Der Spiegel – Botella’s Battle: Madrid’s Mayor Chips Away at Debt and Tradition

Spain is frantically trying to reduce its debts. While conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is doing so at the national level, Ana Botella is slashing away at spending in Madrid, Spain’s most heavily indebted city. In the process, the mayor is blazing her own path.

When Ana Botella looks up from the files in her office on the fifth floor of Madrid’s city hall, she sees the crown of a fertility goddess. The marble statue of Cibeles standing in a chariot being pulled by lions is the centerpiece of a busy plaza in the Spanish capital. On good days, the players and fans of Real Madrid, the city’s league-leading soccer club, celebrate their victories in the square in front of the Cibeles Fountain.

Last Thursday wasn’t one of those days. Instead of jubilant soccer fans, there were tens of thousands of protestors waving red flags in front of the fountain just below the balcony of Botella’s office. They were protesting against the fact that over 5 million of their fellow citizens are unemployed and against the austerity measures imposed by the conservative federal government, which are plunging many families into poverty.

That morning, inside city hall, Botella and the city council had decided to free up about €1 million ($1.3 million) in funds so that rents could be reduced for the city’s poorest residents living in subsidized housing.

Indeed, these are hard times on Cibeles Square. Madrid’s mayor still has to pay over €1 billion for 16,712 outstanding bills from 2011 as well as try to get the finances of Spain’s most heavily indebted city under control. And she needs to do so as quickly as possible.

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