STREET DEMONSTRATIONS

Government delegate in Madrid seeks to “modulate” right-to-protest law

Official complains at high number of demonstrations on the capital’s streets

Cifuentes defends police from violence accusations

The government delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes. / Javier Herráez (EFE)

“It’s not me, it’s the law,” said Cristina Cifuentes, the central government delegate in Madrid, last Friday in response to veiled accusations from Madrid Mayor Ana Botella that she was permitting “too many” protests in the capital.

On Tuesday, Cifuentes reiterated that the law governing the right to congregate and protest is “broad and permissive,” and has been abused by last year’s 15-M marches and camp-outs, besides the recent attempts to encircle Congress. Thus, Cifuentes has proposed “modulating” the law to “rationalize the use of public space.”

In an interview with RNE state radio, Cifuentes said that Madrid’s situation is “difficult because protests are constant and the number of them excessive,” an opinion she backed up with a statistic. So far in 2012 there have been “almost 2,200 rallies and protests” in the capital. Botella on Friday gave a figure of 2,732. In 2011, there were a total of 1,380, according statistics from the mayor’s office. “The topic of protests is a just a political row thrown up by the current situation and encouraged because there are some groups that are trying to achieve in the streets what they couldn’t at the ballot box,” said Cifuentes.

"A habitable city"

The government delegate stated that the constitutional right to protest requires no previous authorization, with the mere delivery of a note to her office sufficing. But Cifuentes believes that marches should be compatible with other citizens “being in a habitable city, which means being able to move freely, that there are no disturbances and no public order problems. It is my objective and I will try to achieve it.”

However, Cifuentes admitted there is little she can do about “full-time union shop stewards working in ministries who indiscriminately block off roads” every Friday in the capital, beyond “identifying them and sanctioning them administratively.” The government delegate noted that most of the protests over the past few months had passed off peacefully and defended the actions of police, who have been accused of using excessive force by some protesters. “Many of the actions the national police carry out are to protect the right to protest, not to suppress rights.”

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