Posts Tagged ‘andalusia’

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.


Tales from an Andalusian Uprising

In Spain on 27 August 2012 at 18:51

Dear people,

A curious fact can easily catch people’s imagination. It’s like a rock plunging in a puddle. It moves the surface, the waves go out in all directions, and the story grows and grows.

When it hit me, a thousand miles up north, the curious fact had taken on epic proportions. It was about a peasant uprising in Andalusia.

The story spoke of a fiercely bearded mayor who was leading a gang of over five thousand armed communists on a rampage towards Madrid. They say his warriors attacked local feudal estates, liberating the peasants and drafting them into their ranks. They say the mayor lead his men in an attack on an army barracks, and – victorious – raised the red flag on top of it. They say his guerrilleros looted and burned all the banks they came across. They say they preyed on isolated supermarkets for their supplies.

‘Gawrsh,’ I thought, ‘what a story.’

If you like this story as well, then stop reading right away and spread the news!

Otherwise, if you want to know what really happened, read on.

I was pretty sure I knew who this mayor was. We had met him last autumn when he hosted the fourth national assembly of the 15m movement in his self-proclaimed utopia of Marinaleda. So the news didn’t completely surprise me. He seemed like the type.

Fortunately I have my eyes and ears in Andalusia. I contacted comrade Juan, whom I met on the March on Brussels, and he explained to me what was going on.

Last winter the Andalusian Peasants Union occupied an estate and collectivised it, ‘Marinaleda style’. The situation in Andalusia is pretty bad, even for Spanish standards, in part because of the remnants of feudalism which are more persistent here than anywhere else in the country. In the wake of the occupation of the ‘Somontes’ estate, another piece of land was occupied. Officially it belonged to the army, even though in practice it was largely abandoned.

Meanwhile, the socialists, which have been governing Andalusia for decades, were nearly defeated by the right wing Popular Party in elections. Only with the help of the radical left were they able to form a government.

The radical left came up with a series of conditions. If they were to participate in government, something had to change for real. Their list was headed by Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, mayor of the peasants’ paradise Marinaleda. When he was sworn in he didn’t abide by the official oath. He said, pretty much literally, that he was here ‘to defend the people against oppression and to fight capitalism with every bone in my body’.

Even his party comrades giggled when they heard it.

But mayor Gordillo is a man of his word. And when it turned out, pretty quickly, that it was politics as usual and that nothing substantial would change, he slammed the door of parliament behind him, he rallied his troops, and he took to the hills.

The people occupying the army estate were evicted. They vowed to return, while comrade Gordillo pointed his arrows at the big supermarket chains. There are people on the brink of hunger in Andalusia, the food banks are empty, but the supermarkets throw away tons of edible food every day.

Gordillo explained all this when he and his army showed up at a major supermarket. They rode off with twenty shopping carts full of mostly basic necessities which would otherwise have been thrown away. National media jumped on it. The mayor had made his point.

This was the curious fact which had turned into full scale armed uprising when it reached Holland.

The supermarket action was repeated twice. All booty has been brought to the Corrala utopia, a building that was occupied by the 15m movement to house evicted families in Sevilla.

Currently, mayor Gordillo and his peasant union are engaged in revolutionary marches to each of the provincial capitals of Andalusia.

Apart from this, lately, I was wondering about people’s tendency to divide themselves, especially with the regard to the 15m. As I recall, only in the first few weeks it felt as if people were truly united in their call for change. But already in the twilight days of the acampada in Sol I could perceive hints of resentment towards the ¡Democracia Real Ya! platform which had organised the protest on May 15, by some of the people on the squares. It wasn’t pronounced and it wasn’t with regard to any subject in particular, but it felt a bit as if one part of the movement was starting to implicitly accuse other parts of the movement of not being revolutionary enough.

Also ¡Democracia Real Ya! itself has been subject to division, more recently, when some of the initial activists drummed up support for the platform to be constituted as an association.

Radical opponents argued that it was against the principles of a grass roots democracy movement to seek official recognition from authorities. It led to a split into two different organisations which continue to carry the same name.

At the moment, a major source of division within the 15m movement is the call to besiege parliament as from September 25.

The idea is to block parliament from all sides and camp until the government resigns to make place for a constituent assembly.

The call came belching up from the maelstrom of Internet, and nobody seemed to know who had actually launched it. Maybe because of this uncertain genesis, and because the idea didn’t sprout from an official 15m-licensed assembly, it got rejected by many. Others question marked the methods and the lack of realism before rejecting it.

One of the two DRY’s has officially dissociated itself from the call, and, more importantly, so has the General Assembly of Sol.

It’s curious to know that many of the assemblies in and around Madrid didn’t endorse the call, while support for the initiative mainly comes from the cities in the periphery of Spain, and from the islands.

A hell of a lot of talking must have been going on about this. Last year, during the acampada, we didn’t discuss so much. Some people started shouting ‘To parliament! To parliament!’, and within minutes a crowd of indignados came pounding out of the little village to march on parliament by surprise.

Nobody questioned their motives. It was revolution time, and people just went.

Over a year has passed, we can lament that not enough has been done, but on the other hand, an amazing web of communities has been created, and has persisted. Sure, not all of the assemblies that popped up last year have survived, but most of them did. They continue to reunite people on a regular basis to engage in local, regional, or national activities.

This web is still very much under construction. We always said it would take time. And maybe all the divisions and all the subtle dialectics are just part of a democratic maturation process.

According to Juan the ancient prophecy that was foretold last year when we lifted the acampada in Sol, is being fulfilled… ‘We are not leaving. We are transforming into your conscience.’

“A Utopia towards Peace”

In #GlobalRevolution, Spain on 26 November 2011 at 18:27

Marinaleda, November 26.

Day 1 of the IV National Assembly.

Dear people,

A week after the right wing party won the elections in Spain we enter the small farming community of Marinaleda early in the morning. It’s shocking. As if we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Cuba. The walls of the local olive oil cooperative are adorned with revolutionary murals. The trees lining the roads are heavy with full ripe oranges. The stars are exuberantly bright.

This is where the fourth National Congress of the 15M movement  is held this weekend. The delegates are housed in the ‘Ernesto Che Guevara sports complex’. The road that leads up to it has only recently been paved. Many others are still dirt roads.

The village of Marinaleda has the fame of being different, very different. To understand this, you have to know that many of Spain’s agricultural lands are still owned by ancient ‘noble’ families, especially here in Andalusia.

Up until the latter half of the 20th century Marinaleda has been repeatedly threatened by famine. Many of its inhabitants have emigrated to the North or abroad. But soon after Franco’s death in 1975, things changed. The villagers tell you their story with pride. And they have every reason for it. They are protagonists of their own history.

'Land and Freedom'

 All through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s the estates around the village have been occupied and collectivised by the farmers. Nowadays, Marinaleda is a thriving communist community of 2500 inhabitants active in agriculture and small scale industry. The village is largely independent as its food production goes. Emigration has gone down. Marinaleda is now attracting immigrants from other parts of Spain, even from the cities. They have the possibility to build their own house with public subsidies, and rent the terrain for 15 euros per month. Housing is more than a right here in Marinaleda, it’s a practice. All of this makes this small community the appropriate place for a nationwide encounter of the 15M movement.

'Peace, Bread and Labour'. The flags are Andalucia, Soviet Union and Spanish Republic

This morning the Congress was opened in the ‘House of the People’, under the watchful eye of el comandante Che Guevara. One after another, delegates from all over the country speak about the current situation of the movement in their neighbourhoods, villages and towns. The general picture that emerges from this is more or less the following.

In the villages and many of the smaller towns, the assembly attendance is down by about ninety percent since the assemblies started in late May. Only a small core is still regularly participating in the movement. Often the same people are active in many different commissions and working groups.

'Asamblea plenaria', in session.

The general public stays at home and only takes part in the major demonstrations. Clearly the novelty wore off for most. They don’t want endless discussions, they want results.

But things won’t change overnight. It’ll take a change in mentality, it’ll take active participation and hard work. It’ll take time.

Another recurring problem is that the initiatives, the strikes and the demonstrations are simply too many. And for too many different reasons. People are saturated. They want it all and they want it now, but in practice there’s no choice, they will have to go one step at a time.

Because of the reduced size of the assemblies, activists are working to coordinate initiatives on a regional level, between various assemblies and communities. The basis of the movement is as strong as ever, but in many cities, like in Madrid, it seems like we are losing the public space. The movement is less visible, even though in various assemblies people are working on public relations by creating their own old style media outlets, like magazines and radio stations.

One of the few practical results that the movement is obtaining is preventing people from being evicted, or else offering them alternative housing. But especially in the smaller communities it’s hard for the appropriate commissions to localise the families who are being evicted, because many people don’t dare to admit to the outside world that they can’t pay their mortgage anymore, out of pride.

‘What will the neighbours think?’, is still the predominant way of thinking. People are ready to help others, but they are afraid to depend on solidarity themselves.

The revolution will have to advance to the next level. Up until now everybody seemed to ride the wave of the initial enthusiasm. Now it’s time to create real alternatives. Marinaleda has proven that this can be done. ‘A Utopia towards Peace’ is the village’s official motto. Maybe it’s a bit exaggerated. The place surely isn’t perfect. But it’s better than many other communities. And most of all, it’s different. Refreshingly different.

"If you kneel in front of a fait accompli, you are unable to face the future."