Monday, December 04, 2017

Prohibition: A Problem Of Enforcement

The regional government, prompted by the health ministry and town halls, is to prohibit alcohol. No, you're ok: not prohibit booze for everyone, just the underage, the under-18s. Al Capone can rest easy in his grave. He won't be needed, and anyone who fancies cashing in by opening up a speakeasy will be disappointed.

The temperance drive by the Balearic government seems at variance with the culture that it administers. Prohibition in the US was promoted by Protestants. Puritanism, although the term referred to a purification from Catholicism, expanded its meaning. The Puritans of New England were the founding fathers of Protestant abstinence, though it might be noted that the Pilgrim Fathers had arrived in the New World with copious amounts of alcohol. Nevertheless, the state of Maine was the first to ever have prohibition, seventy years before the Volstead Act introduced it nationwide.

Although there was the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America (and had been from the 1870s), Catholics were almost universally opposed to prohibition. Culturally, drink and religion had more or less always gone hand in hand, and American Catholics weren't about to deny the tradition of centuries.

Prohibition in the US was a huge error. All it achieved was to allow gangsters such as Capone to flourish. It proved impossible to truly enforce because, among other things, there simply weren't the cops to enforce it. There were around thirty federal agents per state, and American states are generally speaking quite large.

What we are talking about in the Balearics, or what the government is talking about, is of course a very different type of prohibition. Under-18s are not allowed to buy alcohol, and from some time in 2018 they will be banned from drinking it. The exact terms of this prohibition will doubtless become clearer. One presumes that the government doesn't intend interfering with what might be drunk around the family dining table. Or perhaps it does.

The chief motivations for this legislation are the street-drinking "botellón" and what happens at fiestas, where the botellón can be and is magnified enormously. During the summer there was a campaign designed to warn of the risks of alcohol, especially when the "verbena" night parties were in full swing. In 2018, we can assume that the campaign is to be intensified and, moreover, be backed by the strong arm of legislation.

Drinking by teenagers in Mallorca (and in Spain) is recognised as having been a growing social problem for several years. An aspect of this has been the greatly increased attendance at and popularity of the night parties. Once upon a time they were local and comparatively quiet events. This is no longer the case, and fiesta flashpoints exist in some more unlikely parts of Mallorca, such as the tiny village of Biniali.

Then there is the "botellón" for which no fiesta excuse is required. It happens everywhere. Regular are the reports of residents denouncing street drinking. Villages, towns, it makes no difference, and the hand-wringing has been wrung for years, normally to no appreciable effect. And this has partly been due to the oddities of local ordinance. One should ask why, as an example, Palma town hall has felt the need to establish special intervention zones for dealing with the botellón, i.e. areas of the city that attract street drinking. Can't the police just deal with it anyway?

In Alcudia, the town hall passed new ordinance in August which set out fines for drinking out of any type of container. Previously, it was an offence to drink from a glass container on the public way. It now doesn't matter, but the mere fact that the town hall should have to specify the type of container highlights the absurdity of some bylaws. In Alcudia, moreover, there is the regular "botellón", which still takes place. Yet police controls are supposed to have been stepped up.

Alcudia was also the location for the June "macrobotellón". When the schools finished, thousands of kids descended on Puerto Alcudia. Police tutors from other municipalities would be on hand to attempt to deter underage drinking, but what did they think was going to happen? All those kids, the vast majority under the age of eighteen (and as young as fourteen), heading to the beaches and the nightlife areas? Were they there to compare notes about their final maths assignments?

There is no denying the fact there is a problem. Mallorcan and Spanish youngsters are not the virtuous abstainers that some might believe them to be. Far from it. The "culture" of alcohol is abused, and trouble accompanies it (as do health and other risks). But ultimately, and whatever righteous campaigns the administrations come up with and whatever the legislation will be, it comes down to enforcement. In the America of prohibition, they discovered that enforcement was nigh on impossible. The police weren't available. Are they in Mallorca?

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