PROFILE - Alberto Casillas, the "hero" of the 29-S protests

The barman who refused to serve the law

The waiter refused to let riot police enter his bar in search of protestors on Tuesday night

Barman Alberto Casillas faces up to police outside his restaurant at Tuesday's demonstrations.
Barman Alberto Casillas faces up to police outside his restaurant at Tuesday's demonstrations.PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

Alberto Casillas stood at the door of Bar Prado on Wednesday, dressed in his waiter's uniform. A passerby glances at him and stops.

"Are you the one from the demonstration?" the young man asks.

"Yes," he answers.

The young man immediately gives him a bear hug. "Can I take a picture with you?"

"You recognized me because I am 'topic,' right?" Alberto asks, in reference to his newfound fame on Twitter.

It has been that way since Tuesday night when Alberto Casillas stopped an anti-riot police squad from coming inside the bar he works at to try to arrest a demonstrator. "I was afraid that there would be a massacre if they entered," he explains. "There were a sea of people - the elderly and children inside - and these cops looked like they meant business."

I stood before the police and told them they were not going to enter"

Nearby, newspapers are spread out on the bar with the celebrated image of Casillas with his arms stretched out, yelling at a group of irate officers. Some of the photos have been plasticized, as if they were menus.

"This is what happened: At around 9.30pm I got the subtle feeling that right around the restaurant the police were beating people indiscriminately. From where I was standing, I didn't see anyone attack an officer, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen - even though I think those reports are exaggerated."

As the anti-riot squad tried to storm the place, Alberto stood his ground. "Let's get one thing clear," he yelled at them. "I am a PP voter and support Rajoy. I don't want anyone to think that I have an interest in all of this but this is excessive."

Alberto, 49, is married to a Venezuelan and has two children. He lived in Venezuela for about five years but left after his businesses there began to fail. "I have seen things like this and I don't like it."

On that day, he called the restaurant owner to ask whether he should remain open after he saw demonstrators gathering near the restaurant. "We need people to survive and someday people will need us," he says he told his boss. When he saw the multitude run toward his restaurant, Casillas says that he had to take a deep breath and retain his composure. "They were terrorized as they tried to escape the beatings. I stood before the police and told them that they were not going to enter."

Alberto's telephone doesn't stop ringing. This time it is a radio host who isn't in full agreement with Casillas' role that night. After a heated debate on the air, Alberto hangs up and shakes his head. "It was excessive police force. And I always stand by the law, but above any law are human feelings. I did all I could do and that's that."

Now Alberto has to go to police headquarters and file a complaint because a sign at the café was destroyed. While he was arguing with the officers, some demonstrators took advantage and started throwing rocks at the police. "Not just a few rocks, it was raining stones." One of the photos he had plasticized shows Alberto at the moment he raised his hands pleading at demonstrators to stop.

"This is fame that really doesn't make anyone proud," he says. "I have always congratulated the police for a job well done, but what happened [on Tuesday], with their deployment, would scare anyone." As he gathers up his photos he summarizes: "These are bad times we are living. Everyone has lost their values and those that represent us don't respect them either."

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