Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo's Robin Hood-like stunt this past week -- to steal food from supermarkets and distribute to poor families -- has captured international attention. The German publication Der Spiegel bannered a headline on Thursday drawing attention to the crisis in Spain and how "labor unions" have begun "to loot" markets.
The Interior Ministry has demanded that Sánchez Gordillo and his team of looters be arrested. But the controversial mayor of the Seville town of Marinaleda, who is also a United Left (IU) deputy in the Andalusia parliament, has continually stated that he isn't afraid of the authorities because he has committed no crime.
"I have no problem in showing up because I have done nothing wrong. We only performed a symbolic gesture without any type of violence," he told Efe News Agency.
On Tuesday, Sánchez Gordillo led hundreds of members from the Andalusian Union of Workers (SAT) and their supporters d to two supermarkets, where they filled up carts with food and other basic essentials and left without paying. The supplies were taken to a local NGO food bank.
Although Sánchez Gordillo didn't take part in any of the looting, he was outside the Mercadona store in Écija egging on his followers through a megaphone. Another such food raid took place at a nearby Carrefour supermarket.
This leader of civilian disobedience has been occupying for more than 17 days with his supporters a parcel of land in Osuna called "Las Turquillas" that belongs to the Defense Ministry.
No to Socialist deal
Sánchez Gordillo has been sort of a stick-in-the-mud for many authorities, including within his own IU coalition. Earlier this year, disobeying his political grouping's orders, he broke party ranks and voted against the investiture of Socialist José Antonio Griñán for regional premier after elections had left a hung parliament. Initially, Sánchez Gordillo had led a faction of IU lawmakers who insisted on not giving Griñán the necessary votes to form a government in Andalusia - a region the Socialists have held onto for over three decades.
Born in 1952, Sánchez Gordillo has been a relevant figure in the leftist movement in Andalusia. He has served as mayor of Marinaleda since 1979, and has played a central role in leading squatters to occupy plots of land occupied by big landowners over the years.
A professor of Spanish history, Sánchez Gordillo was elected to the Andalusia parliament in 2008 representing Seville. He is also a member of the small anti-capitalist party CUT-BAI. In December he was elected to the SAT national committee.
After the March 25 regional elections, with the IU as the third-largest party in the Andalusian parliament, Sánchez Gordillo refused to form a coalition with the Socialists. The IU held an internal referendum in which about 85 percent of its members voted in favor of allowing Griñán to become regional premier.