Violent Protests in Spain

Liliana Martinez, Security Manager, Dubai


As of late February, thousands of youth, student group members and supporters of detained Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél have taken to the streets, demanding that the government institute reforms to protect free speech. Many large gatherings and protests have passed off peacefully. However, others have escalated unpredictably, affecting central areas of major cities throughout the country, particularly in the cities of Barcelona, Tarragona and Girona in the Catalonia autonomous community and in Valencia (Valencia autonomous community).


In some instances, protesters clashed with the police who were attempting to break up gatherings. Other protests degenerated into stone-throwing, lighting barricades on fire, vandalising vehicles and the looting of shops. At least eight protesters have been arrested, with their detentions sparking further unrest in recent days. 


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Although Hasél's detention sparked the initial demonstrations, other issues have driven the larger protest movement.


This recent wave of protests has seen a significant turnout from young people – high-school age and university students,air their grievances against perceived government indifference to the situation of their generation. Youth unemployment in Spain was almost 42% in September 2020. The situation has been exacerbated by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ‘COVID fatigue’ brought on by ever-changing rules and regulations. 


The protests are also linked to political developments within Catalonia. Regional elections were held in Catalonia on 14 February, with a 12 March deadline set for parties to assemble a governing regional parliamentary coalition. Hasél, who is from Catalonia, is an outspoken proponent of Catalonian autonomy and many of his supporters are awaiting a decision on the formation of a majority government.  A key outcome of the government formation will be the potential removal of the riot police squads that are often deployed unrest. Renewed tensions between the regional and central governments can also be expected over a number of issues once the government is formed – the ruling coalition is on shaky ground after some members of the leftist Unidas Podemos party expressed solidarity for the protesters. 


The unrest following Hasél’s detention is some of the longest-lasting and most disruptive since October 2019, when protests broke out after nine Catalan independence leaders were sentenced to long jail terms for their roles in organising the 2017 Catalonian independence referendum. During this recent unrest, the security situation is further complicated by COVID-19-related risks and restrictions. 


Nevertheless, International SOS continues to have security team members in Spain who have been able to provide updates to inform our 24/7 monitoring, publication of timely and relevant security alerts, and responses to client queries. This has enabled us to advise those in Spain, particularly in the cities where unrest has been most disruptive, on how and when to facilitate essential journeys in central areas and to assist local nationals in being able to carry out their daily affairs without disruption or exposure to incidental risks from unrest.


International SOS is continuing to monitor the situation as youth-driven economic grievances, political developments and any major development in Hasél’s detention are likely to result in further protests and associated disruption in the coming months. Clients can continue to stay updated on related developments by signing up for our alerts on Spain, monitoring the International SOS Assistance App, or by speaking to a member of our security team by calling our Assistance Centres


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