Conflict & Justice

Spanish Protest Evictions at Doorsteps of Political Elite

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Just up the hill from the Duke's mansion, graffiti on a highway overpass reads, "They're not suicides, they're financial assassinations." The tag refers to the several recent suicides of Spaniards who were facing eviction from their homes for falling behind on their mortgages or rents. In Spain you can't just hand over your keys if you can't pay. Your debt follows you, even if you become homeless.

Spanish government officials, these days, are dealing with a political hot potato. The country has one of the highest number of residential evictions in Europe and Spaniards are using a different tactic to fight back.

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Imagine you're at home having dinner and you hear yelling outside. You look out the window to see a crowd on your doorstep.

That's exactly what happened in the town of Valencia. More than a hundred members of a Spanish human rights group, "Platform of People Affected by Evictions," gathered on the doorsteps of a politician to protest the government's failure to reign in the evictions, even though Spanish banks have received help to the tune of 40 billion euros.

One of the protesters told the crowd that the politician wasn't responding, even though protesters had a right to be there. The protester said politician's must accept the ruling by the European Court of Justice which, she claimed, declared Spain's current eviction laws illegal.

What the court said is that Spain must allow judges to halt evictions if a mortgage contract contains unfair clauses or if the terms weren't properly explained to the home buyer. Currently judges cannot stay evictions.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said, just after the court's ruling, that his government would bring the country's laws into line. Spain's parliament is already drafting new legislation that could protect some of Spain's most desperate homeowners.

But some of the measures protesters most want are not even being considered. For example, homeowners are not able to restructure mortgages and a person's debt would follow them to their grave. Hence the door-step protests which are occurring across Spain.

And Spanish politicians being targeted are saying their own rights are being violated.

Spanish politician Cristina Cifuentes said the right protest, even if justified, does not allow those targeted to be harassed. The Spanish government is considering tightening laws that would make home protests illegal and charge protesters with harassment.

In the meantime the residential evictions by the government continue, despite a voluntary pledge from banks to go easy on folks who fall behind on payments.

And suicides linked to evictions are also continuing with the latest just two weeks ago. Health experts said there are many causes that would lead someone to commit suicide, but being evicted during an economic crisis can only further deepen a person's anxiety or depression.

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