The Two Faces of Andalusia

In Spain on 21 November 2012 at 20:13

Acampada IberCaja, Seville

Seville, November 21

Dear people,

There was a time when Seville was the only link between Europe and the New World. From the 1500s onward until the early 18th century, the Spanish crown granted the monopoly of trade with the Americas to this city some 50 kilometres from the Atlantic, upstream the Guadalquivir river.

As a result, Seville grew rich and splendid. But there was a flaw in the Spanish economic model of the age. It wasn’t based on investment and growth, but on plunder. All the gold and silver from the subjugated native empires did little else than boost inflation, and when the influx stopped, it meant recession and decline.

Today, Seville has two very distinct faces. The one you get to see as a visitor is shiny and bright. The other is one of misery and despair.

Near the grand Alcázar palace, I found an encampment called ‘Acampada Utopia’. I figured it was the right place to inform myself on the state of the 15M movement in Seville.

In and around the Andalusian capital there are some fourteen local assemblies active, of which eight in the city itself. The spearhead of the movement, here like elsewhere, is the battle against foreclosures. For seven days now, people have been camping in front of an IberCaja franchise and collecting signatures in favour of changing mortgage legislation.

Last night, the camp was raided by police. All tents had to be taken down. But even without protection, the people have decided to resist.

The reason why they are camped in front of this particular bank has everything to do with a building called ‘La Corrala’, on the outskirts of the centre of Seville.

A property abandoned for many years, La Corrala was occupied six months ago to house evicted families. It was subsequently sold to IberCaja bank. Now the bank wants the families to leave. It has been putting pressure on them by having their electricity and water cut off.

The protesters’ demand is that the families can stay, paying a reasonable social rent, as a first step towards realising the people’s constitutional right to dignified housing.

Next Saturday, Seville will host a demonstration in support of this right by people from all over Andalusia. (Check out, Twitter @corralautopia)

Seville is splendid, really, but when I look through a local newspaper, it seems like the world is coming to an end. Doctors are on indefinite strike against cutbacks in health care, the university is on the brink of collapse, but the most striking news comes from nearby Jerez de la Frontera, home of sherry.

Jerez is officially bankrupt. There is no money to pay public salaries, schools are closed, garbage collectors have been on strike for two weeks straight. According to estimates, the city produces about 250.000 kilos of trash every day. It all ends up on the street. More than 30.000 tons by now. I can’t imagine what the place smells like.

The population is engaging in a daily fight against the invasion of rats. “What is the health ministry waiting for?” a desperate woman exclaims, “for the plague to break out?”

Last night, citizens have started to torch heaps of trash all over town. When riot police was deployed, it led to confrontations. Stones and bottles were hurled at them. The officers used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

During the day, the people express their anger by piling up trash in front of town hall. The negotiations between the outsourced cleaning authority and the garbage collectors have broken down. Already, Jerez is preparing for another night of stinking inferno.

  1. Wow, that sounds terrible. I live in Barcelona and had heard things were much worse in the south, but I had no idea they were that bad.

  2. Thanks for another beautifully written post. I might wander down and visit the La Corrala camp myself now.

    I completely understand what you mean about the disconnect between ‘splendid Sevilla’ and what you read in the papers. I am still struggling to ‘see’ the crisis. I know its here but Seville – miraculously, almost impossibly – goes on being Seville.

    I also plan to visit Jerez next week and spend a bit of money there. What a mess…

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