Spain’s Sad And Splendid Summer Of Austerity

A glimmering reminder that Europe still has some spare money (and time) to spend: even as Spain's economy spirals out of control, vacations are still on -though shorter, cheaper and closer to home.

On the beach in Barcelona (C.Y.R.I.L)
On the beach in Barcelona (C.Y.R.I.L)
Marco Alfieri

MALAGA - At the train station in this southern Spanish resort town, a woman named Carmen has just disembarked. "We're here," she says. She had set off from her hometown of Cordoba with her boyfriend Antonio a mere 50 minutes ago. The trip to her vacation destination has never been so short. "This year, this is it. No vacation abroad. My father is unemployed. We'll spend a week on the Costa del Sol and that's it."

All of Spain is feeling the pressure of the euro crisis. Everyone's nightmare is the widening spread, the extra yield that investors demand to hold Spanish bonds instead of benchmark German bonds. After 15 years of a booming economy, many Spaniards are forced to face a summer of austerity. Those who aren't giving up their vacation altogether are picking tourist spots close to home, like Carmen and Antonio. Others are heading back to their hometowns to visit their relatives, as they did when they were children. "I haven't been in El Pinillo for 25 years," says Raul, an employee of the public sector who has just arrived from Sevilla.

In the southern region of Andalusia at least 1.5 million people are unemployed, and the crisis has hit hard. But the beautiful seaside helps to attract tourists.

Tourism, which accounts for 11% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is keeping the country afloat. In 2011, 57 million people visited Spain. In the first six months of 2012, this number grew by 2.5%, bringing in a total 20 billion euros.

Youngsters, retirees and foreign families continue to arrive at a steady stream along the 160 kilometers of coast from Nerja to Manilva. On Saturdays, the number of arrivals peak. "Scandinavian people are the biggest spenders, at 1,239 euros each, followed by the Dutch and German, who would like to kick us out of the euro," says a tourism office employee with an ironic smile. On any given Saturday afternoon, in front of the cathedral of Plaza de Obispo in Malaga, you get a glimpse of what holidays are like here: Italians and Germans sitting at the tables of a Guinness Pub, English teenagers yelling at each other, Dutch families with strollers, cruise passengers and Russian couples taking pictures in front of the fountain. Many Spanish people are here too, constrained to settle for a local vacation.

A small train brings the tourists from Malaga to the beaches. At the airport stop, the people who flew in on low-cost flights get on the train. They are mainly from the UK and northern Europe.

The only sector to survive

Along the Costa del Sol, each village has its own tourist speciality. Adult couples stay in Malaga for cultural tourism, before moving on to Granada and Sevilla for a quick swim in Malagueta and tapas in the old town. Youngsters and gays prefer the "movida," the nightlife, in Torremolinos. In Benalmadena you find mostly families and retirees. In Fuengirola and Mijas you have the English and Scandinavians who bought houses here during the heyday when a little money would go a long way towards a small house in sunny Spain.

Wealthy Spaniards are in Marbella, mainly around the Josè Banus harbor which looks like a miniature Montecarlo. Here Italian entrepreneur Flavio Briatore has just opened a new "Billionaire" nightclub. Marbella seems to be back to its golden age when the mayor was Jesus Gil, a developer and owner of the Atletico Madrid soccer club, who eventually died in 2004 after many scandals.

Torremolinos is the most popular resort of the coast. Employees of the Grand Hotel Cervantes confirm that the market is holding on. Tourism, says one hotel staffer, "is doing well during weekends and less well during the week, but we are the only sector to resist."

At 5 p.m., waiters are eating at the restaurant El Velero. "Luckily, today we worked a lot, after three slow days," says one. Nearby, in a small street, Rafael, an old man who owns Exotic Tour, a company that rents out cars and sells tickets for local amusement parks. "It's not that we are not working. We are working less," he says. "At the restaurant people ask for one dish instead of two. They bring their own food instead of eating at a cafe. They go to the public beaches instead of the private ones."

When happy hour comes, the promenade gets crowded. Young people head to the nightclubs and Polish families take a walk with their young children. English and Italian people are still playing sports in the sand. "With the recent troubles in North Africa, many are coming to our beaches," says a representative of the islands' hotel association. Rising airport taxes, though, is a reason of concern. Low-cost airline tickets might increase by up to 40%. "Hopefully we won't lose the last-minute vacationers," says one. "It would be much worse for us than the spread."

Read the article in Italian in La Stampa.

Photo - C.Y.R.I.L

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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