Boozy bar zones at La Cubierta get violent reputation

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The 1990s policy of licensing late-night weekend bars to places far from central residential areas brings about new set of conflicts of poverty, alcohol, and drugs.

2 July 2008

MADRID - Sebastián's white Hyundai coupé does duty as an improvised bar top for plastic glasses of whisky and Coca-cola.

In the southern Madrid district of Leganés, Sebastián, 22, and his friends are holding a party in the street at about two in the morning, a few of them dancing rather listlessly to the raucous music that emerges from the car's speakers.

Now and then someone mentions what happened in the early hours of 24 May, a few paces away from their outdoor bash.

A 19-year-old called Bruno Sánchez had his throat cut and bled to death after a fight in the La Cubierta area in Leganés, where a concentration of late-night bars for young people makes it one of the most conflictive areas in the Madrid region. Nobody has much to say about it.

The general feeling is that there are a lot of knives around, but it's nothing to get excited about; it could have happened in any other bar area in Madrid: "People who don't know how to drink get very violent."

What academics, local politicians and police have to say about it is not much more conclusive. In the 1990s, Madrid and surrounding municipalities began a policy of licensing late-night weekend bars in outlying districts and industrial parks, such as La Cubierta, thus relegating large numbers of noisy youthful pub-crawlers to places far from central residential neighbourhoods - a policy sometimes summed up in the expression: "Drink as much as you want, but far away from here."

This policy has dealt with the problem of annoyance to residents, but has not solved the conflicts that emerge from the explosive cocktail of youth, poverty, alcohol, and drugs.

After the killing of young Bruno, the following weekend many young people decided to give La Cubierta a miss, and went elsewhere.

The massive police presence in the zone, and the rain, did not exactly encourage partying.

The police, however, were just there to make their presence felt, a way of telling bar owners to close on time, the knife incident having taken place in a bar that had no license to be open at the time the fight began.

Two fines were imposed, one for being open after licensing hours and another for exceeding permitted crowd capacity.

That was all.

"That's what the police are here for," says the doorman at a Latino nightclub. "Though they normally don't show up here. What we do have are private security guards. They do the work of throwing out people who start problems." He says this while passing a metal detector up and down the bodies of customers. "Sometimes we find knives. If we find one, we don't let them in."

[El Pais / Alvaro De Cozar / Expatica]

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