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15th Nov 2019

Cuban exiles expose depth of Spanish budget crisis

  • Beggars in Spain. Welcome to the EU (Photo: xOchoa)

As EU politicians line up to say that Spain does not need a bail-out, Cuban exiles in the country say the crisis is so bad they wish they had stayed at home.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on a visit to Warsaw on Thursday (12 April) repeated comments made earlier in the week when Spanish bond yields jumped to levels approaching the 7 percent threshold which triggered international rescue for Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

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"Emergency rescue action for Spain doesn't make sense. We don't need it and we have no plans to use it. There will be no aid to Spain," he told press.

Speaking alongside his guest, Polish leader Donald Tusk noted: "Spain has made decisions that should absolutely suffice in order to enjoy support ... confidence."

The same day in Washington, the French head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde praised Rajoy for his "considerable ... laudable" spending cuts. In Brussels, a European Commission spokesman said a two-day visit to Spain by EU officials to probe its financial health has "nothing to do" with the bond scare.

Rajoy is planning to cut €37 billion off the country's annual budget in order to meet market- and EU-demanded debt criteria. On Tuesday, he already faced criticism for targeting schools and hospitals.

On Thursday, it emerged that one of the few achievements of Spanish foreign policy in recent years is also being damaged as former Cuban political prisoners set up camp outside the foreign ministry building in Madrid to protest cuts in welfare.

Spain in 2010 and 2011 negotiated the release into asylum of 115 of Fidel Castro's prisoners and 647 of their family members. At the time, the centre-left government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero trumpeted the development as a detente in EU-Cuba relations which merited the removal of EU sanctions.

Spain paid charities such as the Red Cross to funnel around €1,000 per month in welfare to each family over the past year and a half. But the scheme ended in January and its extension was blocked under the austerity drive.

The Cubans in a communique handed to Spanish media urged "all European Union member states to intercede with the Spanish authorities so that [they] are allowed to move to other countries" because Spanish unemployment is so high they cannot find jobs.

One of the group's spokesmen, Juan Antonio Bermudez, told Spanish news agency Efe that children and elderly people who came to the EU thinking it was the land of milk and honey now face living on the streets and begging for spare change.

Another Cuban protester, Osbel Valle Hernandez, noted: "We didn't ask to come here. We didn't know about this crisis. We understand there are 5 million people unemployed and it's difficult, but they have to do something to help us."

A third one, Oswaldo Gonzalez Montesinos, said he wishes he had stayed in the Caribbean dictatorship.

"What good is it for us to be out of prison if we don’t have enough to live on? If I'd known this before, I'd have stayed in prison fighting for my people and my family. At least they'd have a home," he explained.

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