Spain | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
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Spain experienced yet another year of separatist violence carried out by members of the nationalist Basque Fatherland and Liberty party (ETA). Amidst the violence, marked by car bombings and assassinations, moderate Basque nationalists won regional elections in the spring. Fractures between Spain's 17 autonomous zones and the central government in Madrid deepened in 2001; Catalonia's president declared he would not seek reelection because of his frustration over his region's lack of taxation authority. Spain faced an immigration crisis in 2001 with thousands of illegal immigrants arriving by boat from North Africa, straining relations with Morocco. Following the September 11th terrorist strike against the United States, Spain arrested several Arab men suspected of involvement in the attack.

Spain's Basques were the first group known to have occupied the Iberian Peninsula. The country's current language and laws are based on those of the Romans, who arrived in the second century B.C. In the year 711, the Moors invaded from North Africa, ruling for 700 years. The unification of present-day Spain dates to 1512. After a period of colonial influence and wealth, the country declined as a European power and was occupied by France in the early 1800s. Subsequent wars and revolts led to Spain's loss of its colonies in the Americas by that century's end. Francisco Franco began a long period of nationalist rule after the victory of his forces in the 1936-1939 civil war. In spite of the country's official neutrality, Franco followed Axis policies during World War II. Even with its closed economy, the country was transformed into a modern industrial nation in the postwar years. After a transitional period upon Franco's death in 1975, the country emerged as a parliamentary democracy. It joined the European Union (EU) in 1986.

The Spanish government began negotiations with the ETA in 1998, establishing a ceasefire and aiming to end a conflict that has claimed approximately 800 lives since 1970. The two sides were emboldened to negotiate after witnessing the positive results of the signing of the Northern Ireland peace accords. By December 1999, however, the ETA had announced an end to the ceasefire, angered by what it perceived as slow progress in the talks. It subsequently stepped-up its attacks in both frequency and deadliness.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has refused any resumption of negotiations with the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) until it heeds Spanish government demands that it publicly isolate the ETA by backing out of a pact it had forged with Euskal Herritarrok, ETA's apparent political wing. The pact, signed in 1998, was designed to bring the ETA into the political mainstream.

Regional elections in May saw moderate PNV members claim victory in Spain's northern region, despite a concerted campaign by the national government to portray the moderates as complicit in terrorism. Prime Minister Aznar maintains the PNV shares the same secessionist goals as the ETA. However, Euskal Herritarrok lost 7 of its 14 seats in the election, indicating a possible rejection among Basque voters of terrorism committed in their name.

Perhaps in response to the PNV's electoral gains, Basque-separatist violence took on a disturbing pattern through the end of the year. After car bombings and shootings in the winter, resulting in the deaths of local moderate Basque leaders, ETA operatives shifted their attacks to Madrid. In June, a Spanish military general was wounded in a car bomb. In July, a car bomb in Madrid killed a policeman; it was followed by a bombing in Barcelona that injured three people. In August, a 62-year-old grandmother was killed and her 16-month-old grandson seriously injured in San Sebastian when a bomb hidden in a toy exploded. In November, a car bomb in Madrid wounded 100 people, narrowly missing its apparent target, a government official. Immediately after the bombing, police arrested two ETA suspects in Madrid, confiscating explosives, guns, and forged papers. The next day, a Spanish judge was shot and killed outside his home in northern Spain. Police believed the ETA carried out the assassination in response to the arrests.

Catalonia's regional president, Jordi Pujol, announced his intention not to seek an eighth term in the 2003 elections, citing frustration over lack of budgetary control. Catalonia's regional government complains that its inability to collect tax revenues from Catalonia's six million people prevents economic development of the region. Spain's central government has generally been wary of devolving too many powers to the country's 17 autonomous regions, for fear of fragmenting the country.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Spanish citizens can change their government democratically. Spain has been governed democratically since 1977, after nearly 40 years of dictatorship under Franco and a brief transitional government under Adolfo Suarez. The country is divided into 17 autonomous regions with limited powers, including control over such areas as health, tourism, local police agencies, and instruction in regional languages. The bicameral federal legislature includes a territorially elected senate and a Congress of Deputies elected on the basis of proportional representation and universal suffrage. Although a law stipulates that women must occupy 25 percent of senior party posts and a feminist party has been officially registered since 1981, female participation in government remains minimal.

The Supreme Tribunal heads the judiciary, which includes territorial, provincial, regional, and municipal courts. The post-Franco constitution and 1996 parliamentary legislation established the right to trial by jury.

Freedom of speech and a free press are guaranteed. The press has been particularly influential in setting the political agenda in recent years, with national daily newspapers such as El Mundo, ABC, and El Pais covering corruption and other issues. A new conservative daily, La Razon, was launched in 1998. In addition to the state-controlled television station, which has been accused of pro-government bias, there are three independent commercial television stations. Members of the press were among ETA targets for assassination in 2001. A journalist in the Basque region who had been previously threatened by ETA was wounded by a mail bomb in May. The director of El Diario Vasco, a newspaper, was assassinated the same month.

Spain lacks antidiscrimination laws, and ethnic minorities, particularly immigrants, continue to report bias and mistreatment. In particular, North African immigrants report physical abuse and discrimination by authorities and are frequently the subjects of attack by Spanish civilians. After receiving large numbers of illegal immigrants in 2000, which led to severe outbreaks of racial and anti-immigrant violence, Spain faced a continuing influx of illegal immigrants in 2001. Scores of illegal immigrants, mostly North Africans, arrived by boat throughout the year, many not surviving the short, yet often treacherous, journey. Some estimates are that 3,000 people had drowned over the last five years while trying to reach Spain. The Spanish interior ministry estimate that 50,000 legal and illegal workers arrive each year, mostly from North Africa.

In February the government passed a new immigration law allowing for the imposition of heavy fines against those employing illegal immigrants. The law also seeks to stem the flow of immigrants entering Spain illegally, and to crack down on smugglers of immigrants.

During one week in August, 1,000 illegal immigrants arrived from Morocco. Several drowned trying to reach Spanish shores. Spain had signed an agreement with Morocco in July to control people smuggling. The continuing arrival of immigrants led to strained relations between the two countries.

In August, the Basque region's interior ministry banned an independence rally as part of a crackdown on separatist violence. In rallies earlier in the summer, young people burned the Spanish flag and honored ETA "martyrs" who had died during failed bombing attempts.

The rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining are constitutionally guaranteed. The country has one of the lowest levels of trade union membership in the EU, and unions have failed to prevent passage of new labor laws facilitating dismissals and encouraging short-term contracting.

In 1978, the constitution disestablished Roman Catholicism as the state religion, but directed Spanish authorities to "keep in mind the religious beliefs of Spanish society." Freedom of worship and the separation of church and state are respected in practice. Spain is home to many cultural and linguistic groups, some--such as the Basques-- with strong regional identities.