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Double Standard? Protesting Foreclosures and Abortion Clinics in Spain

There's been an ongoing debate in Spain's Parliament on the reform of current mortgage laws after the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca [Platform of People Affected by Mortgages, or PAH] proposed the Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP) [es] in defense of those whose houses are in foreclosure.

The PAH has made its voice heard recently through passive but overwhelming escrache protests [a form of targeted public demonstrations] in banks and the governing Popular Party (PP) headquarters, and outside the private residences of members of the PP, which currently holds an absolute majority in Parliament making it, in a sense, the only party that currently holds legislative powers.

PAH Madrid explains [es]:

(Se) informará a los Diputados de los partidos que pretenden rebajar sustancialmente el contenido de la ILP sobre la situación de los hipotecados. (…) se irá a informar a los Diputados presencialmente, por ejemplo en actos públicos. Puesto que muchos no conocen de primera mano el sufrimiento de la población, es necesario ir a llevar la realidad de los afectados allá donde estén los Diputados.

This will teach the politicians who try to cut substantial provisions relating to mortgages from the ILP. (…) We will personally inform our politicians, one way is through public demonstrations. The thing is that most politicians have no first hand knowledge of the suffering that is going on among the people, needing that reality be brought to where the politicians are.

Such protests are not welcomed by politicians who feel that the boundaries of their personal lives are not being respected and their privacy invaded. Maria Dolores de Cospedal, Secretary General of the Popular Party, dubbed the last 13 days of escrache protests “pure nazism”:

[Cospedal] considera que las polémicas protestas domiciliarias (…) reflejan “un espíritu totalitario y sectario” y un intento de “tratar de violentar el voto” y las reglas de la representatividad democrática. Así, en su opinión, “por muy loable y defendible” que sea la causa de las víctimas de desahucios, “pierde todo el sentido” con estos “acosos”.

[Cospedal] thinks the controversial home protests (…) reflect a “totalitarian and sectarian spirit” that aims to “bring violence to the vote” and the norms of representative democracy. In her opinion, no matter how “laudable or defendable” the eviction victims’ cause may be, the cause “loses its credibility” in this harassment.

In response, PP members have asked police to require a 300 meter perimeter from protesters, requesting that they identify protesters, and in some cases altogether stop the “escraches.” However, some judges and police are refusing to intervene.

According to Judges for Democracy [es] member Joaquim Bosh:

A PAH escrache protest in Zaragoza. Photo from the blog <a href="http://elventano.blogspot.be/">El ventano</a>

A PAH escrache protest in Zaragoza. Photo from the blog El ventano

[las medidas] represivas y policiales no son la solución para resolver el conflicto (…) cualquier protesta que tenga un carácter pacífico no tiene por qué constituir delito. (…) mientras no haya un riesgo concreto, debe prevalecer el derecho de la libertad de expresión de los manifestantes.

repressive measures and police involvement are not the solution for this problem (…) a peaceful protest does not constitute a crime. (…) until there is a true risk, we must preserve freedom of expression and the right to protest.

Nevertheless, a strong police presence has been felt at recent “escraches” ensuring that protesters keep a safe distance from their intended targets. In some instances, this presence has resulted in the arrest of protesters. Some PP members, like national boardmember Sigfrid Soria, have said they cannot be bothered to worry about the protests. Soria recently tweeted the following, which was denounced by fellow PP members and resulted in his dismissal from organizational responsibilities within the Party.

SigfridSoria: Eso sí, como un perroflauta me acose por la calle, me intimide o agreda, la ostia que se lleva ni se la va a creer

If these potheads are going to come after me on the street and try to intimidate me or be aggresive towards me, they're not going to believe the response they're going to get.

Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary General of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) Elena Valenciano criticized the forcefulness with which PP members are trying to surpress the escraches. She points out that clinics performing legal abortions have endured protests for years and the government has never stepped or limited these groups’ freedom of expression. To further her point, Valenciano uploaded a photo to her Facebook page of one such protest at a clinic.

A photo of protesters blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic posted on Facebook by Elena Valenciano

A photo of protesters blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic posted on Facebook by Elena Valenciano.

In fact, these types of protests have been happening since Spain passed its abortion law in 1985. Groups such as Pro-Life, Right to Live, Youth for a Cause and Make You Listen organize protests the first Friday of every month and every 28 December (Holy Innocents’ Day) outside abortion clinics. While these groups insist that these protests are strictly peaceful, the contrary has happened numerous times in recent years.

In Decemeber 2007, the Family Planning Federation (FPFE) began collecting signatures for its petition

(…) para apoyar a Victoria Virtudes, Vito, trabajadora de la Clínica CB Medical de Madrid por las agresiones físicas, verbales y las amenazas constantes a las que está siendo sometida por parte de grupos de extrema derecha, así como el acoso al que están siendo sometidas las clínicas autorizadas de Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo (IVE).

in support of CB Medical Clinic worker Victoria Virtudes. Virtudes was the victim of physical and verbal agression and continued threats at the hands of various right-wing extremist groups protesting authorized practicioners of voluntary termination (IVE).

In 2009, Santiago Barambio, President of the Association of Accredited Clinics for Voluntary Termination (ACAI), claimed:

Todavía no nos han matado, pero un hombre prendió fuego en mi clínica hace 10 años y aún no se le ha juzgado.

They haven't killed one of us yet, but a man set the clinic on fire ten years ago and has yet to face a trial.

Madrid based clinics Isadora and Dátor are the most protested clinics of recent years. Empar Pineda, feminist and ACAI spokesperson, commented on the matter on the website pensamientocritico.org:

Empar Pineda next to a defaced wall of the clinic where a stone was thrown through the window

Empar Pineda next to a defaced wall of the clinic where a stone was thrown through the window.

(…) grupos ultras y nazis, que en un plazo de dos meses destrozaron en dos ocasiones los ventanales a pedradas, no repararon en que podía haber alguien dentro barriendo las consultas, por ejemplo.

(…) no es fácil entrar tranquilamente a trabajar después de haber visto las pintadas que embadurnan las paredes del edificio, tales como “Hitler asesinó menos inocentes que vosotros”. “Aquí se asesina, ¡impidámoslo (…) Ni tampoco reponerse con facilidad del impacto emocional que sienten las recepcionistas cuando por teléfono les dicen “¡Sois asesinas de niños!”, o cuando les preguntan “¿Dónde guardáis la trituradora?”

In a two month period right wing and extremist groups threw rocks through the clinic's front window on two different occassions, never even considering that it could seriously injure a person inside.

(…) there's nothing easy or calming about coming into work after seeing the doors graffittied with things like “Hitler murdered fewer innocent people than you all” or “Murders committed here” (…) Nor can you imagine the emotional tolls it takes on receptionists to receive phone calls of people saying things like “Child murderer!” or “Where do you guys hide the baby grinder?”

Luisa Torres, head of communications for the Dátor clinic, addressed a protest outside the clinic's doors on 28 December 2012 and said:

No es tan fácil para las mujeres, que al acudir a sus citas se encuentran con un grupo de personas dispuestas a inmiscuirse en su vida privada. Al ver este despliegue algunas se dan la vuelta, otras llegan a la esquina y llaman por teléfono o anulan sus citas.

This isn't an easy thing for a woman to do, especially when coming means facing such a volatile group that's willing to invade their personal lives. Such a sight makes someone turn around and run the other way. Others turn the corner only to call and cancel their appointments.

Although the Right to Life spokesperson maintains that the group keeps their distance from the escrache protests, it's possible the biggest beneficiary of the PP's attempt to prohibit- or at a minimun regulate- the “escrache” protests will be the clinics themselves.

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