Picture this: noon approaches in the emblematic town of Arcos de la Frontera (Cadiz, Southern Spain). It’s hot, very hot, and the employees of a local supermarket are looking forward to their lunch time break. Suddenly a group of approximately thirty people quietly storms into the shop and proceeds to fill up ten shopping trolleys with basic necessity items like oil, sugar, rice, pasta, milk, buiscuits and legumes before the eyes of the perplexed supermarket employees. But things go from amusing to unnerving when the crowd attempts to go through the counters without any intention to pay for what they’ve gathered. Just a simple, “hasta luego”.
There’s somewhat of a struggle, a nasty exchange of words but the men manage to get nine of the ten trolleys out without paying. They load the goods onto a van and drive towards a ‘food bank’ in Sevilla. There, they’ll meet other men and women who have performed similar acts in various local supermarkets of the region.
“We take the food to give it to the poor. This crisis is a robbery on all of us. The quantities we take are minimal compared to what the rich are taking from us”, says the man behind the movement. The mayor of the town of Marinaleda since 1979, Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, leads a protest movement by the Andalucian Workers Union (SAT – Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores) that, apart from “looting”supermarkets, has occupied a military land to make a point – Spain’s crisis is affecting six million jobless persons and sending 30% of families in the Southern Spanish region of Andalucia beyond the poverty threshold.
“Food expropriation will continue”, insists Sanchez Gordillo, “because someone needs to ensure that the families of this country eat every day. They can’t stop me, I’ll be proud to go to jail as many times as they want to send me. The more they are onto my case, they more infuriated I will get.”
But onto his case they’ll be, that’s for sure.
Although Sanchez Gordillo’s actions are by no means “legal”, we could say they are justifiable. Are they designed to promote himself and his “communist”ideology as the speaker of Spain’s governing party Partido Poular claims in this video (in Spanish)?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Are they tarnishing Spain’ reputation internationally in a way that other countries no longer will consider Spain to be a serious country (as he also claims in the video)?
I don’t think so.
I think he’s a scapegoat. And he is going to have to put up with a lot of conservative noise.
The Spanish conservative daily, el Mundo, for instance, claims these protests are useless and dangerous, stating that “it is abhorrent when the political representatives who are supposed to set a good example and defend the law call on people to disobey it. This is a serious matter. It sets a precedent that could prompt others to commit further offences. There are those who could use this approach as an excuse to channel social frustration and trigger riots. And the incident also conveys a false image of Spain as a third-world country. It’s true that many Spaniards are in financial difficulties, but no one is dying of starvation in Spain. The social services continue to function and of course there are alternatives to breaking into shops and taking the merchandise by force.”
Interesting. Especially if you consider the latest study published by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations expresses concern at the government’s economic cutbacks affecting disproportionately the disadvantaged (and at study was conducted prior to the latest set of cutbacks). It also states that the minimum salary in Spain does not allow people to live with dignity and reminds Spanish leaders that some of the reforms recently applied could place the country in a prickly position, bordering the infringement of some of the international agreements signed by Spain ( as is limiting immigrants their access to some health services).
Now, to me, that is tarnishing Spain’s reputation internationally.
Or perhaps, even more than that, what’s tarnishing Spain’s reputation is the tale of greed, cronyism and political meddling that has brought many of the country’s leading savings institutions to their knees.
As European taxpayers prepared to rescue Spain’s ailing banks, court investigators uncovered payments to Bankia’s former senior executives. The bill that Europe’s rescue funds will pay is increased by the multi–million euro payoffs taken by some senior executives shortly before their banks collapsed and decisions taken by unqualified board members who admit they were incapable of analysing the banks’ books. Trips to India, China or Chicago and the hundreds of millions of euros in loans to executives, board members and their families formed part of the gravy train of political favouritism and cronyism. Bankia, paid executive Matías Amat €6.2 m for taking early retirement. Bancaja, one of the seven cajas that merged to form Bankia, reportedly owes executive Aurelio Izquierdo €14m.
Attempts to investigate Bankia have been blocked by the People’s party (PP) in the national parliament and the Madrid regional assembly, but Spain’s attorney general has admitted that it is under investigation. Twelve of the 45 cajas that existed three years ago are reportedly being looked at by anti-corruption investigators.
Now, to me, undoubtedly, this is what’s tarnishing Spain’s reputation.
This and the many other facts I mentioned in What’s happening to Spain, time to break away and move on.