This is a translation of a piece written by Manuel Cañada, a militant in Trastienda, a social rights collective. It was originally published in Rebelión on 30th June last year. A friend from #AcampadaMérida (manifesto here) suggested I translate it as it helps provide the context to the situation in Extremadura. However it has universal resonance, particularly so in countries living in the wake of burst property bubbles.
The discourse of social Darwinism and the 'the kingdom of the plasma screen TVs' cited in this translated text on evictions in Extremadura ought to be particularly relevant to Irish readers. This morning, the head of the Department of Finance has declared that it 'is not necessarily appropriate that banks should be using taxpayers' money to subsidise people living in accommodation, even if it is a family home, that is beyond their means', citing an 'unnaturally low' level of repossessions (as if there were anything 'natural' about a neo-liberal state that protects the financial sector at all costs!). Meanwhile, Michael Noonan the Minister for Finance has cited, on the public broadcaster, the problem of satellite TV subscriptions taking priority over mortgage repayments.
Bailing out banks, evicting poor people
by Manuel Cañada
I ask of the political economists, of the moralists, whether they have calculated the number of individuals it is necessary to condemn to misery, to undue labour, to demoralisation, to infancy, to crapulous ignorance, to unconquerable misfortune, to absolute penury, so as to produce a rich person.
- Almeida Garret
12th of June 2012, in Mérida's Juan Canet neighbourhood. It is not yet nine in the morning and a group of riot police, armed with plastic bullet rifles, oversee the rapid removal of furniture from a council house. It is one of 16 such evictions carried out in Extremadura in the last month and a half. Expectant rifle sights scan the doors and cots scattered in the middle of the street. A woman, until now a resident of the flat, begs unsuccessfully to be allowed in to her home to pick up the bottle so she can feed her son. No, these neighbourhoods are not reached by the psalms that speak of the greater interest of the child, nor is there room in the suburbs for affectations of compassion. “They treat us like terrorists”, says an older woman, consumed by rage. For some time now we have ceased to be surprised by the presence of riot police and special operations teams in these slums of misery. It is the silent war, the war of the rich against the poor, the coming social war.
One eviction every three days. The Extremaduran regional government (in Spanish, la Junta de Extremadura), a weatherproof homeowner and judge, has let eviction be the guide of its housing policy. 764 eviction cases are open, and of these, we are told, 90 are to be carried out imminently. This is happening in a region with near 150,000 people who are unemployed, with more than 60,000 in receipt of no benefits whatsoever, and when the number of people seeking assistance from Cáritas food programmes keeps multiplying. A tsunami of marginalisation and misery is advancing with its mouth wide open and, while this is going on, the Extremaduran government starts spinning the roulette wheel of eviction. “I only get €436 euro in unemployment benefit and I have to pay €143 in rent. How do they expect me to pay another late payment bill”, says one of the women threatened with expulsion. “They don't want to apply the rent reductions to me because they say I have previous debts”, another neighbour complains. “Can you believe they have the right to threaten you with getting thrown out on the street for a debt of €800?”. The stories of uncertainty and fear pile up. The regional government, the property owner, mobilises police and judges to frighten poor people, but it does not seem to show the same diligence or energy in fulfilling its obligations as landlord. The lifts stopped working a long time ago in many blocks and the neighbourhoods are filling up with cockroaches, but the exemplary government of Extremadura can only think about making money, and, especially, in that most profitable of investments: fear. The vineyard of the powers that be, always sprinkled with fear.
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