Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Haven't You Got A Home To Go To?

As I write this post the police helicopters are still clattering over the centre of Madrid. They've been there since early this morning, as part of a huge police operation to remove all traces of the 15-M protest movement from Madrid's Puerta del Sol. All this overkill in reality is just removing the wooden information post that was set up when the camp was dismantled in Sol a few weeks ago. Today's operation follows a failed attempt to do something similar last week which ended with police charges against peaceful protesters in the Paseo del Prado. August, when the city is at its quietest, is no doubt seen as a good time for moving against 15-M after the relatively lighter attitude adopted by the authorities in May and June. After all, the Pope is due to arrive soon.

The Madrid police have been complaining recently about not being able to take on 15-M, following some incidents where protesters have interrupted the identity controls that police operate in selected Metro stations around the city. These controls are aimed against immigrants, as the targets are inevitably those who do not look like locals. Officially they do not exist, as the government has consistently denied that they take place. Photographers and journalists who have challenged this denial of reality have ended up being arrested and having their equipment seized. So we are left with the somewhat surreal situation where the police complain about not being able to carry out a task which their political bosses claim is not carried out anyway. Stopping something which doesn't happen can hardly be a crime?

Another cause of tension between protesters and police has been the campaign to stop people being evicted from their homes for mortgage arrears. Several judicial evictions have been stopped by protesters in recent weeks, leading the authorities to respond by massively increasing the police presence at these events. 120 police were used to evict someone owing a couple of thousand euros in Madrid last week. The cost of this operation? We're not entitled to know. In Barcelona, where the police are allowed to use as much violence as they like, we were treated to the ridiculous sight of the Mossos de Esquadra using ladders to force entry into an apartment and evict a family. Accompanied by the now familiar baton charges that they seem to use against any protest in the city. 

It's become almost commonplace for people to see a busy restaurant in Spain and remark "Crisis, what crisis?". There is a contrasting reality, the annual rate of home repossessions is running at around 90,000. Although the issue of Spain's mortgage legislation has been debated in recent months, the true scale of what is going on has only become apparent since 15-M took to the streets. Spanish mortgages promise a win-win situation for the banks who enticed so many people into huge mortgage commitments and who get to chase these same people for the remaining debt even after they have repossessed the property and in many cases sold it on at a knock-down price. There is no strong incentive for the banks to try and get value for money out of the property if they know they can continue to pursue the mortgage holder.

The government and the opposition Partido Popular have both come out in clear opposition to the idea that those who can't pay their mortgage can hand back the keys to the bank and clear the debt by doing so. Neither party is comfortable with any idea that involves doing something that the banks don't want to contemplate. It's just not enough that we all assume the debts of the banks. Some recent concessions on the amount of a person's salary that the banks can seize as part of the eternal mortgage recovery process were a nod in the direction of 15-M, but the movement will continue to highlight the cases of thousands of people being removed from their homes with no evident alternative and with only a debt to the banks to take with them. The victims of the crisis are no longer hidden from sight, and ever heavier policing is unlikely to solve that problem. 

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