Bouncers in Spain getting lessons in kindness, culture

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

MADRID, Spain -- Spanish nightclub bouncers, often accused of being thugs or worse, are being offered courses in kindness.

The curriculum includes customer service techniques, anger management and civil rights. Classes are to begin in a couple of months under a $1 million pilot program adopted by the Madrid regional government and an association of club owners.

Famous for its vibrant night life, the greater Madrid area has about 2,000 bouncers guarding some 1,000 bars and clubs, many of which stretch nights to extraordinary lengths, remaining open until the next afternoon.

And their doorways are sometimes violent places where scuffles over who gets in escalate dangerously: last year two youths were killed in fights involving bouncers.

Police say they have no statistics, but newspapers are filled with accounts of such violence and it isn't limited to Madrid. Last year in Barcelona, a 26-year-old Ecuadorean, Wilson Pacheco, ended up dead after a brawl at the entrance to a waterside nightclub.

A bouncer, 31-year-old James Anglada, surrendered to police and is charged with manslaughter. Anglada, a New York City native, has told a judge he pushed Pacheco into the water but didn't mean to kill him. Three other bouncers accused of taking part in the fight face lesser charges.

The human rights group SOS Racism says some doormen have reported receiving orders to turn away blacks, North Africans, Gypsies and Latin Americans.

The newspaper El Mundo quoted the head of security at three large clubs as saying most candidates are young gym rats buffed up on steroids and itching for a fight. They know nothing about crowd control or other aspects of the job.

"Of every 50 applicants, I may hire one," said the man, who was not identified. "They are big, strong and only think about running afoul of people so they can bust heads."

The National Association of Nightclubs and Concert Halls, whose Madrid chapter signed the finishing-school accord in January, said cases of violence are isolated and most originate with rowdy club-goers high on alcohol, drugs or both.

Overstepping bounds

Some doormen are rough and "overstep the bounds of their job," said association director Jesus Garzas, but it's like law enforcement. "There can be a dirty cop, nevertheless the police force in general is good," Garzas said.

The classes are voluntary, so no one stands to lose a job for flunking or not enrolling. Garzas says he trusts most bouncers will in fact sign up. Other subjects on the agenda include fire safety procedures and dealing with alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses.

Bouncers themselves acknowledge there's a problem. Many of the jobs are held by gang members who use crowded doorways to sell ecstasy and other drugs popular with young Spanish night owls, said Cesar de la Calle, vice president of the National Association of Professional Doormen.

"There are thugs. There are mafias," he said. "And the violence comes from these same people."

The Madrid regional government said it faces a daunting challenge in a country where nocturnal enjoyment is sacred. It calculates that at the peak hour on a Saturday night, 700,000 people are out carousing in nightclubs and bars: about a quarter of the metropolitan population. In downtown Madrid, a traffic jam at 3 a.m. is nothing unusual.

Luis Peral, the regional labor minister who signed the education accord, insisted clubs are no more violent than other patches of Spanish society. "There's violence everywhere. In parks, on the streets," he said.

But he acknowledged one of the things the doormen will be taught is "you can't exclude people for ethnic reasons." Hence there will be classes about the Spanish constitution and civil rights.

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