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LGBT

Is Spain really a tolerant country when it comes to LGBTQ+ people?

The homophobic murder of a young man over Gay Pride weekend has shocked a country regarded internationally as one of the most tolerant when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. But is this lack of prejudice in Spanish society real or just visible on paper?

Is Spain really a tolerant country when it comes to LGBTQ+ people?
People take part in a Pride march in Madrid on July 3, 2021. (Photos by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

The murder of twenty-four-year-old Samuel Luiz (pictured below) on Saturday outside a nightclub has been described by Spanish police as “a mob kicking a young person for more than 150 metres down a street.”

According to witnesses, a group of six to ten people shouted homophobic slurs at Samuel before beating him to death. 

Two men and a woman aged 20 to 25 were arrested on Wednesday by Spanish police in the Galician city of A Coruña, where the murder took place, with interrogations expected to shed light on the details of a murder which allegedly started over a mobile phone.

The brutal murder of the young gay man prompted a wave of protests across the country on Monday, just as low-key Pride celebrations had wrapped up across a number of Spanish cities.

It was perhaps the timing of this heinous crime that has brought to light a worrying trend which according to Spanish Interior Ministry stats has been on the up recently: hate crimes against the LBGTQ+ community.

More hate crimes but plenty more unreported

In the last five years, hate crimes due to sexual orientation or gender identity have risen in Spain.

The rate was higher between 2016 and 2019 (going from 169 to 278) and since then, partly due to the pandemic and limited social interactions, homophobic attacks have decreased. 

However in regions like Catalonia, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people have increased significantly in 2021, with 80 attacks in the first five months of the year. 

In the Valencia region, the number of hate crimes against gay people has risen by 25 percent in 2021 according to the Valencian Observatory against LGBTIphobia.

Two weeks ago in Galicia, the region where Samuel Luiz was murdered, a gay couple was beaten with a baton by an assailant who repeteadly called them “fags”, and another young gay man at a beach was first asked if he was homosexual and then beaten up by a group of four youths.

At a park in the Basque city of Basauri, a 23-year-old gay man who was recently hanging out with his partner and friends was told to leave and when he refused was beaten by a group of thirteen youths, landing him in hospital. 

There are dozens of similar stories from all across Spain and although social media helps to bring attention to these homophobic crimes, many remain unreported. 

In Barcelona 71 percent of victims didn’t file a complaint with the police whereas in Madrid it was 30 percent, according to the LGBTIphobia Observatories in each city. 

So is Spain not as tolerant as believed?

Spain has undoubtedly come a long way from the days of Franco’s dictatorship when homosexuality was classified as “a danger”, gay men were sent to ‘gallery of inverts’ prisons and most notably gay poet Federico García Lorca was shot dead by nationalist forces.

Same-sex sexual intercourse was legalised in 1979 and gay marriage and adoption was legalised in 2005, the third country in the world to do so.

In an 2017 interview in El País, Podemos founder Luis Alegre said Spain was “the most tolerant country when it comes to homosexuality”.

In the same year the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported a large increase in the number of asylum applications for Spain from LGBTI people escaping persecution, a legal option made available to refugees by the Spanish government in 2009.

According to a 2019 study into the global acceptance of homosexuality by the US’s Pew Research Centre, Spain is the third most gay-friendly country in the world after Sweden and the Netherlands. Two years earlier, it was top of the ranking. 

From a legal standpoint, we could continue to name progressive bills that further cements Spain’s image as a tolerant country when it comes to  LGBTQ+ people, but politically speaking there is one big change according to the experts.

“In Spain, people with a favourable opinion of the Vox party, which recently has begun to oppose some gay rights, are much less likely to say that homosexuality is acceptable than those who do not support the party,” the PEW Research Centre’s report highlighted.

According to Barcelona City Councilor for Citizen Rights Marc Serra there’s a “certain normalisation of the intolerance rhetoric towards the LGBTQ+ collective in the media and institutions due to the appearance of the far right”, something that is happening throughout Europe”. 

LGBTIphobia observatories have found that most of the attackers are males aged under 30. 

Even though the Spanish government continues to take steps towards more equality for different LGBTQ+ collectives – most recently with its ‘Trans Law’ – these increasingly common hate crimes are tarnishing Spain’s image as a tolerant country.

However, Spanish society remains firmly against LGBTIphobia, with 89 percent accepting homosexuality according to the Pew Research Centre and Spain being crowned world leader for transgender rights in a 2018 Ipsos study.

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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