by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Madrid Pride Week organizers are accusing the city's mayor of trying to 'strangle' the event after she fined the organizing committee 160,000 euros (about $216,000) for noise violations.
The LGBT festival, one of Europe's largest, has had to contend with fines before. In fact, this will be the fourth year in a row that city officials have fined the event for 'excessive noise.'
In the past, however, fines were smaller, in the range of 35,000 to 50,000 euros ($47,500-$67,900), and Pride Week organizers successfully appealed the decision, getting the charges waived. This year, activists have also appealed the fines, but they say the legal process could take up to a year.
'You can't levy such barbaric fines on an event that's so important to the city,' said Boti Rodrigo, president of the Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales y Bisexuales. 'These fines put the survival of Madrid Pride in serious jeopardy.'
Madrid's mayor, Ana Botella, is a member of the right-wing People's Party, which won a landslide electoral victory over the rival Socialists in 2011, taking over the national government and a number of key municipal posts.
'We've never seen City Hall so shortsighted, with such little political will towards us,' said Rodrigo. The Pride celebration, started in 1979, attracts an estimated 1.5 million people each year and offers the city a chance to 'show that Madrid is an open, multicultural, and tolerant city,' she said.
'They need to stop trying put obstacles in the way of the event,' Rodrigo added. 'The city of Madrid, under Ana Botella, is a city that's losing visitors, losing liberties, and becoming more closed-minded ... It's becoming the kind of city that Madrileños don't deserve.'
People's Party leader and current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy opposed the country's marriage equality law, passed in 2005 when the Socialist Party controlled the government. In 2012, Spain's Constitutional Court rejected Rajoy's appeal of the law.
Mayor Botella has not always been an enemy of Pride Week.
When the organizers of Madrid Pride decided to nominate the city to host World Pride, the mayor wrote a letter of support backing the campaign. Now, with the city gearing up to host the global event in 2017, Rodrigo said the mayor's attitude had changed.
'She's putting up permanent barriers to our success,' Rodrigo said. 'What's clear is that the ideology of a person, when that person is the mayor of Madrid, shouldn't interfere at all in her political responsibilities.'
In 2011, when Botella was a City Council member, she introduced stringent noise limits in residential areas. The restrictions forced Madrid Pride to invent so-called 'silent concerts,' where participants danced to music streaming through their headphones.
Residents of Chueca, the neighborhood where the Pride festivities are held, has been actively lobbying the city for years to crack down on the event.
'It's a massive concentration of people drinking in the street with indiscriminate musical acts,' Esteban Benito, spokesperson for the Asociación de Vecinos de Chueca, told El País. 'They're not looking to integrate into the neighborhood, they just want a five-day drinking party because their main business is in selling alcohol.'
Juan Carlos Alonso, the coordinator of Madrid Pride, said the event was more than just a party and brought 300,000 tourists to the city from as far afield as the Americas and Asia, who spend an estimated 110 million euros ($150 million) during the event.
Alonso added that other events are also struggling to find a compromise with the city over noise restrictions. But, he said, 'not all of them have fines this big, or problems this big. From our point of view, this reflects a change of policy from the city's administration.'
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