U.S. Department of State Background Note
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Spain's population density, lower than that of most European countries, is roughly equivalent to New England's. In recent years, following a longstanding pattern in the rest of Europe, rural populations are moving to cities. Urban areas are also experiencing a significant increase in immigrant populations, chiefly from North Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe.
Spain has no official religion. The constitution of 1978 disestablished the Roman Catholic Church as the official state religion, while recognizing the role it plays in Spanish society. More than 90% of the population is at least nominally Catholic. Among the remaining population, there are about 1.2 million evangelical Christians and other Protestants (2006 est.), 1 million Muslims (2006 est.) and 48,000 Jews (2006 est.).
The Iberian Peninsula has been settled for millennia. In fact, some of Europe's most impressive Paleolithic cultural sites are located in Spain, including the famous caves at Altamira that contain spectacular paintings dating from about 15,000 to 25,000 years ago. The Basques, Europe's oldest surviving group, are also the first identifiable people of the peninsula.
Beginning in the ninth century BC, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Celts entered the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans followed in the second century BC and laid the groundwork for Spain's present language, religion, and laws. Although the Visigoths arrived in the fifth century AD, the last Roman strongholds along the southern coast did not fall until the seventh century AD. In 711, North African Moors sailed across the straits, swept into Andalusia, and within a few years, pushed the Visigoths up the peninsula to the Cantabrian Mountains. The Reconquest--efforts to drive out the Moors--lasted until 1492. By 1512, the unification of present-day Spain was complete.
During the 16th century, Spain became the most powerful nation in Europe, due to the immense wealth derived from its presence in the Americas. But a series of long, costly wars and revolts, capped by the defeat by the English of the "Invincible Armada" in 1588, began a steady decline of Spanish power in Europe. Controversy over succession to the throne consumed the country during the 18th century, leading to an occupation by France during the Napoleonic era in the early 1800s and a series of armed conflicts throughout much of the 19th century.
The 19th century saw the revolt and independence of most of Spain's colonies in the Western Hemisphere; three wars over the succession issue; the brief ousting of the monarchy and establishment of the First Republic (1873-74); and, finally, the Spanish-American War (1898), in which Spain lost Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the United States. A period of dictatorial rule (1923-31) ended with the establishment of the Second Republic. It was dominated by increasing political polarization, culminating in the leftist Popular Front electoral victory in 1936. Pressures from all sides, coupled with growing and unchecked violence, led to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936.
Following the victory of his nationalist forces in 1939, General Francisco Franco ruled a nation exhausted politically and economically. Spain was officially neutral during World War II but followed a pro-Axis policy. Therefore, the victorious Allies isolated Spain at the beginning of the postwar period, and the country did not join the United Nations until 1955. In 1959, under an International Monetary Fund stabilization plan, the country began liberalizing trade and capital flows, particularly foreign direct investment.
Despite the success of economic liberalization, Spain remained the most closed economy in Western Europe--judged by the small measure of foreign trade to economic activity--and the pace of reform slackened during the 1960s as the state remained committed to "guiding" the economy. Nevertheless, in the 1960s and 1970s, Spain was transformed into a modern industrial economy with a thriving tourism sector. Its economic expansion led to improved income distribution and helped develop a large middle class. Social changes brought about by economic prosperity and the inflow of new ideas helped set the stage for Spain's transition to democracy during the latter half of the 1970s.
Upon the death of General Franco in November 1975, Franco's personally designated heir Prince Juan Carlos de Borbon y Borbon assumed the titles of king and chief of state. Dissatisfied with the slow pace of post-Franco liberalization, he replaced Franco's last Prime Minister with Adolfo Suarez in July 1976. Suarez entered office promising that elections would be held within one year, and his government moved to enact a series of laws to liberalize the new regime. Spain's first elections since 1936 to the Cortes (Parliament) were held on June 15, 1977. Prime Minister Suarez's Union of the Democratic Center (UCD), a moderate center-right coalition, won 34% of the vote and the largest bloc of seats in the Cortes.
Under Suarez, the new Cortes set about drafting a democratic constitution that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in a national referendum in December 1978.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Parliamentary democracy was restored following the death of General Franco in 1975, who had ruled since the end of the civil war in 1939. The 1978 constitution established Spain as a parliamentary monarchy, with the prime minister responsible to the bicameral Cortes (Congress of Deputies and Senate) elected every 4 years. On February 23, 1981, rebel elements among the security forces seized the Cortes and tried to impose a military-backed government. However, the great majority of the military forces remained loyal to King Juan Carlos, who used his personal authority to put down the bloodless coup attempt.
In October 1982, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), led by Felipe Gonzalez, swept both the Congress of Deputies and Senate, winning an absolute majority. Gonzalez and the PSOE ruled for the next 13 years. During that period, Spain joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Community.
In March 1996, Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party (PP) won a plurality of votes. Aznar moved to decentralize powers to the regions and liberalize the economy, with a program of privatization, labor market reform, and measures designed to increase competition in selected markets. During Aznar's first term, Spain fully integrated into European institutions, qualifying for the European Monetary Union. During this period, Spain participated, along with the United States and other NATO allies, in military operations in the former Yugoslavia. President Aznar and the PP won reelection in March 2000, obtaining absolute majorities in both houses of parliament.
After the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, President Aznar became a key ally in the fight against terrorism. Spain backed the military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan and took a leadership role within the European Union (EU) in pushing for increased international cooperation on terrorism. The Aznar government, with a rotating seat on the UN Security Council, supported the intervention in Iraq.
Spanish parliamentary elections on March 14, 2004 came only three days after a devastating terrorist attack on Madrid commuter rail lines that killed 191 and wounded over 1,400. With large voter turnout, PSOE won the election and its leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, took office on April 17, 2004. Carrying out campaign promises, the Zapatero government immediately withdrew Spanish forces from Iraq but has continued to support Iraq reconstruction efforts. The Zapatero government has supported coalition efforts in Afghanistan, including maintaining troop support for 2004 and 2005 elections, supported reconstruction efforts in Haiti, sent troops to UNIFIL in Lebanon, and cooperated on counterterrorism issues and many other issues of importance to the U.S.
In November 1999, ETA ended a cease-fire it declared in September 1998. Following the end of that ceasefire, ETA conducted a campaign of violence and has been blamed for the deaths of some 46 Spanish citizens and officials. Each attack has been followed by massive anti-ETA demonstrations around the country, clearly demonstrating that the majority of Spaniards, including the majority of Spain's Basque populace, have no tolerance for continued ETA violence. In March 2006, ETA declared another ceasefire, which it ended in June 2007. The government continues to pursue vigorous counterterrorist policy and has worked closely with its international allies to foil several suspected ETA attacks.
Spain also contends with a resistance group, commonly known as GRAPO. GRAPO is an urban left-wing terrorist group that seeks to overthrow the Spanish Government and establish a Marxist state. It opposes Spanish participation in NATO and U.S. military presence in Spain and has a long history of assassinations, bombings, and kidnappings mostly against Spanish interests during the 1970s and 1980s.
In a June 2000 communiqué following the explosions of two small devices in Barcelona, GRAPO claimed responsibility for several terrorist attacks throughout Spain during the past year. These attacks included two failed armored car robberies, one in which two security officers died, and four bombings of political party offices during the 1999/2000 election campaign. In 2002 and 2003, Spanish and French authorities were successful in hampering the organization's activities through sweeping arrests, including some of the group's leadership.
Al Qaeda is known to operate cells in Spain. On March 11, 2004, only three days before national elections, 10 bombs were detonated on crowded commuter trains during rush hour. Three were deactivated by security forces and one was found unexploded. Evidence quickly surfaced that jihadist terrorists with possible ties to the al Qaeda network were responsible for the attack that killed 191 people. Spanish investigative services and the judicial system have aggressively sought to arrest and prosecute suspected al Qaeda members and actively cooperate with foreign governments to diminish the transnational terrorist threat. A Spanish court convicted 18 individuals in September 2005 for their role in supporting al Qaeda, and Spanish police disrupted numerous Islamist extremist cells operating in the country. The trial against 29 people for their alleged participation in the Madrid March 11, 2004 terrorist attack started in February 2007, and was declared ready for judgment at the end of June. One of the 29 was absolved during the trial. The prosecutor asked for sentences as high as 30,000 years of jail for some of them. The court is expected to issue the sentence sometime in October 2007.
Principal Government Officials
Spain maintains an embassy in the United States at 2375 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037 (tel. 202-452-0100) and consulates in many larger U.S. cities.
Spain's accession to the European Community--now European Union (EU)--in January 1986 required the country to open its economy to trade and investment, modernize its industrial base, improve infrastructure, and revise economic legislation to conform to EU guidelines. In doing so, Spain increased gross domestic product (GDP) growth, reduced the public debt to GDP ratio, reduced unemployment from 23% in 1986 to 8.47% in first quarter 2007, and reduced inflation to under 3%. The fundamental challenges remaining for Spain include decreasing unemployment further, reforming labor laws lowering inflation, and raising per capita GDP.
Following peak growth years in the late 1980s, the Spanish economy entered into recession in mid-1992. The economy recovered during the first Aznar administration (1996-2000), driven by a return of consumer confidence and increased private consumption, although growth has slowed in recent years. Unemployment remains a problem at 8.47% (2007, first quarter), but this still represents a significant improvement from previous levels. Devaluations of the peseta during the 1990s made Spanish exports more competitive, but the strength of the euro since its adoption has raised recent concerns that Spanish exports are being priced out of the range of foreign buyers.
After the return of democracy following the death of General Franco in 1975, Spain's foreign policy priorities were to break out of the diplomatic isolation of the Franco years and expand diplomatic relations, enter the European Community, and define security relations with the West.
As a member of NATO since 1982, Spain has established itself as a major participant in multilateral international security activities. Spain's EU membership represents an important part of its foreign policy. Even on many international issues beyond Western Europe, Spain prefers to coordinate its efforts with its EU partners through the European political cooperation mechanism.
With the normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel and Albania in 1986, Spain virtually completed the process of universalizing its diplomatic relations. The only country with which it now does not have diplomatic relations is North Korea.
Spain has maintained its special identification with Latin America. Its policy emphasizes the concept of Hispanidad, a mixture of linguistic, religious, ethnic, cultural, and historical ties binding Spanish-speaking America to Spain. Spain has been an effective example of transition from authoritarianism to democracy, as shown in the many trips that Spain's King and Prime Ministers have made to the region. Spain maintains economic and technical cooperation programs and cultural exchanges with Latin America, both bilaterally and within the EU.
Spain also continues to focus attention on North Africa, especially on Morocco. This concern is dictated by geographic proximity and long historical contacts, as well as by the two Spanish enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern coast of Africa. While Spain's departure from its former colony of Western Sahara ended direct Spanish participation in Morocco, it maintains an interest in the peaceful resolution of the conflict brought about there by decolonization. These issues were highlighted by a crisis in 2002, when Spanish forces evicted a small contingent of Moroccans from a tiny islet off Morocco's coast following that nation's attempt to assert sovereignty over the island.
Meanwhile, Spain has gradually begun to broaden its contacts with Sub-Saharan Africa. It has a particular interest in its former colony of Equatorial Guinea, where it maintains a large aid program.
In relations with the Arab world, Spain has sought to promote European-Mediterranean dialogue. Spain strongly supports the EU's "Barcelona Process" which seeks to expand dialogue and trade between Europe and the nations of North Africa and the Middle East, including Israel. It is seen by some as too greatly favoring the European Union. Other proposals are on the table, including one put forward by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. The latest meeting on the Barcelona initiative was held on November 29, 2005.
Spain has been successful in managing its relations with its two European neighbors, France and Portugal. The accession of Spain and Portugal to the EU has helped ease some of their periodic trade frictions by putting these into an EU context. Franco-Spanish bilateral cooperation is enhanced by joint action against Basque ETA terrorism. Ties with the United Kingdom are generally good, although the question of Gibraltar remains a sensitive issue.
Spain and the United States have a long history of official relations and are closely associated in many fields. In addition to U.S. and Spanish cooperation in NATO, defense and security relations between the two countries are regulated by a 1989 Agreement on Defense Cooperation, revised in 2003. Under this agreement, Spain authorized the United States to use certain facilities at Spanish military installations.
The two countries also cooperate in several other important areas. Under a 1964 agreement (currently being renegotiated), the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Spanish National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA) jointly operate the Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex in support of Earth orbital and solar system exploration missions. The Madrid Complex is one of the three-largest tracking and data acquisition complexes comprising NASA's Deep Space Network.
An agreement on cultural and educational cooperation was signed on June 7, 1989. A new element, supported by both the public and private sectors, gives a different dimension to the programs carried out by the joint committee for cultural and educational cooperation. These joint committee activities complement the binational Fulbright program for graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and visiting professors, which became the largest in the world in 1989. Besides assisting in these exchange endeavors, the U.S. Embassy also conducts a program of official visits between Spain and the United States.
Spain and the U.S. are strong allies in the fight against terrorism.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
The U.S. Embassy is located at Serrano, 75, 28006 Madrid (tel. 34-91-587-2200; fax 34-91-587-2303). Consulate General, Barcelona, Paseo Reina Elisenda 23, Barcelona 08034 (tel. 34-93-280-2227; fax 34-93-205-5206).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jul. 2007