The Spanish mortgage crisis as an Almodóvar film

I’ve just been reading about the horrific suicide of a 53-year-old woman in the Bilbao suburb of Barakaldo, who jumped to her death from her fourth floor flat as court officials arrived to evict her.

As UK newspapers are reporting this morning (see FT and Guardian), this is the second repossession-related suicide in Spain in the last two weeks. Prime minister Mariano Ragoy has pledged to support struggling families but is under attack from the opposition for rescuing the banks while imposing austerity on the people. The Association of Spanish Banks has said it will call for a freeze on evictions of ‘vulnerable homeowners’ for two years.

This piece about evictions by the Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar appears on the Spanish and French websites of the Huffington Post – but not so far on the UK site. Here is my rough translation of what begins as though we are seeing scenes from a film that juxtaposes what happened in Bilbao with what I think is the memorial service in Madrid for four teenagers killed in a stampede at a party at the Madrid Arena on November 1. That is followed by the first part of Almodóvar’s main piece.

Feast of the Alumdena, November 9. The different scenes are in parallel.

1.Baracaldo. Calle Escuela de Artes y Oficios, No 11.
A group of officials from the Court at No. 4, accompanied by a locksmith, there is no point calling the intercom because the entrance to the building is open.

2.  4th floor of the same building.
A blonde woman of 53 years on a chair by the window.

3. Madrid. Almudena Cathedral.
A group of people, dressed for the occasion, celebrate the feast of the patron saint of Madrid. Cardinal Rouco Varela officiates the Eucharist. Ana Botella, the Mayor of Madrid, advances to the feet of the Virgin and stands in front of a microphone.

4. Barakaldo. Interior of the property.
The group of officials, plus a locksmith, climb the stairs or go into the elevator. They stop at the fourth floor of the stairwell B.
Inside No 4 woman of 53 years, Amaia Egaña, gets on the chair by the window ledge. She hears voices on the landing and the noise of the locksmith opening the door of what until this morning was home.

5. Madrid. Almudena Cathedral.
Ana Botella, at the microphone, prays to the Virgin for the situation facing many families because of the economic crisis. Close-up of the Virgin to whom the mayor’s words are addressed.

6. Barakaldo. A 4th floor, staircase B.
The locksmith has just opened the front door of Amaia Egaña and officers burst inside. It seems that no one is home. Amaia Egaña lies stretched on the pavement of the street (a moment before they entered the apartment she threw herself out the window.)
When the group of officers look for someone in the house and go out to the balcony, they discover the chair and the body of Amaia dying on the floor of the street. We hear the voice of Ana Botella praying to the Virgin: “We are a great nation united … we are always stronger to emerge triumphant in all the challenges we face …”

7. Barakaldo. Calle Escuela de Artes y Oficios, No 11.
The voice of Ana Botella goes silent with the arrival of mobile ICU doctor certifying the death of Amaia Egaña.

Los desahucios [the evictions]

‘Evictions are a real disaster, like tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes, governments require immediate and effective measures to solve the situation of despair and utter helplessness of his victims.

According to la Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca [something like the Platform of the Victims of Mortgages] the number of evictions during the first quarter of the year reached the figure of 46,559, ie, 517 evictions a day. The prospect is that this Monday we may have 517 people who, when they look out the window of their threatened home, it goes through their head that to jump is the only solution available, is terrifying and unbearable.

Constant demonstrations of citizen concern, the protest of 46 senior judges, the EU reviews stating abusive Spanish mortgage contracts, the thousands of families with young children and the elderly facing homelessness were not enough. Nothing was enough to put the problem of evictions on our government’s list of priorities. It took two suicides for [Spanish prime minister] Rajoy to says “I hope on Monday we stop the cases of vulnerable families”, but coming from him it can mean anything.

Will Rajoy include among “vulnerable families” those people who supported a home mortgage for their children, older people who are also being threatened with eviction? Because to the first victims of this evil mortgage system must be added second victims, parents who supported their children with their only asset, their own home, the result of a lifetime of work, saving and sacrifice. Can they be criticised as grandparents who lived beyond their means? A few days ago, an elderly woman with her husband chained themselves to a branch of Unicaja and a judge fined them 200 euros because they damaged a glass door. This is the type of event we mean when we accuse the government of insensitivity.’

More follows on what happened at the Madrid Arena but that is the (badly translated) gist of what Almodóvar says about the mortgage crisis in Spain. To put the numbers in perspective, 517 evictions a day or 188,000 a year compares to a peak of around 75,000 in the worst year of the early 1990s repossessions crisis here.

According to The Guardian, the Spanish police union says it will back any member who conscientiously objects to enforcing eviction orders. ‘We’re not robots, we’re human beings and this is like the soldier in a firing squad who refuses to shoot, even knowing he will take the place of the one to be shot,’ said Jose Manuel Sanchez, the union’s secretary general.


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