TIME Spain

Thousands Take Part in Spanish Anti-Abortion Rally

Anti-Abortion Rally In Madrid
Protesters carry crosses during a pro-life rally against abortion under the slogan 'Every life matters' on Nov. 22, 2014 in Madrid. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

(MADRID) — Tens of thousands of people have taken part in a demonstration in Madrid to protest against the conservative government’s decision to scrap plans to restrict the availability of abortion.

The march Saturday took place under the slogan “Every Life Matters.” Some 500 buses brought people from all over the country to take part.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in September ditched a promise by his Popular Party to restrict abortion to only cases of rape or serious health risks, saying there was no consensus for change.

The proposal had stirred much opposition in Spain, where abortion is allowed without restrictions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Demonstrators urged supporters to not vote for the Popular Party in elections next year if the government doesn’t change the current law.

TIME Spain

Catalonian Vote for Independence Could Lead to Compromise

SPAIN-CATALONIA-VOTE
Pro-independence activists attend a meeting after a symbolic vote on independence for Catalonia from Spain at a polling station in Barcelona on Nov. 9, 2014. Josep Lago—AFP/Getty Images

More than 80% of Catalans who voted in symbolic poll want independence

Do you want Catalonia to be a state? If yes, do you want that state to be independent? After tremendous controversy and a long wait—some put it at months, others at centuries—Catalans finally had the chance to answer those questions publicly. On November 9, 2.3 million went to the polls to vote on secession from Spain. The results represented a triumph for the pro-independence movement, not only because they managed to pull it off in the face of fierce Spanish opposition, but because the returns were so overwhelmingly in their favor: nearly 80.76% answered those two questions in the affirmative.

If Catalonia were Scotland, its leaders would have awoken this morning to begin the awesome challenge of decoupling their nation from the central state that has ruled it for centuries. Instead, they woke flushed, but wondering what comes next. Unlike David Cameron, who agreed to honor the results of the Scottish independence referendum, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has declared any Catalan referendum—including yesterday’s straw poll—unconstitutional. That fact, coupled with a level of participation yesterday that was overwhelming but may not translate into an absolute majority, has left as much uncertainty as it has euphoria.

“Our citizens have shown that they want to rule themselves,” said Catalan president Artur Mas as he spoke to the media after the polls closed, and promised to push for a binding referendum. And although he called the voting a “total success,” he also noted that it was symbolic.

Certainly in terms of its peacefulness and orderliness, the poll was a victory. Although there had been rumors of an increased police presence in the region, and President Mas had gone so far as to tell the mayors and volunteers that they “needn’t be afraid” about what might happen on Sunday, the voting took place in an atmosphere far more festive than tense. Instagram and Twitter were filled with images of long lines at polling places and selfies of people happily holding up their ballots.

That said, there was no shortage of efforts to impede the vote, even as it was underway. In the months and weeks leading up to November 9, the Spanish constitutional court twice suspended the straw poll, and as late as the evening before, the attorney general’s office declared that it was investigating whether the use of schools and other public institutions for polling represented a crime. Overnight, locks were placed on the doors of several polling places, and early on the morning of the 9th, hackers sent out a press release purporting to be a letter of resignation from the leader of the Catalan National Assembly, a pro-independence organization that has spearheaded the referendum movement. In Girona, a group of skinheads tried to destroy a ballot box (they were promptly arrested). But a demand that the regional police identify the people in charge of each polling place never materialized, and a court ruled against one political party’s last-ditch judicial effort to have the ballot boxes seized. When the mayor of Horta San Joan decided that he would not open a polling place in his town, president Mas’ political party (CiU) simply paid for a bus to transport residents who wanted to vote to the nearest ballot box.

Indeed, the Spanish government looked the other way as 1317 municipalities opened polling stations, and in the end, slightly over 40% of Catalonia’s roughly 5.4 million eligible voters went to the polls.

Those numbers matter, even if the vote legally doesn’t. “Even though it’s a simulacrum, pro-independence partisans take it very seriously,” says Carles Castro, political analyst for the Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia. “It’s a thermometer of what they could expect in a real referendum.”

Because the straw poll did not contain the electoral guarantees of a true referendum, and was organized and promoted entirely by pro-sovereignty groups, it was largely expected that those opposed to independence would not turn up to vote (and indeed, the percentage of returns against both statehood and independence was a mere 4.5%; an additional 10% voted in favor of statehood—meaning greater autonomy within a federal-style system—but rejected independence). If yesterday’s poll is indeed an accurate reflection of what Catalonia could expect in a binding referendum with greater electoral guarantees and a high level of participation, then somewhere between 40 and 50% of the total eligible population would vote in favor of independence.

“The results really strengthen Mas’ position,” says Ferran Requejo, professor of political science at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University. But they also present the pressing problem of what to do next. Both the hardline independence party Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the massive pro-independence civil association, Catalan National Assembly (ANC) agreed to support the alternative consultation Mas arranged after the Spanish court shot down a more official one only in exchange for early regional elections. Those elections, it is thought, would function as a plebiscite on independence. And if current polls are any indication, ERC—a party that has called for a unilateral declaration of independence–would win them, not only putting Mas out of a job, but throwing Spain into constitutional crisis. “So he’s going to have to negotiate with ERC,” Requejo says. “Mas will only agree to early elections if they have a joint list, with him as number one, and Junqueras (leader of ERC) as number two.”

He’s also going to have to do some negotiating with the Spanish prime minister, who until this point has refused all dialogue, even on things like restructuring the fiscal system under which Catalonia operates. For some, the fact that Rajoy’s government essentially turned a blind eye while yesterday’s vote took place suggests that it may be softening. “I sincerely believe it’s possible that there’s going to be some kind of rapprochement, an invitation to negotiate,” says analyst Castro. “The ball is in Madrid’s court.”

If Madrid accepts the challenge, the Catalan situation may prove more like the Scottish one than previously suspected. After the ‘Yes,’ movement lost its bid for independence, Cameron promised to devolve greater power and autonomy to Scotland. If Rajoy takes the opportunity to do the same, agreeing, for example, to a more federal system, he just may avoid a another referendum—and almost certain rupture—down the line.

TIME Spain

Most Catalans Want Independence From Spain According to an Informal Vote

Spain Catalonia Independence
Pro independence supporters celebrate the results of an informal poll for the independence of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Emilio Morenatti—AP

The poll was organized by pro-independence groups after a Spanish court rejected a formal referendum

More than 80% of people in Spain’s autonomous Catalonia region support full independence, an informal vote organized by pro-independence activists revealed on Sunday.

Catalonia’s Vice President Joana Ortega said over two million people took part in the poll, the BBC reports.

“We have earned the right to a referendum,” said Catalan President Artur Mas, hailing the results of the non-binding vote. A Spanish constitutional court had earlier rejected a formal referendum to decide the fate of the region.

Catalans have been pushing for independence for years, citing economic and cultural alienation from the rest of the country.

But the Spanish government dismissed the poll as invalid.

“The government considers this to be a day of political propaganda organized by pro-independence forces and devoid of any kind of democratic validity,” Spain’s Justice Minister Rafael Catala said in a statement.

Read more at BBC

TIME Spain

Catalans to Hold Controversial Independence Vote This Weekend

Catalonia Separatist Rally Barcelona Spain
People attend the last Pro-Independence rally before the unofficial Catalan independence vote in Barcelona on Nov. 7, 2014. David Ramos—Getty Images

Spanish government is expected to look the other way rather than use force to prevent the ballot

When is a referendum not a referendum? Like Scotland, the semi-autonomous region of Catalonia is home to many who dream of independence. On November 9, they will get their chance to vote on whether or not they wish to separate from Spain. Unlike the Scottish case, however, that vote is non-binding. It is also, according to the Spanish government, illegal. So while the decision of the country’s Constitutional Court to suspend the act has not dissuaded the pro-independence movement from going ahead with the polling, it has left both Catalans and Spaniards wondering what Sunday’s vote will mean.

A vote on independence has been a long time coming. Although many Catalans have historically felt themselves to be separate from Spain because of their distinct language and culture, that sentiment only began to coalesce into a drive for sovereignty in 2010, when the Spanish constitutional court ruled on the revised statutes outlining Catalan autonomy, and outraged many in the region by striking down a proposed preamble that referred to Catalonia as a ‘nation.’ The economic crisis compounded the disillusionment; as Spain’s wealthiest region, Catalonia felt that it was paying a disproportionate amount to keep the central government afloat. In 2012, 1.5 million Catalans took the occasion of their regional holiday to pour into the streets for unexpected demonstration in favor of independence. Spurred by their enthusiasm—and seeing in it a much-needed boost for flagging public support for his government–Catalan president Artur Mas quickly adopted a vote on independence as his government’s primary goal.

Three years later, that goal has eclipsed all others. Although barred from legally holding the vote, Mas is under tremendous pressure from other pro-sovereignty parties, whose support his government needs to do survive. Which is why he chose his words so carefully when he spoke on November 5 to the Forum Europa, a political organization. “We are maintaining the participatory process of November 9th.We will do what we have to do to defend the country. And we are determined to do so.”

That may sound steadfast, but in that carefully-selected name, “participatory process”, lies evidence of diminishing ambitions. Under this alternative, the government will not officially convene the vote, which means that municipalities have the option not to hold them. Nor will it organize electoral registers—citizens register simply by showing up to vote. “It’s become more like a demonstration,” says Michael Keating, University of Aberdeen political scientist, and director of the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change. “It’ll be like another version of that big march that a million people turned out for.”

Because the Spanish constitution bars referenda on secession, even the initial ‘consultation’ that Mas’s government proposed would not have been binding. But movement leaders hoped that an outpouring of support for independence would be enough to garner international support. “That’s exactly what they expected,” says Keating. “That Europe would see what was happening, and come and tell Spain, ‘you have to let this happen. But Europe doesn’t do that. They didn’t intervene in Scotland; they said, ‘It’s none of our business, it’s up to the UK.’ And they’re not going to intervene in Spain.”

It remains unclear what role the government will play in Sunday’s vote. Although the vast majority of the region’s municipalities have agreed to open a polling place, they are not, under the new formulation, required to do so, and it has been suggested that much of the organizing will be left in the hands of pro-independence civic organizations like the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural, which on Wednesday began a massive calling campaign to get out the vote. That kind of effort has made it increasingly clear that the only people who will turn up to cast their ballot are independence supporters; opponents will boycott it, or simply stay home.

“It still has sense,” says political scientist José Ignacio Torreblanca, director of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, of the vote. “But only as a way for the independence movement to test its own relative strength. They need to count their supporters, and this will allow them to do that.”

If the goals of the independence movement for Sunday’s vote have diminished, so too has the ferocity of the Spanish government’s response. Although there were media reports in October that it had sent squads of anti-riot police to the region, and Mas himself urged people this week not “to be afraid,” the government currently seems disposed to look the other way during the polling. As if to prove the point, deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría used a press conference after today’s weekly cabinet meeting to suggest that Mas restrain from requiring others to comply with his decision. “If he considers himself…above the law, he shouldn’t make a single civil servant adopt attitudes that he or she is the least bit uncomfortable with.

“It’s Kafkaesque,” says Torreblanca. “The independentists are going ahead with a vote that doesn’t have the meaning they want it to, and the Spanish government is turning a blind eye to something it says is illegal. It’s a sufficiently bad option for everyone, but it’s not the very worst option for anyone. So better not to call things by their real names.”

At the ANC, the name they’re giving Sunday’s vote is “a step.” The organization, which has spearheaded the push toward independence, agreed to support Mas’ alternative ‘process’ only if he called government elections in the next three months—elections which would function effectively as a plebiscite on independence. They’re still waiting for an answer. But in the meantime, explains ANC volunteer consultant Ana Rosenfeld of the polling, “It’s a step. It’s not the definitive step we wanted—we need to take more. But we have to do this for dignity’s sake. We can’t allow the Spanish government to impede our right to vote.”

 

TIME Spain

Surreal Scene of Migrants Atop Spanish Border Fence

A golfer hits a tee shot as African migrants sit atop a border fence during an attempt to cross into Spanish territories between Morocco and Spain's north African enclave of Melilla
A golfer swings as African migrants sit atop a fence during an attempt to cross from Morocco into the Spanish enclave of Melilla on Oct. 22, 2014. José Palazón—Reuters

The fence is often the scene of would-be border-jumpers aiming to reach Europe

Among the top issues this year for European countries along the Mediterranean has been how to handle the flow of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who seek a better life within their borders. Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants journeyed across perilous routes throughout the year, and in thousands of cases met death before land. Others have attempted to cross into one of the two Spanish enclaves, Melilla and Ceuta, that border Morocco.

The latter scene played out again on Oct. 22, and was captured in a picture at the border fence surrounding Melilla that later went viral online. Eleven men are seen sitting atop the fence as a police officer approaches — and as two women play golf below. One is in mid-swing while the other is turned toward the group.

José Palazón, an activist with a migrant-rights group, spotted the men above the golf course and thought it was “a good moment to take a photo that was a bit more symbolic,” he told El Pais. “The photo reflects the situation really well — the differences that exist here and all the ugliness that is happening here.”

Spain’s interior ministry said about 200 people tried to scale the fence that day, according to the Associated Press. About 20 successfully crossed, while another 70 stayed on top of the fence for hours.

TIME ebola

Flight Grounded in Madrid After Passenger Displays Symptoms of Ebola

Air France jet isolated at Madrid airport over suspected Ebola case
Medical staff wearing protection suits stand next to the Air France Airbus A321, which landed at Barajas International Airport in Madrid, Spain, on Oct. 16 2014 Paco Campos—EPA

A passenger showing fever and shaking during the flight was rushed to a local hospital after landing

An Air France flight from Paris was grounded after arriving at Madrid airport on Thursday after one of its passengers showed Ebola-like symptoms.

The passenger was promptly rushed to a local hospital after shaking and showing signs of fever throughout the flight, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Crew members and the 162 passengers were allowed to disembark on Thursday afternoon, and those who were in direct contact or sat nearby the hospitalized passenger are being closely monitored.

Air France canceled the return flight to Paris and said the aircraft would be thoroughly disinfected before resuming operations.

The London Evening Standard reported that the passenger is believed to have visited Lagos in Nigeria.

[WSJ]

TIME ebola

360,000 Sign Petition to Spare Ebola Patient’s Dog

Spanish Nurse Tests Positive For Ebola
'Excalibur' barks from the balcony of the private residence for the Spanish nurse who has tested positive for the Ebola virus on October 8, 2014 in Alcorcon, Spain. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

"Excalibur" is at the mercy of Spanish officials, who want to euthanize the dog after one of its owners contracted the disease

Animal lovers have protested, tweeted and petitioned by the tens of thousands to stop Spanish officials from euthanizing an Ebola patient’s dog.

The outcry began shortly after the patient’s husband, Javier Limon, posted a YouTube plea to animal lovers to help spare the life of “Excalibur”. NBC News reports that Limon has been placed in isolation in a Madrid hospital ever since his wife, nurse-aide Teresa Romero Ramos, became the first person to contract the virus outside of west Africa while caring for a Spanish priest who had returned from the region.

Limon said in the recorded appeal, “I’m in the hospital and I’m sending a call to all the population for them to help me save my dog, Excalibur, who they just want to kill just like that without following any proper procedures.”

There have been no documented cases of dogs spreading Ebola to humans, or vice-versa, though other animals may become carriers.

Animal lovers protested outside the couple’s apartment in a southern suburb of Madrid on Wednesday, where Excalibur had been holed up alone with a bathtub full of drinking water and 33 pounds of dog food, Limon told Spanish daily El Mundo. “Murderer,” several shouted at health workers who had arrived to disinfect the apartment.

Protesters also launched a petition to spare Excalibur which has gathered more than 360,000 signatures to date and flooded Twitter with pictures of their own pet dogs signs reading, “#SalvemosaExcalibur.”

The campaign has intensified amid conflicting reports of the dog’s fate in local media, best summed up by the El Mundo headline “¿Dónde está Excalibur?” The most recent update posted by Limon on Facebook says the dog has not yet been taken away by authorities.

 

TIME ebola

Spanish Ebola Nurse Reported Symptoms 3 Times Before Isolation

A Spanish nurse infected with Ebola is moved to Carlos III Hospital from Alcorcon Hospital on Oct. 7, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.
A Spanish nurse infected with Ebola is moved to Carlos III Hospital from Alcorcon Hospital on Oct. 7, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno—Getty Images

It emerged Wednesday that Teresa Romero Ramos, a nurse who caught Ebola after helping treat a patient, made multiple attempts to report her fever

A Spanish nurse who contracted Ebola in Madrid this week told health authorities at least three times she had a fever before she was finally placed in quarantine, it emerged Wednesday, despite having helped treat a patient who later died of the virus.

The nurse, named by the media as Teresa Romero Ramos, is the first person to have caught the Ebola virus outside of Africa in the current outbreak.

Romero Ramos first called a specialized service dedicated to occupational risk at Carlos III hospital in Madrid on Sept. 30 and complained of a slight fever and fatigue, a government official said, but was advised to visit her local clinic. She called again a few days later,the Guardian reports, but nothing was done.

When Romero Ramos called for a third time on Monday, she was finally transported to a hospital by paramedics who did not wear protective gear. Despite warning staff that she had contracted Ebola, she remained in a bed in the emergency room separated from other patients only by curtains.

“It would have been better if she had entered the hospital on the 30th,” Fernando Simón, emergencies coordinator for the Health Ministry, acknowledged to the press this week.

Some have criticized Spanish authorities for not providing sufficient training in Ebola protocols, and nurses complained that there had been no simulations of Ebola treatment by the time two infected missionaries arrived from west Africa.

The Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said Wednesday morning that the Spanish healthcare system was “one of the best in the world,” and asked that “health professionals, who have a proven reputation, be left to do their work.”

[The Guardian]

TIME ebola

Madrid to Kill Dog of Spanish Nurse Infected With Ebola

NBC News

Madrid’s regional government said it would kill the pet dog of a Spanish nursing assistant who became infected with Ebola — overcoming the family’s objections on Tuesday with a court order.

The nursing assistant was the first person infected outside of West Africa, after caring for a Spanish priest who died of Ebola last month. Authorities have three people under quarantine and said that available scientific knowledge indicates there’s a risk the dog could transmit the deadly virus to humans.

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

TIME ebola

Spain’s Ebola Case Exposes Gap in Disease Defenses

A Spanish nurse infected with Ebola is moved to Carlos III Hospital from Alcorcon Hospital on Oct. 7, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.
A Spanish nurse infected with Ebola is moved to Carlos III Hospital from Alcorcon Hospital on Oct. 7, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno—Getty Images

Despite rigorous checks and protocols, a nursing assistant in Madrid still contracted the disease from a sick patient

When two Spanish missionaries working in Sierra Leone contracted Ebola and were evacuated to Madrid’s Carlos III hospital, city officials and the country’s health minister assured a nervous public that the hospital’s strict protocols would prevent transmission of the virus to health workers and other patients.

But something went wrong. A 40-year-old nursing assistant has become the first person to contract the disease outside of Africa after helping care for one of the missionaries, Manuel García Viejo, before his death on Sept. 25. The nurse, who has not been named by the hospital, was infected despite being fully outfitted with two layers of protective gear on the two occasions she helped treat him. She also reported to the hospital that she was suffering from a fever a full week before she was admitted to a highly secure isolation ward early Tuesday morning. At this point no one knows exactly where a mistake was made. But the fact that the hospital’s rigorous checks couldn’t prevent the nursing assistant from becoming sick raises the question: is Europe less prepared for Ebola than it thinks?

“It came as a true surprise, and a stunning one,” says Máximo González Jurado, president of the General Nursing Council (CGE), which represents Spain’s nurses. “We thought we were well prepared, and that the risk—even if it can’t be zero—was minimal. After all, we have very good, very modern health care. Spain has the seventh best health care system in the world.”

At Hospital Carlos III, the 30 health workers who had contact with the infected missionaries donned double layers of head-to-toe protective gear each time they entered the isolation room where the patients were housed. They were also required to take their own temperatures twice daily during the 21-day incubation period for the disease. It was through that protocol that the infected nurse first reported on Sept. 30th that she had a temperature of 38.6 C (101.5 F).

For reasons that are still unclear—possibly because the fever was relatively low, but perhaps because in its early stages, Ebola’s viral count can be too low for detection—the disease was ruled out. Like Thomas Eric Duncan, the visiting Liberian who presented himself at a Dallas hospital on Sept. 25, the nurse was sent home. On vacation from work, she stayed there until an ordinary ambulance brought her to her neighborhood hospital on Oct. 6 with a fever that was by then raging.

“It would have been better if she had entered the hospital on the 30th,” Fernando Simón, emergencies coordinator for the Health Ministry, admitted to the press. But that possible mistake is not the only one under scrutiny. In August, a male nurse at Hospital La Paz, which is affiliated with Carlos III, wrote an anonymous post for the blog of the Madrid Association of Independent Nursing, in which he complained that the staff was not sufficiently trained in Ebola protocols, and that it had not performed any simulations of Ebola treatment by the time the two missionaries arrived.

It’s a complaint repeated by González, the nursing council’s president. “In the case of avian influenza A, the government formed a crisis cabinet, there was exhaustive information available to the public and complete training for health professionals,” he said. “That was not the case with Ebola. According to the information we have, the staff were not receiving the kind of in-depth training they should have.” Those who cared for the two missionaries were not isolated, a protocol that has since changed with the nurse’s case.

“We don’t do many simulations in Spain, and we need to, we need to professionalize this more,” says Dr. Antoni Trilla, epidemiologist at the Hospital Clinic of the University of Barcelona. “It’s only through achieving real verisimilitude that you discover the flaws in your protocols.” He should know: his hospital has had two Ebola scares, both of which turned out to be negative. But the cases enabled the hospital to improve, for example, its procedure for one of the most dangerous moments of care: removing protective gear after contact with the infected.

But even improved training has its limits, especially for a disease so highly infectious as Ebola. “What we know from the situation of healthcare workers in west Africa is that it is sometimes actually people who appear to have taken all the precautions that fall ill,” says David Moore, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.“They may have dropped their guard when removing protective gear or in disposing of a dead body. In west Africa, they learnt that lesson the painful way.”

Caregivers in Europe are likely to learn that lesson too. “It’s unavoidable that there will be other cases like this,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, European regional director for the World Health Organization. “But Europe—and especially the European Union—is well prepared. I would even say it’s the best prepared region.”

It may need to be. So long as air travel continues to and from the three countries in west Africa worst affected by the disease, the risk of further outbreaks remains high. With nearly 30% of the air passengers leaving Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone flying to Europe, the risk of more cases appearing in Europe is real—and growing. A study published in the scientific journal PLoS on Oct. 6 put the risk of Ebola being imported to France by October 24 at 75% and to the UK at 50%. The results were based on levels of air traffic.

It’s healthcare workers like the Spanish nursing assistant who will likely be worst affected. The unnamed woman was in a stable condition as of Tuesday evening, and is receiving immunotherapy in the form of a serum made from the blood of an Ebola patient who recovered. Three people, including the nurse’s husband, have now been placed in quarantine, with medical staff who treated her under observation, and contact tracing of friends and family. But even if she remains an isolated case, others are sure to follow. “We’re never going to see this become an epidemic among the general public in Europe,” says Dr. Trilla. “But there is definitely a risk for medical personnel. They’re the ones I worry about.”

— With reporting by Naina Bajekal / London

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