The Battle for Burgos

Just over a week ago, if you were thinking of cities in Spain most likely to host the start of a proletarian uprising, Burgos would have come pretty much at the bottom of the list. A sleepy, socially conservative, traditionally ultra-Catholic city in the Northern Castille plain, Burgos was up until now mostly known for its Cathedral and other mediaeval real estate and a local sausage uncannily reminiscent of Clonakilty black pudding. But since the initial clashes between police and protestors in the working class district of Gamonal on the night of Friday 10th January, Burgos has seen nights of continual rioting, a veritable military occupation by riot police, and solidarity demonstrations this week around 46 cities in Spain, including two successive nights of demos in the capital Madrid
, resulting in clashes with the police, arrests and injuries. All this supposedly over a plan to redevelop the main road through Gamonal into a tree-lined Boulevard.
Burgos may be, at first sight, an unlikely flashpoint for a Spanish-state wide uprising, but the long-standing problems underlying the local conflict have resonances with similar problems all over the country. The story behind the proposed development in Gamonal reveals a decades long problem of local shenanigans between corrupt developers and bought and paid for local politicians, that have ridden roughshod over the needs of urban residents and workers to the financial benefit of a tight inner circle and at the expense of local social services and laying waste to urban public space.
Burgos, despite being a relatively small, population 200,000, backwater with no major local industry and no exceptional business or finance sectors, lies only behind Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian in most expensive property values of provincial capitals. The reason behind the mystery of these disproportionately high prices is explained by Spanish journalist Ignacio Escolar of El Diario, himself a native of Burgos forced, like so many other young burgalés, to leave in search of work. Escolar plants the blame firmly at the door of the corrupt link between local politicians and ganster developers, and in particular one Antonio Miguel Mendéz Pozo, universally known as Michel Pozo Mendéz or just "El Jefe" (The Boss). Mendéz Pozo has, through a system of backhanders and patronage, been the effective boss of local politicians, including the present Mayor of Burgos, Javier Macalle of the governing ex-Francoist Partido Popular (PP). In a corruption case in the early 1990's, Mendéz Pozo's links to the José-Maria Azñar the then PP leader and a previous prime minister, were revealed along with a sordid mass of backhanders to local politicians that resulted in the jailing of the then Mayor of Burgos and a 7 year sentence for El Jefe himself. Such legal niceities proved to have little chance of cramping the Mendéz Pozo style, as he was quickly released after only 9 months of his sentence and got straight back to work controlling Burgos construction. The results of this decades long scamming is swinging rents imposed on the residents of the city and a bankrupt municipality that has squandered millions on hubristic construction projects of no benefit to anyone other than lining the pockets of El Jefe's inner circle.
The project to transform the main street in Gamonal, Carrer Vittoria, into a boulevard reduces a 4-lane thorougfare, with on-street parking vital to the local residents (the neighbours have a cooperative system of leaving their cars parked with the handbrake off, to allow shuffling spaces, for e.g.) and it's replacement with a two-lane tree-lined boulevard and underground parking charging exorbitant fees. All of which projected to cost €8 million, this in a city whose municipality is officially bankrupt and closing down nurseries, creches and other vital social services.
Gamonal was originally a village outside of Burgos that, like l'Hospitalet in Barca, became incorporated into the city by urban sprawl. It remains a stubbornly working class district in an otherwise fairly bourgeois city, with a proud tradition of local organising and community spirit. Naturally the residents were disgusted by yet another Mendéz Pozo scam, rubber-stamped by his creature, the current Mayor, that was going to cause such disruption to their neighbourhood and with such a cost to local residents, already under economic seige by the current economic and employment crisis and extortionate rents, mortgage arrears and disappearing services. A local campaign against the project has been underway for several years, but the decision by the city authorities to send in brutal riot police to break up a local neighbourhood demonstration on Friday the 10th proved the final straw.
As we have seen so many times recently, amongst them Gezi park in Istanbul last year, the decision by civic authorities to used brutal policing to crush urban dissent to corrupt developments, had the opposite effect of sparking a backlash of fury, both amongst Gamonal residents and other burgalés sick of the tyranny of EL Jefe and his minions.
The initial resistance to the police attack on the night of the 10th led to 11 arrests and multiple injuries. Five nights of rioting ensued and the local muncipality have drafted in riot police from the surrounding country to effect a military-style swamping occupation of the neighbourhood. The struggles in Burgos awoke the sympathies of working class and poor urban dwellers across the Spanish state, many of whom are subject to similar yokes of semi-feudal oppression under corrupt political elites and their gangster-developer funders. Hence the national resonance of the Battle for Burgos and the demonstrations in 46 different Spanish cities this Wednesday gone.
Demostrators across the country are supporting the demands of the Gamonal residents - for all those arrested for resisting police attacks to be released immediately, for the scandalous Vittoria boulevard project to be cancelled, and for the resignation of the Mayor of Burgos, Javier Macalle.
The bankruptcy of the local municipalities in Spain has long been seen as the un-recognised insolvency crises of the state by Eurozone crisis watchers. It's entaglement with the decades of local corruption that have strangled the Spanish state since the post-Franco transition devolved elements of financial power to the regions and municipalities of the state, means that this financial crisis is also at the same time a political and social crisis.
As so often recently, the coverage of the latest uprising in Spain has been next to non-existent in the Irish media. We encourage all our readers to use the ability of the internet and social media to bypass this defacto censorship and follow the developments in this struggle in the next days and weeks.
Finally we include the statement of the local assembly of Gamonal on the current events. We apologise for the poor quality of the translation.
What happened during these five days of riots, can not be explained as nonsense or lies of the press and institutions such as city hall, if not reality and home truths.
What started as a local protest against the proposed implementation of a boulevard street in Vitoria gamonal, work imposed from a totalitarian stance which neighbors who for months have refused in numerous protests and demonstrations, has become an expression of discontent widespread.
We will not detail the niceties of this project, simply with minimal rationality, another attempt is evident, in this as in other cities, to keep the speculation and promoting the widespread corruption of the political class, increasing even more the benefits of the ruling classes against the people.
In this case, against a working class neighbourhood, drowned in bills, taxes, fines, unpaid mortgages, foreclosures and an unemployment figure that reaches 18,000 people. So far nothing different than what is happening at the state level, following the famous crisis in which social differences have been abysmal.
So what happened during these days is not only the rejection of an entire people to a speculation project, which will cost in the neighborhood parking problems, traffic and 8 million euros, of which no neighbor will benefit, only the years to condemn generations to defray monumental works and fatten the healthy accounts of corrupt politicians and businessmen.
The rejection means much more, it is the expression of collective anger, anger in young people see no future in these conditions, seniors who sadly have realized that all alleged rights both sweat and blood have hard-won, in less than 6 years have gone to hell, and especially the arrogance and intolerance of power that dominates and imposes, without listening to anything or anyone.
They make the laws, democracy shielding to preserve their privileges, and the reality is that if Friday's incident had not happened, no one would have ever heard us.
The social peace has been shattered by them and not by violent hooded youth as some would have us believe, in the neighborhood we all know what happens, we are united, we are not afraid to show our faces.
The real violence is, to fill the city with police, if you can call them by that name, rather than mercenaries, who are beating our children and neighbors and arresting 47 people, causing power outages and telephone in some homes, raids and indiscriminate strip searches. launched Saturday over thirty rubber bullets seriously injuring neighbors, of which only one has been mentioned, only incoming attacks by security forces when violence and the situation is disproportionate.
In turn, the repressive apparatus of the state has not hesitated to apply exemplary sentences to those showing any kind of disagreement, the draft [?] public safety law presented by the government recently gives a good account of the intentions of the state, that calls itself democratic, but the truth is that if this is democracy, we do not want it.
In his name all kinds of atrocities are justified, including the two young men of the neighborhood, not street fighters or outsiders as some continue to hold, sent yesterday to preventive detention.
The struggle must continue and the uprisings spread to other cities in the state and why not, the rest of the world. The discontent of these days is not only the works of the boulevard, here are many more reasons, the fight is for a decent life for our rights and preserve and give meaning to the word FREEDOM.