Freedom News

Spain: They evict community spaces to give them away to speculators

Todo Por Hacer rounds up some of the occupied social centres (commonly known as CSOs) in and around Madrid – and the battles these spaces been fighting with speculative capital.

When squatted and self-managed social centers in Madrid are in good health it is indicative of lively activism in the city’s communities. If they languish, on the other hand, we know we are facing a time of resistance – bad times for squatting are bad times for social movements. And so it is that after numerous media panics, social criminalisation, judicial and institutional pressure, police violence and, lately, the violence of the neo-Nazi mercenaries of the Desokupa company, squatting in Madrid has been in a hostile spotlight. 

The Establishment want a city that is not rebellious and that only serves consumption. They want to evict the community spaces in our city, to give away its real estate to urban speculation and tourism. 

The squatted social centers have been part of our urban fabric for decades, numerous struggles and activisms have been forged in them. Historically, such spaces have been revitalised for social use, and because one of the pillars of the current capitalist system is dynamited by doing so – private property. This concept cannot be above life, the right to health, to housing, to culture. The squatting of spaces not only questions that its legality is not always legitimate, but also turns the entire thought scheme of capitalism upside down.

In this article we review a number of spaces that have recently suffered evictions, setbacks or threats and whose life depends on the legal, social and political resistance carried out by their assemblies. In addition to those mentioned here the list of evictions from social centers in Madrid in recent years is long: La Gasoli (Guindalera), Solar Maravillas (Malasaña), La Salamandra (Moratalaz), La Dragona (La Elipa), La Yaya (Argüelles), the House of Associations (Hortaleza), the EV Montamarta (San Blas), the EVA of Arganzuela, the House of Culture (Chamberi) and La Casa del Cura (Malasaña). Sometimes very painful decisions are made regarding social spaces that, for more or less time, had been filled with life and activity leading to the flourishing of popular neighbourhoods. On the other hand, we will also mention some recently opened projects and social centers that have begun their journey with great force, and are already hubs in Madrid’s squatting scene.

La Ingobernable: Uncovering new cases of urban corruption, and the hotelier ambitions of UGT

Last May, a Supreme Court ruling confirmed that the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, had illegally evicted the squatted social center La Ingobernable in 2019, from its location on Calle Gobernador, on corner of Paseo del Prado. This ruling reinforced previous findings by the Superior Court of Justice of Madrid that the city council did not have the power to execute the eviction of La Ingobernable since at that time it had officially been ceded to a private foundation. In the program of the Popular Party, in its candidacy for the municipality of Madrid, it had included the promise to clear out La Ingobernable, a building that housed 200 monthly activities with an attendance of some 130,000 people over its two years of intense life – the largest meeting space for popular movements of the capital.

That same day, after the ruling was published, La Ingobernable told us to keep an eye out because their reaction would not wait, and the following day a large group of activists accessed the old Convent of the Recogidas in Hortaleza street. This property, belonging to the UGT union, had been rented out to a company to be transformed into a luxury hotel (of which the Madrid has so few), with the city council previously approving a special restructuring plan and change of designation for use as a public lodging. The recovery of this building to turn it into a social center was not possible, since the UGT denounced the occupation immediately and the next day, after a night of resistance, the municipal police carried out an eviction of the activists inside. 

However, once again an urban hit was uncovered in the city of Madrid, with a movie plot in which UGT, a construction company and the city council coordinated perfectly to carry out their gentrification plans. At the end of May and without prior notice, the municipal police evicted the La Ingobernable Social Rights Office from what its latest location on Calle de la Cruz, squatted for just over a year in an old hotel that had been abandoned for five years and in the hands of the Marco Aldany hairdressing company. The owners, together with developer One Shot Hotels, demanded their eviction for the construction of a new luxury hotel in the center of Madrid. 

La Enredadera de Tetuán: A community space fighting against oppressions

This social center in the heart of the Madrid neighborhood of Estrecho, district of Tetuán, has been under threat of closure and final eviction from the administration for several years. With 13 years behind them and a long journey of hundreds of activities and meetings, among others, of the housing movement, feminist and even the Zapatistas, they have decided to make the move with the help of the neighbours that they have always counted on. 

It will be recorded in the history of this social center how in 2014, together with other neighborhood groups, they faced their greatest challenge up to that moment when Hogar Social Madrid, a neo-Nazi group, squatted in a building in a multicultural neighbourhood (eg. in Tetouan). Despite the police collusion and the attempted burning of the Enredadera by the Nazis, they managed to leave the neighbourhood and the Enre continued to be a well-known social space. A Special Urban Planning Plan aiming to turn the building into a tool for gentrifying the city was frustrated and paralysed. They also managed to face down a trial for usurpation, with the unconditional support of the neighbourhood. 

However, after a long barrage of administrative complaints, last summer they had to request a local resistance to prevent Madrid City Council from sealing the social center off. The excuse this time was that the Enre did not have a public activities license, and institutional repression tried to silence this community meeting space. For Enre’s part, they are determined to resist and for this they need to pause, possibly the most complicated decision in all their years of life, but also a decision that is an example of militant commitment, care and good sense that they have always had in their assembly. La Enre asked all the neighbours who could come to lend a hand for the move, they collected all the materials and the great community treasures created in these long years. They asked us to be attentive to future news, and we will do so, because Enre remains committed to building a neighbourhood to fly free.

CSO Atalaya: The Vallekan resistance to defend an old squatted institute

The Vallecano archive space is currently a neighbourhood solidarity pantry, an initiative that emerged from the Somos Tribu project in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, which even received a European citizenry award. However, La Atalaya also received a judicial eviction order requiring them to leave the building in five days. But we are talking about Vallekas, and the neighbourhood reacted quickly, calling mobilisations to resist the judicial decision. Although the latest news received is that the appeal they filed was accepted, that only buys time, valuable time, to continue resisting. 

Vallekas is not a beast to tame, it is a neighbourhood that defends itself tooth and nail, and from the squatted social center La Atalaya they held a public press conference in front of the Madrid Assembly explaining the position of the space regarding the future eviction. It was supported by many neighbours and participants from the various social groups of the space. Energy firm Naturgy and the Social Housing Agency of the Community of Madrid are behind this court order against La Atalaya, which began its activities eight years ago by restoring an old ruined institute to fill it with life, learning and alternative leisure. Given the real lack of opportunities on the part public institutions, spaces such as La Atalaya arise to promote sports, cultural, leisure and community meeting spaces. 

If these spaces did not exist all that would disappear, and therefore a large part of the popular life in the neighbourhoods would languish as they do in other territories, exposed only to opportunities for consumption and leisure that capitalism itself offers. It is for this reason that defending these squatting spaces is defending life, and they do so with the best weapons, as La Atalaya affirms: joy to fight, organisation to win.

La Ferroviaria: A locomotive that gives life in the heart of Paseo de Delicias

A year ago, in the spring of 2021, the La Ferroviaria project was born, occupying an old bank headquarters in the Plaza de Luca de Tena, in the Delicias neighborhood. This social center has been launched, among others, due to the efforts of organisations such as Arganzuela 27 (a youth group), PAH Centro-Arganzuela or the Feminist Association of Arganzuela. A space that has been born with an incomparable strength to build activities in the community and build its popular fabric. It comes from the organisational tradition of the old EVA (Espacio Vecinal Arganzuela), which had a space ceded to it, and yet Madrid City Council decided not to extend that cession to groups that self-managed their activities. 

CSO Animosa in Hortaleza and CSO Amparitxu in Prosperidad: Two exciting projects beginning their journey

If we move a little away from the city center, we find that projects to open new social spaces are also flourishing in other neighbourhoods. A commercial premises owned by SAREB (a State-owned institution known as the ‘bad bank’ which took on high-risk assets in the wake of the 2010s financial crisis) became the first squatted social center in Hortaleza at the end of last year. La Animosa opened its doors to meet the real needs of the neighbourhood and promote social and cultural projects, thus recovering an uninhabited building to put into operation, among other activities, a self-managed gym and a popular library. The chosen name, moreover, is a tribute to the memory of the old inhabitants of Hortaleza, as it refers to the Society of Agricultural Workers of the Lands of Hortaleza La Animosa, an ancient agrarian community.

The Amparitxu social center, located in old bank offices owned by an investment company linked to Santander that had been closed for two years, was born in the Prosperidad neighbourhood at the end of April this year. In this case, the name refers to the poet and inhabitant of this neighborhood, Amparo Gascón, who, during the Franco regime, welcomed people into her house who were fleeing the repression of the dictatorship. This new social center was born from the need of young people in La Prospe and the surrounding area to have their own space in which to organise and move the local food bank. Recovering this space also symbolically means reversing the looting of the community that the banks have perpetrated against the working class.

This is an edited machine translation of an article that first appeared in Todo Por Hacer. Any problems let us know!

Discover more from Freedom News

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading