Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

Spanish rural idyll not such a paradise for dogs

Por: | 27 de julio de 2015

Andalusian rural heaven

Selling up and moving to a little finca in the Spanish hills is a dream for many Brits. Whole shelves in bookshops are dedicated to hilarious tales of navigating a first olive harvest or chasing after an errant donkey. Once installed life is undoubtedly tough and challenging, but a common thread running through the experience of many is coming face-to-face with the harsh conditions experienced by the animals living on neighbouring farms.

It’s not unusual in Spain for farms or small holdings to remain generally unoccupied at night by their owners, as many prefer to live in nearby villages. So in order to make sure that no-one runs off with the prized blackfooted pigs, most will keep a number of dogs onsite as a security measure. Certainly in the Andalusian hills, Spanish Mastiffs are the dog of choice for guarding larger livestock, plus a few small mongrels to nip at the heels of any unwanted intruders. Many of the dogs will be kept on a chain, if they’re lucky with some shelter, food and water. Sadly such basic care doesn’t stretch to all who are effectively abandoned save for an occasional offering of some stale bread.

I remember the first time I came across such a sight in the mountains between Granada and Motril. Five minutes from where we were staying lay an empty house, empty of humans that is, but filled with chickens inhabiting the ground floor. Out the back there were a few pigs and in the garden the ubiquitous chained dog. Next to the dog was an Alsation puppy, no relation to its friend and all of about eight weeks old. On seeing me it came scurrying up the bank that separated the house from the road and proceeded to follow me home. Full of fleas and too tiny to be left alone, it was all I could do not to take it back to Seville, but knowing my landlords at the time would have had a fit if I’d arrived back with an Alsation pup, I gave the little fella and his tethered friend some jamon, and sadly left them where they were.

image from
Paloma in chains. Photo c/o ACTIN

Occasionally chained dogs get lucky and are rescued. ACTIN (Animal Care Treatment International Network) is an animal welfare association based near Murcia whose main focus is ‘to make changes in the laws against cruelty, neglect and abandonment’, but they inevitably become involved in facilitating the rescue of ill-treated or abandoned animals. One such case involved Paloma, a four-year-old Spanish Mastiff bitch found chained up in a goat shed, who had lost all power in her back legs having been chained up since a puppy. At the time of rescue she weighed only 33 kilos, half the suggested amount for an adult of her breed and now at 68 kilos she is living out her days as an honorary, permanent occupant in some nearby kennels.

Paloma now
Paloma enjoying her freedom

But chaining up animals is just part of the story. In Spain, particularly in the countryside, there is a huge resistance towards neutering animals. For those not familiar with the canine reproductive cycle, a female will come on heat every six months for three weeks. During this period there is a key time when if unsupervised, she will more than willingingly accept the amorous advances of not just one, but many dogs and a litter of puppies is a fairly safe bet. Little dogs have small litters and large breeds like mastiffs can have up to 12 puppies. Not terribly convenient if they’re supposed to be guarding livestock. So the standard procedure in the campo is to kill or dump most of the puppies, leaving one or two with the mother and six months later, the whole needless process starts again.

A friend finding 7 dead mastiff puppies by the side of a country road incensed Cordoba based Writer Alan Parks so much he wrote an open letter on his blog denouncing the endless cycle of pregnancies and puppy killing in a bid to draw further attention to the matter.

He writes, ‘I have spoken to Spanish farmers who have told me, in no uncertain terms “If you don’t want a dog, throw it in the lake. No more problem!” I have also spoken to Spaniards who have told me that they do not like to castrate male dogs because it upsets the dog emotionally to have its testicles removed. Well, what about the poor mother dog, who gave birth to the puppies I just buried? She had cleaned them up, bonded with them and probably even started feeding them, before they were ripped away from her, killed, and then thrown out of the window of a car like a discarded cigarette packet’.   

Dead puppies
Dead mastiff puppies. Photo c/o Alan Parks

Another Brit Clair Spettigue living near Malaga offered to pay for her neighbours’ bitches to be spayed, but was told in no uncertain terms that ‘that was not how things are done in these parts’. ‘You have to be careful’ she goes on, ‘as soon as it gets out that you making a fuss about abandoned animals, people start dumping them on your door step and it starts to get out of hand’.

It’s a delicate balance for many outsiders, foreign or otherwise who set themselves up in the countryside alongside locals whose customs haven’t changed for generations. Friends of mine living alongside a farm with a couple of mastiffs and a mongrel do their bit giving food and even names to the dogs who were all known collectively as ‘perro’. But in the 9 months that they’ve lived there they’ve had seen 3 pregnancies and the subsequent mysterious disappearance soon after birth of the puppies. That’s pretty standard, some people say something, others turn a blind eye. It’s a tough call in the country which is inpenetrable to outsiders at the best of times.

This isn’t just a Spanish issue. There has always been a brutal edge to the countryside - I grew up on a farm so I speak from first hand experience. It’s just that in countries like the UK or indeed Ireland, such harshness was common forty or fifty years ago. In Spain however, the idea that country ways are sacred, even if they are utterly cruel and neglectful, continues today.

Alan Parks admits he doesn’t know the answer. ‘Almost every ex-pat family I know has multiple rescued dogs living with them and I know we personally can’t take any more. Maybe veterinary universities could come up with a programme for students to go out to farms and perform cheap castrations, as a way of them getting the practice they need and the farmers getting some veterinary care at a reduced price’.

Animal association ACTIN tries to encourage people to report incidences of cruelty or neglect. ‘Cases are incredibly hard to prove and have to be watertight with photographs that link the cruelty to the owner. No one seems to know what the law really is, including the police who very rarely take these things seriously,’ says a spokesperson. 

Nevertheless, ACTIN believes the more complaints are made, the more authorities will eventually be forced to follow them up. ‘If it’s simply a matter of a lack of shelter, water or food, try approaching the owner of the animal to ask that they provide them. If this does not prove fruitful, then it’s time to try the official route’. Their website lays out the steps you would need to take in such eventualities.

But the fact remains that without an attitudinal shift regarding animal welfare amongst those using dogs to guard livestock and by the Spanish authorities at large, all this falls on deaf ears. Right now too many dogs are little more than a means to an end. Whether they are happy, cared for and loved is not a major consideration and in fact if they’re hungry and scared, they probably do their job better. For many the final escape only comes when they eventually die or unable to perform their job, are killed or dumped. And sadly there´s always another unlucky dog to fill its place.

To find out more work about the work of Actin

Support for Catalan independence is at a four-year low as alternative parties shift the focus to the economy and social issues / ANDREU DALMAU (EFE)

 In two months Catalonia will vote in what everyone agrees are crucial elections — but ask anyone exactly what is at stake and you will get a different answer. Last year’s symbolic vote fit nicely into an easily-understood, if admittedly simplistic, Spain vs Catalonia narrative that international media could run with. However, it is this year’s mongrel, rushed election that really matters.

On paper, at least, Catalonia’s upcoming regional elections should be a milestone for nationalist ambitions: an unprecedented pact of major secessionist parties has formed, promising to declare independence within 18 months should it win on Sept. 27. Such a move is still complicated, though. Madrid has maintained its hard-nosed approach, recently suggesting the central government could temporarily wrest control from the Catalan Parliament in the event of the independence faction winning and trying to make good on their promise. This tactic has failed before, only serving to harden the position of the Catalan nationalists, but now the movement faces a greater threat.

Nationalist infighting and the increasingly-powerful alternative parties across the political spectrum have taken their toll on support for the established parties and old divisions are becoming more apparent than ever, despite calls for unity.

The pro-independence joint candidacy brings together the conservative Convergence (CDC) party and the left-wing Republican Democrat Left (ERC) under the “Junts pel Si” (Together for Yes) pact, which calls for the establishment of a Catalan state within the European Union. At their head are three independent candidates — foremost among them Raül Romeva, former EMP for the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV) — whose prominence is intended encourage voters to put aside political differences and unite to secure independence, but there is little doubt that if the pact were to win it would be CDC leader and incumbent President Artur Mas who would lead the Catalan Parliament.

This has angered Romeva’s former party which branded Junts pel Si as the pact of “continuity.” On Sunday ICV, United and Alternative Left (EUiA) and Podem (Podemos en Cataonia) launched an alternative coalition dubbed “Catalunya Si Que Es Pot” (roughly, Yes Catalonia Can). Backing the right to vote on Catalonia’s status as a nation at a later date but stopping short of the Junts Pel Si pact’s threat to declare independence unilaterally, Catalunya Si Que Es Pot’s manifesto calls for action to lessen the hardships caused by the protracted economic crisis, branding itself an alternative to the traditional parties.

“In Catalonia there are two models of country currently in play: one Catalonia belonging to those up high, represented by Mas and where austerity politics and corruption rule, and our model of a racially integrated, working-class, society of hope that believes we can govern in another way,” Gemma Ubasart, secretary general of Podem, told press on Sunday.

Surveys suggest voters are largely disillusioned with the established parties and will prioritize the economy come the elections. A July poll by Center of Opinion Studies (CEO) found that the majority of Catalans did not share Mas’s vision to convert the elections into a plebiscite. Of those surveyed, 58.1 percent said they would base their vote on the response to the financial crisis put forward by each party, while 21.1 percent said they would do so on the basis of Catalonia’s relationship with Spain. The remaining 14.6 percent said both factors would weigh on their voting decision.

The same survey found support for outright independence down to 37.6 percent, the lowest it has been since the CEO began canvassing the issue in 2011 and way down from its 2012 peak of 57 percent, although pollsters say last month’s breakup of the Convergence and Union (CiU) coalition is likely to have skewed the results somewhat. The decrease in support for independence was mirrored by Catalan voters increasingly focusing on other issues. Asked what their principal concerns were, a majority chose “unemployment,” followed by “dissolution with politics,” and the “economy.”

May’s municipal elections have reflected these shifting concerns on a national level as Podemos-affiliated leftist blocs and the centrist Citizens (C’s) made large gains across the country. Both positioned themselves as alternatives to the establishment, promising to end the steady stream of corruption scandals that have tarnished the mainstream parties.

Referendum or not, then, Catalonia’s regional elections will be closely fought. Sept. 27 will not only be a momentous vote for the Catalan people, but also a telling preliminary battle for Europe’s next showdown between traditional parties and anti-austerity upstarts.


The Street Angels back on the beat

Por: | 06 de julio de 2015

It's more or less a year since I went out on patrol with the Mallorca Street Angels overnight in Magaluf so this week I caught up with the group's leader Cameron Springthorpe and a new girl on the block, Jud Sweeney.

Punta Ballena (Photo Credit Vicki McLeod)

Vicki McLeod: So, your season has started now for 2015. How are you getting on so far?

Cameron Springthorpe: It's very interesting and heartening to see so many different groups getting involved and helping. This year we know about a group from the Norwegian Church who are helping visitors from Scandinavia; we know that the Vinyard Church, an Evangelical group based in Palma, came out to see what it was like, I believe with the intention to see if they could run a similar group in Palma, and we know about the Gospel Tribe who are a German Bible School who are patrolling in s'Arenal and have also been over to Magaluf as well.

VM: Wow! So you've got company!

SC: Yes, it's good news.

VM: How have you found Magaluf this year so far ?

SC: We haven't seen people in such a bad state as we did last year. I would say of last year's experiences we were finding about 50% or 60% of the people unconscious or semiconscious at the outset. It has not been as bad this year. The people are more responsive and they are waking up easier than previously. We are seeing less drinking on the streets, and less broken bottles as a result.

VM: Is it still the case that the majority of the people you are finding are either too inebriated to find their way home, or are simply lost and disorientated and don't know where they are staying?

SC: Yes, that is the case.

Jud Sweeney: We helped a guy recently who couldn't remember where he was staying so we were looking on his Facebook to try to find his friends who may be on holiday with him. In the end we rang up his mum in the UK to ask her if she knew the name of his hotel. But she didn't so she had to go down the road and ask one of his friends if they knew! Eventually we got him home.

VM: This is your first year in Mallorca Jud, how are you finding it?

JS: I really like it. I'm part of a group called 247 Ibiza  which has been operating in Ibiza for the past twelve years and I wanted to come over to Mallorca to see how it worked here. We would have tended to go out earlier in the evening in Ibiza than the Street Angels do here because we want to try to have conversations with people before they get so drunk that they can't have a chat anymore. We look for people who may want to talk. We want to share some kindness and love with them. There are always people who are not having the best time, and they might want to have a chat and we offer them the opportunity to pray with us as well. We would get asked "Why do you want to be here? It's awful!" so we know that some holiday makers don't really like where they are either. We also would talk to the workers and the PRs as they have a tough time in Ibiza or here. We try to help: cleaning up someone who’s vomiting, helping vulnerable people – drunk, drugged, injured or alone - to a safe place, listening to someone’s story or frustrations of the day, celebrating good news and happy times with people. taking someone who’s been injured to a medical centre, sharing our faith and stories of God with those who are keen to hear, seeking to bring calm to agitated people and stressful situations and asking God to lead us to specific people he wants us to talk to and to give us the words he wants them to hear.

What makes you want to come out here and spend your summers doing this? 

JS: I'm a teacher back home, and I am active in my local church group.  I get a lot of support both from the parents and my church. Members of churches come out to help for a week or so at a time and join the team which gives us an energy boost as well. Parents  that I know have said that they would want their children to have someone to look after them if they were in trouble away from home. When I was younger I had a wild spell and I could have easily ended up in a lot of trouble, luckily I was able to change my path so I know that some people just want to party for the sake of having a party, and for other people it is hiding more fundamental issues. Now I want to give back and help other people who might need me.

A team walking down punta ballena - the strip re
I know when I went out with the Street Angels I really enjoyed it, I know that sounds a bit perverse, but I truly did! I liked the feeling of being able to do something practical and helping people. It's important to not be judgmental isn't it, because that's not helping at all.

JS: Yes, absolutely, you cannot judge someone or tell them they've done something wrong. When you are helping them get home or whatever it is they need from you you've got to focus entirely on that.

VM: How many people might you help on average night?

SC: Between 10 and 15 people normally.

VM: Last year when we met you told me that you were looking for a golf buggy or something you could use for transportation. Did you manage to get your wish?

Some of the team, Jud and Cameron on the left re
Not exactly, but we have got a car that we are able to use. Ideally though what we would like is a Kangoo type of van where the doors slide back, it would make it much easier to help people in and out of the vehicle. We've taken people home, and even taken them to Son Espases for treatment. 

VM: So if any of the readers wanted to donate a Kangoo then they should get in touch! Is it still the case that the Street Angels are looking for volunteers?

SC: Yes we are, we are always open to more people joining us and being on patrol. You don't have to be a Christian, but you do have to be in agreement with our principals or it won't work. We've currently got a team of nineteen people working this year. Between Street Angels and the other Christian based groups working Magaluf there is some sort of presence there every night which is great progress and we know we are helping to make a difference to these young people on holiday.

You can contact Cameron on 629056193. You can see more on and


Eugeni Rodríguez at the FAGC offices in Barcelona. Photo by Elisa Centurion Arriola

Spain marked 10 years of gay marriage this week, while last weekend the LGBT community took over many of the country’s city centers with Pride celebrations. The march in Barcelona — attended by the city’s mayor for the first time ever — was heaving with tourists. The city is among the top destinations for the LGBT community in Europe, while Madrid is among the continent’s unofficial gay capitals.

Outside of guaranteed sunshine and beaches, a contributor to this phenomenon is Spain’s reputation as a frontrunner for progressive LGBT legislation. After the Netherlands and Belgium, the country was the third on Earth to make gay marriage legal back in 2005, and Spain recently took first place in a poll that studied acceptance of homosexuals in 39 countries.

Modern Spain would be unrecognizable to a young Eugeni Rodríguez. Now spokesperson for Catalonia’s oldest gay rights group FAGC and President of L'Observatori Contra l'Homofòbia (OCH), Rodríguez was born in 1965 in the Franco years when homosexuality was illegal. Raised in L’Hospitalet by an impoverished family with a “very anti-gay component,” Rodríguez suffered beatings and discrimination on the streets of his working class neighborhood. He left the “entirely hostile environment” of that city at the age of 18.

While reading Foucault on an intercity train and struggling to come to terms with a traumatic adolescence, Rodríguez began formulating a personal philosophy that would lay the groundwork for a lifetime of activism.

“I promised myself I would not let anyone else be discriminated against and assaulted, I promised to defend the issue to the death,” Rodríguez tells me from FAGC’s modest offices in Gràcia, Barcelona.

Rodríguez and fellow activists were moved to set up what would later become the OCH following the murder of Sònia Rescalvo Zafra, a transgender woman who was beaten to death by neo-Nazis in Barcelona 1991. The OCH began as a FAGC initiative and later became an independent entity in 2008, chaired by Rodríguez. The organization is recognized as the driving force behind the controversial and pioneering anti-homophobia law — which enforces large fines and places the burden of proof on the defendant — that passed the Catalan Parliament last year.

Despite such efforts, LGBT related attacks are on the rise in Catalonia and Spain as a whole, suggesting a dissonance between legal, administrative and social progress with regard to LGBT rights.

Photo by Elisa Centurion Arriola

Referencing nationwide statistics for 2013, the Interior Ministry says the LGBT community is the minority most targeted by perpetrators of hate crimes. Forty percent of all hate crimes reported in 2013 were motivated by sexual orientation, whereas 37 percent that year were due to racial hatred. Contrast this with figures from England and Wales for 2013, where 84 percent of hate crimes were motivated by race and 10 percent sexual orientation, and numbers from the U.S. that same year where race and sexual orientation were the prime motivators in 49 percent and 20 percent respectively.

To be clear, there are no winners here (how would you like your country, more racist or more homophobic?), and comparisons between these countries must be heeded with a warning, as different criteria and definitions are employed in all three cases. Rodríguez himself has doubts over the official figures, as the OCH does not count certain victims and crimes — including exhibitionism and various sex crimes — used by the Interior Ministry in its own studies of LGBT related hate crimes.

While Rodríguez celebrates the passage of the anti-homophobia law as historic, he stresses that it runs the risk of being all but symbolic if there is not what he calls an “adequate diffusion” of its implementation on several levels. He says that many victims do not know that crimes committed against them fall under the protection of this law. Knowledge of laws, support networks and procedures appear essential to this issue. A survey of the LGBT community in Spain conducted in 2013 found that almost half of respondents had suffered some kind of homophobic abuse at one time, though only 18 percent had felt moved to report the event, with a third saying they thought such a report would prove useless.

A further concern for Rodríguez is that many departments and civil servants are unaware of the responsibilities the law requires of them.

“The law states that any public official in Catalonia has a duty to intervene in any case of discrimination and communicate it to the government,” Rodríguez said. “But what happens is that not everyone is aware of this law so it cannot be fully implemented.”

Rodríguez believes the law must be championed by an independent authority, to handle cases and get the word out there, an idea the government rejected.                              

He references a case in Girona, where a boy was told he ran “like a fag” by his gym teacher. During the ensuing investigation, it became apparent the school had not been informed that Catalonia had passed an anti-homophobia law. Rodríguez is certain this lack of communication between state-run institutions is the norm.

Rodríguez says that changing perspectives in the classroom is not as simple as slotting in a course on diversity into the curriculum.

“On school forms you had to fill out the name of your mother and father, there was no other option,” he explains. “Everything is spoken about in a certain language to reinforce this idea, in maths, science, all subjects — even a plug and socket are called ‘male and female.’”

For Rodríguez, living in a region where the legal framework is increasingly supportive of the LGBT community is a great source of pride. He has no plans to rein in the fight, however, while the standard model of binary gender identity remains deeply ingrained in Spanish society.

Additional reporting and photos by Elisa Centurion Arriola

El País

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