Our lecture/discussions took place at the beautiful Casa de Americas. We first had a chance to sit down with Jose Antonio Gurpegui, a Professor of American Studies at the Univserity of Alcalá and a politcal commentator. He gave us a rundown of the political history of Spain since the death of Franco and how Spanish politics have affected US-Spanish relations.
The discussion was timely as major protests were scheduled to occur that evening in front of the Spanish national parliament. I walked down to Plaza del Sol with Naveen to see a pretty small crowd confronted by a line of policemen blocking off an access road so that the parliament could be accessed.
Initially disappointed in the size (after what was promised) we walked closer to the parliament, where the milling crowd got thicker and thicker.
One of the more successful chants was "hijo de puta!" apparently referring to the Spanish parliamentarians.
The protesters seemed to be angry at the Spanish Government for not representing their interests, at the German-led Eurozone for imposing austerity as a requirement for economic help, and at the financial system that had gotten the country into this mess. I saw many protesters and many policemen but I didn't see any violence. You'd think differently if you didn't read the next day's New York Times too closely, which liberally interspersed images of Greek rioters with Spanish protesters. Apparently there were some rubber bullets fired after I left, but I haven't been able to find out much more than that.
Two days later I went for a run and I passed through the Plaza de Neptuno and it looked as if nothing had even happened. It was a weird feeling.