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The Disaster of Evictions

In the past two weeks, two Spaniards who were facing eviction from their houses committed suicide. More than 350,000 people in Spain have lost their homes since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008. These tragic deaths have attracted public attention and a group called "Stop Evictions" has organized protests to block families from being evicted.

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Virgin of Almudena Day, 9 November. (The two different sequences occur at the same time)
1.Baracaldo. Escuela de Artes y Oficios Street, number 11
A group of officials from the 4th District Court, accompanied by a locksmith, realize that it doesn't make sense to use the buzzer since the building's front door is open.

2. 4th floor of the same building.
A blonde 53 year-old woman pulls a chair up next to the window.

3. Madrid. Cathedral of the Almudena.
A group of people, dressed and groomed for the occasion, celebrate the holy day of Madrid's patron saint. The Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid, Rouco Varela officiates the Eucharist, while Ana Botella, the mayor of Madrid, heads over to the feet of the Virgin, where she stands in front of a microphone.

4. Baracaldo. Interior of the Building.
The group of civil servants, plus the locksmith, take the stairs, or go up the elevator. They stop on the fourth floor, staircase B. Inside apartment 4A, the 53-year-old woman, Amaia Egaña, gets up on the chair by the window. She hears voices in the hall and the sound of the locksmith opening the door to what had been her home until this morning.

5. Madrid. Cathedral of the Almudena.
Behind the microphone, Ana Botella prays to the Virgin for the situation many families are going through as a result of the economic crisis. In the foreground is the virgin to whom the mayor's words are addressed.

6. Barakaldo. Floor 4A, Staircase B.
The locksmith finishes opening the door to the apartment of Amaia Egaña, and the officials burst inside. They get the impression that no one is home. At that moment Amaia Egaña is lying on the pavement (a moment before the group entered the apartment, she had thrown herself out the window).
As the officials look for someone in the house and go out the balcony, they find the chair and see the body of Amaia, dying on the street. The voice of Ana Botella can be heard offstage confiding to the Virgin: "We are a great nation... united we will always be strong enough to to emerge triumphant from all the challenges we face."

7. Barakaldo. 11 Escuela de Artes y Oficios Street.
The voice of Ana Botella is sunk by the arrival of an ambulance and an EMT, who certifies the death of Amaia Egaña.

Evictions are a real disaster that, like tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes, require governments to take immediate and effective action to help solve the desperation and absolute helplessness of their victims.

According to figures from the Mortgage Office, the number of evictions in the first trimester of this year reached 46,559 -- that means 517 daily evictions. The prospect that this Monday there could be 517 people who, when they look out the window of their besieged home, feel that throwing themselves out into the void is the only available solution is horrific and unacceptable.

The incessant demonstrations of concern and citizen solidarity weren't enough. Nor were the protests of 46 senior judges; the criticisms of the EU declaring that Spanish mortgage contracts were abusive; the thousands of families, with small children and aged grandparents, that were condemned to indigence. No, none of this was sufficient for our government to rank the problem of evictions top on their list of priorities. Instead, it took two suicides for Prime Minister Rajoy to say, "I hope that on Monday we will halt evictions of vulnerable families" -- though coming from him, that could mean anything.

Does Rajoy include in the "vulnerable families" the people who used their own homes as guarantees for their children's mortgages -- older people who are now also threatened with eviction? Because in addition to the front-line victims of this perverse mortgage system, we must add a second category of affected people: the parents who used their only valuable good as a guarantee for their kids -- their own home, the product of a whole lifetime of work, saving, and sacrifice. Can you reproach these grandparents for having lived beyond their means? Just a few days ago, one older woman, along with her husband, chained herself to the door of an Unicaja bank branch and a judge fined her 200 euros for damaging the glass of the door as she was locking herself up. These are the types of events we are referring to when we accuse the government of lacking sensitivity.

Speaking of sensitivity, although in this case we should qualify it more as sentimentality, the mayor of Madrid has been torn apart for her reactions to the tragedies surrounding her. I'm not going to insist on the Portuguese spa scandal, because there's been enough talk about that in the past few days. But Spanish society just hopes that we identify who is responsible in the case of the Madrid Arena incident, in which four young people died in a stampede. If, as it seems, the place did not meet the safety regulations required to host a huge dance party like the one held on Thursday, November 1st, this means that the city hall is not fulfilling its own rules for security at public events, where such crowds are beyond predictable.

If the reason for safety violations is collecting money from the rent paid by the company that organized the event, then a whole new paradox arises. City hall is not only the principal guarantor for the safety of citizens but also a danger for young people it is supposed to protect. Ana Botella was right in her prayer to the Virgin of the Almudena when she said "all people of Madrid have felt as their own the grief of the families of the victims, especially those who are parents...." Those of us who are not parents have also felt it. And many of us are waiting and watching, and if the justice department and the police find that those four deaths were due to safety violations, the city hall should be the first to claim responsibility.