The photographs here were taken today, November 28, 2012, just outside the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.
As a long time European traveler I’m used to seeing protests in action in socialized countries. One thing Americans and Europeans have in common is the love of griping about their government through free speech. Last fall when I was in Munich, there were huge protests over, of all things, a local airport opening up another runway. Odd, but there were the masses chanting with sign posts in hand, arms raised high as they vocally announced their disagreement about the runway, the additional air pollution and the increase in noise over local communities. Oh brother. That shows the difference between economically sound Germany, and a financially weakened, Spain.
I’ve been in Madrid now for about one week and all week long, whether in Puerto del Sol, the heart of the Madrid, or near the Plaza Mayor, or like today, at the plaza Reina Sofia Museum groups of people have shown up in white smocks with placards in hand protesting in peace, “Health Care is a Right! We Must Fight!”
Now you’re talking! These varied, vast and vocal protesters aren’t complaining about a runway – it’s about a country that has been ingrained with the viewpoint that basic health care is a right which is about to be stripped away bit-by-bit.
The people protesting are all health care professionals. Many physicians many nurses, many others in the health care field. On the back of doctors’ smocks is written, “FOR SALE”. It seems the Spanish government has recently privatized six area hospitals, dumping these facilities from governmental financial assistance. There are all sorts of anecdotal horror stories currently about the elderly and sick who have to spend days in the emergency room ward because there are no beds available for sick people. Since these six hospitals have been cut off from government assistance there is nowhere else to go with these patients.
By the way, these are not rich doctors complaining about pay cuts. They are protesting the drastic cuts in patients’ benefits. They aren’t fighting for themselves, they’re fighting for a basic human right as they see it – health care coverage for all Spaniards.
Spain is in serious economic despair. Their response is to gear into extreme, draconian financial austerity measures. As has been reported: “The eurozone’s fourth-largest economy must lower the deficit to 6.3 percent in 2012, 4.5 percent in 2013, and 2.8 percent in 2014. Economists, however, say those targets will be difficult to meet amid poor prospects for the country’s economic recovery.”
The lessons for us? The U.S. pulled itself out of its Great Recession of 2008 by utilizing a number of economic measures, some of which were more successful than others, but certainly not by implementing austerity measures. The Keynesian model of greasing the giant economic wheel of government and the free market by spending through the Stimulus package was slow, painful and left us in debt. However, it is debt that can begin to be dealt with over time. We’re back on track, but still with a ways to go.
Spain seems to continue to dig a hole. By failing to spend, their GDP continues to sink and Spain has now doubled down on its Recession. Punishing their pensioners, their sick and the health care professionals is not the way to conquer this massive problem in a country that has imbued a right to health care as essential as free speech and breathing. Let’s hope this is one protest that stops Spain from going backward while the U.S. continues to make strides in the health care field. As we go forward, they seem to be going backward.
Written By Walt Blenner, a Palm Harbor attorney