PUBLIC HEALTH

Madrid wants to lift fines for street drinkers who show healthy lifestyles

Mayor Manuela Carmena’s leftist administration feels monetary sanctions are not working

Residents have long complained about the noise and litter from ‘botellones.’
Residents have long complained about the noise and litter from ‘botellones.’LUIS SEVILLANO

The leftist administration of Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena wants to spare the capital’s youths from having to pay fines of up to €600 for drinking alcohol on the streets, a measure introduced by the previous conservative administration to prevent large open-air drinking parties known as botellones.

Madrid City Hall sources told EL PAÍS that “the fines are not achieving their goal of reducing the risk of drinking on the streets.”

But because “there’s a law that has to be observed,” officials from the governing Ahora Madrid alliance are contemplating commuting the fines for community work or even canceling them altogether if violators can “prove that they are managing their leisure time in ways other than drinking, such as spending their money on cultural activities, sports and so on.”

Youths typically fail to tell their parents about the sanction or pay it themselves within the 10-day deadline

A March survey on drinking habits conducted by the Health Ministry showed that 15-to-24-year-olds are the group who most indulge in botellones in Spain. In 2014, another ministry report indicated that over half of all students ages 14 through 18 had participated in an outdoor drinking binge in the previous month.

Botellones are usually held on streets and in public parks and go on until the early hours of the morning, leading to routine complaints from neighbors about the noise and mess left behind.

Consuming alcohol in public areas has been forbidden since 2002; the only exceptions are in sidewalk cafés and during local fiestas. In 2012, the Madrid regional government raised the fines and eliminated the possibility of community work, while the new Citizen Safety Law passed by Congress in April establishes penalties of between €100 and €600 for drinking alcohol inside establishments or public transportation when it poses a serious disturbance of the peace.

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Between January and October of this year, Madrid municipal police issued 29,756 fines, of which 101 went to minors. In 2014 there were 42,266 fines.

The trouble is, collecting the money often proves difficult. Youths typically fail either to tell their parents about the sanction or to pay it themselves within the 10-day deadline. When the official notice reaches the family home, many choose to appeal, which delays payment for up to four years; if the youth comes of age within that time, they can claim insolvency.

Javier Barbero, the Madrid councilor for health and security affairs and a former psychologist at La Paz University Hospital, admits that botellones “can cause several difficulties, both in terms of public health and coexistence.”

But he also feels that the law is inconsistent because it allows people to drink freely in sidewalk cafés.

“We have a law to observe, but we are analyzing ways to suggest important changes,” he says.

English version by Susana Urra.