Barcelona mayor calls on residents to help stop rioting over squatter eviction

The city chief, former social activist Ada Colau, has said that it is “difficult” for council to mediate in conflict

Street rioting in Barcelona.A. GARCIA / ATLAS (atlas)

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Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau on Thursday admitted to the difficulty of intervening in a conflict that erupted on Monday in the district of Gràcia.

For the third consecutive day, the neighborhood awoke to a scene of destruction as trash containers, urban furniture and storefront windows were attacked by protesters over the eviction of squatters at a nearby building.

Two people have been arrested and 33 more sustained injuries as a result of clashes with the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra.

Let them talk and listen and seek formulas; perhaps we can find the formula through the neighborhood fabric

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau

The squatters who lived for five years at a former bank branch-turned-community center – renamed Banc Expropiat (The Expropriated Bank) – are refusing to talk to the authorities.

“If they want nothing from the administration, that leaves us in a very difficult position to intervene,” said Colau, herself a former social activist who once campaigned against home evictions by banks. “This is a very complex situation that we must address through common sense.”

Colau noted that it was a private company, Catalunya Caixa, that initiated the proceedings ending in the court-mandated eviction.

The Can Vies precedent

In May 2014, the city halted the demolition of Can Vies, a popular squatter center, after extensive rioting broke out. The mayor at the time, Xavier Trias of the center-right nationalist CiU, made the decision after four nights of street protests by thousands of demonstrators that resulted in dozens of arrests.

The mayor underscored that the larger issue underlying the present conflict is the presence of empty premises in the city, whose owners are waiting to rent or sell them “for speculative purposes.”

She also noted that “for four or five years, this place has been home to community activities, giving it a social purpose and defending the view that there should be no spaces lying empty in the city, and that they should be run by local residents.”

Given that the squatters are refusing to deal with local authorities, Colau suggested that they talk to their neighbors instead.

“Let them talk and listen and seek formulas; perhaps we can find the formula through the neighborhood fabric,” she said.

Asked about the use of force by the Catalan police force, the mayor said she was not aware of the details of the operation and that she “trusted an action that is not simple because of its complexity.”

Colau was voted mayor at municipal elections held in May 2015. Her victory, despite her complete lack of experience in politics, was held up as an example of a rising tide of leftist popular platforms following a protracted economic crisis.

English version by Susana Urra.

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