Module 4

Spain – Information Pack

Why is Spain our selected destination for Module 4 in 2021?

Spain has a wide range of lessons around mobilising for social change and defending universal health coverage. While we may think of Spain as a colonial empire, which might not be ideal for Africans to consider as a site for learning about equity issues, Spanish activist movements today are vibrant, with recorded victories around mobilising for social change. We’ll learn about these victories, how activists have managed to organise and provoke change. We will do this through mutual sharing and exchanges of experience, harnessing lessons and thinking through the next steps of our SCIs.

The Spanish context provides a contrasting reality in terms of the political landscape,

lifestyle, social realities like violence and crime as we known in South Africa, presenting an opportunity for reimagining how society could be. This visit should open our imaginations up to new realities and offer us lessons for deepening our activism.

A pre-travel briefing will be held at OR Tambo International Airport, to gather Fellows and all members of the Tekano team involved in the Module, for a check-in and mapping of the journey ahead. This will allow us to reach a common understanding of the trip’s purpose, and to begin building a positive team mood for a reflective and educational ten days in our host country, Spain.

Purpose of our visit

Spain’s recent and older history affirms the necessity of a critical mass of diverse, vibrant, organised, active, fighting, effective and impactful social movements that ensure self-emancipatory activity by the most oppressed and exploited social strata, to win social justice and broader social change. These movements are at times usefully supported by formations and NGOs.

The November 2021 visit to the Barcelona region in Spain for Module 4 of the YLF, involved engagement with a selection of such movements and activists. The experience was designed to help Fellows to apply key concepts and themes from earlier modules, when undertaking a comparative critical analysis between South Africa and Spain as well as the broader international context.

Hosting the module in a different country is a huge privilege which must not be taken for granted, and must be optimised for the learning and leadership development journey. It must be used as a transformative moment that deepens our existing commitments and shifts into becoming internationalist agents for social change. Fellows are encouraged to regard the trip in a very serious light, especially coming from a country devastated by corruption and a failing state, such that it is proving almost impossible to undo the present and self-reproducing ever present legacy of the past.

PART 1: The history, political landscape and human rights struggles of Spain

At the heart of today’s Spain is a conflux of long-existing, ever-changing and dynamically interacting phenomena. There are powerful institutions, and diverse social forces often collaborating but also often in deep intra- and inter- contestations over identity, nationhood, the role and place of Spain in the world and socio-economic destiny.

On the positive side, Spain has a colourful, diverse and textured vitality:

  • A rich and diverse socio-cultural life owing its vitality to the long-standing interactions between European, Asian and African peoples and cultures
  • More than 700 years of settlement and rule of parts of Spain by black Moors from North Africa
  • The inspiration, faith and hope that many draw from the Catholic church and other institutions of the rich religious-cultural tapestry of Spain including progressive religious movements
  • The alluring flamenco dress, dance and art form, born from the various folklores and music traditions of southern Spain, influenced largely by the nomadic Romani communities
  • A dynamic cuisine shaped by love, vegetation, climate and history
  • The fight for democracy and progressive emancipatory values
  • Long-standing feminist organising which goes back to resistance against the Spanish Inquisition
  • Weekly displays of tiqui-taca as the ultimate expression of the magic and passions of the beautiful game
  • The inspiring social and political movements that have resisted the impacts of neo-liberal austerity and challenged entrenched political power, and much more.

On the negative side, Spain’s complexity has included:

  • The imperialist conquest and destruction of South America by Spain when it was the world’s most powerful and greedy colonial power
  • The deep-seated and omnipresent power of the Catholic Church often negatively affecting the lives of women, Jews, Moors and other vulnerable groups
  • The misogynistic Spanish Inquisition (lasting some 354 years from 1478 to 1834) which targeted those who were seen as going against a particular interpretation of Christianity
  • The enduring resilience of the royal family with its sway over society and its accumulation-based hold on power.
  • The inter-colonial wars Spain was involved in (in contestation with other colonial powers: notably Britain, the Dutch, France and the USA)
  • The Spanish Civil war of the late 1930s, and the Franco dictatorship that lasted from the end of the Second World War until the mid-1970s
  • The unresolved national question in Spain itself and elsewhere in Europe wherein big powers continue to dominate other nationalities (the Basques, the Catalonians, the Romanis and others in the case of Spain)
  • Austerity during the neo-liberal period over some 45 years from the 1970s to date and the subsequent and regular economic crises.

Timeline of Spanish History

Published 14 October 2019 – BBC

1492 – The Christian Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon conquer the Emirate of Granada, ending nearly 800 years of Muslim rule in the south and founding modern Spain as a united state.

Christopher Columbus arrives in the Americas, heralding the conquest of much of South and Central America. Jews and later Muslims are expelled from Spain during the Inquisition.

Spanish Empire

16th-17th centuries – Spanish Empire at its height, with Spain the predominant European power. The rise of Protestant states in northern Europe and the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean begin the country’s gradual decline.

18th century – The War of the Spanish Succession loses Spain its European posActivitys outside the Iberian Peninsula. Bourbon dynasty, originally from France, centralises the Spanish state, shutting down many regional autonomous assemblies and modernising government and the military.

1807-1814 – Napoleon’s France occupies Spain, which has been a French satellite since 1795. Fierce nationalist resistance and British intervention in the Peninsular War gradually force French troops out.

19th century – Napoleonic legacy of political division and economic dislocation leaves Spain weak and unstable, with frequent changes of government and a low-level insurgency by Carlist supporters of a rival branch of the royal family.

All Latin American colonies win their independence, with Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in Asia lost during a disastrous war with the United States in 1898.

1910s – Spain sought compensation in conquering colonies in Africa, most significantly northern Morocco and the Spanish Sahara.

1920s – The trade boom achieved by neutrality in the First World War is squandered through fighting Moroccan rebels and the financial mismanagement of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship at home.

Civil war and dictatorship

1931 – The return of democratic government leads to an electoral backlash against the monarchy and its allies, and a republic is declared. Radical policies of land reform, labour rights, educational expansion and anti-Church legislation deepen the political divide.

1936 – After two years of right-wing government, a Popular Front coalition of left-wing and liberal parties narrowly wins parliamentary elections and seeks to reintroduce the radical policies of 1931. A coup by right-wing military leaders captures only part of the country, leading to three years of civil war.

1939 – General Francisco Franco leads the Nationalists to victory in the Civil War. More than 350,000 Spaniards died in the fighting, and Franco purges all remaining Republicans. Spain remains neutral throughout the Second World War, although the government’s sympathies clearly lie with the Axis powers.

1946-50 – Francoist Spain is ostracised by United Nations and many countries sever diplomatic relations.

1950s – As the Cold War deepens the US gradually improves relations with Spain, extending loans in return for military bases. Spain is admitted to the UN in 1955 and the World Bank in 1958, and other European countries open up to the Franco government.

El Milagro Español – the economic miracle of the late 1950s – sees Spain’s manufacturing and tourism industries take off through liberalisation of state controls.

1959 – The Eta armed separatist group is founded with the aim of fighting for an independent homeland in the Basque region of Spain and France. Its violent campaign begins with an attempt to derail a train carrying politicians in 1961.

1968 – West African colony of Spanish Guinea gains independence as Equatorial Guinea.

1973 December – Eta kills Prime Minister Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco in retaliation for the government’s execution of Basque fighters. Subsequent attempts to liberalise the Franco government founder on internal divisions.

Move to democracy

1975 November – Franco dies, and is succeeded as head of state by King Juan Carlos. Spain makes transition from dictatorship to democracy, and withdraws from the Spanish Sahara, ending its colonial empire.

1977 June – First free elections in four decades. Ex-Francoist Adolfo Suárez’s Union of the Democratic Centre manages a relatively smooth transition to stable democracy.

1980 – 118 people are killed in Eta’s bloodiest year so far.

1981 February – Coup attempt fails after King Juan Carlos makes a televised address demanding that plotters surrender.

1982 – Socialists under Felipe González win elections and govern until 1996. Free education, an expanded welfare state and liberalisation of abortion laws are key policies. Spain joins Nato.

1986 – Spain joins the European Economic Community, later to become the European Union.

Aznar years

1996 March – Conservative José María Aznar becomes prime minister.

1997 July – Eta kills Basque councillor Miguel Ángel Blanco, sparking national outrage and bringing an estimated six million people onto the streets in protest.

1997 December – 23 leaders of Eta’s political wing Herri Batasuna are jailed for seven years for collaborating with Eta – the first time any members of the party are jailed as a result of Eta links.

1998 April – Crops destroyed and wildlife wiped out when an iron pyrite mine reservoir belonging to a Canadian-Swedish company bursts its banks causing toxic waste spillage. Waterways feeding Europe’s largest wildlife reserve, the Donana national park, are severely contaminated.

1998 September – Eta announces its first indefinite ceasefire since its campaign of violence began.

2000 March – Aznar’s Popular Party (PP) wins landslide in general elections.

2002 January – Peseta replaced by Euro.

2002 November – North-west coastline suffers ecological disaster after oil tanker Prestige breaks up and sinks about 130 miles out to sea.

Madrid attacks

2004 March – A total of 191 people are killed in explosions on packed rush-hour trains in Madrid in near-simultaneous pre-election attacks by an Islamic group with links to al-Qaeda.

With Spain still in mourning, the Socialists under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero defy earlier opinion polls and win a general election.

2004 April – Prime Minister Zapatero orders Spanish troops withdrawn from Iraq in May.

2005 June – Parliament defies Roman Catholic Church by legalising gay marriage and granting homosexual couples same adoption and inheritance rights as heterosexual ones.

2005 September-October – At least 11 die and many more are injured in a series of mass attempts by African migrants to enter the enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta from Morocco in a bid to reach Spain.

Catalan autonomy demands

2006 January – Lt Gen Jose Mena Aguado sacked as head of army ground forces after suggesting that the military might take action in Catalonia if the region gains too much autonomy.

2006 June – Voters in Catalonia back proposals to give the region greater autonomy as well as the status of a nation within Spain.

2007 October – Twenty-one mainly North Africans are found guilty and given long jail sentences for the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

2007 November – Parliament passes a bill formally denouncing General Franco’s rule and ordering the removal of all Franco-era statues and symbols from streets and buildings.

2008 March – The Socialists win re-election with an increased margin, but falls short of an absolute majority.

Economic crisis

2009 January – Spanish economy enters recession for first time since 1993.

2009 July – Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos visits Gibraltar – the first visit by a Spanish minister in 300 years.

2010 February – Thousands of workers demonstrate against government spending cuts and plans to raise the retirement age by two years to 67 – the first mass labour protests since the Socialists came to power in 2004.

2010 May – Unemployment rate climbs to over 20% for first time in nearly 13 years. Parliament approves 15bn-euro (£13bn) austerity package.

2011 November – Conservative Popular Party wins resounding victory in parliamentary election.

2011 December – New government headed by Mariano Rajoy takes office. Announces new round of austerity measures to slash public spending by 16.5bn euros (£14bn) and nearly halve the public deficit from about 8% of GDP in 2012.

2012 November – The Basque armed group Eta issues a statement that it is ready to disband, disarm and enter talks with the French and Spanish governments.

2013 April – Spain’s unemployment rate soars to new record of 27.2% of the workforce in the first quarter, passing six million figure, although the rate of increase slows.

2013 September – Economy registers 0.1% growth in July-September, formally lifting it out of recession.

2014 June – King Juan Carlos abdicates, succeeded by the crown prince as Felipe VI.

2014 November – Spanish government dismisses the result of a symbolic independence referendum in Catalonia.

New political forces

2015 December – Popular Party government loses majority in general election that sees populist anti-austerity movement Podemos and new liberal Cuidadanos movement perform well.

2016 October – Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy forms minority government and ends 10 months of political deadlock after repeat elections in June.

2017 August – Two Islamic State terror attacks kill 16 people in Barcelona and the nearby resort of Cambrils.

2017 October – Madrid imposes direct rule in Catalonia after voters in a referendum back separation from Spain.

2018 May – Basque separatist former armed group Eta announces it is ceasing all political activities.

2018 June – Mariano Rajoy loses a vote of confidence. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez takes over as prime minister.

2019 April – Snap election boosts Socialists, but they remain short of a majority. Vox becomes first far-right party to win seats since the death of Francisco Franco in 1975.

2019 October – Thousands of protesters take to the street after Supreme Court sentences nine Catalan leaders to long jail terms for sedition over the failed 2017 independence bid.

2019 November – Fourth general election in as many years leaves Socialists still short of a majority, while Vox more than doubles its seats to become the third-largest party.

2020 January – Pedro Sánchez forms minority coalition government with left-wing Podemos party after winning a narrow parliamentary vote of confidence.

Extracts on the Spanish political system


Government and society

From 1833 until 1939 Spain almost continually had a parliamentary system with a written constitution. Except during the First Republic (1873–74), the Second Republic (1931–36), and the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), Spain also always had a monarchy.

From the end of the Spanish Civil War in April 1939 until November 1975, Spain was ruled by Gen. Francisco Franco. The principles on which his regime was based were embodied in a series of Fundamental Laws (passed between 1942 and 1967) that declared Spain a monarchy and established a legislature known as the Cortes. Yet Franco’s system of government differed radically from Spain’s modern constitutional traditions.

Under Franco the members of the Cortes, the procuradores, were not elected on the democratic principle of one person, one vote but on the basis of what was called “organic democracy.” Rather than representing individual citizens, the procuradores represented what were considered the basic institutions of Spanish society: families, the municipalities, the universities, and professional organizations. Moreover, the government—appointed and dismissed by the head of state alone—was not responsible to the Cortes, which also lacked control of government spending.

In 1969 Franco selected Juan Carlos de Borbón, the grandson of King Alfonso XIII, to succeed him as head of state. When Franco died in 1975, Juan Carlos came to the throne as King Juan Carlos I. Almost immediately the king initiated a process of transition to democracy that within three years replaced the Francoist system with a democratic constitution.

Constitutional framework

The product of long and intense negotiations among the leading political groups, the Spanish constitution was nearly unanimously approved by both houses of the legislature (it passed 551–11 with 22 abstentions) in October 1978. In a December referendum, the draft constitution was then approved by nearly 90 percent of voters.

The constitution declares that Spain is a constitutional monarchy and advocates the essential values of freedom, justice, equality, and political pluralism. It also provides for the separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Although the monarch is the head of state and the country’s highest representative in international affairs, the crown’s role is defined as strictly neutral and apolitical. The monarch is also commander in chief of the armed forces—though without actual authority over them—and the symbol of national unity. For example, when the new democratic constitution was threatened by a military coup in 1981, Juan Carlos in military uniform addressed the country on national television, defusing the uprising and saving the constitution. The monarch’s most important functions include the duty to summon and dissolve the legislature, appoint and accept the resignation of the prime minister and cabinet ministers, ratify laws, declare wars, and sign treaties decided upon by the government.

The legislature, known as the Cortes Generales, is composed of two chambers (cámaras): a lower chamber, the Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados), and an upper chamber, the Senate (Senado). As with most legislatures in parliamentary systems, more power is vested in the lower chamber. The Congress of Deputies has 350 members, who are elected to four-year terms by universal suffrage. The Senate is described in the constitution as the “chamber of territorial representation,” but only about one-fifth of the senators are actually chosen as representatives of the autonomous communities. The rest are elected from the 47 mainland provinces (with each province having four senators), the islands (the three largest having four and the smaller ones having one each), and Ceuta and Melilla (having two each).

The executive consists of the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, and the members of the cabinet. After consultation with the Cortes, the monarch formally appoints the prime minister; the cabinet ministers, chosen in turn by the prime minister, are also formally appointed by the monarch. The executive handles domestic and foreign policy, including defense and economic policies. Since the executive is responsible to the legislature and must be approved by a majority vote, the prime minister is usually the leader of the party that has the most deputies. The Congress of Deputies can dismiss a prime minister through a vote of no confidence.

Regional government

For most of the period after 1800, Spain was a highly centralized state that did not recognize the country’s regional diversity. Decades of civil unrest followed Isabella II’s accession to the throne in 1833, as factions warred over the role of the Roman Catholic Church, the monarchy, and the direction of Spain’s economy. The constitution of the short-lived First Republic called for self-governing provinces that would be voluntarily responsible to the federal government; however, decentralization led to chaos, and by 1875 the constitutional monarchy was restored. For the rest of the 19th century, Spain remained relatively stable, with industrial centres such as the Basque region and Catalonia experiencing significant economic growth while most of the rest of Spain remained poor. Following Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War (1898), many Spaniards viewed their country’s political and economic systems as unworkable and antiquated. Groups in Catalonia, the Basque region, and Galicia who wanted to free their regions from the “Castilian corpse” began movements for regional autonomy, and a number of influential regional political parties consolidated their strength. One of the stated goals of the Second Republic was to grant autonomy to the regions, as it did to Catalonia and the Basque provinces; however, self-government for these regions was not reinstated after the Civil War.

During the Franco years the democratic opposition came to include regional autonomy as one of its basic demands. While the 1978 constitution reflected this stance, it also was the product of compromise with the political right, which preferred that Spain remain a highly centralized state. The result was a unique system of regional autonomy, known as the “state of the autonomies.”

Article 2 of the constitution both recognizes the right of the “regions and nationalities” to autonomy and declares “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.” Title VIII states that “Adjoining provinces with common historic, cultural and economic characteristics, the islands and the provinces with a historical regional identity” are permitted to form autonomous communities.

The constitution classifies the possible autonomous communities into two groups, each of which has a different route to recognition and a different level of power and responsibility. The three regions that had voted for a statute of autonomy in the past—Catalonia, the Basque provinces, and Galicia—were designated “historic nationalities” and permitted to attain autonomy through a rapid and simplified process. Catalonia and the Basque Country had their statutes approved in December 1979 and Galicia in April 1981. The other regions were required to take a slower route, although Andalusia was designated as an exception to this general rule. It was not a “historic nationality,” but there was much evidence, including mass demonstrations, of significant popular support for autonomy. As a result, a special, quicker process was created for it.

By May 1983 the entire country had been divided into 17 communicates autónomas (autonomous communities): the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, Andalusia, Asturias, Aragon, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile and León, Castile-La Mancha, Extremadura, Navarra, La Rioja, and the regions of Madrid, Murcia, and Valencia. In 1995 two autonomous cities, Ceuta and Melilla, were added.

The basic political institutions of each community are similar to those of the country as a whole. Each has a unicameral legislature elected by universal adult suffrage and an executive consisting of a president and a Council of Government responsible to that legislature.

The powers (competencias) to be exercised by the regional governments are also stated in the constitution and in the regional statute of autonomy. However, there were differences between the “historic nationalities” and the other communities in the extent of the powers that were initially granted to them. For the first five years of their existence, those communities that had attained autonomy by the slow route could assume only limited responsibilities. Nevertheless, they had control over the organization of institutions, urban planning, public works, housing, environmental protection, cultural affairs, sports and leisure, tourism, health and social welfare, and the cultivation of the regional language (where there was one).

After five years these regions could accede to full autonomy, but the meaning of “full autonomy” was not clearly defined. The transfer of powers to the autonomous governments has been determined in an ongoing process of negotiation between the individual communities and the central government that has given rise to repeated disputes. The communities, especially Catalonia and Andalusia, have argued that the central government has dragged its feet in ceding powers and in clarifying financial arrangements. In 2005 the Cortes granted greater autonomy to Catalonia, declaring the region a nation in 2006.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the Spanish state had yet to achieve a form of regional government that was wholly acceptable to all its communities, but, whenever that happens, it will almost inevitably be an asymmetrical form in which the range of powers held by the regional governments will vary widely from one community to another.

Local government

There are two further levels of government below the national and regional— provincias and municipios (provinces and municipalities). Their powers and responsibilities are set out in the Basic Law on Local Government (1985).

The provinces, in existence since 1833, originally served as transmission belts for the policies of the central government. Although they still perform this function, the provinces now also bring together and are dependent on the governments of the municipalities.

There are more than 8,000 municipal governments (ayuntamientos). Each has a council, a commission (a kind of cabinet), and a mayor (alcalde). Municipal councillors are elected by universal adult suffrage through a system of proportional representation. As in elections to the national parliament, votes are cast for party lists, not for individual candidates.

Municipal governments may pass specific local regulations so long as they conform to legislation of the national or regional parliament. While municipal governments receive funds from the central government and the regions, they can also levy their own taxes; in contrast, provincial governments cannot.

A provincial council (Diputación Provincial) is responsible for ensuring that municipalities cooperate with one another at the provincial level. The main function of these councils is to provide a range of services not available to the smaller municipalities and to develop a province wide plan for municipal works and services. There are no provincial councils in the autonomous regions that comprise one province (Asturias, Navarra, La Rioja, Cantabria, Madrid, and Murcia). In the Basque Country, provincial councils are elected directly by universal adult suffrage. The islands, too, choose their corporate body by direct election; each of the seven main Canary Islands and the main Balearic Islands elect island councils (Cabildo Insular and Consell Insular, respectively).

Political process

Voting is open to all citizens age 18 years or older. For elections to the Congress of Deputies, held every four years, each of the 50 provinces serves as an electoral district, with the number of deputies representing it determined by its population. Under a proportional representation electoral system governed by the d’Hondt formula, ballots are cast for a provincewide party list rather than for candidates representing individual constituencies.

This formula favours large parties and less-populated areas.

About four-fifths of the members of the Senate are directly elected via a plurality system at the provincial level. Each province is entitled to four representatives; voters cast ballots for three candidates, and those with the most votes are elected. Because representation is not based upon population, in the Senate smaller and more-rural provinces generally are overrepresented in relation to their overall population. The remainder of the senators are appointed by the regional legislatures. For elections to the European Parliament, held every five years, and local elections, residents who are citizens of other EU countries are eligible to participate. Spain is among the countries with the highest proportion of women members of parliament, with women generally constituting about three-tenths of the Chamber of Deputies and about one-fourth of the Senate.

Electoral participation declined markedly after the initial enthusiasm of the transition to democracy, and by the early 1980s political commentators spoke of a desencanto(disenchantment) with the political system. Indeed, although support for democracy remained solid, the voting abstention rate increased throughout the 1980s, especially in local and regional elections. The trend was reversed in the 1990s, when about four-fifths of the electorate voted in national elections; however, in 2000 nearly one-third of the electorate abstained. Voter participation increased again in 2004, when about three- fourths of the electorate voted, only slightly greater than the heavy turnout for the 2008 election.

The constitution recognizes political parties as “the major instruments of political participation.” The Law of Political Parties (1978) provided them with public funding based on the number of seats they held in parliament and the number of votes received.

National parties

The Spanish political scene is at once simple and complex. The simplicity rests in the fact that, since the beginning of democratic elections in 1977, national politics have been dominated by a small number of parties. From 1977 until 1982 Spain was governed by the Union of the Democratic Centre (Unión de Centro Democrático; UCD), and the major opposition party was the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español; PSOE). The only other national parties of importance were the right-wing Popular Alliance (Alianza Popular; AP) and the Spanish Communist Party (Partido Comunista de España; PCE).

In 1982 the PSOE came to power and governed until 1996. The UCD subsequently split into a number of smaller parties and was replaced as the leading opposition force by the Popular Party (Partido Popular; PP), which in 1989 became the successor to the AP. After faring badly in the national elections of 1982, the PCE became one of the founding members of the United Left (Izquierda Unida; IU) coalition in 1986.

The PP won a plurality in the elections of 1996 and formed a government with the support of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties. The PSOE assumed leadership of the opposition. By 2000 the PP controlled the majority of provincial and autonomous governments, and in that year it solidified its position by winning an absolute majority in the Cortes. In March 2004, however, following a series of terrorist bombings in Madrid—originally attributed by the government to the Basque separatist group ETA but subsequently linked to Islamic militants—the PSOE ousted the PP from national government. In 2008 the PSOE government won a second term, but the economic crisis that came to a boil in 2009 proved to be the party’s undoing. Amid widespread voter dissatisfaction, PSOE Prime Minister José Zapatero advanced the date of the scheduled 2012 general election to November 2011, and in that event the PP won a convincing victory.

There also are parties that exist at the regional level only, with at least one in each of the 17 autonomous communities. Of these, the two most important are Convergence and Union (Convergència i Unió; CiU), a coalition of liberal and Christian democratic parties in Catalonia, and the Basque Nationalist Party (Basque: Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea [EAJ]; Spanish: Partido Nacionalist Vasco [PNV]), commonly referred to as the EAJ-PNV, which espouses a traditionally rooted moderate Christian nationalist ideology. The CiU has governed Catalonia for most of the period since 1979. The EAJ-PNV has led the regional government of the Basque Country since it was established in 1980 (ruling on its own or in coalition), and it has won a number of the region’s seats in the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. Other regional parties include the Canary Islands Coalition (Coalición Canaria; CC), with a centre-right ideology; the Galician Nationalist Bloc (Bloque Nacionalista Galego; BNG), a left-wing group; Basque Solidarity (Eusko Alkartasuna; EA), a left-wing party composed of former EAJ members; the Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya; ERC), which advocates independence for Catalonia; and the Valencian Union (Unió Valenciana; UV), a centre-right nationalist party.

Minor parties

The complexity of Spanish political life since the transition to democracy lies in the existence of a very large number of minor political parties. In the early 21st century there were several minor parties operating at the national level: The Spanish Green Party (Partido Verde Español; PVE), the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal; PL), and the Spanish Workers’ Party– Communist Unity (Partido de los Trabajadores de España–Unidad Comunista; PTE-UC).

An interesting feature of Spanish politics is that the authoritarian or nondemocratic right has remained almost totally insignificant. During the last quarter of the 20th century, no political group claiming to be the heir to Francoism ever won more than 1 percent of the vote in a national election.

Everything you need to know about human rights in Spain 2020

Amnesty International

Health care workers lacked adequate personal protective equipment at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. COVID-19 deaths among older people were disproportionate. Police officers issued more than one million fines and subjected some individuals to arbitrary punishments for COVID-19 lockdown breaches. Allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers policing protests continued. There was a significant rise in calls to helplines by women at risk of gender-based violence. Lack of affordable housing and homelessness remained a major concern. Migrants and refugees were confined to overcrowded facilities in Melilla during lockdown.


In January, a new coalition government was sworn in comprising the socialist party (PSOE) and the left-wing Unidas Podemos. On 14 March, three days after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, the government approved a Royal Decree establishing a state of emergency. The decree granted emergency powers to enforce lockdown regulations and was extended on six occasions until 21 June. In October, an additional state of emergency was adopted for six months.

In June, Parliament adopted the Minimum Subsistence Income, a benefit intended for people living in severe poverty.

Spain accepted most of the recommendations made under the UN Universal Periodic Review, including those referring to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as those relating to past human rights violations.

Assistance to victims of gender-based violence was considered essential and a Specific Contingency Plan was approved to ensure that such services remained available during the lockdown.

In March, the government announced a draft law on sexual violence that included a new legal definition of rape to comply with international human rights law.

Right to health

By the end of the year, at least 93,000 health workers had contracted COVID-19, accounting for 5.1% of cases; 89 died as a result. Over 78% of infected health care workers were women.

During the first weeks of the pandemic, there was a shortage of quality personal protective equipment (PPE). As a result, health care workers were frequently forced to resort to inadequate PPE or to reuse items designed for single use. Health care workers in settings outside hospitals, such as primary care medical centres and care homes, received PPE later than staff in hospitals.

Additionally, during the first three months of the pandemic, health care workers only had limited access to COVID-19 tests.

Rights of older people

As of November, around 20,000 older people had died from COVID-19 in care homes; they comprised approximately 50% of all COVID-19 deaths reported until that period. It was estimated that around half of the deaths of older people in care homes occurred in the capital, Madrid, and in Catalonia. There were concerns that referral protocols in both regions which recommended treating sick older people in the care homes rather than transferring them to hospitals were discriminatory and violated the right to health.

At the height of the pandemic some older people living in care homes were confined to their rooms, with little or no contact with their families, for an indefinite period and without effective supervision by the national and regional authorities, resulting in violations of their human rights. Throughout this time, health care workers’ associations expressed concerns about persistent staff shortages and the failure to provide sufficient quality PPE to staff, as well as the inadequate provision of medical care to people living in care homes in the first months of the pandemic.

Women’s rights

During the lockdown, there was a 60% increase in women calling the support helplines against gender-based violence run by the Ministry of Equality, compared to the same period the previous year. Online consultations with women seeking safety during the lockdown increased by 586%. Forty-five women were killed by their partners or former partners.

Right to housing

Many people, especially in low-income areas, continued to face challenges in accessing adequate housing. Royal Decree Law 8/2020 and Royal Decree Law 11/2020, both adopted in March, established a three-month moratorium on mortgage payments for particularly vulnerable people and a six-month moratorium on rental payments respectively. The decrees also suspended eviction procedures for vulnerable households without alternative housing. Royal Decree Law 30/2020 adopted in September extended this suspension until January 2021.

In April, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights recommended that Spain introduce new legislation to guarantee the right to housing. The Rapporteur also recommended greatly increased investment in public housing and fiscal disincentives for leaving housing vacant, as well as increased rent-control arrangements in key cities.

Excessive use of force

The 2015 Law on Public Security, which limits freedoms of expression, assembly and information, continued to be enforced, adding to the coercive powers of security forces. During the state of emergency, and until 23 May, law enforcement officials issued over one million fines and arrested 8,547 people for breaches of lockdown. There were reports of excessive and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials to ensure compliance with lockdown rules. Law enforcement officials lacked clear criteria to use their powers and applied them arbitrarily, for example by imposing fines on journalists who were carrying out their job and against people who were homeless or experienced other specific marginalization.

In June, the government revealed that four internal investigations into the National Police were ongoing and that 41 Civil Guards had been sanctioned for their actions during the state of emergency.

In October, the European Court of Human Rights found that Spain had violated the right to freedom of assembly and association in the case of a woman who had been left permanently injured after police forcefully dispersed a spontaneous peaceful protest against austerity measures and unemployment in 2014.

Investigations into allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials during the October 2017 protests in Catalonia remained open at the end of the year.

Freedoms of expression and assembly

At the end of the year, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, presidents of two pro-independence organisations in Catalonia, remained in prison after being convicted for sedition in connection with protests and the referendum on independence in 2017.

In November, the Constitutional Court found that offences foreseen in the Law on Public Security, criminalizing some legitimate forms of protests, were in line with the Constitution, but found that the requirement of prior authorization in the use of video recordings of the police limited the right to freedom of information.

Rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants

Following the declaration of the state of emergency, eight migration detention centres were closed, and irregular migrants were released to help prevent the spread of COVID19.

Alternative accommodation was provided. However, in June, the government announced the progressive re-opening of detention centres due to the increase of arrivals by sea.

While the total number of people arriving irregularly in Spain grew by 29%, in comparison to 2019, irregular arrivals in the Canary Islands increased by 756.8%. Between June and November, lack of adequate and sufficient accommodation resulted in many refugees and migrants spending several days outdoors on the docks in unsafe conditions.

The number of asylum applications dropped significantly due to restrictions of movement and border closures. From January to November, 84,705 people submitted asylum applications; 39,839 of those were women and 15,206 were minors, compared to more than 117,000 people in 2019. Concerns remained about the backlog of asylum applications, with 99,105 cases pending in November. Lockdown restrictions compounded disruptions to asylum interviews and renewal of documents.

Asylum seekers encountered difficulties in obtaining an appointment to formalize their asylum application. Asylum-seekers and migrants continued to live in overcrowded reception conditions and without adequate protection from COVID-19. The Centre for Temporary Stay of Immigrants in Melilla remained at overcapacity during the pandemic, accommodating up to 1,600 people, including minors and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Despite the health risks, transfers of people from Melilla to mainland Spain were limited.

In July, the Spanish Supreme Court reiterated that asylum-seekers had a right to freely move across Spanish territory and access the mainland from Ceuta and Melilla, upholding 22 lower court decisions. However, the government continued its containment policy in both Ceuta and Melilla at the end of the year.

In February, the European Court of Human Rights found that Spain had not breached the European Convention on Human Rights when it summarily expelled two men from Melilla to Morocco in 2014.

In November, the Constitutional Court upheld the constitutionality of the provision allowing for border rejections of people attempting to enter the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, provided that it applies to individualized entries, border rejections are subjected to judicial review and carried out in compliance with international law.

Catalonia’s bid for independence from Spain explained

Published 18 October 2019

Image caption: Carles Puigdemont rallies separatists via videolink from Brussels

Catalonia’s independence movement is back in the headlines after Spain’s Supreme Court jailed nine separatist leaders, prompting days of protests.

The crisis first flared in October 2017, when a banned independence referendum was met with a heavy police crackdown. Madrid imposed direct rule on the region shortly after. It is the country’s biggest political crisis since democracy was restored in 1975, after the death of military dictator General Francisco Franco.

What’s the context?

Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest and most productive regions and has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years. Before the Spanish Civil War, it enjoyed broad autonomy but that was suppressed under General Franco. When Franco died, the region was granted autonomy again under the 1978 constitution and prospered as part of the new, democratic Spain. A 2006 statute granted even greater powers, boosting Catalonia’s financial clout and describing it as a “nation”, but Spain’s Constitutional Court reversed much of this in 2010.

The 2008 financial crash and Spanish public spending cuts fuelled local resentment and separatism. There is a widespread feeling that the central government takes much more in taxes than it gives back. But the complexity of budget transfers makes it hard to judge exactly how much more Catalans contribute than they get back from investment in services, such as schools and hospitals.

How did we get here?

Following a symbolic referendum in November 2014, outlawed by Spain, separatists won the 2015 regional election. Catalonia’s pro-independence leaders then went ahead with a full referendum on 1 October 2017, which was also declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. Organisers said 90% of voters backed a split. But turnout was only 43% amid a boycott by unionists.

In a febrile atmosphere the separatist majority in the Catalan parliament declared independence on 27 October. Using the Article 155 emergency powers, Madrid dissolved parliament, sacked its leaders and called a snap election for 21 December.

Separatists won a slim majority. The following May, Catalonia’s parliament swore in Quim Torra as their new president, after Madrid blocked several other candidates. Mr Torra vowed to continue fighting for independence. The sight of Spanish national police beating voters, and politicians being jailed, revived disturbing memories, for some, of the Franco dictatorship.

Carles Puigdemont – then Catalan president – fled abroad with several other leaders. Many who remained were arrested and charged with treason. Spain’s Supreme Court finally sentenced nine of the arrested Catalan leaders in October, sparking the latest unrest.

Former vice president Oriol Junqueras was handed a 13-year prison sentence for sedition and misuse of public funds. The other eight receive sentences of between 12 and 9 years.

Demonstrators took to the streets in fury and have repeatedly clashed with police in some of the worst street violence to hit Spain in decades. If the separatists do ever manage to split away, it would be hard for Catalonia to win recognition internationally.

New states mostly emerge from situations where ethnic groups have been victims of genocide or other major human rights abuses.

What does the crisis mean for the country?

Catalonia has its own language and distinctive traditions, and a population nearly as big as Switzerland’s (7.5 million). It is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, making up 16% of the national population and accounting for almost 19% of Spanish GDP. It’s also a vital part of the Spanish state, locked in since the 15th Century.

Barcelona has become one of the EU’s best-loved city-break destinations, famed for its 1992 Summer Olympics, trade fairs, football and tourism. Generations of people from poorer parts of Spain have moved there for work, forming strong family bonds with regions such as Andalusia. During this crisis, the Catalan economy has suffered. Thousands of businesses, including major banks and energy firms, have moved their headquarters out of the region.

The EU has treated the crisis as an internal matter for Spain, deaf to the separatists’ pleas for support. However, there have been warnings that the issue is damaging Spain’s democratic credentials.

In 2017 the Economist Intelligence Unit, which compiles an influential annual democracy ranking, said Spain risked being downgraded from a “full democracy” to a “flawed” one over its handling of the Catalonia situation.


These resources are in addition to those used directly in Module 4 activities, and are for reviewing in your own time, to enhance your appreciation of Spain’s history and context today:

  1. Various short articles on different social justice struggles in Spain –

  2. General, but detailed mainstream introduction to different aspects of Spain –

  3. 11 things you should not do in Spain –

  4. 13 Most Interesting Facts About Spain People Culture & Food –

  5. The Spanish health system – spain/#dossierKeyfigures

  6. A brief history of Spain – (6 minutes)

  7. Spanish colonisation – (13 minutes)

  8. What happened to the Muslim majority of Spain and Portugal? (7 minutes)

  9. The Spanish Inquisition – (7 minutes)

  10. The Hidden History of the Spanish Civil War – (17 minutes)

  11. The Economy of Spain: World’s Greatest Bubble? – (14 minutes)

  12. Catalonia’s Independence Movement – mZkioPp3E (7 minutes)

  13. Politics in the Pub: Lessons from Spain – Simon Tormey talk – (29 minutes)

Movements we will be meeting and/or engaging with while in Spain

Fifteen movements were engaged during the week in Spain. The majority of these were chosen based on Fellows SCI themes. We engaged these movements either as part of a ‘Resistance Expo’, called the La Lluita Mzabalazo Café or as ‘site visits’. More details on each movement can be found in the relevant activities in the main part of this Fellows Guide.

The Resistance Expo

  1. Associació de Drets Sexuals i Reproductius (Association for Sexual and Reproductive Rights) led the campaign for family planning centres with the goal of these services to be integrated into the public health network

  2. La Marea Blanca is a unitary platform in defense of Public Health that brings together all groups defending public health and protesting against health cuts and privatization plans.

  3. The Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages) is a group organising non-violent resistance to evictions and campaigns for social rent and aid for people unable to pay their mortgages.

  4. Sindicat de Llogaters – Union of Tenants is a group of Barcelona residents who want to promote a tenants’ union in the city to defend the right to housing and affordable, stable, safe and dignified rent.

  5. Informal Traders: Los Manteros/The Blanketeers is a workers’ union representing street vendors (known as manteros) in Spain.

  6. Sindicat de Mares en la Diversitat Funcional also knows as The Union of Mothers looks at issues of Functional Diversity

  7. Trans Forma la Salut (Trans-form Health) is a platform formed by groups, associations and individuals who demand a new health model for Trans individuals.

  8. Mujeres Pa’lante (Women Forward!) provides support and accompaniment space for migrant women living in Spain.

  9. Quepo is a foundation whose mission is to bring the audiovisual and communication resources to groups and social causes that often do not have the ability to be known.

  10. Aigua és Vida (Water is Life) is a civil society platform to ensure that water policy and the management of the integral water cycle in Catalonia are carried out by the public sector and have the participation and control of civil society as a guarantee of quality of service and democratic quality.

Site Visits

First day of site visits:

  1. Trans Forma la Salut (Trans-form Health) is a platform formed by groups, associations and individuals who demand a new health model for Trans individuals.

  2. Associació de Drets Sexuals i Reproductius (Association for Sexual and Reproductive Rights) led the campaign for family planning centres with the goal of these services to be integrated into the public health network

  3. The Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages) is a group organising non-violent resistance to evictions and campaigns for social rent and aid for people unable to pay their mortgages.

  4. Radio Nikosia is a radio project with the objective of surfacing the stigmas facing those affected by mental ill health.

  5. Oficina Vida Independent (The Office of Independent Living) is a non-profit entity directed and managed by people with functional diversity and the need for personal assistance linked to the Independent Living Movement.

Second day site visit:

  1. HortadeValenciais one of the oldest and most important irrigated urban agricultural land areas in the Mediterranean.

PART 2: Logistical information

About Barcelona

Barcelona is the capital city of the autonomous community of Catalonia. It is Spain’s second- largest city and has a population of more than 4.2 million people. It is the largest metropolis in the Mediterranean Basin, situated on the coast between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs, and bounded to the west by the Serra de Collserola Mountain range, the tallest peak of which is 512 meters (1,680 ft) high. Besieged several times during its history, Barcelona has a rich cultural heritage and today is an important cultural centre and a major tourist destination.

Barcelona, Spain (source Google)


Hotel Catalonia Plaza Catalunya Bergara, 11, 08002, Barcelona, Spain

All visitors head to the Barcelona buzz that is Las Ramblas, and from Hotel Catalonia Plaza Catalunya it is a 700-metre walk away. The hotel, with charismatic Gaudi influences, comes with impressive services. Rooms, some of which have a terrace, are air conditioned with free Wi-fi, minibar, and a TV with satellite channels. Upgraded rooms and suites can include a private pool area and free access to the spa. There is a stylish outdoor pool furnished with loungers; also a gymnasium. Disabled access applies and services at Hotel Catalonia Plaza Catalunya, some of which carry a surcharge, include car hire and parking. A Spanish-style breakfast buffet is served daily, while Catalan influences prevail in lunch and dinner menus in the Contempo Restaurant. TV sport, tapas, and wine flow readily in the Gourmet Corner Bar. Plaça de Catalunya is under 100 metres away, and it is around 600 metres to the Passeig de

Gràcia metro station. Picasso Museum is just over one kilometre’s walk from the hotel.

Top amenities

Free WiFi in lobby, Free WiFi in rooms, Pool, Spa, Parking, Pets, A/C, Restaurant, Hotel bar, Gym

The following measures are taken at this property to protect the health and safety of guests and staff.

Safe distance, Doctor on site, Hand sanitizer provided, Temperature screening, Cashless payment, Masks provided.


Walking, walking and walking. (Be prepared) Speed Train to Valencia / or bus


Estimates, November – 18° / 12° – 5 days of estimated RAIN throughout November.

Dress Code.

For our trip to Spain please pack comfortable shoes and clothes for walking, we will do a lot of walking.

Pack warm clothing but not too warm, it’s Autumn but may be a colder than ours.


The official currency of Spain is the euro (€). All major credit/debit cards are widely accepted. Charges for using the ATM are dependent on the bank of the cardholder so please check beforehand. If you need to exchange currency, you can do so at the airport in the arrival’s hall. All banks also have exchange currency facilities, and this is a service the hotel will offer as well. In general, all banks open Monday to Friday, 08:00h / 08:30 – 14:00h / 14:30h.

Phone numbers Emergencies: 112 Medical care

CAP – Healthcare centre

Address: Carrer Roger de Flor 194-196, Barcelona, Tel: +34 93 507 03 90 or +34 90 250 01 79 Opening hours: Monday to Friday 08:00-21:00, Saturday: 09:00-17:00.

Hospital for medical emergencies – Hospital Clínic

Address: Carrer Villarroel 170, Barcelona, Spain

Tel: +34 93 227 54 00 (call 061 in an emergency) Opening hours: 24 hours/day

Coordinadora de Urgencias Médicas Barcelona (city) – (Only emergencies) – Tel: 061 Safety

Barcelona is safe, but has similar woes as most big cities. Pick pockets are quite active. You must be very careful with your documents, money and luggage, especially in the touristy places.

Tourist information

Barcelona and Catalunya can offer you plenty of opportunities to enjoy your stay. These websites provide useful tourist information:

At the Hotel, you will find some more tourist information that could be useful for your stay in Barcelona.

Public transport

You can buy public transport tickets and travel cards in underground stations. There are ticket vending machines in the lobbies of all metro stations where one can use cash or a credit card.

Types of transport tickets and prices:

  • Single ticket: €2,40. A ticket valid for a single journey on a TMB bus, metro or the Montjuïc funicular.

  • T-Dia (One-day travel card): 1 zone, €10,50. An unlimited number of journeys in the zones delimited by the first validation. Validity: 1 day from first validation to end of service.

  • T-Casual Card: 1 zone, €11,35. Individual travel card valid for 10 intermodal journeys. Passengers have 75 minutes between the first and last validation when changing lines and mode of transport.

  • T-Familiar: 1 zone, €8. A multi-person travel card valid for 8 journeys in 30 consecutive days from the first validation. Passengers have 75 minutes between the first and last validation when changing lines and mode of transport.

  • Hola BCN! 2 days: €16,30. Two-day travel card that includes unlimited journeys on public transport.

  • Hola BCN! 3 days: €23,70. Three-day travel card that includes unlimited journeys on public transport.

  • Hola BCN! 4 days: €30,80. Four-day travel card that includes unlimited journeys on public transport.

  • Hola BCN! 5 days: €38. Five-day travel card that includes unlimited journeys on public transport

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What is Spain Famous For?

Now that we have the essentials covered, some fun facts!

There are many good reasons why Spain is one of the most touristic countries in the world. Its scenic beauty, fabulous coastlines, afternoon siesta, and gastronomy are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the country’s highlights. What is Spain famous for is its rich history that is unique in the world, providing a glimpse of the past.

Sadly, we won’t have the time for a full on tourist adventure, but we will try where we can. Meanwhile, here are 10 fun things Spaniards are known for!

  1. Spanish Football. There’s a long-running joke that football is considered a religion in Spain. Locals are so crazy about football that when a La Liga tournament is ongoing, streets get empty, and bars are jam-packed.
  2. Flamenco. Visiting Spain wouldn’t be complete without watching a flamenco performance live. Flamenco is a traditional dance characterized by the sounds of Spanish folk music, and the snapping of quintessential castanets. It has become a renowned entertainment because of the graceful style of dancing, and the passionate flounce and stomp of dancers, wearing long, red dresses.
  3. Tapas Culture. The Spaniards are ahead of their time, discovering that the best way to counter the peckish feeling when drinking is munching tapas. The famous tapas culture is top-rated, with different kinds of cheeses, olives, chorizo sausage, prawns, crackers, potatoes, and ham served for every meal, especially drinks.
  4. Corrida De Toros (Bullfighting). For centuries, Spain is famed for its action-packed bullfighting events, locally known as Corrida De Toros. While some regions totally banned this tradition, matador fights still exist. Stadiums are packed with locals and gaping tourists who are new to these kinds of events. A notorious part of Spanish culture, bullfighting remains huge in the country and plays a significant role in national identity.
  5. Spanish Time. When visiting Spain, you may get confused with the Spanish schedule, especially the meal times. The terminology Spanish Time is used to describe the delay of time when it comes to eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In Spain, don’t be surprised if lunch starts at 2 PM, and dinner at 11 PM.
  6. Siesta. Part of the reason why Spaniards eat much later is because of the afternoon rest or siesta. While only 20 percent of locals are taking regular siesta these days, it is something that will always be associated with Spain.
  7. Paella. Spain is famous for its glorious paella. A visit wouldn’t be complete without tasting the authentic and traditional paella, with lots of saffron and other local spices. This rice dish originated from Valencia, is cooked with seafood and meat, brimming with olives, beans, and other delicate seasonings.
  8. Fiestas. Spain famous for its hallmark of fiestas or festivals. The locals celebrate a number of fiestas throughout the year, from religious patron saint celebrations to the most fun and bizarre ones like La Tomatina. From processions, street parties, running of bulls, and burning costumes to the ground, Spanish fiestas are exciting and unique.
  9. Spanish Wines. The locally-made wines are popular souvenir items, especially the blue wines from Gïk company. The winemaking industry is big, with hundreds of vineyards dotted across the country. Wines like La Rioja and Cava are the best when it comes to taste and floral aroma.
  10. Fun-loving and laid back people. Locals are said to be known for offering air kisses to anyone they meet, and providing free tapas to some. Spaniards are welcoming, love gatherings, and most of all are friendly.

These are true fun facts about Spain

  • Spain is the only European country to have a physical border with an African country.
  • Spain was the world’s first global empire.
  • Spanish is the language in the world with the second highest number of native speakers
  • It was through the colonies that the Spaniards established in the American continent and their relations with North Africa, that today we enjoy oranges, avocados, cacao, potatoes and sugar. The Europeans did not know any of these things until the fifteenth century.
  • Spaniards tend to speak loudly
  • The first “modern” novel, the book translated into more languages after the Bible, and the one that holds the title of the best book in history, was written by a Spaniard, Miguel de Cervantes. It is “Don Quixote” and was written in 1605.

Last updated: May 2022