Spanish mayor compared to Hitler over immigrant claims

Javier Maroto accused of stirring up tensions by saying North Africans abuse system

Vitoria in northern Spain, pictured earlier in August at the start of its annual festival.  Photograph: Adrian Ruiz de Hierro/EPA

Vitoria in northern Spain, pictured earlier in August at the start of its annual festival. Photograph: Adrian Ruiz de Hierro/EPA

Tue, Aug 26, 2014, 01:01

The mayor of a town in northern Spain has been accused of racism and even of aping Hitler, after he claimed that immigrants are sponging off the state.

Javier Maroto, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), has been known for his tough stance on immigration ever since becoming mayor of the Basque city of Vitoria in 2011. However, in recent weeks he has been even more outspoken, targeting North Africans in particular.

“A majority of some communities – Moroccans and Algerians to be precise – live off our land, especially the social support that we all pay for,” he told reporters earlier this month. “I know it’s not politically correct to say so, but as it’s so obvious I’m saying it so that things change and improve.”

He added that he had “never had so much support from people on the street on an issue”.

Politicians from several other political parties have accused Maroto of populism and needlessly stirring up racial tensions. Xabier Agirre, of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) went even further, warning that the mayor’s comments made him “the Hitler of Vitoria”.

“It’s important to remember that Hitler won elections by deepening the confrontation against Jews and that had the consequences it had,” he said.

Ander Rodríguez of the radical nationalist coalition Bildu said the mayor was in danger of creating “a hotbed of fascism”, while the NGO SOS Racismo called for him to be investigated for inciting racial hatred.

Maroto’s criticism of North African immigrants focuses mainly on a monthly handout by the Basque regional government of €616 for those who have no other source of revenue and who have been residents for over three years. The Basque Country has more control over its finances than other regions of Spain, where the handout is €426.

About 65,500 people received the Basque aid in July, a new record. According to Maroto this is proof that the region’s relatively generous social handout system is attracting immigrants who do not want to work. His party colleague, Javier de Andrés, has supported the mayor, claiming that Nigerians were also sponging off the system.

However, official data seems to contradict their accusations. In both 2012 and 2013, the number of foreigners in the Basque region dropped, with nearly 8,000 leaving last year. Immigrants make up 6.4 per cent of the total Basque population, the fifth lowest of Spain’s 17 regions.

“We came to the Basque Country because there was more work here than in the rest of Spain, not because of the handouts,” Mohammed Satglarhezal, a Moroccan who lives in Vitoria, told El País newspaper. “How attractive can the handout be if you have to spend three years paying €500 a month before you even qualify for it?”