U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Spain, November 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Kingdom of Spain
Area: 504,750 sq. km. (194,884 sq. mi.) including the Balearic and
Canary Islands; about the size of Arizona and Utah combined.
Cities: Capital--Madrid (pop. 2.9 million est). Other cities--Barcelona
(1.6 million), Valencia (753,000), Seville (659,000), Zaragoza
(586,000), Bilbao (369,000), Malaga (512,000).
Terrain: High plateaus and mountains.
Climate: Seasonably variable, dry; temperate in northwest.
Nationality: Noun--Spaniard(s). Adjective--Spanish.
Population: 40 million.
Annual growth rate: 0.3%.
Ethnic groups: Distinct ethnic groups within Spain include the Basques,
Catalans, and Gallegos.
Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic.
Languages: Spanish (official), Catalan-Valenciana 17%, Galician 7%,
Education: Years compulsory--to age 16. Literacy--97%.
Work force (15.2 million): Services--55%. Agriculture--12%.
Type: Constitutional monarchy (Juan Carlos I proclaimed King November
Branches: Executive--prime minister nominated by monarch, subject to
approval by democratically elected Congress of Deputies. Legislative--
bicameral Cortes: a 350-seat Congress of Deputies (elected by the
d'Hondt system of proportional representation) and a Senate. Four
senators are elected in each of 47 peninsular provinces, 16 are elected
from the three island provinces, and Ceuta and Melilla elect two each;
this accounts for 208 senators. The 17 autonomous regions also appoint
one senator as well as one additional senator for every 1 million
inhabitants within their territory (about 20 senators). Judicial--
Constitutional Tribunal has jurisdiction over constitutional issues.
Supreme Tribunal heads system comprising territorial, provincial,
regional, and municipal courts.
Subdivisions: 47 peninsular and three island provinces; two enclaves on
the Mediterranean coast of Morocco (Ceuta and Melilla); and three island
groups along that coast--Alhucemas, Pelon de Velez de la Gomera, and the
Political parties: Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), Popular
Party (PP), Social and Democratic Center (CDS), and the United Left (IU)
coalition. Key regional parties are the Convergence and Union (CIU) in
Catalonia and the Basque National Party (PNV) in the Basque country.
GDP (1994): $483 billion (seventh-largest OECD economy).
Annual growth rate: 2%.
Per capita GDP: $12,000.
Natural resources: Coal, lignite, iron ore, uranium, mercury, pyrites,
fluorspar, gypsum, zinc, lead, tungsten, copper, kaolin, hydroelectric
Agriculture (3.5% of GDP): Products--grains, vegetables, citrus and
deciduous fruits, wine, olives and olive oil, sunflowers, livestock.
Industry (23% of GDP): Types--processed foods, textiles, footwear,
petrochemicals, steel, automobiles, consumer goods, electronics.
Trade (1994): Exports--$73.5 billion: automobiles, fruits, minerals,
metals, clothing, footwear, textiles. Major markets--EU 75%, U.S. 5%.
Imports--$92.7 billion: petroleum, oilseeds, aircraft, grains,
chemicals, machinery, transportation equipment, fish. Major sources--EU
69%, U.S. 7.3%.
Average exchange rate: 134 pesetas=U.S.$1. n
Spain's population density, lower than that of most European countries,
is roughly equivalent to New England. In recent years, following a long-
standing pattern in the rest of Europe, rural populations are moving to
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 are at least nominally Catholic.
About 70% of Spain's student population attends public schools or
universities. The remainder attend private schools or universities, the
great majority of which are operated by the Catholic Church.
Compulsory education begins with primary school or general basic
education for ages 6-14. It is free in public schools and in many
private schools, most of which receive government subsidies. Following
graduation, students attend either a secondary school offering a general
high school diploma or a school of professional education (corresponding
to grades 9-11 in the United States) offering a vocational training
program. The Spanish university system offers degree programs in law,
sciences, humanities, and medicine, and the superior technical schools
offer programs in engineering and architecture.
The Iberian Peninsula has been occupied for many millennia. Some of
Europe's most impressive Paleolithic cultural sites are located there--
the famous caves at Altamura contain spectacular paintings which date
from about 15,000-25,000 years ago. The Basques are the first
identifiable people of the peninsula and are the oldest surviving group
in Europe. Iberians arrived from North Africa during a more recent
Beginning in the ninth century BC, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians,
and Celts entered the Iberian Peninsula, followed by the Romans, who
arrived in the second century BC. Spain's present language, religion,
and laws stem from the Roman period. 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 and 19th centuries, leading
to occupation by France in the early 1800s.
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, Gen. Francisco
Franco ruled a nation exhausted politically and economically. Spain was
officially neutral during World War II but followed a pro-Axis policy.
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
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, Prince Juan Carlos de
Borbon y Borbon, Franco's personally designated heir, assumed the titles
of king and chief of state. Dissatisfied with the slow pace of post-
Franco liberalization, in July 1976, the King replaced Franco's last
prime minister with Adolfo Suarez. 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 to the Cortes (parliament) since 1936 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 which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in a December
1978 national referendum.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The 1978 constitution established Spain as a parliamentary monarchy,
with the prime minister responsible to the bicameral Cortes elected
every four years. The elections of March 1979 gave Suarez's party a
large plurality, but the coalition of parties backing Suarez soon began
to disintegrate. In January 1981, Suarez resigned, and the King
nominated Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo to replace him. On February 23, while
the Congress of Deputies was voting on the Calvo Sotelo nomination,
rebel elements among the security forces seized the Congress 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 coup. The bloodless coup attempt was
over in 18 hours. On February 25, the Congress of Deputies reconvened to
approve Calvo Sotelo's nomination as Prime Minister.
In October 1982, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), led by
Felipe Gonzalez Marquez, swept both the Congress of Deputies and Senate,
winning an absolute majority; the government was reelected in June 1986.
On December 14, 1988, the two largest labor union confederations, the
Socialist-affiliated General Workers Union and the communist-led
Confederation of Workers Commissions, sponsored a successful one-day
nationwide work stoppage. The general strike was seen as an expression
of labor union dissatisfaction with the governing PSOE's leadership as
well as a move to highlight specific union grievances. It marked a
widening split between the labor unions and the Socialist government.
The strike was interpreted as a sign that the government had lost some
support, especially among blue-collar workers, a sector of the
electorate traditionally pro-socialist.
Prime Minister Gonzalez called for a general election in October 1989.
Although the PSOE retained control of the Senate, the party lost ground,
both to the Popular Party on the right and the communist-led United
Left. Gonzalez won a fourth term in 1993 with a minority government
supported by the regional Catalan party.
The 1978 constitution authorized the creation of regional autonomous
governments. By 1985, 17 regions covering all of peninsular Spain, the
Canaries, and the Balearic Islands had negotiated autonomy statutes with
the central government. In 1979, the first autonomous elections were
held in the Basque and Catalan regions, which have the strongest
regional traditions by virtue of their history and separate languages.
Since then, autonomous governments have been created in the remainder of
the 17 regions.
The Government of Spain is involved in a long-running campaign against
Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), a terrorist organization founded in
1959 and dedicated to promoting Basque independence. ETA targets
primarily Spanish security forces, military personnel, and Spanish
Government officials. The group has carried out numerous bombings
against Spanish Government facilities and economic targets. In recent
years, the Government of Spain has had more success in controlling ETA,
due in part to increased security cooperation with French authorities.
In early 1989, the Spanish Government held a series of meetings in
Algeria with ETA representatives in an effort to reach an agreement
ending the campaign of terrorism. But the talks broke down, and ETA
resumed its terrorist operations with a series of bombings on April 7,
1989, effectively ending a three-month cease-fire. The spring and summer
of 1990 saw another significant wave of terrorist operations, with ETA
and the radical leftist group GRAPO claiming responsibility for bombings
against public installations throughout the country.
A series of highly successful Spanish police counter-terrorist
operations conducted in coordination with French authorities, including
the arrest of the ETA leadership, had reduced that organization's
activities by the close of 1992. However, a core of hardliners saw to it
that the ETA's agenda of violence continued, orchestrating two
assassinations in January 1993.
As for GRAPO, while not responsible for any deaths during 1992, its
members procured the equivalent of $622,000 from armored-car heists. The
group carried out an armored-car robbery in early January 1993, an act
which was expected to boost the morale of members of Spain's Communist
Party, the political arm of GRAPO.
Catalonia liberation groups, most notable of which is Terra Lliure
(TLL), were given special attention by the police in preparation for the
1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, and their activity was largely
Principal Government Officials
Chief of State, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces--King Juan Carlos
President of the Government (Prime Minister)--Felipe Gonzalez Marquez
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Javier Solana
Ambassador to the United States--Jaime de Ojeda y Eiseley
Spain maintains an embassy in the United States at 2375 Pennsylvania
Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037 (tel. 202-728-2340) and consulates in
many larger U.S. cities.
Following peak growth years in the late 1980s, the Spanish economy
entered into recession in mid-1992. Both investment and private
consumption were negative during 1993, while registered unemployment
surged to nearly 25%. Four devaluations of the peseta since 1992 have
made Spanish exports more competitive and have contributed to a boom in
tourism revenues. A modest export-led recovery began in 1994. Late that
year, investment also picked up, but consolidation of the recovery will
require a return of consumer confidence and domestic private
Spain's accession to the European Community--now European Union (EU)--in
January 1986 has required the country to open its economy, modernize its
industrial base, improve infrastructure, and revise economic legislation
to conform to EU guidelines. The Spanish Government has announced its
commitment to meet the Maastricht Treaty requirements for economic and
monetary union; the fundamental challenges for Spain are to reduce the
public sector deficit and to lower inflation.
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 its diplomatic
relations, enter the European Community, and define its 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, and
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, it maintains an interest in the peaceful resolution of
the conflict brought about there by decolonization. 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 its relations with the Arab world, Spain frequently supports Arab
positions on Middle East issues. The Arab countries are a priority
interest for Spain because of oil and gas imports and because several
Arab nations have substantial investments in Spain.
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; the two countries agreed in 1984
to discuss all subjects, including sovereignty, in their talks on the
future of this British colony. This agreement has led to a relaxation of
border controls and greater movement of people and goods.
Spain and the United States have a long history of official relations
and are now closely associated in many fields. This association has been
cemented in recent years by the exchange of high-level visitors. In
April 1993, King Juan Carlos received a gold medal from the United
States National Philosophical Society in Philadelphia on the occasion of
its 250th anniversary.
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. Under this agreement, Spain authorizes
the United States to use certain facilities at Spanish military
The two countries also cooperate in several other important areas. Under
an agreement which will remain in force until 1997 and which is subject
to renewal at that time, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) and the Spanish National Aerospace Institute
(INTA) jointly operate tracking stations in the Madrid area in support
of earth orbital, lunar, and planetary exploration missions. The Madrid
tracking station is one of the three largest tracking and data
acquisition complexes supporting NASA operations.
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, in 1989, became the largest in the world. Besides assisting in
these exchange endeavors, the U.S. embassy also conducts a program of
official visits between Spain and the United States.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Richard N. Gardner
Deputy Chief of Mission--Larry Rossin
Counselor for Administrative Affairs--William Burke
Counselor for Agricultural Affairs--Franklin Lee
Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Emilio Iodice
Counselor for Consular Affairs--Eloise Shouse
Counselor for Economic Affairs--Emil Castro
Counselor for Political Affairs--Harry Jones
Counselor for Politico-Military Affairs--Enrique Perez
Counselor for Public Affairs--Brian Carlson
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation--Col. Judy W. George, USAF
Defense Attache--Capt. James Tinsley, USN
Drug Enforcement Administration Attache--George Faz
Federal Aviation Administration Representative--Rudolph Escobedo
NASA Representative--Anthony Carro
Regional Security Officer--Kenneth Sykes
Science Attache--Helen Lane
Consul General, Barcelona--Maurice Parker
Consul, Bilbao--Hilarian Martinez
The US embassy is located at Serrano, 75, 28006 Madrid (tel. 34-1-577-
4000; fax 34-1-577-5735). Consulate general, Barcelona, Passeig Reina
Elisenda 23, Barcelona 08034 (tel. 34-3-280-2227; fax 34-3-205-5206).
Consulate Bilbao, Avenida del Ejercito, 11 - 3rd floor, Duesto, Bilbao,
12 (tel. 34-4-475-8300; fax 34-4-476-1240).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the subject country. They can be obtained by telephone at (202) 647-5225
or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the Consular Affairs Bulletin
Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a modem with standard
settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications on obtaining
passports and planning a safe trip aboard are available from the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 783-3238.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives 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-94-8280, price
$7.00) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20420, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to
register at the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials"
listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you
en route in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB
provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to
anyone with a personal computer, modem, telecommunications software, and
a telephone line.
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official weekly magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press
briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc.
DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the Internet:
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Priced at
$80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and
Macintosh compatible) and are available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government
Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS
information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(gopher.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202)
482-1986 for more information.
Background Notes Series -- Published by the United States Department of
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