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Juan A. Soto

The rural world noose tightens on the Spanish Government

Photo: .tellerreport.com

On 20th March, Madrid was flooded with an unprecedented protest march where 400,000 people crowded the capital-city main streets to claim for solutions for the rural world. This was the largest demonstration ever seen for the primary sector, which made their voice heard by the Spanish Government and the entire country.

The organizer of this specific protest, the 20M Rural Platform, was a coalition of entities such as Asaja, COAG, UPA, the Royal Spanish Federation of Select Cattle Associations (RFEAGAS), the National Hunting Office (ONC), RFEC, the Union of Fighting Bull Breeders (UCTL) or the Rural Alliance. And these, and many others coming from every corner of Spain had two things in common. First, they claim that their situation is critical given the skyrocketing prices due to inflation and the rise of production costs, lower income, the inability to incorporate young people into farming or agriculture, the difficulties to make it as a self-employed due to asphyxiating regulation and taxation, etc. And second, they argue that there is much that the Government could be doing, and it is not doing so. Quite the contrary, it is adopting measures that worsens the situation for the rural world.

Protestors say, for instance, regarding increasing fuel prices that since 50% of it is taxation, the Government should lower taxes. However, the response has been more public spending thus far, with 20 cents per litre of gasoline. Something that comes from an ideologically charged policy design mechanism and objectively unwise for a country with a 120% debt-to-GDP ratio.

At the same time, the timid response of the Government pays little to no attention to the underlying factors that have put the primary sector in an existential threat. Namely, an urban vision far removed from the rural world, green environmental legislation, a disoriented animal welfare law, a mismanagement of water resources, an attack on hunting activities that threaten livestock, a contempt for extensive livestock farming favoring the uncontrolled expansion of the wolf or new speculative investments that cause more depopulation in rural areas.

What is particularly interesting is that, besides the intrinsic value and impact of these demands and demonstrations, they have also played an instrumental role at shedding light at the terrible situation of the Spanish economy. They have pulled down the sheets covering the elephant in the room and now it is there for all to see, gigantic and terrifying. This has unleashed a cascade effect with strong criticism from mainstream media outlets, opposition parties, business and consumers’ associations alike, etc.

This new general uprising has shredded the Government’s plan to play a tug-of-war with the rural demonstrators in which time was its ally. Pedro Sánchez was waiting for food rising prices and supermarket shortages to create a divide between the cities and the countryside, in which the former would demand the Government to put in check the latter. Quite the contrary, they have both turned their eyes —and criticism— to the coalition Government of socialists and communists that seem unsure of what the next steps should be. The Government expected that if the countryside died, the cities would not eat but the result was that, as the countryside died, cities also revolted.

Furthermore, when the massive demonstration of March 20 occurred the Government’s initial reaction was to paint all demonstrators as ‘far-right’. The same happened in the demonstrations that immediately followed Madrid’s in the following days. This gross accusation was also meant to picture these demonstrations as an initiative of Vox. Especially after the smaller —yet considerable— demonstrations that Solidaridad, a trade union often supported by Vox, organized in many Spanish cities the day before (March 19) paved the way and contributed to the creation of the right atmosphere for Madrid’s massive gathering.

This strategy had drastically changed, however, for if demonstrators are ‘far-right’, then Spain is indeed full of them. Or, in other words, if common sensical working people are far right people, then nobody is because the term means nothing.

The problems of the Spanish agriculture and the primary sector as a whole has been in a critical state for quite some time. This SOS cry for help was long in the making, as Spain has seen its primary sector drain because of unwise domestic policies and EU regulation that benefits non-member states such as Morocco, which does not abide by the same rules the Spanish countryside does, etc., and thus has a competitive advantage over Spanish farmers.

This situation, nevertheless, has been aggravated in recent times by rising fuel prices, drought and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has been now, then, when it has all exploded, drawing attention not only to the serious situation that the sector is going through but also the general state of the Spanish economy and those who run the Government.

In light of this new scenario, parties are also taking note and positioning themselves strategically. For the situation is so grave that this could precipitate the fall of the current Government and early general elections. However, some are more genuine than others, and the electorate also takes note of this. In the opposition, the center-right Partido Popular is now focused on its own survival, which was secured —for now— in an extraordinary National Congress that gave all powers to Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who replaces Pablo Casado at the leadership of the party. It is Vox, a party that has always supported the rural world, the one that is reading the situation the best, and acting accordingly. The missive from the entire opposition is, nonetheless, to tighten the noose around Pedro Sánchez’s Government. A noose brought from the unpopulated, poor, overlooked and despised rural Spain, which can now have the key to new times in Spanish politics. Time will tell.