The worst fears of the Patio Maravillas collective finally came to pass on Thursday morning when National Police moved in to evict it from the Madrid building it had been occupying, located at 21 Pez street. The group’s social center there had served as one of the cradles of the social movements that resulted in the creation of emerging political forces such as Podemos and Ahora Madrid, the latter of which is likely to take control of the mayor’s office in the capital this weekend.
The police justified the operation as “compliance with a judicial order in place regarding the property,” according to a spokesperson, who added that the eviction had taken place without incident.
“We have been waiting a long time for this moment to arrive,” explained Ana Sierra, spokesperson for the collective. “We had already removed the most valuable items and we had given our phone numbers to local businesses in the area so they could warn us [when the eviction was happening],” she added.
At 7pm today a demonstration will take place near the Plaza del Dos de Mayo to protest against the eviction.
“This will not end here,” Sierra warned. “The Patio Maravillas will find another place where it can continue.”
Police officers arrived on the site at 7.30am and entered the building, which was empty at the time. By mid-morning they had set up a police cordon around the surrounding streets in the Malasaña neighborhood, while they worked to board up the windows and doors.
Twenty or so members of the collective, who had been told about the eviction by locals, arrived on the scene, and negotiated with the police so that they could enter to remove belongings, such as computers, sound systems, cameras and music-making material.
The Patio Maravillas collective occupied the building at 21 Pez street five years ago after it was thrown out of its previous location on 8 Acuerdo street. The building had changed hands several times due to bankruptcy proceedings, and had been due to be cleared after a judicial process set in motion by its current owner, real estate firm Nivel 29.
The problems at the center began a year ago, when Madrid authorities denounced the “ruinous state” of the building. The collective, however, claimed that this argument was simply being used “to speculate” with the building. In a statement, the occupants said they had carried out the refurbishment work needed in the building to guarantee its stability and safety. They added that they had managed to bring two fires under control, and that the fire brigade had certified that the building was safe.
“The problem is political,” said Sandra de Miguel, a spokesperson for the collective, several months ago. “There was a change of owner last February, in September we received the legal complaint and we filed a request with the city council to cede this large, disused space to us. But they aren’t interested in giving any facilities to collectives like the one that is here,” added the 27-year-old journalist.
The collective sent several more requests, all without success. “Apparently, the owner is going to open one of those modern youth hostels here,” explained Ana Sierra. “One of those that are so fashionable these days. Once again, speculation has won out against social uses for public spaces.”
Ahora Madrid – whose candidate in recent municipal elections in Madrid, Manuela Carmena, is due to be voted in as the city’s new mayor this weekend – released a statement criticizing the eviction, in particular given that it coincides with the penultimate day of the mandate of the current mayor, Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party. Ahora Madrid said the city needed “to open and not close down citizen-run spaces. The city needs to listen to projects such as Patio Maravillas.”
Pablo Padilla, a Madrid regional deputy from emerging anti-austerity party Podemos, said he thought the eviction “had political intentions,” and argued that collectives such as Patio Maravillas should have the opportunity to occupy empty buildings with the blessing of the authorities.
As work went on to seal up the building, a few dozen local residents came down to observe the scene. “I don’t agree with this at all,” said one 60-year-old man. “I live next door and they have never caused any problems. What they did there was very positive – for people with an open mind, that is, which isn’t the case of the city council.”
“I don’t understand why residents of Malasaña don’t rebel en masse against actions like this one,” a youngster added.