Spain: Food-raid mayor rallies the poor to attack austerity cuts
A Spanish mayor who has become a popular hero for organising robberies at supermarkets and giving stolen groceries to the poor, sets off today on a three-week march that could embarrass the government and rally anti-austerity campaigners.
Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, regional MP and mayor of Marinaleda – pop. 2,645 – in Andalusia, said food stolen in the raids last week had been given to families hit hardest by Spain’s debt crisis.
Seven people have been arrested after two raids, in which trade unionists, cheered by supporters, piled food into supermarket trollies and walked out without paying while Mr Sanchez Gordillo, 59, stood outside.
He enjoys immunity from prosecution as an elected member of the southern province’s parliament, but has said he would be happy to renounce this and face arrest.
“There are people who don’t have enough to eat. In the 21st century, this is an absolute disgrace,” he said this week in an interview in Atocha train station in Madrid, tugging on his Fidel Castro-style beard as passers-by stopped to shake his hand.
Mr Sanchez Gordillo claims he wants to draw attention to the human face of Spain’s recession – poverty levels have risen by more than 15 per cent since 2007, a quarter of workers are jobless and tens of thousands have been evicted. The right-wing government has condemned his actions.
“You can’t be Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham,” said Alfonso Alonso, for the ruling People’s Party (PP). “This man is just searching for publicity at the cost of everyone else.”
Mr Sanchez Gordillo’s home province is one of the parts of Spain worst hit by its crisis: there one adult in three is out of work.
Today he begins his trek from Jodar, the town with Andalusia’s highest unemployment rate, to march across the region in blistering summer heat to persuade other local leaders to refuse to implement government cuts.
He plans to tell mayors to skip debt payments, stop layoffs, cease evictions and ignore Madrid’s demands to slash budgets, a message that infuriates prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s government as it tries to convince bond investors that he can fix the battered economy.
The European Union has demanded Spain shrink its deficit to prevent the debt crisis spreading within the eurozone. Mr Rajoy, elected in December, has ordered spending cuts and tax rises. With poverty rising at one of the fastest rates in Europe, protests have gathered pace.
Mr Sanchez Gordillo has been mayor of Marinaleda for 30 years and is known for his criticism of mainstream politics. He has introduced a co-operative farming system and has tried to take over land for farming, the latest target being 1,200 hectares owned by the defence ministry.
His message used to draw only a small following during Spain’s boom years when many farm workers, abandoned fields to work in construction.
But now he has won far more attention after the collapse of a housing bubble forced unskilled workers back on to farms, while billions of euros were sunk into weak banks by government.
“They say I’m dangerous. And the bankers who are let off for fraud? That’s not dangerous? The banks which borrow from the ECB for 1 per cent then resell that debt to Spaniards for 6 per cent – they’re not dangerous?” he declared.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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