"Subsistence theft" woman fined after anti- eviction activists join supermarket protest

Woman given 90 euro fine and told to repay cost of goods

Jesús García Bueno

A Catalan woman who walked out of a supermarket with a cart full of basic products has been found guilty of theft and ordered to pay a fine of 90 euros, as well as repay the cost of the goods, valued at 241 euros. The incident was one more in a spate of robberies in which the boundaries of public protest and criminality have become blurred.

Marian Fernández, 28, told a court hearing last week that she had acted purely out of "necessity," because she could not pay for the items and was in a desperate situation. The incident mirrors recent supermarket raids conducted by the Union of Andalusian Workers, led by the firebrand mayor of Marinaleda, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, which has carried out mass thefts to draw attention to the plight of unemployed day laborers in the impoverished southern region. Supporters of the initiative also took part in the walk-outs and picketed courtrooms after several of its number were apprehended.

Fernández, who has three children aged 10, six and two, admitted the charge in front of the judge. She had recently separated from her husband, who is unemployed, and received no alimony to support her family. Burdened with a monthly mortgage payment of 1,250 euros, Fernández faced eviction from her home and had only the economic support of her mother to tide her over. Accompanied by members of Platform for the Mortgage Affected (PAH), Fernández entered a DIA supermarket in Vilafranca, loaded a cart with products including rice, oil, meat, fish, napkins, baby shampoo, soap and diapers and went to the checkout. She handed over a card in the knowledge that it had no credit and tried to pay. In the meantime, PAH activists filled plastic bags with the goods and took them out of the store.

DIA made a police complaint and Fernández was handed a summons to appear in court. Around 20 members of PAH attended the hearing, during which Fernández told her side of the story: "I did it to be able to survive," she told the magistrate. "I didn't pay because I couldn't."

 She went on to tell the court that she had attempted to offer ad-hoc work in exchange for the cost of the goods, but nobody at the store paid her any heed. The magistrate's decision caused uproar in the courtroom. When pressed by a prosecutor: "Why did you not go to a soup kitchen?" Fernández responded: "Because in my village, Sant Martí Sarroca, there are none. But I went to

Cáritas and to the Red Cross."

In its summing up, the prosecution stated that Fernández had "taken items without the consent of the owner and caused harm to the store. The aim of profit was apparent, which does not always equate to enrichment, but to any type of exploitation."

"What a way to interpret the law!" shouted a supporter of Fernández.

After sentence was passed, Fernández explained that the purloined goods had been distributed among three needy families including her own. She intends to appeal the decision.

Acknowledging the phenomenon of subsistence theft, the prosecutor noted that "this is not a reason within a democracy where there are guarantees that nobody will starve to death."

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