Squatting in Barcelona - Black Flag

Article from Black Flag #214 1998.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 31, 2020

In one week, there were two evictions of casas okupatas in Sants, a working class Catalan speaking area where we have one of our largest CSOs (Centro Social Okupado), "L'Hamsa" and where we hold concerts of 1000 to 1500 people. One was evicted in the morning without prior warning, 8 arrested. In the evening there was the usual demo of about 200. Along the route 8 meat wagons suddenly turned up with riot cops in them who immediately blocked the road. The demonstrators decided to veer off and go down a smaller road heading for the evicted squat. Once there, they were confronted by a line of cops dressed up as hard-core squatters. These cops all took out their guns about 10-12 in all and tried to provoke a (shooting) incident. The okupas pulled back cautiously and later that night the large green paladin bins were set light to and the ETT offices were attacked. (ETT is Empresas de Trabajo Temporal, 6 month contracts with shit wages, just being introduced in Spain for the first time) The response of the cops was to comb the area looking for anyone resembling a squatter. The area of Sants was taken over in a military style occupation, anyone they met was arrested and given a good going over once in the copshop. Obviously people who had nothing to do with this were "taken in". One guy hid under a car for an hour and a half not daring to move. In all, five have been taken in and charged.

The following day another squat, where people live, was also evicted without warning. This time nobody was inside. The same day the eviction order arrived for "L'Hamsa". For a month now there's another ending on "La Vakeria". This seems to indicate that the authorities have decided on repression as the means to put an end to the okupas. Attacking two of our major social centres in the same week, and attacking three squats in the same area is indicative if this. The latest thing, of dressing up as okupas and pulling guns is a new and very alarming development. Catalonia is not the Basque Country, where there is a similar situation to Northern Ireland. Guns are rife there, but not in peaceful tourist-land Barcelona. Hence people are very concerned about this change of tactics and the people in Sants are tense and incensed at the occupation of their neighbourhood.

Subsequently, there were three big concerts : in "L'Hamsa", a place near "La Vakeria" and in "El Palomar" (another CSO similar to L'Hamsa). The concert at L'Hamsa was free and more than a thousand people turned up. It was held to calm the nerves of the people there, as well as creating publicity. The day after we read that the Generalitat (Catalan Autonomous govt) is discussing a proposal to enter into dialogue and negotiate with the okupas. This ,as you can imagine was received with large doses of cynicism by the squatters. Obviously a face saving motion; attack the okupas physically while making public statements to the contrary. It seems to me like the typical cynical manipulations of cops and villains (politicos)!

The day after a demo was planned outside the law courts in L'Hospitalet where La Vakeria is, which went off without a hitch. About a thousand people turned up despite rain.

The following day another demo in the Ramblas attracted several thousand.

The next week the alleged report of the Generalitat appeared in "La Vanguardia" using photos taken inside L'Hamsa. It's tone was anti-okupa, saying their ideas were good but their methods were wrong, typical divide and rule stuff. Two days later, after everything had calmed down a bit, there was even a rumour that the judge on the L'Hamsa case had withdrawn or retired.

However, that Tuesday La Vakeria was suddenly evicted at 7am with 22 people inside, chained to different parts of the building, offering "passive resistance". Judges have already ruled (twice) in Catalonia, that a peaceful eviction (i.e. not fighting the cops) is not an illegal occupation and have acquitted people a couple of times so tactically this is a good thing to do.

As soon as the people were out and taken off to the local copshop, the bulldozer went in and what is left of a beautiful 18th century Catalan macia (country house) is nothing but a memory of 6 years of occupation and a lot of rubble.

So, La Vakeria went, and as L'Hamsa was still under threat another demo was called for the following day. People turned up in the Plaça de Sants and went to "La Morada", the house evicted the day before at the same time as La Vakeria. There were 1000 people who then decided to walk to L'Hamsa, which is right behind the Sants copshop. There was serious rioting, cops at one end of the main road and okupas at the other. The road is straight for about a mile with four lanes, which made it easy for the cops to use their usual tactic of going in groups of five with one cop at the back firing rubber bullets at people. Many of the cops had been bussed in from other parts of Spain and didn't know the terrain and had no experience of confronting the okupas, who usually stand their ground and shower the cops with bottles taken from the large green recycling containers, which are everywhere, and bricks from the sacks of rubble from the constant construction work taking place everywhere. Ironically, it's the construction companies which supply the okupas with the ammo they need to take on the cops with by constantly doing up properties to rent out at prices no one can afford to pay. This market tactic of controlling house prices and is the equivalent of hoarding grain, a tactic constantly denounced by the okupas as speculation.

When the demo got close to the copshop, it stopped, as usual to maintain a safe distance from the cops. At that precise moment plain clothes cops on the demo, who were at the front of it and at the back, took out "self-defence spray" and started spraying people in their faces. These sprays are illegal in Spain, so the cops don't even respect the laws they are supposed to enforce. It also appears that the whole thing was a set up. Normally demos go direct from central Barcelona to L'Hamsa, but because of the eviction of the house in Sants, it was predictable that they would have to go down Creu Coberta, the main road, past the copshop.

People at the back also knew that there was a line of plain clothes cops behind them, making it impossible for people to leave without getting nabbed, with the attendant tortures and beatings which go with being arrested. Also, the side streets of Creu Coberta are narrow, and there were more plain clothes cops hiding in their doorways. One squatter from Melbourne was caught in this way. He decided to get out of the area and ran down a side street where a plain clothes cop jumped from a doorway and sprayed him in the face. Not being able to see anything he grabbed on to someone else and they carried on running with cops in pursuit right behind them. Realising that the cops were getting close he let go of the other person to let them escape. He carried on running and later bumped into a woman and ran into a bar. The bar owner and customers tried to stop the cops from taking him off, a brave thing to do in the circumstances, but in vain, nonetheless.

In all 17 were arrested and taken to the main copshop in the Via Layetana which the squatters had attacked ferociously the last time there was a major confrontation, the day of the eviction of the squatted cinema "La Princesa". Once there they had to run the gauntlet between the pigs between the vans where nothing could be seen. Once inside the eldest of those nicked and two women were beaten up very badly. Menstruating women were not allowed to change their tampons initially, and when they went to the toilets to do so were accompanied by male pigs, which is contrary to regulations and illegal.

The prisoners saw cops taking lines of cocaine continually to keep them hyped up and could see the pleasure in their faces when they were hitting people.

All the next day friends and relatives of those arrested tried to see their loved ones, but only for a few minutes and had to wait all day to do it as the cops wouldn't say when. Charges varied, but they wanted to deport the Aussie. On his charge sheet it said arrested for "social disturbances and causing damages". For this, they deport people, but as Spain is now part of the EU this means deportation and exclusion from any member country for 5 years. Another dirty tactic.

The Friday, just before 10am the okupas went tot he law courts to support those "kidnapped" by the cops, as is the custom. During the morning more and more were arriving until there were a hundred or so, on the other side of the road from the cops. By mid morning the majority of the meat wagons went off as it was clear that nothing was going to happen. Those arrested were making declarations to the judge and people hung around outside waiting to see if they were going to be released or not. After 1pm one of our lawyers came out to tell us of the state of play. The charges for each one was read out and they would all be released soon. This news made us all a bit happier and gave a boost to our enthusiasm. As it was lunch time the judges, lawyers and clerks were leaving and were met with clapping and laughter from the squatters. This made some laugh but intimidated others, obviously not used to popular justice and having their power questioned, or maybe because of their guilty consciences for what they had just done and do every day - send human beings to hell-holes for not being rich, where all suffer and some die. The rich have their cases quashed - as happens frequently here in Spain - or their case is thrown out of court because the "New Civil Code" now does not consider some things as a crime. This particularly angers the okupas as the new code makes occupying a building a criminal rather than civil offence, as it was before. It is also retrospective, which mean that for those who were squatting before March 1996 are now criminals. Under the Spanish constitution it deliberately prohibits "retroactive legislation" as being unconstitutional! During the defence of "La Princesa" part of the legal defence was based on this. At first the judge dealing with the case accepted the argument and shelved the case until the constitutional court in Madrid made a pronouncement.

However, after the summer went by the judge "suddenly" changed his mind and stated that the present law was the law and therefore the okupas had to go. He'd obviously had his orders. However, for cases of pederasty the penalties have been reduced, and in one important case in Valencia the accused, who were expecting to be sent down for a very long time, have been released for exactly this. The judge kicked the case out of court. One law for sexual offences and another for property offences. Those arrested were released one by one and greeted by loud cheering and clapping. After greeting the judges etc., the squatters crossed the road en masse and okupied the space right outside the garage type entrance where the prisoners came out from, shouting slogans like "Llibertat detingudes" (Catalan for "Free the arrested") and the pigs had to get out to show their authority. After a lot of singing and shouting and taunting the police there was a moment of tension when the chief pig tried to quieten down the okupas and get them to move back across the road, something they aren't used to doing. Retreat is not in their vocabulary, especially when it comes from a pig. The okupas are total democrats, making decisions in asembleas, meetings open to everyone, and do not like "orders". They know how the cops act with eviction orders, brutally beating people and even strangling them. There was a stand-off and what broke it was that at exactly at that moment more prisoners came out. So everyone ignored the cops and started cheering. This calmed the situation and the chief pig could have eased off, but then being reasonable isn't in their vocabulary.

The cop tried again to get people to move back, was ignored, so the helmets went on and the truncheons came out. Some of the cops just waded in, even breaking the mirror on their van, and the rest followed suit. One of the two TV crews started filming, the other intentionally did nothing. The okupas caught them out and got them to film as well. As the okupas were pushed back across the road some couldn't get up the steps leading to the Promenade above, as part of it was blocked by cops. Then the most brutal attack occurred, many of those who couldn't get up there fell over and two cops started laying into them with a sadistic ferocity.

Even then the cops didn't let up. The squatters regrouped and shouted "Basta Ya!" (That's enough) holding their hands up in the air like the anti-ETA demonstrators, to show that they are non-violent, against violence and against terrorists. But even doing this didn't stop the cops laying into people. They were all lined up in riot gear chomping at the bit to lay into the okupas. The father of one of the squatters, who had just been released, was screaming abuse at the cops, as he had been one of those who had fallen over and was in a lot pain. His daughter tried calming him down along with others. An unconscious girl was laid out in the grass in the middle of the Passeig (Promenade) well out of reach of the cops.

Another friend came up to me and we hugged one another to give each other support and show our solidarity. She had been hit really hard on her shoulder with a truncheon. There was blood on her hand, which she explained was form another friend who had had her head split open by the cops. Later when I saw this on TV I saw the censored version where a group of friends screamed wildly at the cops; one of them had blood pouring down her neck from the head wound; the others touching her head, showed their bloody hands to the police, who were just arrogantly ignoring them.

As if all this wasn't enough, when the ambulances arrived the cops started attacking the injured who wanted to go to hospital. They also refused to let many of the injured (30 in all) anywhere near the ambulances, let alone get in them, saying they weren't injured enough. Only two were allowed to go to hospital.

People regrouped to talk about what to do. The asemblea drew up a list of the injured with all relevant personal details on it, which is necessary to file a complaint against the cops. Others who were more hurt grouped together to go off to the hospital, they needed official proof from a doctor to sustain their complaints, as well as to treat their wounds. Not having transport we all walked off.

AT the hospital we were well treated, in every sense of the word. Nobody made waves about us, or about legal problems over medical insurance or being a foreigner. Gradually we all moved to the waiting room which we okupied, sitting on chairs, talking, some sleeping and passing around snacks and water. These attitudes of sharing and doing what we want surprised those in the hospital, both workers and patients. The atmosphere was good despite the fact that we were breaking all the normal rules of the hospital. Even the porters and security guards were friendly to us. This was bigger and better publicity for us than the "mass media of disinformation" who only gave the cops version. One comic moment was when an elderly woman with a crutch came into the waiting room. We gave up a seat for her, re-okupying floor space and that's when she asked what we were doing there. "The police have attacked us", to which she said "this is just like the okupas", to which the other burst out laughing. She explained that she live near La Princesa (the evicted cinema which was attacked by 200 riot cops and a helicopter in a battle lasting three and a half hours) and she described what she saw that day. After being seen by the doctors, people started leaving in groups. At the main entrance there was a group of squatters protecting the entrance, that is to say making sure that no more cops turned up to kidnap people. After La Princesa was evicted, one okupa was taken off to hospital, but as the ambulance was driven by cops he didn't get there, instead going to the main copshop. On every okupa demo there's always an ambulance wanting to come through, which we always let through, but what a coincidence.

People drifted off gradually but this was far from being the end of it. Those from La Vakeria (an old 18th century dairy) went straight to the town hall meeting in their area, L'Hospitalet. Those responsible for the eviction and demolition and subsequent police brutality were the mayor and politicians of L'Hospitalet. At the meeting the okupas claimed La Vakeria as being legitimately theirs, because "we have constructed it physically and intellectually".

Part of their communiqué which they read out was shown on one local TV channel. So people went off to their squats to protect them and continue their lives in as normal a way as possible, and to go to the incessant demos being called., two for that Friday night, and another for the following morning under the slogan "La Vakeria sigue, sigue, la lucha sigue sigue" (The Dairy keeps on keeps on, the struggle keeps on keeps on). We re-okupy, so it's a change of scene or place, but as the okupas say "You can evict our houses but you can't evict our ideas".

The same day as the unwarranted and cowardly attack on the squatter outside the courts, there was a demo against the temporary work agencies (ETTs). According to official figures most people leave these agencies' jobs after one month. This is probably because people are so hard up that 45000 pesetas a month (£90)seems better than nothing. So people accept the work and after one month drop it immediately realising that it isn't worth doing for the pittance they give and call a wage. It's not even subsistence wages. Rents in Spain are 30000 per month minimum, but normally are about 40-50,000, so people give up their time to have enough to pay the rent but nothing else. Eating, transport, going out, presents or even such basic things as clothes and household goods just don't come into it. The demo was called in Cornella, a working class area where there are lots of factories, most notably multinationals, e.g. Siemens, and has a lot of people in trade unions, albeit reformist ones like the Comisiones Obreras or UGT who always make pacts with the government, going blatantly against their own affiliates interests. They get paid a rate, per head, for every affiliate, given to them by the central govt, a pay off if ever there was one.

A few years back when the French government was attempting to introduce short term contracts, the youngsters at school from 16-19 in one of the Colleges/schools in Cornella had a banner hanging outside the school for ages saying that the French through constant rioting had succeeded in obtaining the withdrawal of this scheme. Therefore, they in Cornella should be doing the same. Just before last Christmas, the people from the same schools decided to call some demos against these agencies, the ETTs. It's normal practice on many demos in Spain top push the large green paladin bins into the middle of the road, take out useful material to lob at the cops and then set fire to them. On that occasion something of that sort happened, as well as attacking the ETT offices. As this went on for a while, one young lad was picked out by the cops, arrested and tortured and then released after a couple of days. He was rearrested and a confession was extracted which he signed naming himself and his mates as being those who had done this. Not being able to live with himself he committed suicide. A demo was called and a thousand people turned up, and it was attacked by the police with plain clothes cops looking to arrest people just like they had with the other guy.

As a reaction, the youngsters in Cornella called a general strike for one day in protest. AS there was quite a lot of publicity the cops did not attack them (then!). Not long after a hit squad went into the ETT office and set it alight with petrol and mollies, in plain daylight, with the office workers being told to leave. This made publicity; so when people saw posters for a demo in Cornella the same week s the full scale attack against the okupas, nobody had any doubts about the outcome. About 600 people assembled in the middle of Cornella and decided to march to another place where they would read out a communiqué. Once there the riot cops attacked them before they had time to read out anything. The major danger came from the 50 plain clothes cops inside the demo and about 6 people were arrested. They were taken off to a nearby building where they were placed in separate rooms. Shortly afterwards a group of 5 to 6 riot cops came in to give them a good working over. In the corner of the room the pigs already had the molotovs, rocket launchers, etc. to back up their charges against the accused. For this they could get sent down for a couple of years apiece. The propaganda work had already been carried out by the mass media saying that the okupas had called the demo, and this two days after the Sants demo where 17 were arrested for rioting, etc. The judges normally send down anyone brought before them by the cops, dismissing contradictory evidence saying they prefer to believe the word of a police officer. This had happened after La Princesa to an American who was teaching English in a private language school until 10pm, but the cops claimed had been rioting at 8.30-9pm. The judge rejected his underground ticket with date and time on it as evidence. Spain has progressed from Fascist dictatorship to banana republic.

The fly in the ointment for the authorities is that several of those arrested are CNT members. This is bad (for them) for two reasons. Firstly that there is a CNT and anarchist black out of information, except historical things, 1936 and all that. The CNT is now "historical", not exiting today and not having any relevance to people, places, events and life today. That's according to them! Secondly, the CNT is a legally recognised organisation, and so has a right to reply to anything published against it or its members by anyone.

When the press published the cops version, as always, the CNT handed over a personally signed communiqué giving its version of events to each newspaper. Some of them published it, albeit reduced, which gives publicity to the CNT and anarchist movement, as well as officially denying the cops version and therefore the version published by the press as well, showing them up as the lying shits they are.

The week after this onslaught against the okupas (and remember the okupas say "L*s okup*s somos tod*s, pero faltan l*s pres*s" - the okupas are all of us, but the prisoners are missing, i.e. not here with us) there was ten days of events organised by the squatters about he arrested and talking about what had happened. These took place from one end of Barcelona to the other, including the suburbs, and brings together all the cases of repression taking place around the city. The prisoners are 49 from La Princesa, 16 from the riot attacking the main copshop that same day; 17 from the Sants demo including the Aussie compañero who faces deportation from Europe for 5 years; 6 from the Cornella demo.

For more details and to support those arrested contact CNT, c/ Joaquim Costa 34, Barcelona Tel/fax 93 318 88 34