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Thousands Surround Spanish Parliament in Bid to “Occupy Congress” and Stop Austerity

Democracy Now!(Screengrab: Democracy Now!)Thousands of people surrounded the Spanish Parliament in Madrid on Tuesday to protest austerity measures and the loss of public confidence in elected leaders. The “Occupy Congress” protest came as the conservative administration of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy prepares to unveil further austerity measures on Thursday. After hours of protest, police in riot gear charged against demonstrators with batons and fired rubber bullets. Thirty-five people were arrested, and at least 60 people were injured. We go to Madrid to speak with independent journalist Maria Carrion.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today looking at the latest round of anti-austerity protests in Europe. Greek workers have launched their first general strike since the country’s conservative-led coalition government came to power in June. Tens of thousands of Greeks are converging today outside the Parliament in Athens. Protests are scheduled in over 60 cities. The general strike has brought the whole country to a standstill. The nation’s ports, airports, banks, schools, shops and tourist sites are all shut down. Aleka Papariga is leader of the Greek Communist Party.

ALEKA PAPARIGA: [translated] The European Union will never be a Europe for the workers. Every country of the European Union should fight to detach itself from the European Union. That is the new movement that should be taking place from every country in the European Union.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Meanwhile, in Spain, thousands of people surrounded the Parliament in Madrid to protest austerity measures and the loss of public confidence in elected leaders. The “Occupy Congress” protest came as the conservative administration of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy prepares to unveil further austerity measures on Thursday. After hours of protest on Tuesday, police in riot gear charged against demonstrators with batons and fired rubber bullets. Thirty-five people were arrested, and at least 60 people were injured. Brandon Jourdan and Carlos Delclos are in Madrid and filed this report from the protests.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 1: [translated] We are surrounding the Congress, because we think that the center of power in Spain, where we are supposedly governed from, is here in the Congress. Today coincides with this month’s full congressional session.

SILVIA SUAU: [translated] There are lots of reasons to be angry, but especially the fact that there are over five million unemployed. I’m a student, and I can only study because I have a scholarship; otherwise, I couldn’t pay it. The elderly are being left with no medical care. I mean, there are so many reasons that it’s impossible to name them all. But I think the main ones are employment and the fear of being left out in the street.

VICTORIA: [translated] Because banking is a business where sometimes you make money and other times you lose some, when they have profit, they don’t redistribute, they just distribute it upwards, nothing for the people. But when they lose money, which I don’t think they do, they just take from our pocket and put it in offshore accounts. Well, I don’t understand how, but the government bails them out. Bail us out. Don’t cut education. Don’t cut healthcare.

CAROLINA SANTOS YANEZ: [translated] I’m here today because I fought for a fair democracy here in Spain when I was young. I’m 64 today. And now I’m here fighting for what costs us so much sweat and blood here in Spain, the stability we had that now the right is taking away from us. They’re setting us back to where we were when I was a girl. It’s the same. When I was young, this was what we had: hunger. Now we’re going back to that. And it’s the right’s fault that we’re going in this direction, because they won’t touch their own salaries.

JOSE ANTONIO: [translated] I have come here today because I think we, the everyday people, have a chance to tell the politicians, the bankers, the financial system in general, and the capitalist system that we’ve had it. It can’t be that all of the weight of this crisis they’ve invented is forced onto the people and workers.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 2: [translated] There has been a large-scale police assault that makes no sense, because it’s been a protest with no violence. And the police are messing it all up. It’s an unsustainable situation. We have no idea where we’re going, and it’s really troubling. They’re destroying the youth of this country, and there just seems to be no remedy for it.

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the voices from the protests Tuesday in Madrid, produced by Brandon Jourdan and Carlos Delclos. On Thursday, the Spanish government is expected to announce further austerity measures. The Bank of Spain has said the country’s recession was deepening at a, quote, “significant pace.” When we come back from break, we’ll go to Democracy Now! correspondent Maria Carrion in Madrid. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Joining us from Madrid is Democracy Now! correspondent and independent journalist Maria Carrion, who has been at the protest all day yesterday.

Maria, welcome to Democracy Now!

MARIA CARRION: Thank you, Amy. Good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what’s happening.

MARIA CARRION: Well, as you, as your viewers and listeners have been able to see, it’s a very serious situation here in Spain. This is just the latest of many, many protests that we have been having here in Spain, in the last year, especially, and there will be many more coming. People have lost faith in government. People have lost faith in the main institutions. And we are facing 27 billion euros in social spending cuts. Every week, the government unveils a series of new measures that affect primarily education and health and salaries and the welfare of Spanish people. And as we saw at the top of the hour, Greece is really an example of what’s coming our way, and that’s why I think people are so enraged and so worried, because they see that none of the measures imposed on Greece on in Portugal or in Ireland are having any sort of effect on the economy, on people’s welfare, on employment. And so, I think people are saying we do not want to head in that same direction.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Maria Carrion, you’ve spoken also about some of the effects on people already with the austerity measures in place, quite apart from what might happen tomorrow. Can you talk in particular about housing and food?

MARIA CARRION: Housing is a big issue because a lot of Spaniards ended up buying houses or homes back during the main housing boom. And what has happened since then is that, first of all, they bought these houses at very inflated prices, as happened in many other places. But here we have over 25 percent of unemployment, so as people began to lose their jobs and as the housing payments went up, the mortgages went up, more and more people lost their homes. There has been a repossession of many, many, many homes. And in Spain, there’s something very unique to our system, which is that even once your—the bank repossesses your home, and even when you’re evicted from your home and you lose your home, you still are liable for the entire debt, which means that not only are people on the street or having to, you know, find alternative housing and pay for it, but they also owe hundreds of thousands to the banks. This is aggravated also by the fact that most of these banks are being bailed out right now to the tune of 100 million euros, which is about $130 million—I’m sorry, 130 billion euros, which is $130 billion, because of their irresponsible lending practices.

So, on the one hand, you have all these repossessions and a social movement born out of this that is trying to stop these evictions and these repossessions and negotiate debt with the banks in the name of the families; and on the other hand, you also have a tremendous amount of poverty and hunger. Now we have 22 percent of Spanish households live in poverty, but about 11.5 million people are at risk of poverty. This means that a lot of people are having to go to food banks, where they never had to go for help. A lot of these people are very embarrassed. And, in fact, food banks have had to change the way they look, so that people are not seen to be going in and out by their neighbors. They’ve removed a lot of the signs saying “food bank,” and people know where they are. But they look more like supermarkets to sort of normalize the situation. So, there’s a lot of hunger now, as well, and a lot of people at risk for, you know, homelessness. And then you have—you know, education has gone up, and you have the undocumented immigrants who no longer have any rights to healthcare. So, you have just a situation of poverty, increased poverty in Spain, increasing poverty. You’re seeing that that’s the way that Portugal and Greece have gone, as well.

And then, on the other hand, you have the loss in faith—of faith in the institutions. Our finance minister, Luis de Guindos, is the former head of Lehman Brothers in Spain, and he was the head when Lehman Brothers collapsed. You know, the former head of the IMF, Rodrigo Rato, who also was finance minister under the PP, headed Bankia, this banking giant that is now being bailed out to the tune of 23 billion euros. That’s basically almost how much the total of the spending cuts for this year. That is how much Bankia is getting.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And can you say something, Maria—can you say something, Maria, about Rodrigo Rato’s role in the housing crisis, in particular?

MARIA CARRION: Rodrigo Rato came a little bit late into Bankia’s problems, but basically he was asked to handle this banking giant. It was basically several banks rolled into one that became this banking giant called Bankia, and he was asked to, you know, manage it. And what happened was that this banking giant basically had lent a lot of money to building companies that could not pay back their loans. They also—and it also was lending a lot of money to people who, you know, were mortgaging houses, who then could not return the money. So, basically what happened is that Bankia dug itself into a huge financial hole, while at the same time not informing the government, not informing the Bank of Spain, not informing the right institutions. And by the time that Rato quit, Bankia was asking for this huge public bailout. So, he is now being investigated and—by the Spanish National Court for mismanaging this bank.

AMY GOODMAN: Maria Carrion, we were in Spain just after the announcement came down, right at the time that the announcement came down that Rato would be investigated, and we were interviewing the—some of the organizers of the M15 movement, what some call the indignados, the “angry ones.” Can you talk about how that movement, similar to the Occupy movement in the United States, is related to the current protests? Is it?

MARIA CARRION: Well, it’s—you know, it’s at the heart of these protests, really. In Spain, we’ve always had very organized unions, and we’ve, you know, always had social movements. But basically, you had protests on—you know, issue-based protests that would bring in hundreds or maybe, you know, occasionally thousands of people to the streets. With the 15M movement, what that has done is that it has brought everybody together. It also has mobilizing strategies that other organizations like the unions did not have, or instruments. And so, they’re able to organize a protest almost overnight. They also have very creative strategies for protesting. So, 15M is key to this.

I think that the identification of financial institutions and their very close relationship with politicians is also key, the fact that not only are we having protests at the Parliament, but we’re also having protests in front of banks or even occupation of bank branches. You see them spontaneously. You even have flamenco groups going in into a banking branch to protest, you know, what—home repossessions and, you know, singing songs and flamenco songs about, you know, the bank’s role in the crisis. So, I think the 15M movement has really brought it together. There’s definitely a before and an after.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Maria Carrion, before we conclude, I wanted to ask you—the protesters who were arrested yesterday are apparently going to be charged with crimes against the state. Can you explain what the implications of that are?

MARIA CARRION: Well, the PP, the conservative government in power, even before the protests took place, they were already equating them to the 1981 coup d’état here, the military coup d’état that tried to return Spain to a dictatorship. And they, you know, posted 1,400 police in riot gear and even sharpshooters around Congress. So, the disposition—disposition was already there to criminalize protesters. And now what has happened is that those who have been arrested are being charged with crimes against the nation for trying to, what they say, occupy Parliament while in session, which is a crime. They—the, you know, protesters always said, “We’re not occupying. We’re just surrounding Parliament.” But in any case, they are being charged with crimes against the nation, and they will go before a judge, a justice, at Spain’s National Court, which is the court that’s reserved for trying high crimes such as terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Maria Carrion, we want to thank you for being with us, independent journalist, Democracy Now! correspondent, based in Madrid, Spain. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

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