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STRIKES

Doctors, teachers and taxi drivers strike across Catalonia

Wednesday is due to be a difficult day in Catalonia with planned stoppages across three different sectors in health, education, and taxi services.

Doctors, teachers and taxi drivers strike across Catalonia
Doctors are striking in Catalonia. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

Medical staff

The union Metges de Catalunya has called for five days of strikes for doctors and medical staff across Catalonia on Wednesday, January 25th and Thursday, January 26th, as well as February 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

They are demanding more resources and personnel for the Catalan public health system and between 25 to 28 patient appointments per work shift of 12 minutes each.

READ ALSO – Key dates: How planned health service strikes in Spain could affect you

After an unsuccessful meeting on Tuesday, January 24th to try and resolve issues and further talks on Wednesday morning that didn’t lead to any resolution, 25,000 health professionals from health centers and hospitals across the region have been called to strike. They have not demonstrated en masse like this in Catalonia since 2018.

Some 500 nurses and midwives also took to the streets on Tuesday, January 24th to ask for better working conditions. Their protest continues this Wednesday, when both nurses and doctors have gathered to march to Sants train station, where they are due to arrive at midday. 

The regional government has agreed to guarantee urgent health care as well as that of the neonatal units and vital chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments.

Teachers

Teachers and other educational professionals have also been called to strike with two days of planned walkouts on Wednesday, January 25th and Thursday, January 26th.

After a series of unproductive negotiations with the Minister of Education, Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray, the unions Ustec, CCOO and UGT decided to go ahead with the stoppages.  

The unions have said that the simultaneous strikes in education and health make perfect sense as they are “two pillars” of society that should be a priority for the government.

The union Ustec demands that the regional government should invest 6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in public education as established by the Education Law of Catalonia. They are also asking to reduce the ratios in the classes and improve the working conditions of educational professionals. 

Schools will remain open during these days, however, and minimum services have been established such as guaranteeing 50 percent of the staff in special education centers and nurseries.

Taxi drivers

Taxi drivers have also joined in the protests and will stage a four-hour strike on Barcelona’s Gran Via this Wednesday, against driver apps such as Free Now, Uber and Bolt.

Negotiations between The Elite Taxi union and the city council broke down last week and the union has called drivers to gather from 10am to 2pm on Gran Via with Plaza Tetuán and on Passeig de Gràcia.

Taxi drivers will also be voting on whether to protest during the Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) and Mobile World Congress fairs. ISE will be held from January 1st to February 3rd and Mobile World Congress from February 27th to March 2nd.  

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CATALONIA

Guns n’ ganja: Weapons flood Catalonia’s cannabis trade

In the dead of the night, wearing bullet-proof vests, their faces masked, scores of armed Spanish police staged a stealthy pre-dawn raid on homes in a small Catalan town this week.

Guns n' ganja: Weapons flood Catalonia's cannabis trade

Despite being armed to the teeth, this wasn’t an anti-terror operation: they were raiding marijuana plantations — which are increasingly run by gangs with serious weaponry.

With its eight million residents, this wealthy northeastern region of Spain has in recent years morphed from being a transit route for drugs to becoming a notorious European production hub, mainly of marijuana.

And as a result, guns are becoming increasingly visible and instances of armed violence are on the rise.

In their pre-dawn raid in Constanti, which lies 100 kilometres (60 miles) down the coast from Barcelona, police burst into seven homes that had been taken over by squatters.

READ ALSO: Barcelona starts to wage war on its cannabis clubs

Inside, they found 2,000 marijuana plants growing under powerful lights in rooms equipped with large fans.

“We’re fighting to stop this whole area from turning into a mini narco-state,” said Tarragona police chief Inspector Ramon Franques, referring to police efforts across the region.

A Catalan regional police forces Mossos d’Esquadra officer counts cannabis plants at an indoor grow found during a raid cannabis plantation in Constanti, near Tarragona. Photo: Manaure QUINTERO/AFP.
 

‘Military grade weapons’

Regional police say there has been a worrying rise in gun violence brought on by the growing presence of drug gangs.

“The trafficking and cultivation of marijuana is worrying, but mostly because of the associated increase in violence,” explained Carlos Otamendi, head of criminal investigations at the Mossos d’Esquadra regional police.

On June 23, gun violence exploded into the public eye when a man pulled out a weapon, allegedly a Kalashnikov, and shot dead two people during an argument on the outskirts of the northern city of Girona.

Initial indications suggest the argument was not drug-related but the alleged perpetrator — who is still at large — belonged to a gang involved in marijuana trafficking.

In a separate incident around the same time, police seized five weapons, two of them military-grade, while breaking up a group that had smuggled hashish into the region by boat, an increasingly common practice.

“Gang violence didn’t start now with drug trafficking, nor with the establishment of organised crime networks smuggling marijuana. But this use of military-grade weapons is new,” said Gerardo Cavero of the anti-trafficking arm of the Barcelona prosecutor’s office.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about cannabis clubs in Spain

Growing number of gangs

According to the EU’s Drugs Agency (EUDA), cannabis is the most widely-consumed illegal substance in Europe, be it in the form of hashish, marijuana or derivatives.

In 2022, 69 percent of all cannabis resin seizures across the EU was in Spain, along with 47 percent of weed and 81 per cent of cannabis plants, EUDA’s latest report says.

The findings highlighted Spain’s “significant role” as both a transit country for cannabis and a production area, it said.

READ ALSO: What’s the law on cannabis in Spain?

Mossos d’Esquadra officers cut cannabis plants during a raid indoor cannabis plantation in Constanti, near Tarragona. Photo: Manaure QUINTERO/AFP.

In 2022, Spanish police seized more than 36,700 kilogrammes of marijuana from Catalonia alone, interior ministry figures show.

And there are a growing number of gangs in the region who are “setting up plantations and then distributing the plants across Europe,” the office of Spain’s public prosecutor said in its latest national report.

For those running these lucrative operations, which are also prevalent in the southern Andalusia region, protection is essential.

“If there is one thing that characterises organised crime in respect to drug trafficking, it is the use of violence,” said Cavero.

More drug-related violence 

Last year, police seized 1,171 weapons in Catalonia, an increase of 28 percent from 2022.

During that period, armed attacks in marijuana plantations rose by 78 percent, while the related number of deaths in such incidents rose to five.

Four more were linked to the booming hash trade. In 2022, just one person died.

But with a murder rate lower than the European average, the Catalan authorities insist that the region is “safe”, with levels of criminality far lower than in other parts of the world.

In the latest regional survey, respondents were asked to identify issues which caused them concern, and only 7 percent spoke of personal safety.

But something is changing.

“I don’t want to say we’re getting used to it but it’s a type of violence that is becoming more normalised,” said journalist Fatima Llambrich, an expert on the subject.

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