Four nights of rioting in Spain's tourism capital have highlighted the country's persistent social tensions and belied signs of relief from a fragile economic recovery, which has yet to alleviate rampant joblessness.
The rioting started on Monday when Barcelona's City Hall ordered the eviction of squatters from Can Vies, a warehouse abandoned by the city's transport authority. The site, in the Sants district, was taken over by squatters 17 years ago and turned into a makeshift social center. City officials said they wanted to reclaim the site for a park.
After attempts to clear the site, protesters threw stones, barricaded streets, smashed bank and shop windows, and set fire to garbage containers and a television van. The rioting has since spread to other parts of the city, and police officers have arrested scores of people.
On Friday, City Hall backed down and said in a statement that plans for the demolition of the site would be halted to help "favor a climate of dialogue." The squatters nonetheless pledged to continue their protests and to rebuild the half-destroyed center over the weekend.
Joan Maria Solé, deputy director of the Federation of Neighborhood Associations of Barcelona, said the attempt to replace the Can Vies building with "a hypothetical park or green area" showed that City Hall was insensitive to the widening income gap among residents.
Since hosting the Olympic Games in 1992, Barcelona has become one of Europe's biggest tourism hubs, with a record 7.5 million visitors last year. The rise in tourism has helped Barcelona weather the economic crisis that hit Spain in 2008 better than many cities. Over all, the city of Barcelona's unemployment rate is nearly 18 percent, roughly 8 percentage points lower than the national average, although there are big discrepancies between the city's poorest and richest neighborhoods.
"Barcelona is full of contradictions, especially between those who are now unemployed and those who are just focused on earning even more from tourism," Mr. Solé said. Can Vies, he added, "is unfortunately a more realistic image of Barcelona than the brand City Hall tries to sell."