STREET PROTESTS

Barcelona rules out buying occupied bank because of its “exorbitant price”

After a week of clashes between police and squatters, the city had contemplated purchasing the premises

Squatters protesting the eviction in Gràcia.
Squatters protesting the eviction in Gràcia.Massimiliano Minocri / EL PAÍS

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The city of Barcelona was considering purchasing an occupied bank at the heart of weeklong clashes between squatters and the police, but has ruled it out “because of the exorbitant price.”

The councilor for the fashionable district of Gràcia, where the Banc Expropriat squat (The Expropriated Bank) is located, said that the owner has asked for €500,000.

Instead, Eloi Badia is suggesting that grassroots entities might be interested in acquiring the premises with the goal of preserving it as a community center.

We cannot afford an escalation of these incidents, and it’s important for all the parties to keep talking

Gràcia councilor Eloi Badia

“There could be a citizen initiative to capitalize on the acquisition, with the City playing the role of guarantor; we need to think of new formulas when faced with complex conflicts,” said the councilor.

Ever since regional police evicted the squatters on June 23 on a court order, the neighborhood has been witness to several clashes between riot officers and protesters, who vandalized street furniture and hurled objects – including bleach – at the police.

“We cannot afford an escalation of these incidents, and it’s important for all the parties to keep talking,” said Badia on Tuesday.

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To complicate matters further, the mayor’s third deputy, Laia Ortiz, said early on Tuesday that if the owner offers the city “a reasonable price, then acquisition might be the solution.” This immediately attracted criticism from the opposition over the idea of using taxpayers’ money to solve the crisis.

So far, city officials have done little to end the confrontation, claiming that it is a dispute between private parties – the owner of the premises and the squatters, who refuse to let the city act as mediator.

Mayor Ada Colau, herself a former anti-eviction activist, has been accused by the opposition of being soft on the protestors. However, it recently emerged that the previous nationalist administration of Xavier Trias had been secretly paying the rent and utilities for the squatters since January 2015, to the tune of to around €65,000 a year. Catalan elections were held in September of that year, and Trias did not want to risk an explosion of street violence similar to the one that erupted following the failed eviction of another squatter center, Can Vies.

To the squatters, The Expropriated Bank is a perfect example of the nefarious effects of the real estate bust in Spain. It was originally a branch of the regional savings bank Caixa Tarragona, which was later acquired by the larger Catalunya Caixa. This lender, which was bailed out with public money, then sold the premises to Antarctic Vintage, a company owned by a businessman named Manuel Bravo Solano, who says he paid €500,000 for the property himself.

English version by Susana Urra.

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