The picaro, or rogue, is a stock character in Spanish culture. Often a foundling or waif, he’s the wily anti-hero of a number of works of fiction, most notably Lazarillo de Tormes, a classic of the picaresque genre.
However, as austerity measures continue to take their toll on the Iberian Peninsula, the street-smart picaro is no longer confined to the literary realm.
The authorities have reported a rise in roguish behaviour, much of it small-time fraud in which insurance claims have filed for missing jewels, TV sets, and even leather car seats that have been secreted away not by thieves, but by their owners.
Madrid bus drivers have also witnessed a rise in the number of forged travel passes. And things threatened to take a sinister turn when a man tried to fake his own kidnapping in a bid to extort a ransom from his brother.
“What we have noticed because of the crisis is domestic, amateur fraud. People who are not criminals, who have a light bulb go off in their head and attempt fraud that is small in monetary terms but above all stupid,” says Javier Fernandez, a member of the federation of Spanish insurers.
Alberto Moncada, a Spanish sociologist, ascribed his countryman’s enduring fascination with the fictional picaro and their occasional real-life mendacity to the country’s Catholic faith, whose God is more inclined to turn a blind eye to his flock’s venality than smite the malefactors down.
“For Protestants, life is all about merit, about service. We, on the other hand, have the feeling that God is going to forgive us for everything we do. The picaro is a clever guy who is respected [rather] than a thief who is scorned. Spain is not Germany,” he wrote in El Pais, a daily newspaper.