The Ashamed American: An Open Letter to White Supremacists

This post is going to be received negatively by a large number of people, but frankly I do not care.

My entire life, I have not been proud to be an American, at least not as a member of this country as it was founded. Before I’m bombarded with screams of “THEN LEAVE!” or “YOU DON’T KNOW HOW GOOD WE HAVE IT HERE!” why don’t you shut up and listen for once.

Growing up in the Bay Area is a blessing. But even with the diversity and culture I was lucky to grow up around, such diversity also meant I was exposed to racism at a very young age.

I was five years old when my mom and dad had to sit me down and explain to me why a first grade boy got in so much trouble for calling my African American best friend a word I thought was “knicker” on the playground.

I was eight the first time I took BART with my father to see a show in the city, and heard a man scream at another man on the train, assaulting him with racist slurs, and my father told me to keep my head down for fear of my safety should either of us get involved.

In fact, almost every year of my life, there has been one instance of horrible racism or oppression that I have witnessed that has made me ashamed of my country, and I’m white.

So while I may not understand how the American minority feels, I can only imagine that as I attempt to palate the overwhelming disdain I have for the state of this country, how people who ACTUALLY experience, and are victims of racism and oppression, must feel.

So this goes out to the white supremacists, who seem to believe that an absence of melanin makes them superior:

You do NOT get to rival Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter, and then claim your Nazi ideals are protected under free speech.

You do NOT get to teach your children ideals of hate and oppression, and then claim African Americans and Muslims are our biggest threat.

You do NOT get to kick the minorities of America while they’re down, and then be appalled and indignant when they finally fight back.

You do NOT get to say “NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE!!!!” but then loop all blacks and Muslims into one category of “thug” or “terrorist.”

You do NOT get to call yourself an American if you don’t believe liberty and the pursuit of happiness apply to ALL citizens, not just those with blue eyes and white skin.

When I look around my country today, I see ignorant people, drowning in blind hate, pledging allegiance to hypocrisy. It’s pitiful to live in a country still so outraged by the terrorist attacks on 9/11 over 15 years ago, but still so blind to the fact that the real terrorists are them.

You will not create a better America by creating a civil war, and you cannot propagate eugenics by spewing hate. We are built on the back of diversity, immigration, and differences. And if you can’t handle that, maybe YOU should leave and go back to where YOU came from.

Though I hear Germany’s policy on racism is a bit stricter than ours.

-R

JOUR 401: Blog Post 6

While Spain is thought of as a first world country similar to the U.S. (save for a little more flair and a lot more paella), it would seem the skeletons in the country’s closet continue to haunt free speech amongst the press and the general public.

Section 20 of Spain’s Constitution, enacted in 1978, states that Spaniards have “the right to freely express and disseminate thoughts, ideas and opinions trough words, in writing or by any other means of communication…the right to freely communicate or receive accurate information by any means of dissemination whatsoever.”

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Separatist and terrorist group ETA. TheBlueReview.org

Section 20 also protects freedom of press, though the main threat facing Spanish journalists seems to be exercising this freedom when it comes to coverage the controversial Basque separatist and terrorist group, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA). In 2000, the group attacked several journalists with gunfire over what they deemed “false information and accusation.” Regarding this particular organization, is appears common for journalists in Spain to receive threats for what they print, and this incident was impactful for both media and journalists in Spain.

According to a blog studying free speech and press globally, Reporters Without Borders classified Spain to be ranked 36th in the International Freedom Press Index in 2013. In 2002, Spain reached its peak ranking at 29th. Spain reached its lowest ranking on the index in 2009, 44th, prior to the re-election of the PP in 2011.

This decline in rank was linked to another free speech impediment: a series of laws that gave former Spain minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, automatic rights to influence and censor journalist publications. According to The ICIJ, the laws arose from an effort to mitigate conflict between Spain’s fishing industry and investigative journalists. They appear to no longer be in place.

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Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Alchetron.com

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, another challenge facing freedom of the press is the highly politicized state of the press. It states that all media platforms at all levels (national, regional, local), are seemingly “aligned with a political party, and this is frequently reflected in their news content, as well as on their editorial pages.” Similar to the United States, while free speech exists, the level of freedom has led to the ability to print and report with excessive bias, creating news that leans more towards opinion than fact.

These freedoms, however, seem to hit an invisible wall when it comes to social media. According to The Independent, over seventy people have received prison sentences due to social media posts that “glorified terrorism.” Many seem to be in relation to the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco, the man who was supposed to succeed dictator Francisco Franco. The assassination happened at the hands ETA in 1973, but apparently remains a sensitive subject to Spanish officials.

One example comes in the form of a 21-year-old student from Murcia in south-east Spain, Cassandra Vera. Vera was disqualified from public functions for seven years and sentenced to a year in prison in 2015 after publishing 13 tweets between 2013 and 2016 that commented on and joked about the assassination of Blanco.

Judges in Spain’s top criminal court (top criminal court for TWEETING), stated during the ruling that Vera’s tweets “constitute contempt, dishonor, disrepute, mockery and affront to the people who have suffered the blow of terrorism”.

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Luis Carrero Blanco, planned successor for dictator Francisco Franco. Fundación Nacional de Francisco Franco.

Many Spaniards are aligning this resurrected trend of repression with the election of the conservative political party, Partido Popular, in 2011. The PP is apparently reacting to anti-austerity protests led by the Indignados earlier in 2015, and has been accused of creating political police force in an effort to “protect citizen security.”

In 2013, the government started preparing a controversial law to support these actions. The law has since come to be known as the “gag law”,  and the enacted legislation gives Spanish police “the right to fine citizens for what they consider to be an interference to their job or contempt of authority.”

The “gag-law,” officially named the 2014 Intellectual Property Act, does more than just allow arrests for sketchy tweets. According to FreedomHouse.org, the law also gave authorities power to block websites that contained or linked to copyrighted content used without permission. It also gave birth to a system of mandatory charges applied to news aggregators to compensate producers called the “Google Tax.” Google, however, announced the shutdown of its news service in Spain prior to the law’s enactment on January 1, 2015, deeming the new system unsustainable.

As far as propaganda in Spain, it seems no blatant “in your face” campaigns have existed since the days of Franco. However, as stated above and in my previous articles, Spain’s media is heavily influenced by both political parties and large corporations, like banks.

The control, however, does not come in the obvious forms of barring certain organizations from press conferences; it is subtle, coming in the form of defamation and libel suits. As mentioned above, the control comes in the guise of legislation that allows the monitoring, censorship, and criminal attribution of certain opinions and/or media the government deems unfit.

In June 2016, an amendment to Spain’s Law on Criminal Procedure was passed that restricts photography of defendants during arrests or transfers, stating that the measure is intended to “avoid prejudicial coverage,” though many people noted how the amendment seemed to pop up after the widely covered and publicized arrest of International Monetary Fund executive and former economy minister, Rodrigo Rato, who was arrested for money laundering and tax evasion.

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Rodrigo Rato. LosGenoveses.net

Furthermore, a public safety law that took effect in July 2016 allows fining of up to €30,000 ($35,000) for offenses such as unauthorized use of photos containing public officials or members of security forces when publication could “endanger individuals, their families, protected facilities, or a security operation.” Insulting a member of security forces could earn you up to $700 of fines.

Over the last 50 years, Spain has been riding an inconsistent whirlwind of speech and press freedom. Freedom dipped to an all time low during Franco’s reign, recovering slightly after the birth of the Constitution of 1978. But now, between corporate buy-outs, terrorist attacks, and sketchy legislation, Spain may be on its way back to the days of censorship and held-tongues they saw during Franco.

JOUR 401: Blog Post 5

With the chaos ensuing in the world today, mixed with a declining profit for work in the journalism field, journalists seem to be taking bigger and bigger risks to find the story that could be their big break. Journalists travel to war-ridden countries, walking straight in the line of fire just for the chance to make the front page. Amongst the most dangerous places to report from are Iraq, Syria, and even France. Spain, however, is not.

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Infographic from Al Jazeera online.

Despite a rocky history, finding data on journalist attacks and killings in Spain is surprisingly difficult. In fact, it seems the only cases of Spanish journalists being attacked or killed have happened in other countries.

One of the most famous Spanish media killings happened in 2003, and was ruled to be the work of the hands of three of America’s finest: U.S. soldiers.

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Jose Couso, Archive Photo, TypicallySpanish.com

Jose Couso was a Spanish cameraman helping report from Baghdad, Iraq in 2003. American soldiers had ordered an attack on the Iraqi capital which included the Palestine Hotel where many reporting journalists were staying. The soldiers were originally indicted by a judge in 2007, but the case re-opened in 2008 when Couso’s family appealed to the Supreme Court of Spain. The case finally closed in mid-2011, with the judge ruling that the civilian deaths were unintentional, and that the location of the incident severely limited any Spanish government jurisdiction. Julio Anguita Parrado, a journalist with Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, was also killed in 2003 when an Iraqi missile hit a U.S. military base south of Baghdad.

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Ricardo Ortega, Reporteros Sin Fronteras

In 2004, a Spanish journalist was amongst five people killed in a gunfire demonstration in Haiti. Ricardo Ortega, a New York based Spanish correspondent for the network Antena 3 in Madrid, was shot and killed when alleged supporters of exiled Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide opened fire on thousands of demonstrators.

More recently, Spanish journalists reporting on the Syrian war were taken hostage, but were eventually granted release. The journalists were reporting on the Syrian war in 2015, and were kidnapped by al-Qaeda’s Syrian counterpart, al-Nusra. The circumstances for the release of Antonio Pampliega, Jose Manuel Lopez and Angel Sastre in 2016 remains unknown, though their return was a joyous occasion for Spaniards, and even gained recognition from president Mariano Rajoy.

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President Rajoy welcomes home 3-Spanish reporters kidnapped in 2015. BBC.com

Given these cases, it would seem the greatest threat to Spanish journalists is leaving Spain to report. Much like American journalists, Spaniards seem to encounter the most dangerous area of their work when they go abroad and into war-plagued countries to report.

As far as safety training for Spanish journalists, there seems to be few resources aside from those online that offer “Spanish Translations,” to their online safety courses such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and the Dart Center. However, given Spain’s lack of ethical guidelines when it comes to media, their lack of safety guidelines does not come as much of a surprised either.

Overall, it would seem being a Spanish journalist is a safe job, until you leave the country.

 

JOUR 401: Blog Post 4

Spanish journalism seems to be in a place of transition. After the fall of Franco, Spanish press seems to flounder between ownership and being corporately owned. Press Reference notes Spanish journalism as characteristically having, “low circulation and equally low per capita readership, at least in comparison to presses in other modern European countries. During the twentieth century the press became decentralized, and newspapers were established that focus more on the concerns of Spain’s regions and autonomous communities often publishing in regional languages such as Catalán, Basque and Galician.”

Furthermore, most Spanish citizens choose to receive their news from a televised source, not a printed one. This means that new-wave facets of journalism that are becoming popular in the United States, such as “do good” and peace reporting, are almost irrelevant in Spain.

Spanish journalism tends to lean more towards traditional journalism as they attempt to regain their footing after economic and political upheaval. Headlines from popular Spanish news source El Mundo give a taste of “safe” stories like, “Mariano Rajoy congratulates Emmanuel Macron on his victory in the French presidential” and “6 year-old girl dies after inflatable castle bursts.” After such societal turmoil, it seems Spain is keeping its press simple, local, and back to basics.

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Inflatable bounce castle that killed 6 year old girl. Robin Townsend/EFE. 

As I said in my previous article, the same ethical standards are not applied to Spanish journalism as they are (or at least used to be) in the United States. The journalists in Spain are a mix of those who could be bought out, and those who have either been laid-off and started anew or were simply rookies who wanted to hit the ground running and do things their own way. Currently, old Spanish media doesn’t have the best reputation, but the new wave is trying to change that.

Of course, it is possible to go to school for writing and journalism, but its not as popular an area of study as it is here in the United States. The absence of an Associated Press or what seems to be any press-related moral compass, really, gives Spanish journalists what I can only equate to the same reputation as an American lawyer: shady and easily sold out. Perhaps the new wave will mend this reputation, but as of right now its still pretty shaky.

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Javier Marías. Wikipedia.

Some modern Spanish journalists who seem to have escaped the blanket of a bad-rep include: Javier Marías, Pedro J. Ramírez, Federico Jiménez Losantos and Juan Manuel de Prada. These journalists have not only shown their prowess in news and columns, but have also gained respect and prestige working in other literary areas including novels and essays. However, they are most famous for their work in journalism and press.

JOUR 401: Blog 3

Spain has seen an onslaught of economic and political turmoil over the last decade, and the aura of Spanish media seems to be appropriately reflective. Themes in Spanish media seem to revolve around factors similar to those of United States media: what’s happening in politics, gossip from the royal family, more politics, and, from what I saw during my stay there, what we’re up to over here in good ol’ America (ask me about the Trump election. In one sitting, I learned several Spanish expletives from my lovely host mother).

Like many other European media outlets, Spain has mediums that blatantly support bias towards a particular political party or opinion. Media in Europe is not held to the same objective standards as it is in the United States, though after the election of Donald Trump, objectivity in the United States seems to have more than wavered. For example, Catalonia’s media supports the region’s nationalism and struggle for independence in most of its media. A study by the Global Media Journal states that Catalonians try to disguise their bias in “at least partially mystifying Catalan nationalism thought the use of expressions such as “organic community,” “core values,” and “consensus” (Miley, 2007, p. 3).” The study goes on to say that many journalists and other creators of media “ignore the social conditions under which public opinion is formed” and neglect the consideration of relevant factors, not limited to: “the dominant climate of opinion, the expectations of the Catalan people, the level of political participation of the citizenship, and the social relations of power.”

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Headlines from ElMundo.com regarding President Trump.

Bias can also be seen in other major publications regarding Spain’s main two political parties, PP and PSOE (Partido Popular and Partido Socialista Obrero Español). However, as far as this bias weaving its way into United States culture, it seems Spain isn’t the only Spanish-speaking country receiving a scolding. In fact, an article by the Daily Signal states that most Hispanic news outlets that stream in the United States are immensely biased, not only of their own politics, but of ours as well. Spanish news station Univision reaches 97% of Hispanic households in the United States, accounting for almost 17% of our entire population. Spanish citizens in the United States almost always tend to be liberal, and opinions voiced on Univision are influential deciding factors.

As far as coverage in Spain, what you get depends on who you’re listening to. After the economic crisis, many citizens sought information that didn’t come from or relate to a source of power. People wanted more organic, raw, grassroots coverage. However, traditional media outlets stuck to their safety net of institution, which created two very diverse and almost separate territories as far as coverage. On one side, you had the new-wave journalists who weren’t afraid to print the stories that tick some people off. On the other hand, you had “prepaid” coverage; a tragedy of media outlets bought out by banks, and quiet whispers from their CEOs behind closed doors dictating which stories could run, and even what could be on the front page. For example, this article by The Guardian tells of an incident by the country’s leading newspaper El País, founded fresh off of Franco’s dictatorship in the late 1970s. Struggling with debt, the owner of the paper, Prisa, drafted a deal to gain relief from creditors. The catch? Sixteen percent of shares handed over to the company’s bankers. A former journalist for the paper, Pere Rusiñol, said the result made it impossible to extricate the paper’s coverage from its financial situation, stating:

“You can’t have press freedom in a company that’s bankrupt and belongs to the bank.” 

A media landscape analysis of Spain reveals that there currently exist no professional councils with the authority to punish unethical practices, bad practices, or abuses made by journalists in Spain. The conventional courts of justice are expected solve these cases. So as far as what’s being missed, it might as well be a free-for-all. With no Spanish Associated Press or ethics board to answer to, bias, personal opinion, and even “alternative facts” frequently make their way into Spanish media, while important information could fall by the wayside completely.

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Jose Luis Sainz, CEO (left), and Juan Luis Cebrian, president of PRISA (right) by: GORKA LEJARCEGI

However, not all hope is lost. While the economic crisis in Spain saw many journalists laid off, this wave of misfortune brought forth an even bigger wave of almost guerrilla journalists. According to the same article from The Guardian, these new journalism start-ups are “staffed by a mix of veteran journalists laid off during the economic crisis and young journalists trying to gain a foothold in an industry where few are hiring, the startups tout themselves as willing to ask the questions that traditional Spanish media will not.”

As far as United States coverage of Spain versus Spanish coverage of the United States, a study done by Antonio V. Menéndez Alarcón states: “as expected, there were many more stories in Spanish newspapers about the United States than in US newspapers about Spain (561 versus 238)”.

JOUR 401: Blog Post 2

Spain is pretty advanced when it comes to media, still having many popular papers, radio stations, and television stations that fight to be the number one informant of the Spanish people. According to the European Journalism Centre, in May 2009 the most popular papers in circulation were Marca, a sports publication with 2.7 million readers daily, followed closely by 20 Minutos with 2.5 million readers daily. Bigger cities like Madrid saw popularity come from more well-known publications such as El País, ABC, and El Mundo. However, after Spain’s economic crisis in 2008, print publications saw advertising revenue drop between 20-34%, affecting many smaller papers in circulation.

As for radio, EJC says that at the end of 2005, while there were roughly 4,877 radio stations live in Spain, only 2,655 were legally transmitting. The other 1,803 were transmitting without a license. Most of the channels are owned by Radio Nacional de España (RNE), and the most popular stations such as Cadena SER in 2009 can see upwards of 4.7 million listeners daily.

In television, the media profile for Spain on BBC notes that Spain has seen “significant expansion” ever since the country switched over to digital terrestrial television (DTT). The most popular programs seem to be TV dramas or “telenovelas,” and RadioTelevision Española (RTVE) is the public broadcaster from the country.

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Important media outlets and publications taken from Spain Media Profile at BBC.com

When it comes to access, it seems to be a grey area.

The implementation of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 saw the birth of Article 20, which gave citizens the right to express their views openly and also protected the right to publish in languages other than Spanish.

The Columbia Journalism Review states Spain’s problem is rooted not so much in a lack of free press, but in a lack of access to information. “Luxembourg, Cyprus, Malta, and Spain are the only four of the twenty-seven EU countries still without a law establishing the public’s right-to-know,” the article states. Summer 2011 saw an attempt to change, with the socialist party in power at the time releasing a draft of legislation that would essentially by Spain’s FOIA. However, since the enactment, it seems the legislation has done little to pull back the curtains to the inner workings of Spain that journalists seek to validate and compose their stories.

In 2012, the media freedom group “Reporters Without Borders” accused the government of attempting to exercise too much control over Spain’s public broadcaster, RTVE. Apparently, several journalists had been removed following their reputation of criticizing the Popular Party, one of Spain’s political parties. Furthermore, Reporters Without Borders goes on to note the Basque separatist group ETA on its list of predators to the free press after several Spanish journalists are still working under police protection due to threats from this group.

By December 2012, 17.6 million Spanish citizens were on Facebook of the 31.6 million that were even using the Internet, and comes in 27th place for “Most Citizens Using Cellphones” with a whopping 47.3 million citizens taking full advantage of the ever growing mobile trend.

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Spanish headlines during the Ebola crisis.

Press Reference claims that most newspapers and a majority of the electronic media are owned by the Spanish major media groups: PRISA, Vocento, UNEDISA, and Grupo Godó. As for what ownership means for Spanish media, this quote comes directly from PRISA’s mission statement on their website: “defense of freedom, peace, equality and the protection of the environment.”

Meanwhile the Godó Group, a family run business since their creation of La Vanguardia, preaches the following in their message from the Chairman of the Board: “we have been capable of adapting the media to the new era and needs, by transforming the infrastructure into a more agile and flexible one, and yet, not forgetting to carry on investing in quality content.” So it would seem the homestyle, family ownership of media outlets in Spain do more to help access than to hurt it by keeping things old-fashioned and quality based, as opposed to the rat race for speed we see in the United States.

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The Godó Group building, from their website.

As for prominent journalists, I shine my spotlight on Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Born in Cartagena in the Murcia region of Spain in 1951, this journalist/novelist was a war correspondent for RTVE from 1973 to 1994. His print career began with the (defunct) Pueblo, and then took to the screen for state-owned Televisión Española. His first novel, El húsar, was released in 1986, but he received more recognition for his series Alatriste. Since June 2003, he has held a position in the Royal Spanish Academy.

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Arturo P.R., from Wikipedia.

El Mundo, one of the most popular print publications in Spain, started in 1989 as El Mundo de Siglo Veinte, or The 20th Century World. El Mundo retained one of its best-known publishers, Pedro J. Ramirez, from its release in October 1989, all the way until 2014. It is controlled by Italian publishing group, RCS MediaGroup, though since a merger in 2007 it has been owned by Unidad Editorial. El Mundo is said to fall to the center-right of the political spectrum, with liberal and independent undertones. They’ve been the source behind many breaking stories such as the embezzlement scandal by El Guardia Civil and tax fraud by the Central Bank of Spain.

JOUR 401: Blog Post 1

Spain is a historical wonderland where a past of conquistadors and world domination collide with the modern culture of comida and a 4am bedtime. As beautiful as it is diverse, there is more to this Western European country than paella and flamenco.

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Spain’s more recent history starts in 711 AD, when Muslims from North Africa gained control of the country, leaving an influence on art an architecture still present today known as mudejar. In 1469, the country was united by the marriage of Ferdinand II and Isabella. Their marriage unified the country by bringing the two, formerly separate, Christian regions together, and Spain grew larger. In 1492, Christopher Colombus leaves Spain and sets out for the New World, beginning Spain’s age of exploration. Within the next ten years, Catholicism is named the country’s official religion, and most Jews or Muslims are forced to convert in a movement known as the Spanish Inquisition. Fast forward to 1811 where, years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada Invincible, Spain begins to lose control of its other colonies after Venezuela declares independence. Regions such as Cuba and the Phillipines break away from Spain over the next several decades. Spain’s most modern historical blunder comes in during 1939 with the election of dictator Francisco Franco. Franco’s reign lasts until his death in 1975, at which time Juan Carlos de Borbon takes over as king and Spain becomes the constitutional monarchy we know it as today.

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Today, in 2017, Spain claims a population of just under 46.1 million with a median age of 44 years old. Their urban population makes up 82.4% of their total population, and they are currently split pretty evenly with the female population just beating the males with a 50.6% to 49.4% split. The official language of Spain is Spanish (whoa, go figure), and they practice freedom of religion, though most of the population is Catholic. While Spain is made up mostly of people from its native ethnicity, it also sees a decently sized Latin-American population. Unemployment has become a problem in Spain, with an unemployment rate of about 19%. Spanish citizens can be heard complaining about “Ni-ni’s” which are those who fall under the category “ni estudian, ni trabajan” which are the Spanish young people who currently are not working or studying, and are frequently blamed for Spain’s current “1 in 5 unemployed” crisis. However, Spain has seen steady recovery from its highest rate of of unemployment over the last 10 years (27% in 2014).

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Spain is a parliamentary monarchy which, for all intents and purposes (and as stated by my professor when I studied abroad), means they have a king, but he’s basically a figurehead for the actual government who does things. The current king is Felipe VI, and the current president, commonly referred to as Prime Minister, is Mariano Rajoy Brey. He was re-elected recently after a period of unrest and citizen discontentment which saw Spain without a Prime Minister and missing most of its government for almost a year.

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Spain has a nominal GDP of 1.252 trillion, and ranks 14th nominally amongst competitors. It has a labor force of 23 million, and 70% of these occupations fall under the category “services,” with the next highest occupation coming in at 14.1% working in “industry.” Their main industries are: machinery, machine tools, metals and metal manufactures, and their main import and export partners are France and Germany. The main export is machinery, and the main import is fuel. According to the World Fact Book, 21.1% of Spain’s population lies below the poverty line.

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Spain’s most recent internal conflict comes from what is known as the Basque conflict. Basically, from 1959-2011, social groups who sough independence from Spain and  France started a series of movements centered around the organization ETA, which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, translation: “Basque Homeland and Liberty.” However, in 2016 the group declared a ceasefire, becoming completely disarmed in 2017. Spain does not currently face any massive international conflicts.