By raising taxes to erase Spanish deficits, opponents say Prime Minister Rajoy's government has gone too far. A 'Carrot Rebellion' is underway - its aim, to save Spanish culture.
When the Spanish government hiked sales tax on theater tickets this summer, Quim Marce thought his theater was doomed. With more than one in four Bescano residents unemployed, Marce knew that even a modest hike in ticket prices might leave his 300-seat municipal theater empty.
"We said, 'This is the end of our theater, and many others.' But then the next morning, I thought, we've got to do something, so that we don't pay this and we pay something more fair," the theater owner said.
He looked out his window at farmland that surrounds this village, two hours north of Barcelona, and suddenly had an idea: Instead of selling tickets to his shows, he'd sell carrots.
Classified as a staple, carrots are taxed at a rate of four percent. They were spared new tax hikes that went into effect in Spain this fall.
For items like cars and clothing taxes went from 18 to 21 percent - the highest value-added tax rate - despite a campaign promise by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy not to touch the top rate. Sales tax on movie and theater tickets jumped from 8 to 21 percent.
"We sell one carrot, which costs 13 euros in advance or 15 at the door - pretty steep for a simple vegetable. But then we provide admission to our shows for free. So we end up paying four percent tax on the carrot, rather than 21 percent."
'The Carrot Rebellion'
"It seems to me like a good idea," said Pilar Baye, a civil servant from Bescano who traveled to Barcelona to take part in anti-tax protests that have been happening on a weekly basis throughout Spain. "Culture shouldn't be taxed so much; it should be accessible to all people." Baye also bought a ticket - or rather, a carrot - for a performance this month.
Spanish media have dubbed it the "Carrot Rebellion," and the Bescano theater has won accolades from arts advocates nationwide. Shows are sold out. But the theater must also follow the law.
"This is called tax evasion. I mean, we may like it because it has to do with culture, and we like people going to the theater. But this is called tax evasion," said economist Fernando Fernandez, at Madrid's IE Business School.
Perhaps tomatoes, then
Many Spaniards, however, think the Carrot Rebellion is pretty clever - an example of the creative lengths to which some people are willing to go to avoid taxes that some see as unfair.
Theater director Marce says he consulted a lawyer before launching his carrot sales. He's also got the backing of the local mayor.
"There's always an announcement before the show begins that says photos are not permitted, and that you should turn off your cell phone. So now we're adding: 'No chomping loudly on your carrots during the show.'"
And if the tax man comes after him, or the government declares it illegal to sell carrots at theaters? Well, the Spanish government considers dozens of foods staples, taxed at four percent. So if he's forced to, Marce says he might just switch to selling tomatoes instead.