A group of citizens gathered on the morning of March 1, tools in hand, at 29 Ofelia Nieto street in the Tetuan district of Madrid to start rebuilding a house that had been expropriated by the city and demolished. With shovels and gloves, they joined in solidarity with three generations of one family that had been evicted, collecting and sorting the rubble to rebuild.
The evicted family have relied on the support of neighbors and anti-eviction organizations since they were informed in 2013 that they would have to leave their home, due to the decision of the Madrid City Council. That strongly symbolic act on Sunday was the epitome of the good will they have received.
The campaign blog Ofelia Nieto — named after the street the house is on — was created to prevent the eviction. Activists had managed to postpone the eviction several times by camping out on the premises, creating petitions and organizing assemblies. The blog explains the reason for the demolition:
En virtud de un plan urbanístico aprobado en 2004, el Ayuntamiento (a través de la antigua Gerencia de Urbanismo) pretende derribar la casa. El pretexto: una superficie de 5,98 m2 que se interpone en el diseño de la acera contemplada por el plan.
Sin embargo, el verdadero motivo del derribo se adivina nada más observar la zona. Detrás de la casa hay un solar que, en caso de ejecutarse el derribo, dejaría una amplia parcela urbanizable junto a la calle Ofelia Nieto, una zona que en los últimos años ha sufrido un fuerte proceso de remodelación. Aunque el Ayuntamiento sea el responsable de la expropiación, la parcela está catalogada como zona residencial de vivienda privada, por lo que el único beneficiario será la inmobiliaria que la adquiera. Una oportunidad perfecta para la especulación, en la que las instituciones públicas ponen una alfombra roja al interés privado, pasando por encima de la vida de tres familias.
According to a development plan approved in 2004, the City Council (through the former Planning Department) intends to demolish the house. The pretext: an area of 5.98 m2 that stands in the way of the sidewalk design imagined for the plan.
However, you can guess the real reason for the demolition by looking at the area. There is a lot behind the house that, if the demolition is carried out, would leave a large urban plot next to the Ofelia Nieto street, an area which in recent years has suffered a major remodeling process. Although the City Council is responsible for the expropriation, the plot is classified as a residential area for private housing, therefore, the only beneficiary will be the real estate company that acquires it. A perfect opportunity for speculation, for which public institutions put out the red carpet to private interests. Taking precedence over the lives of three families.
So far, their different actions had stalled the demolition, but authorities eventually came for the house and successfully demolished it, which was widely discussed on social media under the hashtag #ON29. Dozens of people tried to prevent the destruction of the house by standing on top of the excavator that later collapsed the door of the house; some were inside the house and others outside. According to the family, this was done without prior notice, and with at least six arrests.
La policía acude sin haber notificado para derribar ON29. Todo un símbolo de lucha. ¡Madrid, acude a Tetuán!
— Asam Vivienda Madrid (@AlertaDesahucio) febrero 27, 2015
The police arrived without notice to demolish ON29. A symbol of struggle. Madrid, go to Tetuan!
In addition to these organizations, some political parties and politicians, such as Izquierda Unida member of parliament Alberto Garzón, commented on the news on Twitter:
— Alberto Garzón (@agarzon) febrero 27, 2015
Much encouragement to all who are at #ON29 preventing the demolition, another injustice.
The legality of the intervention and detentions has been questioned. Periodismo Humano, an alternative online magazine, together with Reporters Without Borders have condemned the attack on freedom of expression involving the arrest of journalist Jaime Alekos, who for several years has documented evictions in Spain:
#ESPAÑA | Reporters Without Borders criticizes the arrest of video journalist @JaimeAlekos in an eviction
Two videos, the first one recorded by citizen journalist Juan Carlos Morh the day of the eviction, and the second by the detained reporter, show the involvement of agents in the operation and the citizen support for the evicted family:
After the demolition and arrests, demonstrators returned to the Tetuan district of Madrid to defend the residents and begin the home's reconstruction. However, they were forced to stop when they realized that the rubble could contain asbestos. Nevertheless, they reflected on new ways of mobilizing.
— Manel Márquez (@manelmarquez) marzo 1, 2015
#Madrid Today, hundreds of neighbors and activists began the #ReconstrucciON29 #OfeliaNieto29
Estamos acompañando en la reconstruccion de ofelia nieto. pic.twitter.com/Ps1wLbv0uR
— PAHmadridsabadellcam (@Afecsabadellcam) marzo 1, 2015
We are helping in the reconstruction of Ofelia Nieto.
— Lau (@shul_evolution) marzo 1, 2015
They think they won but what they don't know is that many beautiful people will rebuild #On29 #ReconstrucciON29
Similar actions in Barcelona and Burgos last year made headlines at the time. In the district of Sants in Barcelona, a group of citizens came together to rebuild the self-managed social center Can Vies, after an attempt to demolish the building in November 2014. In Burgos, in the neighborhood of Gamonal, 21 intense days of demonstrations in January managed to stop the construction of a boulevard that would have cost 8.5 million euros (about 9.1 million US dollars).
Although the house on Ofelia Nieto street in Madrid did not have the same luck, the residents have announced that they will continue to mobilize in defense of the evicted family and of other neighborhoods threatened with the same fate.