Posts Tagged ‘trash’

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.



In Italy, March to Athens on 5 February 2012 at 08:34

March to Athens

Day 90-XVI, from Mondragone to Castelvolturno, 13 km.

Castelvolturno, February 5


Dear people,


I knew it was bad, really bad. But still I was shocked when I saw it with my own eyes.

After walking a handful of kilometres along the Domitiana, the national road to Naples, I take a tourist detour through the village of Pescopagano, pagan peach tree. It was a first class culture shock.

This is the heart of clanland. The carabinieri don’t dare to go here, only under protection of the army. It’s a zone that doesn’t bare resemblance with Italy or any other part of Europe. This is Noweto, the North West Township of Naples.

There’s a street full of potholes running between ruins, sheds and unfinished buildings. The side streets are closed with gates, they are private property. Wild dogs, wild cats and wild children roam between the trash. Almost all of the people I encounter are black.

Do excuse me, I mean ‘Afro-Americans’. Or no, that isn’t true either. ‘Afro-Europeans’ maybe. Call them whatever you want, it makes me sick how we, ‘progressive’ people of the West, try to wash away the intrinsic racism of our society with words. These people are negroes, and they work like slaves.

Some people from the extreme right accuse the immigrants of taking away the jobs from the Italians. They are right. For centuries, the peasants of Italy were selected by the henchmen of the nobles at five in the morning to work the land until late in the evening for little more than a plate of pasta. Those who didn’t get selected didn’t eat.



Then came the economic boom. Italians are generally better off. So now it’s the negroes who get selected every morning at five to pick oranges or tomatoes or whatever for ten euros a day, if they’re lucky. This way the natives, and all of us, can buy our vegetables and fruits at fifty cents a kilo. Truly, at the bottom of society, nothing ever changed here.

In between the ruins and the garbage here at Castelvolturno you can find numerous christian flavoured churches which offer spiritual comfort to the blacks. Lacking hope for a better life here on earth, there’s a big market for hope on a better life in heaven.


"Christ Kingdom Outreach" church

I can’t help but think how sadistic we are in the end. It isn’t enough for western companies to own the riches of Africa, it wasn’t enough for western countries to reduce the local populations to slavery. No, nowadays, the slaves come to us to work, they risk their life for it, we tacitly accept and encourage it, and in the end we even complain about their presence.


This evening we are appropriately housed in a centre for immigrants, run by the church. At the dinner table we mix up with about a hundred blacks. Many of them have been here long enough to speak Italian discretely well. They tell me their stories.

Ali fled from Niger about a year ago. He was with a criminal gang, and he risked being shot if he got caught. He fled leaving wife and child behind. Forty-five days it took to cross the desert into Libya. Four days he was at sea with dozens of others and nothing to eat or drink. Then they were caught by the Italian coast guard. He spent months in a closed internation camp in Sicily before he got his provisional papers. Now he’s here, hoping to find work.

The dogs of Castelvolturno


Lunch break

The exploitation of extracomunitarians isn’t technically slavery, it’s much better. As an employer you don’t have to worry about feeding, housing and whipping your employees. You just give them a handful euros at the end of the day, and let them handle it themselves.

I hear another story. Louis from Ghana has been here for over two and a half years. I can’t stand to see the sadness in his eyes. “It’s difficult, it’s very difficult.” He has worked for half a year as a construction worker, and a couple of months in a garage. But now there’s no work. He only wants to get out of here. It doesn’t matter where.

And Ghana?

“Ghana is even more difficult. Some days you don’t eat. Here at least you have a plate of pasta every day.”

The state, the church, the camorra, and thousands of negroes living in a limbo. I don’t get the whole picture of course, but I do know that we owe these people more than a plate of pasta and a politically correct term to describe their blackness. We owe them respect. If only because the negroes were the only ones who have had the courage to protest openly against the camorra.


The Business of Trash

In Italy, March to Athens on 4 February 2012 at 18:30

March to Athens

Day 89-XV, Mondragone, rest.

Mondragone, February 4


Dear people,


We’re in a kindergarten. There is light, there’s heating, there are toilets and there’s a kitchen. Before we came here, we found shelter in a run-down space out of town without electricity. But then the people from town hall called to the villages where we stayed before. They were told we left everything cleaner than we found it, so they entrusted us with this delecate spaces.

For the evening assembly we received a visit from an association of small farmers. They showed interest in our movement, but one of them had the impression that we are still demanding something from someone else. He says we don’t need nothing from no-one, as long as we have the land.

The association is part of a web, la Ragnatela, which spans all of southern Italy. It connects different rural realities where people work their own land and aim to be as self sufficient as possible. Seven people were present, among whom two couples and a baby. They brought excellent wine and bread.

The association is very much dedicated to the recovery of ancient varieties of grains, vegetables and fruit, to protect them from the modified seeds of agricultural corporations like Monsanto, and to help them survive for the benefit of future generations.

One us asked them the big question. “With seven billion people to feed, isn’t it necessary to resort to agriculture on an industrial scale?”

They dismissed it unanimously, saying that this is precisely the argument that the multinationals use. For an old style farmer it’s perfectly possible to work the land without chemical fertilizers, without pesticides, without genetically modified seeds, and still offer humanity an incredibly wide variety of food.

Another important thing for our visitors is the concept of rifiuti zero. No waste.

Now this is revolutionary, in the south of Italy.

The troubles with trash in Naples and surroundings are sadly known. Walking along the roads here is all but beautiful. You repeatedly encounter dead animals, small memorials with photos and plastic flowers for the people who died in traffic, and trash. Tons and tons and tons of it. Chairs, matrasses, plastic bottles, cans, televion sets, auto parts, refrigerators etc. etc. In these once wonderful places, civilization seems to be drowning in its own excrement.

This is normality. About once every year it’s trash season, and then it gets really bad. Then the flood of garbage rises, and in the towns it can easily reach the balconies of the first floors.

The root of the problem is that trash is a business. The state entrusts the collection and the disposal of trash to private enterprises. These enterprises are controlled by the camorra. They control the dumps, the means, and the workers. Once a year, they organise a strike. Then it’s trash emergency in Naples. The dumpsters flood, the streets are invaded. After days in the rotten stench, people set fire to the piles out of fear for cholera and other diseases, so big chemical clouds rise up from the neighbourhoods with equally disastrous results for public health.

It’s all on the news every day, and finally the government in Rome takes drastic measures. A so-called ‘Trash Czar’ is nominated, and sent down to Naples with special authorities and a bag full of money to solve the emergency. Then the situation calms down a bit. A year later however, to no-one’s surprise, the problem returns, and the money is gone.

I walk around, I see all the garbage, and I wonder if the natives still see it all.