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Squatter types in Spain: Political pawns

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View from the squat on Codols Street, in Barcelona’s Old Town

A recent court case in Barcelona shines light on a category of squatters who are pawns in a political campaign waged by hard-left activists against housing investors, and anyone who stands in their way.

I’ve written before about the different types of squatter groups in Spain to help owners understand where the threat comes from, because some groups are absolutely no threat to second-home owners, whilst others like squatter mafias make a living out of extorting them. There’s another group of squatters to add to the list that one could call political pawns.

A recent eviction case in Barcelona shows how this group is used by activists to stick it to investment funds with property in the city. The squatters are placed in precarious housing in the middle of a conflict with a residential community that doesn’t benefit anyone other than the housing activists stirring up trouble. 

Back in February a radical-left group that calls itself the Gothic [Quarter] Resistance broke into a flat owned by an investment fund (Cerberus) in Barcelona’s Old Town and installed a family of immigrants as squatters. This led to months of conflict between the squatters, the activists, and the other residents of the building.

“We had no problem with the investment fund that owned the property,” says a representative of the residents, quoted in the Barcelona-based daily La Vanguardia. “The flat was for sale, there had been some visits, it was going to sell sooner or later, and then one fine day, at the beginning of February, a bunch of activists appeared and occupied the property, and then started trying to intimidate us, calling us racists and worse.“

It seems that because the other residents didn’t do as they were ordered by the activists like arranging for the squatters to connect to water and electricity, and leaving the front door of the building unlocked at all times (or giving the squatters there own set of keys) they were verbally abused and intimidated with all manner of threats.

“People from lots of different nationalities live here but since the squatters arrived the atmosphere has been unbearable,” says an owner, quoted in La Vanguardia. “We are talking about insults, clashes, and kicking in doors, which we told the judge about. I’ve put my property up for sale. Five owners have decided to sell up and leave! Some have already gone, and the majority have installed alarms.”

Barcelona’s municipal authorities run by Mayoress Ada Colau, a former housing activist who sympathises with squatters, did not help the residents. “The municipal government was much more interested in the well being of the squatters than in what was happening to us,” says one of the residents. “Even so we ask ourselves what were social services actually doing? We fear that all this has become a political fight, and our entrance, the battle ground.”

The judge hearing the case ruled that the squatters should be evicted within 20 days, and mentioned the plight of the other residents in the justification for the eviction. “The neighbours who have appeared before this court referred to a situation of living together with a lot of conflict with the defendants, a situation which has led to other legal procedures,” explains the ruling. “We are not talking about peaceful actions, we are talking about actions with consequences over and above the mere occupation of a residential property.”

The judge also slammed the city council for not providing social housing, and for dumping the problem on private owners. “The [public] Administration is the body that should manage the assistance provided to the defendants and their housing needs, and this obligation cannot be transferred and demanded of private individuals.”

Another resident said “I can’t believe it has taken 8 months to state the obvious, that this was an illegal occupation recorded on camera, and with plenty of evidence. I’m sorry for these people who are used as pawns in a political game, and as sorry for us, the neighbors, who are demonized in the process.”

This group of squatters is not a threat to second-home owners in Spain, but the political activists who use them are a big threat to foreign investment funds. And if you live in a building or urbanisation where the battle takes place, you can end up as collateral damage.

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