culminated in the Constitution of 1978) been as widely challenged as it is today. The pillars on which it rests, the monarchy, the judiciary, bipartisanship, have been greatly delegitimized for some time now. We no longer believe in their lies, those lies with which they are trying to hold together a system that is falling apart. What seemed not so long ago impossible appears today as a reality. Let us push with all our might to widen even further this breach that the economic, social and political crisis has made possible.

Since the elephant hunt of his “majesty” in Botswana, through the indictment of his son- in-law Iñaki Urdangarín in the “Noos affair” and the involvement of the Infanta Cristina in this case, and including the many operations on the monarch’s hip, costing millions and paid out of public funds, the Royal House has become a caricature of itself. One of the main justifications of “democracy” is mortally wounded, but it is not dead yet.

The announcement of the royal abdication is a final, desperate attempt to save the regime; an attempt at a “facelift” with the aim of restoring legitimacy not only to the monarchy but also to its suite of judges, politicians and opinion formers. For years, far too many years, they have lived under the shelter of this false Transition, trying to efface or hide our collective history. Our forgetfulness has been the substrate of their victory, not only moral but also political and economic.

The economic crisis, transformed into a profound social and also political crisis, has put the king and the regime of 1978 on the ropes. People have said “basta”. We saw it three years ago with the emergence of the 15-M Movement; with the spread of civil disobedience; with the occupation of empty homes that were in the hands of banks, and all of that that with broad popular support despite the criminalization of protest. More poverty means more pain, but thanks to these mobilizations it also means greater awareness of who are the winners in this situation – the bankers, the politicians – and who are the losers.

The rising demand for sovereignty in Catalonia has also thrown the regime on the ropes, highlighting the deeply anti- democratic nature of a Constitution that does not allow the right to self-determination. Today, the European elections have given the “coup de grace” to a decaying regime, with the loss of more than five million votes for the PP and the PSOE and the emergence, with the election of five members of parliament, of “Podemos”. The regime is becoming nervous, very nervous.

The royal abdication is the latest rescue manoeuvre. But we must nevertheless remember that the system still has room for manoeuvre. The abdication of the king illustrates the weakness of the pillars of the regime and the strength of the people. But we do not want Juan Carlos Felipe [[Juan Carlos Felipe is the Crown Prince]] either. It’s time to go out into the streets to demand the opening of constituent processes throughout the Spanish State, in order to decide what kind of future we want. We must go on the offensive in order to checkmate the regime.

PM: SPANISH KING TO ABDICATE THRONE IN FAVOR OF SON

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MADRID (AP) — Spain’s King Juan Carlos, who led Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy but faced royal scandals amid the nation’s near financial meltdown, will abdicate so his son can become the country’s next monarch, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the country Monday in an announcement broadcast nationwide.

Rajoy did not say when the handover would happen because the government must now craft a law creating a legal mechanism for the abdication and for 46-year-old Crown Prince Felipe’s assumption of power.

Juan Carlos was expected to address the nation later Monday, the royal palace said in a tweet. The palace also tweeted a photo of the king shaking Rajoy’s hand and presenting him with a letter announcing the abdication.

Juan Carlos, 76, has been on the throne for 39 years and was a hero to many for shepherding Spain’s democratic and economic transformation, but has had repeated health problems in recent years.

His longstanding popularity took a big blow following royal scandals, including an elephant-shooting trip he took in the middle of Spain’s financial crisis during which he broke his right hip and had to be flown from Botswana back to Spain for medical treatment aboard a private jet.

The king’s image was also tarnished by the investigation of his son-in-law, who is suspected of embezzling large amounts in public contracts.

His daughter Princess Cristina in January was forced to testify in the fraud and money-laundering case targeting her husband Inaki Urdangarin, an Olympic handball medalist turned businessman. She became the first Spanish royal to be questioned in court since Juan Carlos took the throne.

Felipe would presumably take the title King Felipe IV. He has a law degree from Madrid’s Autonomous University and obtained a masters in international relations from Georgetown University in the United States.

Felipe is married to Princess Letizia, a former television journalist, and they have two daughters.

Like his father, Felipe has traveled the globe trying to maintain Spain’s influence especially in former Latin American colonies, while seeking to promote the nation’s international business interests.

King Juan Carlos came to power in 1975, two days after the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco. He endeared himself to many Spaniards, in large part by putting down an attempted military coup in 1981 when he was a young and largely untested head of state.

As Spain’s new democracy matured over the years and Spain transformed itself from a European economic laggard into the continent’s fourth largest economy, the king played a largely figurehead role, traveling the globe as an ambassador for the country. He was also a stabilizing force in a country with restive, independence-minded regions such as the Basque region and Catalonia.

“He has been a tireless defender of our interests,” Rajoy said.

Juan Carlos has melded the trappings of royalty with down-to-earth, regular-guy charm. The king is an avid sports fan and after the Madrid terror bombings of March 11, 2004, showed he could grieve like anyone else.

At an emotional state funeral for the 191 people killed in the train bombings by Islamic militants, Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia slowly went row-by-row through Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral, clasping the hands of sobbing mourners or kissing them on the cheek.

But his patient work nearly came undone during the financial crisis, with people questioning after the elephant-hunting trip whether a hereditary monarchy was needed.

The World Wildlife Fund’s branch in Spain ousted Juan Carlos as its honorary president — a title he’d held since 1968 — after deciding the hunt was incompatible with its goal of conserving endangered species. Juan Carlos took the unprecedented step of apologizing to Spaniards for his actions.

He recently said that he wanted to be remembered as “the king who has united all Spaniards.”

King Juan Carlos goes down a path increasingly traveled by European royalty.

Last year Belgium’s King Albert handed over the throne of his fractious kingdom to his son, Crown Prince Philippe. Two months earlier, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands stepped down after a 33-year reign in favor of her eldest son, who was appointed King Willem-Alexander.

It was a break with tradition, but not as big as the decision early last year by Pope Benedict XVI to resign, a move that stunned Catholics around the world.

The two royal successions in Belgium and the Netherlands have been smooth and successful.

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WHY IS KING JUAN CARLOS OF SPAIN ABDICATING?

DOZENS OF FBI, CIA AGENTS IN KIEV ‘ASSISTING UKRAINE SECURITY’

Reuters/Larry Downing/via RT.com

RT

Numerous US agents are helping the coup-appointed government in Ukraine to “fight organized crime” in the south east of the country, the German newspaper Bild revealed.

According to the daily, the CIA and FBI are advising the government in Kiev on how to deal with the ‘fight against organized crime’ and stop the violence in the country’s restive eastern regions.

The group also helps to investigate alleged financial crimes and is trying to trace the money, which was reportedly taken abroad during Viktor Yanokovich’s presidency, the newspaper said.

The head of the CIA, John Brennan, visited Kiev in mid-April and met with the acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and first Vice-President Vitaly Yarema to discuss a safer way to transfer US information to Ukraine.

Jen Psaki, spokeswomen for the United States Department of State, said that there was nothing to read into Brennan’s visit to Kiev, and that the head of the CIA did not offer support to the coup-appointed government in the country to help them conduct tactical operations within Ukraine.

However, following the visit the toppled President Viktor Yanukovich linked the CIA chief’s appearance in Kiev to the first stage of the new government’s crackdown in Slavyansk.

Brennan “sanctioned the use of weapons and provoked bloodshed,” Yanukovich said.

Bild’s reports comes as US President Barack Obama rules out that Washington will interfere in the situation in Ukraine.

“You’ve also seen suggestions or implications that somehow Americans are responsible for meddling inside Ukraine. I have to say that our only interest is for Ukraine to be able to make its own decisions. And the last thing we want is disorder and chaos in the center of Europe,” he said speaking in the White House after meeting the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, just two days ago.

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CIA, FBI AGENTS ‘ADVISING UKRAINE GOVERNMENT’

Berlin (AFP) – Dozens of specialists from the US Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation are advising the Ukrainian government, a German newspaper reported Sunday.

Citing unnamed German security sources, Bild am Sonntag said the CIA and FBI agents were helping Kiev end the rebellion in the east of Ukraine and set up a functioning security structure.

It said the agents were not directly involved in fighting with pro-Russian militants. “Their activity is limited to the capital Kiev,” the paper said.

The FBI agents are also helping the Kiev government fight organised crime, it added.

A group specialised in financial matters is to help trace the wealth of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, according to the report.

The interim Kiev government took charge in late February after months of street protests forced the ouster of Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych.

Fierce battles between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east have left more than 50 people dead in recent days.

Last month the White House confirmed that CIA director John Brennan had visited Kiev as part of a routine trip to Europe, in a move condemned by Moscow.

SPANISH POLITICIANS TO VOTE ON CATALONIA’S RIGHT TO A REFERENDUM ON INDEPENDENCE

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Spanish politicians are preparing to vote on whether to allow Catalonia’s regional assembly to hold a referendum on independence from Spain.

But for many the outcome is a foregone conclusion; Spain’s ruling Popular Party strongly opposes the motion, leaving it likely to be rejected.

“I think those things are best resolved through talking,” said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. “And not through taking decisions unilaterally, then putting them in front of the rest of us afterwards.”

Officials in the north eastern region have vowed to vote on the issue in November, regardless of Tuesday’s result.

“I’m not going to participate in this debate. It is a decision taken in the Catalonian Parliament and I’m the President of the Government of Catalonia,” Artur Mas told euronews. “My government didn’t send the draft law to the Spanish Parliament to obtain the right to organise the referendum.”

Catalonia has seen hundreds of thousands of people rally for independence. But last month Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that a move by Catalan leaders to unilaterally hold a referendum would be unconstitutional.

INDEPENDENCE FROM SPAIN: CATALONIA’S DREAM, EUROPE’S DILEMMA

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Artur Mas, the head of the autonomous Catalan government in Spain, is at the forefront of a campaign to hold a referendum on independence from Spain on November 9.

The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid opposes independence for Catalonia and has rejected the idea of a referendum.

The Spanish parliament is set to vote against the plebiscite in a debate on April 8.

Artur Mas, who is backed by secessionists and the Greens, spoke to euronews’ Vicenc Batalla in Barcelona about this key question for all of Europe.

euronews Artur Mas, what are the chances of an independence referendum taking place on November 9 and that Catalonia will become independent one day.

Artur Mas There are possibilities. The Catalan government and myself will do the maximum to ensure that this referendum, for which there is a large consensus in Catalonia, will go ahead as agreed on November 9 2014. We’re putting in place all the conditions needed to make it possible. And I expect that there won’t be any categorical or radical opposition on the part of the Spanish institutions that would seek to prevent the peaceful and democratic staging of this referendum, or consultation, which, by the way, will be held legally, in agreement with a law, a Spanish law or a Catalan law. That’s what we’re in the process of clarifying at the moment.

euronews Why do you think David Cameron agreed to a referendum on Scottish independence while Mariano Rajoy would not accept one for Catalonia?.

Artur Mas Probably in the UK there’s a more profound democratic will than in Spain. I regret that because I would love to say that in Spain there is the same talent for democracy or the same feeling for democracy, or democratic will. Spain is undoubtedly a democracy. But it doesn’t have the same depth as British democracy. That’s the reality.

I think that Prime Minister Cameron recognised that in Scotland a parliament had been voted in with a popular mandate to hold a referendum. He democratically accepted the verdict of the Scottish. He never thought of denying that Scotland was a nation. In Spain it’s denied that Catalonia is a nation. That’s the first big mistake because that vision is contrary to what history tells us, as we can see from the walls of this palace (where the interview is taking place) dating from the beginning of the 15th century and which has always been the seat of the Catalan government when we’ve won freedom and democracy. This vision is also against the will of the majority of Catalan citizens.

euronews The question of whether Catalonia stays within the EU or not if it becomes independent is going to heavily influence voters’ opinion. The European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso says an independent Scotland, like Catalonia, would have to leave the Union and ask to be re-admitted.

Artur Mas Yes, but in saying that they didn’t say what the precedents were, because there are none. They didn’t say that in the EU treaties, and more precisely in the Lisbon Treaty, there’s no consideration of such a case. It’s not been considered simply because they never thought that one day it would come about. Consequently, there’s nothing in writing. They don’t say what will happen to the rights of citizenship held for many many years by Scottish citizens or Catalans; citizenship rights that can’t be annulled or swept aside overnight.

And, above all, one thing they didn’t say; in the case of an exit, under what conditions can we be reintegrated? Do we come back as countries that were never part of the European Union and that have never put in place the Union’s norms and rules? Under what conditions? Or will there be totally different conditions, negotiated and with an agreement for citizens who are already in the Union and submit to all the rules? And for those who, like Catalonia, are net contributors to the EU and want to stay inside it?

euronews Is an independent Catalonia economically possible? Are business leaders asking you to push ahead with the process or rather, in fact, go backwards?

Artur Mas Both, actually. And you’d expect that. There are entrepreneurs who have interests all over Spain and those who have less. The more interests you have in all of Spain, the more the process is a conflict for you. Entrepreneurs who have fewer interests, who export more and are less dependent on the Spanish market have a different view.

Who fears this process? No one should be afraid! It’s true that some are trying to instill fear from the outside. Many! And particularly some media in Madrid who never stop this campaign of fear. They never stop! But in Catalonia, we see much more emotional detachment because we can see that all they’re trying to do is divide us and break up the majority for the referendum.

euronews In your search for allies in Europe, France could play an important role because there’s a part of France where they speak Catalan, at Perpignon. What do you think the French reaction would be if independence is achieved in Catalonia?

Artur Mas I don’t know! I can’t tell you. You know very well that France is above all a centralist state. That is a principle that’s broadly accepted in France. Not by everybody, but the majority. In Spain it’s different, very different. In Spain there are two or three national realities, which don’t exist in the same way in France. These are realities that have always been resisted here.

Moreover – and this is very important – what’s happening in Catalonia is not destined to be replicated in other parts of Europe. There’s the situation in Scotland, but that too is very particular. There are not a lot of European nationality issues that can be compared to what’s happening in Catalonia. And certainly no such situation exists in France. From that point of view I think France has nothing to fear because the Catalan process is very particular. It’s a very specific process. And, I stress, there are no similar situations in the majority of the territories on the continent of Europe.

euronews At the moment there’s a very significant and potentially violent situation in Crimea between Russia and Ukraine. When the Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo made a negative comparison between the situation in Crimea and Catalonia what did you think? And also, what do you think when Russian TV refers to Catalonia to justify the referendum organised in Crimea?

Artur Mas Look, the comparisons used in Russia are part of a scenario because they need all kinds of justifications to be able justify what’s been happening there. They make kinds of comparisons!

What surprised me most, was what the Spanish minister of foreign affairs said. For me, it’s crazy to make a comparison between Catalonia and Crimea.

I think it’s crazy because they are totally different situations. In Crimea there wasn’t a government elected with a mandate to convene a referendum. In Catalonia, yes.

In Crimea, there is no lack of pressure. And, in Catalonia, there is no kind of pressure. In Catalonia, there is a total pacifism, real democracy, an elected government with a mandate to convene a democratic consultation. Really, there’s no comparison.

SPAIN: ONE MILLION MARCH IN MADRID AGAINST AUSTERITY

By Alejandro López

Under the banner “No more cuts!” hundreds of thousands of workers, pensioners and youth took to the streets Saturday in Spain’s capital, Madrid. They were demonstrating against austerity measures, evictions, unemployment and poverty.

The genesis of the demonstration was one month ago when eight columns of protesters, which organisers called the “Marches of Dignity”, set out from different cities across Spain to converge on Madrid. Hundreds of thousands more people joined on Saturday, travelling by train, cars and buses. According to organisers, the demonstration was 1 million strong.

The main organisers were the Andalusian Workers’ Union (Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores, SAT), the Movement of Mortgage Victims (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, PAH) and the Civic Front “We Are The Majority” (Frente Cívico Somos Mayoría, FCSM) of the former leader of the United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU), Julio Anguita. Added to this, another 300 organisations supported the protesters, ranging from feminist groups, to pseudo-left parties such as Izquierda Anticapitalista, En Lucha and El Militante, to trade unions and anti-austerity organisations. They were joined by many organisations that emerged out of the mass “Indignados” protests of 2011.

Chants of “Rise! Rise! We will fight!”—“No to unemployment, no to exile, no to insecurity. March, march, march for dignity”—“What do we want? Work!” could be heard. One bloc of young protesters chanted, “No to unemployment, exile, or precariousness”.

Marchers held handmade placards denouncing the austerity measures of the ruling Popular Party (PP) government. In addition to red flags, there were flags of the Andalusian region, the Second Spanish Republic, and the anarcho-syndicalists. Many wore the T-shirts of the anti-eviction organisation Stop Evictions (Stop Desahucios) and PAH, whilst many others wore green, white and blue T-shirts representing the social movements or “waves” against cuts in public services.

Protesters also chanted against laws and recent measures carried out by the government. Marchers shouted “Free unrestricted abortion!” directed at the Church and the government’s latest abortion law that will turn the clock back 30 years. Another chant was “no person is illegal” and “they did not die, they were murdered”, in reference to the 15 migrant workers who drowned on February 6 trying to reach Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in North Africa. Police shot over 150 rubber bullets at the migrants as they were trying to reach shore.

In addition to students, unemployed and pensioners, teachers, firemen, miners, health care workers, civil servants and many others participated. Factory workers from the on-going struggles in Panrico and Coca-Cola also marched in defence of their jobs.

At the end of the demonstration, a group of mostly young protesters clashed with police, throwing stones and firecrackers, as the police used tear gas and rubber bullets. Figures released by the emergency service said that 101 people were injured (67 of them police), and 27 arrested, three of them minors.

On the same day in Berlin, a solidarity protest was held by mostly Spanish youth forced to emigrate due to the economic conditions in Spain. Eva told the online newspaper Público, “We’re here because it’s important that they know they have the support of the exiles, of those of us who have been forced to leave. We are also here to fight for our right to return, because if things continue like they are it will be impossible.”

In anticipation of the demonstration, Madrid’s authorities closed down the centre of the city for 12 hours and mobilized 1,750 anti-riot police, in addition to the hundreds of National Police and other security forces. According to the organisers, 100 buses had been stopped and searched by the infamous Civil Guard before they reached Madrid.

The Madrid regional PP government immediately launched a smear campaign against the protesters. Madrid’s premier, Ignacio González, provocatively declared, “The same things you find in their manifesto are also in the political programme of Golden Dawn, a Greek neo-Nazi group”. On the same day, he stated, “Today the radical left is protesting on the streets. We hope that they do so as long as they don’t destroy everything.”

Even more provocative was the speech of his number two, the premier’s adviser Salvador Victoria, who declared, “The Europe that will be drawn for the next few years should be seen as a reference of individual liberties against the threats of socialists, social-democrats and communists.”

The latest demonstration once again shows the readiness of the working class to fight against the austerity measures. Since the crisis erupted in 2008, the PP government and its Socialist Party (PSOE) predecessor have imposed billions of euros in cuts, gutting public health care and education. They have imposed new labour laws facilitating redundancies, flexibility and destroying job security.

The class tensions in Spain are brewing a social explosion. Unemployment has risen to 6 million, (26 percent of the active population). Of these, 37 percent have lost all welfare benefits. Some 630,000 families now receive no income whatsoever. According to the NGO Caritas there are currently 3 million people living on less than €307 per month, whilst Eurostat confirms the existence of 13 million people (28 percent of the population) living in risk of poverty or social exclusion. In 2008 it was 23 percent.

This has led to resistance on the part of the workers and unemployed. An average of 27 protests are held every day and 184 strikes broke out between January and February amounting to 2,668,556 lost hours, an increase of nearly 6 percent from the same period the year before.

The support for official politics is at an all-time low. Polling for the PP and the PSOE has slumped to 32 percent and 26 percent respectively, the lowest joint-turnout since the transition to democracy in 1978. The unions also fare badly. The latest poll shows that 24 percent of those who left the unions in the last year did so because these organizations “did not do anything”, 19 percent because of “differences with other members”, and 14 percent because “they were not important”.

It is under these conditions that the recent mass demonstration must be put into context. The ruling class is depending ever more on the pseudo-left parties and social movements that organised Saturday’s protests to channel disgruntled workers and unemployed into empty protests. Most of these groups orbit the Communist Party-led IU, which is imposing cuts in collaboration with the PSOE in the regional government of Andalusia. In two years, the regional government has cut health care by 10.8 percent and education by 8.6 percent, totalling €2.6 billion.

MADRID MARCH: THOUSANDS OF ANTI-AUSTERITY PROTESTERS CONVERGE ON SPANISH CAPITAL

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by RT

Protesters clashed with police in Madrid as thousands of people trekked across Spain to protest austerity which they claim is destroying their country. Under the banner “no more cuts!” the protesters called for an end to the government’s “empty promises.”

Police arrested at least 29 protesters following the clashes which took place after the march. According to emergency service, 101 people were injured – 67 of them police, El Mundo newspaper reports.

Protesters were seen throwing stones and firecrackers at police. According to witnesses, officers used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

Clashes broke out during a final speech at the demonstration when protesters tried to break through a police barrier. Riot police took charge by beating protesters with batons, AP reported.

“The mass rally was coming to an an end when reportedly a group of younger protesters, who had masks on their faces, started throwing rocks at the police. Police tried to push them away from the parameter that they organized around this area,” RT’s Egor Piskunov reported from the Spanish capital.

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“They (police) tried to push them (protesters) away from these police fences and then we started seeing firecrackers being thrown at police and reportedly authorities started firing rubber bullets at the protesters. As a result, there are injuries on both sides and several people have been arrested as well.”

“I can confirm that there is very heavy police presence in this whole district. Since it is the center of Madrid, there are lots of luxury hotels in this part of town and security here is very tight,” he added.

Six “columns” of trains, cars and buses, as well as bands of pedestrians have travelled from Extremadura, Andalusia, Valencia, Murcia, Asturias, Galicia and Aragon, among other Spanish regions, to converge on Madrid in mass protest this Saturday. The demonstration itself has been dubbed 22-M, Marches for dignity.

Eight groups of activists are expected to move into the Spanish capital at different points throughout the course of the day. As a precautionary measure, the Madrid authorities have closed roads in the center of the city and asked people to use public transport whenever possible on Saturday. In addition, the Spanish authorities have deployed 1,650 riot police to keep the situation under control in Madrid.

The protest movement is demanding an end to the so-called Troika-style cuts in Spain, more jobs and affordable housing.

“Why am I here? I’m sick of this government. With all the promises they never fulfill. They said they were going to create more jobs and lower the taxes but it’s a lie! Instead, unemployment rose from 4 to 6 million. This is the only way we can fight back,” one of the protestors, who had been on the road since March 9, told RT correspondent Egor Piskunov.

A large proportion of the protesters who have made their way on foot to the Spanish capital are unemployed and plan to camp in Madrid until their demands are met.

“There are too many reasons: my sons have to work every day from 8 in the morning to five of the next morning only for 400 euros per month! Also I’m a teacher and I know what cuts in the public sector mean,” said another activist. “All these evictions – this is insane. I’m marching to Madrid because I can’t walk to Berlin or Brussels. We must stop them and the Troika!”

Hundreds of people are evicted from their homes every day in Spain. The General Council of the Judiciary reported that 49,984 forced evictions had been carried out across the country last year, which averages about 185 a day.

A fireman stands in front of demonstrators, some of them waving flags of the Spanish second republic, during a march dubbed "the Marches for Dignity 22-M" to protest against austerity in Madrid on March 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Gerard Julien)

A fireman stands in front of demonstrators, some of them waving flags of the Spanish second republic, during a march dubbed “the Marches for Dignity 22-M” to protest against austerity in Madrid on March 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Gerard Julien)

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The number of evictions reached an all-time high in Spain in 2012 with over 500 a day, according to a report by the BBC. This combined with an unemployment rate of 26 percent, the second highest in Europe after Greece, has left many Spanish citizens with nowhere to turn. This is reflected in the growing number of suicides in the country, with the country’s National Institute of Statistics estimating that at least 8 people take their lives every day in the country.

Pepe Caballero, one of the organizers of the protests said the Spanish government is trying to return Spain to the Franco era.

“What the government wants is to go back to the Franco years and keep the working class from demonstrating in the streets and saying what our main problems are. We won’t allow that to happen and they know it,” Caballero told RT, adding that the protest movement will change Spain from the “bottom to the top.”

At the beginning of this month, the Spanish Minister of Employment Fatima Banez said that Spain had finally pulled itself out of the recession and registered economic growth. However, the Spanish Union of Workers dismissed Banez’s announcements as “government propaganda.”

Anti-austerity demonstrators crowd into Colon square as they take part in a demonstration which organisers have labeled the "Marches of Dignity" in Madrid, March 22, 2014 (Reuters / Paul Hanna)

Anti-austerity demonstrators crowd into Colon square as they take part in a demonstration which organisers have labeled the “Marches of Dignity” in Madrid, March 22, 2014 (Reuters / Paul Hanna)

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DOZENS HURT IN SPAIN PROTEST CLASHES

Police and protesters injured in clashes as thousands rally in Madrid against EU-imposed austerity measures. Paul Chapman reports.

SPANISH SUICIDES RISE TO EIGHT-YEAR HIGH

Zero Hedge

Europe has an odd definition of recovery: we already knew that in Greece “recovery” means record high unemployment, an entire generation unable to find work, the return of neo-nazism, no ink with which to print tax forms, and even instances where people infect themselves with HIV to get medical benefits. That, and of course, soaring suicides. Now it is Spain’s turn.

A homeless Spaniard takes care of his three dogs, who were likely strays.  A long line of people can be see in the reflection on the window.  Credit: Fran Urbano via Flickr

A homeless Spaniard takes care of his three dogs, who were likely strays. A long line of people can be see in the window’s reflection. Credit: Fran Urbano via Flickr

While the Iberian nation is furiously scrambling to catch up to Greece in terms of sheer economic collapse, even if the government has changed the definition of GDP so many times, somehow Spain dares to look people in the eye and claim its GDP is growing with 26% total, and 54% youth unemployment, one statistic Spain can’t change is that the suicide rate has soared and is now the highest in eight years.

The Local reports, using figures from Spain’s National Institute of Statistics that in the most recent data from 2012, released on Friday, 402,950 people died in Spain, some 15,039 (3.9 percent) more than in 2011. Of these deaths, there were 3539 suicides (2,724 men and 815 women), up 11.3 percent from the year before, a rate of 7.6 per 100,000 inhabitants. The figures were the highest since 2005.

According to official broadcaster RTVE, suicide was second only to cancer (15 percent of deaths) in the overall 25-34 age group, but the leading cause of death in young men (17.8 percent). Fatalities as a result of traffic accidents fell by 9.5 percent, to 1,915 – that’s probably because so few young men and women can afford to buy a car. Or gas. Or both.

Finally in tangential news, a 21 percent spike in the death rate in February and March compared with the previous year was attributed to a late-breaking flu epidemic. The same period saw deaths as a result of respiratory failure rise 53.6 percent year-on-year.

So the next time you hear about the PIIGS much trumpeted “recovery” (which now is finished even before it started courtesy of the sharp relapse of the global economy courtesy of EMs, and in the case of Greece, quite literally based on the latest growth forecasts), think.

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