Miriam Ruiz
random thoughts on technology and life

{January 21, 2009}   In support of Patio Maravillas

Patio Maravillas is a self-managed government-independent social center in Madrid, placed in a squatted building that long ago belonged to school. The place currently belongs to a Real Estate company, Grupo 2 Reunidos. According to the law, the place has to be used for providing services to the community, which hasn’t happened for 10 years. Nobody knows what plans they do have for the building, but there are suspicions that it might be related to property speculation. Nothing new on the horizon.

The police are throwing them out of the building tomorrow morning, “incidentally” coinciding with the opening of the Foro Social Mundial (World Social Forum), for which Patio Maravillas was going to be one of the hosting buildings. Madrid isn’t really known for supporting social movements in general, and has a conservative government, so feel free to think that the coincidence is not random. Patio Maravillas has been giving courses and workshops to the community since July 2007, and is very well considered and supported by different organizations.

Supposedly whatever happens tomorrow will be without violence, but knowing how the Spanish Police behaves in this situations that is not very likely. The event will be streamed and probably recorded, and information will be twittered, so hopefully nothing serious will happen. I really hope the best for them.

I’d love to be able to be there with them, but as it is really not possible for me, I’m giving them all my support from here. Good luck! Keep up the good work!

michael says:

Its difficult for me to support squatting — my parents while not wealthy by any standards managed to own their own home, and a rental when they moved.

Our experience was that there were some people who would stop paying rent, bring in people not on the rental contract, and vandalize the place… leaving great expense and a hassle getting the place to where we could pay the bills again. (vandalism included prying out the water line in the basement in order to flood it, spray-paint, busting out windows.) In other words, they destroyed not only potential income, but also real wealth.

It is a shame that such a building would go to waste — but, I find it incredible that a non profit does not either have donated space, or funding through donations and sponsorships necessary to rent or own necessary space. Law requires this space to be used for ‘community service’ – perhaps, that law could help in negotiation?

Perhaps squatting is a ‘social movement’ – but I’ve only seen it as drug addicts attempting to get something for nothing by making it something that cannot be ‘used’ for its intended purpose.

Miry says:

Well, even though probably some squatting goes as you describe, that is definitely not the case here. The people at Patio Maravillas have made a great effort in fixing a building that would otherwise be empty and unusable and they’re using it to provide services to the community without getting profit from it, helping immigrants, teaching people how to use computers and Free Software, promoting the discussion of alternative ways of improving the society. You really won’t think that there’s anything wrong with that, just the opposite. No one is living there, it’s in fact used as a social center. I find it really sad that you think about alternative social movements as “drug addicts attempting to get something for nothing”, really, you should probably try to get to know a bit more about it before reaching that conclusion, which is totally unfair.

About depending on the government for getting permission to use buildings as social centers for social movements, well, I don’t know how it goes where you live, but here you can only depend on that as long as politicians can control it. That would totally destroy these movements, if they have to stop criticizing what’s being done wrong just because they depend on the politicians’ will. The fact that the expulsion of the people there happens exactly when there was going to be a world meeting about social issues that does not align with their politics isn’t random at all.

michael says:

By “seen” I mean personal experience (as my parents owned an in-use property that squatters attempted to take over). I helped clean up after them after we got them out. Finding drugs and paraphernalia is evidence of drug use. Switching from paying rent to refusal to pay, and refusal to leave is… evidence of trying to get something for nothing. After the extreme vandalism, we were able to keep them out — though, I believe there was a forced entry since then.

Miry says:

I’m sorry that has happened to you.

This is quite a bit different kind of squatting. These empty buildings belong to big organizations and administrations that want them just for economical speculation. Some volunteers take care of them, clean them, fix them, and use them to improve the community, offering courses and workshops and things like that. Neighborhoods like that too, because they liven up the community and take care of buildings that otherwise would be empty and abandoned, and probably be used by people that could make the area more insecure.

Vejeta says:

Hello Miry,

I did a translation of your article to spanish here: http://vejeta.com/portal/Members/zoperman/varios/en-apoyo-del-patio-paravillas

Hope you like it and don’t mind.

And I also hope everything goes without violence tomorrow. When the police throwed people from CSOA Casas Viejas they hitted people that just happened to be sitting in the street.


Miry says:

Of course not, on the contrary, I’m very pleased that you did. I just wrote it in English because all the information I was able to find was in Spanish :)

Miry says:

Patio Maravillas has resisted this morning. More than 400 people including members of the neigborhood, different organizations (including Ecologistas en Acción, Médicos Sin Fronteras or Sos Racismo) and squatters themselves were there to prevent it. The eviction has been delayed sine die. Yay for them!

michael says:

So, any resolution? I do understand this was ‘civil disobedience’, and people were willing to be arrested to speak to what was broken in society. My Spanish is somewhat less than it should be, so there was a lot I did not understand in the links. (I do understand that when the speculators cannot keep up their house of cards up… prices can fall to the point that buildings on land sell for less that the expected price of the undeveloped land)

I am guessing that the recent financial bailouts were intended to maintain this unpleasant status quo… Corporate speculators would be less willing to destroy wealth if they took more of the risk, and less of the reward. (if speculators lost their own money — market forces could bring prices down levels the community could support).

Best wishes — I still do not know the answer… everything that comes to mind is like trying to repair an amputation with a bandaid (TM). It seems harsh to hope a recession comes so that hoarded resources can be freed up – but then again, for the most part the poor are in the same condition no matter what they say about the economy. I could wish for tighter regulation — but that would increase the difficulty of making good use of real estate. I could wish for your groups to remain unmolested… but, those who commit civil disobedience are waiting for a confrontation where the nature of the abuse can be examined by society. The fact that the methods are civil disobedience shows the goal is quite far away.

:-) I’m afraid my comment is too long. (I spoke with a friend who’s organization (Habitat for Humanity) is buying failed speculation property in the greater DC metro area to turn into low-cost housing, owned by the occupants.) I wanted to know more about the issues involved.

Miry says:

Hi Michael, thanks for your comment. Yes, you’re right. Sometimes the system is so flawed that civil disobedience is the only way. You might want to have a look at Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience (Resistance to Civil Government) essay, and its influence in Mohandas Gandhi‘s civil disobedience movement and Martin Luther King‘s fight. I’m personally very impressed by Gandhi’s thoughs and I seriously believe in non-violent civil disobedience.

The Real Estate situation in Spain is quite complex. A big part of the Spanish economy “miracle” in the last times has been based in an speculative-driven massive building industry that was unmaintenable and the bubble they created (with prices artificially forced to be about 30% above the market) by keeping those resources empty and out of the system is starting to burst now, so the hope on the recession to free all those currently unused resources might be well founded. Lets hope so, at least.

Thanks a lot for your wishes, I guess there is gonna be a long fight ahead anyway, but we’re on the way :)

Miry says:

Interesting comment in Barrapunto:

The building was abandoned for years, it didn’t produce anything, it wasn’t useful for anyone. It wasn’t an investment (understood as providing resources for reaching a goal). It was pure speculation (it only pretended to create an artificial shortage to benefit from it).

Only due to the repressive forces of the state can that brand of private property be maintained, in which the owner just abandons their property and relies on the state for its protection.

This interpretation of private property, like the current interpretation of author’s rights, is a degenerated form of private property, maintained by the fact that the state is the keeper of the monopoly on violence.

Private property well understood should rise from the use and work on it, and there is none of either here. We have to fight against this degeneration and the best way is through squattering.

If the building have had any indicator of being used, or there was any indicator that it would be in the near future, nobody would have squattered it.

Juan says:

I still think that private property is a right in this country. Just wait until you spend 30 or 40 years of your woking life dedicated to buying a property and that is taken from you with whatever excuse. As long as the owners of that house did not do anything illegal… and if they did, then we have something called tribunals to sort it out. Those are the rules of the game (i.e. laws) in our society… for everybody.

Miry says:

Juan: I respect your opinion although definitely I don’t share it. Private property is a right, but it’s not an absolute grant of permissions without obligations. Rights are always accompanied with duties, and the purpose of private property is to benefit the whole of the community as well as the individual. Expropriations are a clear example of this. Speculation is not a legitimate use of the private property right. About the second point, if the state and the tribunals won’t to anything about it, because they are part of it and their members benefit of this system, the only way for citizens to fix it is through non-violent civil disobedience.

michael Jay says:

I take slight issue with the term ‘non-violent’, as I have a pacifist background. I see both sides action as a kind of violence… or at least forcing a person to defend his property rights is not… peaceful. Profiting on the destruction of neighbor’s property is also not peaceful.

I live in a place where taxes, and fines for violating non-maintenance and safety laws makes it so that abandoned buildings become the property of the local government (such property is sold at auction quickly… the process is not short, but it discourages such speculation here) in the worst case – it becomes property of some bank that holds it until it has a clear title (often more than one party has partial claim to land) — then auctions it off [Once they have a clear title -- it is too expensive to keep]. There is even a process of clearing a title just by using the land when there is no clear owner (long term use of truly abandoned property… as in the residents pay taxes, use and develop the property — and no-one who has a better claim then they claims it. — this usually happens when the owner dies, there is no clear will so a family member takes over the house… the one who took it over eventually owns it with a clear title)

Whether the owners must benefit the community or not is debatable… but active harm should be limited out of respect of neighbor’s property rights. long-term abandoned buildings damage neighboring properties. A friend of mine has a saying “Your rights end where my rights begin”.

Miry says:

Well, even though one’s rights end where the other’s begin, or as I once heard, your right to move your hand ends where it touches my nose, taking that principle to the extreme makes that even the act of living somehow limits other’s freedom. As we’re living in a society, and the rights of everyone must be somehow balanced.

If you take the word violence in the broader sense it might have, of course any behavior that is not submissive would be violent. UNESCO says that it is “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation”, and non-violence “is neither merely a negation of violence, nor a call for passivism. Proponents of non-violence do not deny that conflict among human beings is inevitable, and they do not support submission to persecution, obedience to unjust “authorities” or acceptance of conditions in which their own or others’ human rights are violated”.

Antonio says:

Juan, Such are not our rules, these rules are just the interests of the economical power.

In fact, our rules are theoretically clear: on one hand they say that we have right to private property restricted/limited by the public/social interest, and on the other they say we have the right to make use of a living place and to have a job. I think it is clear which are the rules, and it is clear how they have force them for protecting their interests.

Miry says:

Video available: http://isaachacksimov.blip.tv/#1750939

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