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Huge crowds expected in Barcelona ahead of Madrid talks

Catalan separatists are expected to jam the streets of Barcelona on Saturday in a test of their strength ahead of fresh negotiations with Spain's government.

Huge crowds expected in Barcelona ahead of Madrid talks
Huge crowds turned out to a protest in Barcelona on September 11th, Catalonia's national day, in 2019. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

The protest coincides with Catalonia’s national day, or “Diada”, which commemorates the 1714 fall of Barcelona in the War of the Spanish Succession and the region’s subsequent loss of institutions.

As in other years, the march will get underway at 17:14 (1514 GMT) — a nod to the year 1714. The slogan this year is: “We will fight for independence and win”.

At its peak in 2014, the annual demonstration brought an estimated 1.8 million people onto the streets.

While Catalonia was the epicentre in July of a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections, the situation has since improved and a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people was recently lifted.

READ ALSO: Is Catalonia’s independence movement down but not out?

Jordi, the leader of grassroots separatist movement Omnium Cultural, said he hoped to “bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets” this year to “prove once again that our movement is more alive than ever”.

But much has changed since the frenetic autumn of 2017 when Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain triggered the country’s worst political crisis in decades.

Leaders of the wealthy northeastern region, which has a population of 7.8 million, defied a government ban to organise a secession referendum and then issued a short-lived declaration of independence.

Those behind the move were arrested, tried and sentenced to long jail terms by Spain’s top court, while others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the movement sharply at odds over how to move forward.

The Spanish government’s pardon in June of nine Catalan separatist leaders, including Cuixart, has also removed a rallying cry for the pro-independence camp.

Only 600,000 people turned out for the Diada in 2019. Last year, coronavirus-related health restrictions reduced the celebrations to separate events which drew fewer than 60,000 people.

This year’s protest comes as top-level talks on resolving the Catalan crisis are set to resume next week between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority government and the separatist regional government of Catalonia.

The separatists have two key demands — an amnesty for those involved in the failed independence bid, which would exonerate those who fled abroad, and a referendum on self-determination, this time with Spain’s approval.

But Madrid is implacably opposed to both.

Tensions rose sharply this week after Spain’s central government suspended plans to expand Barcelona airport, citing a “lack of confidence” in Catalonia’s regional leadership.

Catalonia’s regional leader Pere Aragones denounced the suspension as “blackmail”.

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SPANISH LAW

EXPLAINED: What is Spain’s anti-trafficking law?

The Spanish government has passed a draft bill that seeks to beef up the fight against human trafficking and exploitation, addressing everything from prostitution to arranged marriages and organ trafficking.

EXPLAINED: What is Spain’s anti-trafficking law?

On November 29th, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved a draft law aimed at tackling human trafficking.

The law, known as la ley de trata (or anti-trafficking law) will bolster measures against sexual exploitation, forced and arranged marriages, slavery, forced labour, organ and tissue removal, and situations where vulnerable people are forced to engage in criminal activity.

Spain’s Justice Minister, Pilar Llop, said that the law will protect “people who suffer a lot in our country and also in other countries around the world,” strengthening the fight against trafficking mafias and organised crime groups to “break the business chain that is generated using human beings as commodities.”

The law will, among other things, create a national plan for the prevention of trafficking, protection and privacy protocols, a compensation fund for victims, social, health and financial support, and increase awareness of the problem at the educational level.

A particular focus of the legislation will be on minors, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – groups thought to be most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Prostitution in Spain

Many cases of human trafficking in Spain result in sexual exploitation, but there exists no single law that deals directly with prostitution in Spain. Prostitution was decriminalised in 1995, though its related activities, such as pimping, trafficking, and sexual exploitation are still illegal.

READ ALSO: What’s the law on prostitution in Spain?

Although the clandestine nature of the sex work makes accurate data hard to find, according to a 2011 UN report, Spain is the third biggest centre for prostitution in the world, behind only Thailand and Puerto Rico.

In 2016, UNAIDS estimated that over 70,000 prostitutes were working in Spain, but some estimates put that number as high 350,000.

It is believed that 80 percent of them are foreigners, with many reportedly coming from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Morocco and eastern Europe.

If the draft law is finally approved, its sexual exploitation clauses would include prison sentences of up to eight years for procurers such as pimps or madams.

Customers of prostitutes that have been forced to be sexual workers could also face fines and prison sentences of between six months and four years.

The Spanish government wants prostitution banned in its current form in Spain.

Forced labour

Clearly, the ley de trata will hope to combat some of the sexual exploitation of women in Spain, but the anti-trafficking legislation is more far-reaching than that and is also intended to tackle forced labour and slavery – two big but underreported problems in Spain.

According to the U.S State Department’s 2022 report on human trafficking in Spain, “labour trafficking is under-identified in Spain. Authorities report the pandemic increased worker vulnerabilities and contributed to the rise in labour trafficking in 2020 and 2021, especially in agriculture, domestic work, and cannabis cultivation in Catalonia.”

“In 2022, Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine, are vulnerable to trafficking. Labour traffickers continue to exploit men and women from Eastern Europe and South and East Asia, particularly Pakistan, in the textile, construction, industrial, beauty, elder care facilities, and retail sectors.”

It should be said, however, that the report also notes that “the government of Spain fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and kept it in its Tier 1 of nations.

What does Spain’s anti-trafficking law include?

  • National Trafficking Plan

The law will create a protocol to coordinate the immediate referral of trafficked persons to specialised services, which will be overseen by a National Rapporteur on Trafficking and Exploitation of Human Beings run through Spain’s Interior Ministry, according to the Spanish government website.

The rapporteur will oversee anti-trafficking policy and represent Spain in the international arena, a role considered crucial as human trafficking is often a cross border, international problem.

  • Education

According to Article 7 of the law, efforts will also be made to improve educational awareness of the problems of trafficking and exploitation with a focus on human rights, sexual education, and democratic values.

  • Social, labour, and health support

A ‘Social and Labour Insertion Plan’ will be created for victims of trafficking and exploitation that provides social, health and employment support for victims.

This could include housing access, physical, psychological and sexual health support, employment opportunities, and financial assistance for victims and their family members.

  • Tightening labour market regulation

As trafficked and exploited people are so often brought in from abroad (and often dependent on the traffickers themselves for housing, food, money and so on) the regulation of migrant worker recruitment will be tightened through beefed up surveillance and labour standards.

  • Compensation fund

A compensation fund – the Fund for the Compensation of Victims of Trafficking and Exploitation (FIVTE) – will also be created, and will be taken from state budgets, as well as money or goods confiscated from convicted traffickers.

  • Protection and privacy

The anti-trafficking law will also provide protection services and maintain the victim’s right to privacy, protect their identity, access to free legal advice and even offer a living income.

According to Article 36 of the bill, victims trafficked from abroad will have the right to voluntary and assisted return to their country of origin. If they were brought illegally into Spain and don’t have official documentation, the Spanish government will issue them with the appropriate papers needed for travel as well as provide them with the option of residency.

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