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Thousands protest in Madrid to demand action to combat problems of depopulation

Rural demonstrators from 24 provinces marched on the Spanish capital to call for access to better infrastructure and services in Spain’s dwindling towns and villages

Protesters in Madrid on Sunday.
Protesters in Madrid on Sunday. EFE

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Madrid on Sunday to demand an urgent solution to Spain’s problem of depopulation. Nearly 100 organizations from 24 provinces took part in the protest, which organizers labeled as the “revolt of an empty Spain.” They were demanding a cross-party plan that would help them to continue living in their dwindling villages and provincial capitals.

The protest was organized by depopulation advocacy groups Teruel Existe (Teruel Exists) and Soria ¡Ya!. Many rural protesters from towns in Huesca, Albacete, Zaragoza, Zamora, Ciudad Real, La Rioja, Granada and Jaén came to the Spanish capital to demand access to better infrastructure and services. “We’re not asking for a hospital in every town, or an AVE station [a high-speed rail in Spain], or a Maluma concert. We want real things,” said Emiliano Antolín, a 38-year-old mechanic from Palencia, a city in northern Spain. “We have internet at the generous speed of three megas. It’s impossible to compete with those who have 300.”

We’re not asking for a hospital in every town, or an AVE station or a Maluma concert. We want real things

Emiliano Antolín, 38, mechanic from Palencia

In Spain, 48% of municipalities have a population density of less than 12.5 inhabitants per square kilometer, a figure that the European Union considers to be very low. Between 2011 and 2017, approximately 62% of towns lost inhabitants, according to government data, and even cities with a population between 20,000 and 50,000 inhabitants have been in decline in the last decade.

Ahead of the April 28 general elections, electoral campaigns have focused their efforts on these dwindling towns by including measures against depopulation in a bid to win votes. In fact, representatives from parties such as Ciudadanos (Citizens), the Popular Party (PP), Unidas Podemos and Vox attended the protest – but not everyone was happy about their presence.“People don’t want the politicians here,” said Vanessa García, the spokesperson for Soria ¡Ya!. “This is a citizen protest. We are here because of them.”

“We are first-class citizens, just like everyone else. I want my town to survive,” added Miriam Martín from Piedrahíta, a municipality of Ávila which has 1,800 inhabitants. Martín has been working as a professional rural developer for the past 39 years. “[Politicians] impose solutions with an urban perspective. We want them to listen to us.”

“The hemorrhaging will not be stopped. Today in Spain, 26 provincial capitals are losing inhabitants. And if these capitals are declining, imagine what is happening to towns and villages,” said journalists Manuel Campo Vidal, the former president of the Television Academy, and Paloma Zuriaga, director of the National Radio of Spain (RNE), who read the protesters’ manifesto on Sunday. “We need to react. The revolt of an empty Spain is already in motion and it won’t be silenced... Addressing rural Spain, an empty Spain, is a matter of justice.”

English version by Asia London Palomba.

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