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To Get to the Other Side

A journey through Europe and its anarchist movements

Alex, Rodrigo, y Juan

Libertad PresosOn 4 February, 2006, nine young people were arrested by the Guardia Urbana in Barcelona—the prisoners of 4F.  Two of them were charged with attempted homicide, one with inciting attempted homicide, and the other six with lesser charges.  Early Saturday morning, three squatters—Alex, Rodrigo, and Juan—had left a friend’s house after a party.  On the way home, they had to pass El Teatro de Anarko Penya Cultural, described as “an illegal disco disguised as a squatted social center, with very little connection to the community of squatted political spaces in Barcelona.”  El Teatro had an eviction order for months, but the police had protected it.  The house had a reputation as a place to buy drugs, and several suspected police informants lived there.  It is probably no coincidence that El Teatro, which stands just at the top of El Forat, was squatted right around the time that resistance in the occupied community garden was going strong, uniting young and old, squatters and renters.  A place like El Teatro, that disturbs the neighbors and brings in addictive drugs, was just what the authorities needed to break those growing connections of solidarity.

The night of the 4th, a raucous party was going on at El Teatro, with perhaps a thousand people inside.   Four Guardia Urbana were at the entrance, supposedly trying to shut the party down, although this claim seems unlikely.  The three squatters tried to pass by, but the police began to shout racial insults at the three—all of whom were from Latin America.  A fight started, and the cops took out their batons and beat anyone nearby.  The fight turned into a riot as people in the area began throwing rocks and the drugged up partygoers joined in.  Just as quickly, police reinforcements that had been stationed in the area arrived on the scene, leading many to believe that police had been planning to provoke an incident.  Alex, Rodrigo, and Juan were beaten to the ground, and one of the original four cops also lay prone, after a flower pot was dropped on his head from a window above.  Medics induced a coma to attempt to stabilize his condition, and he still had not come out of it a year later.  Police ordered sanitation crews to clean up the scene of the fight before the forensics teams arrived.  The very next day el Teatro was evicted, and police escorted fifteen to twenty people out of the building.  These people were never identified in the investigation.

Nine people were arrested in total, including two squatters who were not present that night, but who had admitted themselves to a hospital for injuries from a bike accident.  Alex, Rodrigo, and Juan were accused of throwing a rock and hitting the cop in the head.  All three of them were disappeared by the police.  Friends and family did not know where they were for the first couple days, and police initially claimed not to have them in custody.  In fact, police kept them in prisoner vans rather than admitting them to the jail, and over a period of hours tortured and beat them.  Juan had both of his arms broken, Alex had one arm broken, all had swollen faces and needed dozens of stitches.  Finally on Monday, the nine were brought before a judge, and the three of South American nationality were sent to prison while the others were released to await trial.  Police testimony was contradictory, and the judge rejected all the witnesses of the defendants, saying that anyone who viewed the events and was not a cop was a participant in the riots and also subject to prosecution.

Even the mayor of Barcelona initially said the cop was injured by a flower pot thrown from el Teatro, and this is consistent with his injuries—a major injury on the back of his head from the flower pot and a small one on the front where he fell and hit the ground.  But they quickly changed their story so they could blame the squatters, saying that the minor injury on the front of his head was from the rock, which threw him backwards onto the ground, where he hit his head and received the major injury.  During their initial testimony, the police contradicted one another, and one cop who was on the scene broke down crying, saying he did not know if the injured cop was hit from the front or the back.  The media and the political parties used this incident to talk about the “murderous squatters” and to call for the eviction of all the squats in Barcelona.

Over a year later, Alex, Rodrigo, and Juan were still in prison awaiting trial. One day, walking past the building where El Teatro had stood, where the cop was injured and the three compañeros were beaten down, I learned about another bit of neighborhood history. Decades earlier, at Plaça de Sant Pere, just down the street, the police gunned down Josep Sabate, the brother of the more famous anarchist urban guerrilla, Francisco “El Quico” Sabate.  La lucha sigue.