Human Journalism – best articles from

By Patricia Simón / Translation: Blanca G. Bertolaza

  • The Platform of those Affected by Mortgage (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, PAH) launches a campaign calling to occupy houses that are empty because they have been evicted.
  • “They are paying for the evictions with our taxes to kick people out on the street so banks can keep empty houses”, says Rafael Mayoral, PAH lawyer.
  • José Coy, co-founder of the PAH in the city of Murcia, predicts a heated Fall season. “We have to go after them because they are going to keep going after us”.

José Coy is a well-known and respected man in activist circles that, until now, had remained in a parallel world for many people. Some veteran trade-unionists from the shipyards and mines of the region of Asturias know him well since the 80s, when he, along with other trade unionists, travelled from Murcia to Asturias to bring food and support to the relatives of the workers who were on a hunger strike; he is well-remembered by those who were in Murcia in 2001, when 400 Central American immigrants locked themselves in several parishes to protest for the reform of the Aliens Act undertaken by then-Interior Minister Jaime Mayor Oreja, that opened the door to something that was unconceivable back then and that is now an everyday reality: the deportation of undocumented immigrants. Hundreds of workers locked themselves in out of fear of being deported after years working like mules in the fields of Murcia, with no income whatsoever because the employment of undocumented immigrants also started to be persecuted, as their last packs of rice and beans started to run out. Those who lived through this humanitarian crisis talk about José Coy’s relentless work, as he became the spokesman for the Molina de Segura Immigrants Platform, keeping them company in their sit-in, talking to the media, coordinating the food drive, all while he was still travelling around the villages of Murcia selling clothes. On the opposite side of this fight, Aznar’s government and his policy on foreigners, which many human rights advocates described as a “hunt for immigrants”. Because of it, hundreds of immigrants went hungry in Spain, a fight Coy now remembers as the “tears rebellion, because some fights do not involve blows, but cries”.

José Coy in 15-M Gijón’s stand during the Black Week (Javier Bauluz/Piraván)

And now, a decade later, Coy is one of the founders of the Platform of Those Affected by Mortgage in Murcia, and not because his job or vocation is to set up organizations, but because this “trade unionist without a trade union”, as he describes himself, as well as life-long active citizen, is another victim of offshoring, of the world financial crisis, and of the role Spanish banks have played these years, as he explained himself during a lecture in the stand the city of Gijón’s 15M Movement had during the “Black Week” culture festival that took place at the end of July.

José Coy has worked in the most representative sectors of the East of Spain: in the fields, canning factories, and finally in the textile industry, until work ran out. “I don’t talk about the crisis because I’ve heard about it, but because I am in crisis, according to all the statistics: over 45, with no social benefits, without even the right to go through the filter of a job interview… I’ve lived what globalization really means, that industries move to China because there workers have no rights, and they don’t have to pay them a decent salary… So the first thing you do when you get laid off is to get depressed, you go to the administration and all it has to offer you is a little pill”. This is how José Coy begins his intervention at the 15M stand, straight to the point.

In front of him, about thirty people, most of them members of the 15M movement in Gijón, expecting, committed to an experience that they, as a group, have just gone through for the first time. The first eviction stopped in the region of Asturias with barely 40 people standing in the door of the building, as told by periodismohumano. When a police officer informed the mortgage holder that the eviction would be postponed, the participants embraced each other, moved by a triumph that had just filled with tangible political content many nights and days spent camping out. Now they stand before the people who gave them the keys to their way of proceeding, the ones who have more experience in what has become one of the 15M movement’s most recognizable traits, since on June 15th hundreds of people congregated in Madrid to stop Anuar and his family from losing their home, and that has given the Platform a push unconceivable without the emergence of this movement or, as Coy puts it, “a heaven-sent gift”.

José Coy and Rafael Mayoral, of the PAH, in 15-M Gijón’s stand (Javier Bauluz/Piraván)

Next to Coy is Rafael Mayoral, Platform lawyer, who has driven with him to Asturias, as they have been doing for weeks to different spots in Spain to share their knowledge, raising the money for it selling raffle tickets for a draw of a lot of organic products from Murcia. Mayorga, who began his social activism in the immigration field, captures the growing audience’s attention with a stunning and clarifying account of the process responsible for 204,000 families having been evicted from their homes from January 2008 to June 2011. “Banks have been valuing housing at completely artificial prices to sentence the working class to unpayable mortgages, knowing that many of them would not be able to be paid for. From the beginning there have been systematic looting schemes based on the sale and purchase of houses that had always entailed mortgage loan contracts, which were combined and securitized in the international market. And that is why it was vital that housing prices kept rising. A sentence to eternal debt through a complex foreclosure procedure that the vast majority ignored. Nobody who signs a mortgage loan for which they value your home in 240,000 Euros, and for which they loan you 180,000 Euros, would ever think that if they take away their home they will keep the debt”. And he does the math; in a claustrophobic but simple, condemning flow of ideas. “In foreclosure proceedings you only have two options: either you pay, or you pay. And besides the assessed contributions, they are going to ask for interest rates, which are huge, and sometimes, even the legal fees. Unpayable. When they auction them, since normally nobody bids for them, the bank usually keeps it for 60% of the appraised value. So, if your home had been valued in 240,000 Euros, you find that you still own them 100,000 Euros”.

The Platform of Those Affected by Mortgage has four basic proposals: the regulation of dation in payment, that is, that handing over the keys discharges the debt with the bank; the postponement of the payment of the fees as long as the borrower has no source of income or if they don’t reach the minimum wage, and not charging interest fees afterwards; replacing the loan for an affordable rent in the same home; and converting the regular residence housing stock into public social rent stock. Dation in payment, a virtually unknown term until the media started showing up at the evictions stopped by the Platform, has even been debated about in Congress, but the two main parties, PSOE and PP, voted against it. In spite of it, the debate has already reached society, one of the Platform and 15M’s most significant achievements. “Banks chose to target the resources of the most vulnerable population, they allowed genuine scams, such as two people with no financial resources who guaranteed the payment of each other’s loans, and they still act with total impunity. And then comes the eviction, because the judge orders law enforcement to evict vulnerable people by force, people who many times have nowhere else to live, which breaches international treaties that Spain has signed. So when civil society stops an eviction it is stopping a human rights violation, which is its duty when faced with systematic violence from the banks with the Public Administration as accomplice. They will have to pay for it someday”.

Coy smokes next to him, almost lighting a cigarette with the previous one. This is the story of hundreds of thousands of people in this country, it is also his story. And he begins: “If the installments cannot be paid for it’s because there is no work. I don’t want dation in payment for my home. I asked for it not to be auctioned as long as I was out of work. Since they didn’t reply, I went on a hunger strike, and the fourth day, representatives from the bank came to the church where I was locked in. The auction is postponed for now”. But Coy has just taken part in the attempt to stop an eviction in Coronil, in the region of Seville, where riot police successfully evicted the family. “The neighbors have warned that nobody is going to buy this house. We are thinking about creating signs to mark these houses, to discourage potential buyers”. And he warns about the South of Spain: “There are 400,000 people living below the poverty line, working nonstop for 15 or 22 Euros, with no relationship with the company because they are employed by temporary employment agencies… In Lorca there are people paying mortgages for houses destroyed during the earthquake. The South is going to explode”.

In Murcia, where they started with just three people and now are more than 300 families who are members of the PAH, the platform has already stopped about thirty evictions. But after the last interventions of law enforcement officers in the eviction attempts, and the fines given to protesters in the city of Valencia for getting more than 20 people together in a bank’s entrance, the PAH suspects that from this Fall, they are going to use the necessary violence until the evictions are successfully carried out. That is why the PAH has already launched a campaign to reoccupy houses that are empty because of evictions. Mayoral already explained in July this proposal’s legal dimension. “The thing is that there are already families who have had no choice but to squat to be able to survive, but until now they have had no social support or sense of collectiveness. The issue is turning squatting into a civil movement in defense of the right to housing, it is a way to decriminalize it because of the state of necessity. It’s like someone who steals because they are starving, no one can be penalized for stealing a couple of sausages to survive”.
The PAH has the typical consistency of a movement that has matured during the years of this crisis that was acknowledged too late and of which we have supposedly been coming out of for months. It kicked off in 2009 with Coy as an unemployed-people movement, “but it was very hard because what people wanted was to work, and we had no way to give it to them. We managed to have an influence in how the Plan E [or Spanish Plan to Stimulate the Economy and Employment] was run, putting forward those most in need to be hired first. But some started to come out as leaders, and as always, politicians bought them”. It was then that they realized that many of them, besides being unemployed, were being held hostage by their mortgages. When they went to report the first case of a couple that faced being evicted by the Mediterranean Savings Bank (CAM), they found the journalists telling them that they could not run the story because that company invested a lot of money in publicity there. “That is when we realized that we were tapping into power”. And that is when they began their battle against banks –and not against private owners, they underline-. Using legal and non-violent means.


Screenshot of Coy blocking the gate to the house in Coronil during its eviction

“Those images of the riot police kicking families out on the street are not are not easy for judges and politicians, because they have made visible the violence it takes to throw out a family to leave a house empty. But if we are not capable of spreading the movement, they are going to suppress, fine and crush us. That is why in Murcia every neighborhood has its own citizen’s picket of about fifty people. Squatting has to serve to stick a finger in the eye of the bank, as an element of public condemnation, but also as a means to survive because some people have to chose between paying the rent and eating”, Coy explains.
“The Constitution says that property has to fulfill a social role and houses are for people to live in, not for banks to speculate with them. If squatting becomes a movement made up of millions of people, they will not be able to stop it”, adds Mayoral. “Evictions are being paid for with our tax money. Meanwhile, we haven’t seen any members of a board of directors being arrested, or any legal proceedings against those mainly responsible for the crisis. And we have to recall that when the banks couldn’t sell their mortgage securities, it was the Spanish government who bought them. And a lot of the debt that is threatening health and educational centers corresponds with these expenses and, therefore, is completely illegitimate so we have the right to ask for it not to be paid. To start, not one penny of public money to institutions that do not respect human rights”.

Coy, from his experience in the PAH, but also in being unemployed, is quite sure that we have to create a new model “where there is social justice, because that thing about equal opportunities is a lie. We are investigating projects based on social economics, self-financed communities, co-ops, solidarity bonds… because since we are unemployed, if we go to the banks, they won’t lend us anything”.

And people start to raise their hands, many to volunteer, others to ask their opinion about the peaceful reaction to police aggressions, about the role trade unions have had, access to rent… Issues Coy and Mayoral address and that can be heard in the audio of the lecture that can be found at the end of the article. Political concerns, but also personal stories, dramatic ones, that join in the soft murmur of actions and demonstrations organized for the Fall: Sept 25th all over Spain, called by the PAH, October 15th protests all over the world called by Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now)…

And, notepad in hand, many of those attending write down the dates knowing that most of them will meet again in the squares and marches. Many carrying Coy’s gloomy forecast on their backs. “We cannot put up with Botín [president of Santander bank, one of the biggest in Spain] having legal action taken against him for having money hidden in Switzerland, or with the IBEX 35 [Spain’s principal stock market index] making loads of money… We have to go after them because if we don’t, they are going to keep coming after us. In fact, I think that the riots we have seen in Greece are going to happen here too. The problem is that I have experience in violent-clash scenarios and then people go and vote for the tyrants. Like the report published by FAES [a right-wing think tank linked to Spain’s Popular Party], which foresees a social war because of all the strikes that are going to take place in 2012. But to reach people’s hearts and minds you need to turn the other cheek. I think the first the riot police charged in Catalunya Square (Barcelona), they did it so savagely because they wanted people to answer by burning cars. But people put their hands up and the squares filled up again when they started to be emptier. We have to be smart. However, I know someone who was quite the pacifist, until they beat it out if him. For now, I prefer that they drag me around and hit me. Later on, I don’t know”.

On Friday morning they were evicted from their home in Montcada but that same Friday evening they were able to get back in by kicking the door down.
They put the old lock back in and now they live there again.
They owe the bank about 300,000 Euros but they have been laid off and they cannot pay.
The city council paid for a hotel until today, but tomorrow they have nowhere to sleep.
The only exit they have found is to re-occupy the apartment, which is not theirs anymore, but still have to pay.
We don’t have anything, they haven’t offered us anything, we don’t have enough resources to rent anything. And, on top of all that, we have to pay a debt for this house so, in theory, I’m already paying to stay in this house.
Elisa and her family have received the support of the Platform of those Affected by Mortgage, which had already successfully postponed the eviction three times.
Now, the re-occupation of the apartment is likely to set off a new legal process which will allow them to have a roof over their heads until it is settled.
We will keep proposing reform laws, we will keep asking city councils to be the ones to achieve that these empty apartments can be turned into social rental houses for the families, but as long as we don’t get a response from the Administration, the lives of these families are at stake and that is the reason why, obviously, we recommend the families to re-occupy the homes rather than living on the street.
The Platform of those Affected by Mortgage considers re-occupying the apartments a way to buy some time as long as the evicted families don’t find another place to live.