Spain

on the World Today

IN THE fifteen years since Spain’s civil war, many of the scars left when the fighting stopped in 1939 have been effaced and there are several outward signs of improvement. Roads are better, though still far below the standard of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. Except in the larger cities and their immediate neighborhoods, few cars of Spanish registration are seen.

The diminutive donkey is still the major means of locomotion on the roads, in the towns, and in the fields. Loaded with double wicker baskets or burlap bags often equal to or greater than the weight of the donkey itself, with a passenger perched uncomfortably over its forequarters, this little animal is in every sense a beast of burden. Very few horses are seen in the country, although in the sunnier and warmer cities of the south, oldfashioned open landaus carry curious sightseers from nine in the morning until almost midnight, except for the coffee and meal hours, when the bustling cities become suddenly quiet and deserted.

In Bilbao, the Pittsburgh of Spain, where the Asturian miners — excited by Moscow’s militant agitators and deluded by dreams of the promised land for workers — fought the regular army with fanatic courage, destruction had been terrible. But today the city, a thriving center of metallurgy and heavy industry, boasts elegant broad avenues and neat parks lined with impressive blocks of apartment houses, banks, hotels, and marts of commerce, as fine as in any modern city in Texas.

While new factories and industrial plants are not frequently seen, tidy textile and paper mills border the streams in the north. The Barcelona area is of course an exception with its many ultramodern and busy mills and factories. Chemical works and oil refineries are rare but are expanding to meet the demand of the growing population.

After riding for miles across wide stretches of open plateauland — bounded in the far distance by rugged blue mountains as in Arizona or New Mexico — it is surprising to approach a city and to read “Armstrong Cork” or “American Cy ana mid’” on the fagade of an extensive plant, factory building, or laboratory. There are no important hydroelectric plants, and except near Madrid no power lines stretch their steel arms toward the sky. As the supply of electricity is still inadequate, it is shut off two days a week during the daylight hours. Even in December, when the days are very short, it is off from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M.

Too little water

Deforestation is said to dale from the sixteenth century, and can be attributed to the enormous requirements for shipbuilding during the days of glory, when the sun never set on the red and gold flag of Spain and “stately Spanish galleons” covered the seven seas. It remains one of the agonizing problems of twentieth-century Spain. The rainfall and the water from melting snows are not held in the parched ground, but dash recklessly down the wide and rocky rivers and are lost to the starving lands. In parts of Spain, water is more expensive than wine—which, though not as famous as the French and German wines, is of good quality and is a daily necessity for the Spanish family.

The lack of water is at the heart of Spain’s problems, as without water the country can never produce enough food to nourish the population properly. A worker‘s midday meal often consists of no more than a raw onion, a chunk of rather tough bread, and a draught of wine — not many calories for the amount of energy expended by the workers. It is evident that this problem is clearly recognized by the Spanish government, as many extensive areas have been replanted with conifers and oak — and in the south and along the Biscay coast, with eucalyptus.

There are few cat tit1 in the center or south, but in the northwest small herds are evident. At the same time, all over Spain flocks of goats and longhaired sheep graze on the meager fare to be found among the rocks, along the roads, or in the stubble of harvested fields.

The principal food crops are cereals, rice, and vegetables. Olives and fruits arc available for the middle classes and for export. C ork is also an important export item. Wine production exceeds 600 million gallons a year and olive oil production 100 million gallons.

Houses for a growing population

The population has increased 50 per cent in fifty years, an average of 1 per cent per year. The total in December, 1954, was 29.1 million. About 5 million people live in the fifteen principal cities; the other 24 million live in the smaller cities and towns which spring up out of the red-brown open plains in the most unexpected spots. And although there are many impressive indications that the Franco government is well aware of its demographic problem, as evidenced by the extensive housing projects completed or in process, there are still thousands of people who live in caves or in rooms hollowed out of the earth.

In a town called La Guardia, an entire hillside of bare red clay is cut with a series of horizontal paths carved out of the cliff, one above the other. Along these hanging streets, poor peasants, gypsies, and the dispossessed have excavated their rooms. Some have been faced with walls made of blocks of dried clay, with an opening usually screened by a curtain of burlap. A few have wooden doors, and fewer still have windows. Most of these cave dwellings have squat round chimneys of baked clay protruding through the hill above the entrance level, from which the white wood smoke curls against the clear blue sky.

There are masses of children everywhere, mostly ragged, often barefoot, almost always dirty, and all begging. A tourist, obvious from his dress or his car, is immediately surrounded by a host of urchins, hands outstretched asking for a peseta; by bedraggled women carrying sickly babies; by older boys and men, usually poorly dressed, but always with carefully arranged and pomaded hair, who offer their services as guides to the cathedrals, churches, and palaces—a job for which they are trained by the civil or ecclesiastical authorities.

The Roman Catholic Church, the only church recognized and authorized by the government, has a firm hold on the people, and therefore no birth control is practiced. As public education is compulsory only in theory, hordes of children swarm over the countryside like little wild animals, busy with their childish activities, learning how to live under very tough conditions, and occasionally bothering the wandering visitor by their insistence.

Both private capital and the provincial administrations have cooperated to provide better housing for the people. In the past ten years, the number of housing units built each year has doubled, but the total still falls far short of the need. Twenty thousand new housing units per year with eight persons per unit would take care of 160,000 people. But the population is now increasing by twice that number every year.

Miracle drugs

There is a boom in pharmaceuticals in Spain, and the newer drugs which have been found effective in the United States, Britain, France, and the other more advanced Western countries enjoy active sales. Sulfa drugs, antibiotics, and many of the “mycins” are produced under license by Spanish concerns. An entire building in Madrid is devoted to Pfizer products. The directors report that their business is rapidly expanding with the technical guidance of an American chemical engineer loaned by Pfizer to supervise plant construction and production controls, and to train the personnel in the high standards required by the food and drug laws in the United States.

A more active interest in health on the part of both the government and the people is a definite factor in population growth. As the public conscience and interest today demand belter living conditions, resulting in longer lives for more people, the problems of housing and feeding are made more acute. In countries with sufficient arable land and an adequate rainfall, intense cultivation and the use of fertilizers can increase food supplies.

In Spain reforestation will ultimately improve the quality of the soil, increase crops, and provide lumber for housing. An adequate program combined with the building of reservoirs to contain the waters and produce electric power would require at least fifty years, as forest growth would be slow in the parched soil.

The cost of living

With the highest daily wage only 56.8 cents, the contrast with other Western countries is astounding. Since 1946, the increase in maximum wages averaged about 15 percent, while the cost-of-living index has risen more than 60 per cent. The only encouraging feature is the comparative stability during the past four years; but until wages are greatly increased, the workers will remain far worse off than they were in 1946.

Compared with other European countries, prices in Spain are low. A four-course meal in a good restaurant costs from 35 to 55 pesetas (90 cents to $1.40); a single room with bath in a modest hotel costs from 55 to 75 pesetas ($1.40 to $1.90). Tips are usually 15 per cent of the bill. Clothing and shoes are one third of the price in France, England, or Germany, and rents are low.

Courtesy and friendly smiles

Notwithstanding their meager existence, the Spaniards are not only kind, considerate, and helpful, but are an unusually cheerful people. They beg, but do not look or act displeased when they are turned down. The traveler is courteously thanked when he presses a coal-black rumpled piece of worn-out paper ostensibly worth a peseta 2½ cents) into an outstretched palm.

The public guard who watches your parked car in front of the hotel politely steps up to collect his fee as you prepare to leave. This may shock the uninitiated traveler, who often learns too late that these guards are sanctioned by the government in the interest of tourists. A grouchy grumble and a five-peseta note are usually rewarded with a pleasant smile as the guard takes off his hat and bows the departing stranger into an uncomfortable silence. A guarded parking space in the street for 12½ cents a night isn’t really a subject for complaint !

The Spanish are one of the most unself-conscious people on earth. A poorly dressed guide at one of the many fabulous national monuments recounts history and discusses art in the rich palaces of Moorish rulers and in the glistening cathedral treasure rooms of the Catholic bishops, with simple pride and dignity and without bluster or boasting. His knowledge is complete enough and factual, as all official guides are obliged to pass examinations.

From one to three o‘clock each day is luncheon, coffee, or talking time for the men who gather in the cafés or stand in the streets and squares, all talking at once. In all the cities and larger towns from 7 to 9 P.M., even when the temperature is near the freezing point, the crowds stroll on the paseo (promenade) chattering, laughing, joking, and ogling.

A bareheaded child sings a rhythmic song on a public street or in an open square, with a battered tin can as a drum and a single castanet or handclaps to mark the beat, and is quite unembarrassed by the gaping strangers who stop to listen. A group of urchins break into a Spanish dance on the sidewalk, laughing with enjoyment at their own antics and having even more fun than the visitors. A people that can do so much with so little, and do it with gallantry and gaiety, has something the dour northerner must admire and might do well to imitate.

Faction against faction

There is no real democracy in Spain. There are no political parties as we know them in other countries. Four evenly matched factions jockey for temporary influence or power, but Dictator Franco skillfully plays them one against the other and holds the reins with a firm hand. The Army, the Church, the Falange, and the Monarchists all aspire to rule, but none of them has ever been in the driver’s seat since Franco took over.

There is no universal suffrage. With 65 per cent of the population on or below the subsistence level, a popular election would probably throw out the upper 35 per cent in short order. Chaos would doubtless be the result until a far more ruthless and cruel dictatorship wiped out the elite and turned the country over to Communism or something worse. Those in power therefore intend to stay in power.

The civil wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were horrible ordeals, and not even the poor want to undergo again what they lived through in 1936-1939. Much is being done which will slowly improve conditions; and if the people can be patient and can somehow learn to restrain their procreative instincts, life may one day be better. That is the hope of the enlightened.