Saturday, September 24, 2022

La Quimera Flickers Out

[NOTE: If you just want the news of the eviction, and a short primer on the history of La Quimera – go to “Madrid No Frills” new post. What follows is a rumination on the eviction and the past of the place, a ‘long read’.] References are below the text.

So Wednesday morning the occupied building called La Quimera in the Lavapies barrio of Madrid was evicted. It had been tagged as a “narcopiso” – a drug-dealing and -taking occupied flat – by the rightwing press. For sure the giant apartment building on Nelson Mandela plaza had plenty of problems.
“Narcopiso” in U.S. English is a “shooting gallery”. It is a slur on a complex social situation in a building with a deep history in the Madrid okupa movement.

What was really going on in this building? 70 people were living there, mostly African migrants. There was a bar on the ground floor, likely non-alcoholic since the clients were mostly Muslim.
Leah Pattem, the English language Madrid journalist who runs “Madrid No Frills” (her reporting is referenced above) tweeted “This morning, around 70 unofficial residents of #LaQuimera in Lavapiés were evicted without any solution. Police walked a dozen men down calle Mesón de Paredes, out of sight of the press, then left them to disappear into the streets.” @LeahPattem
El Pais reported that neighbors had asked the owner to demand the removal of the squatters so that the police could act to clear out the building. Everybody is happy that it’s closed, they say.
The rightwing mayor, elected with a minority of votes by a process I still don’t understand (get ready USA) crowed how happy he was that this “agujero negro” (black hole) had been cleaned up.

Destroying Citizen Participation in Madrid

The rightist coalition beat Manuela Carmena in the elections for mayor. Manuela’s party, Mas Madrid, was expected to win, but the left split and the right came to power in both the city and the province. Part of the split was because Manuela didn’t support the social centers. At least she didn’t launch an eviction campaign. She was the least worst option to vote, but too few people think that way.
Mayor Almeja has evicted many legalized contracted citizen-run spaces, and several okupa social centers in his policy of “zero tolerance” for ‘squatters’. That intolerance extends to any place where citizens might organize outside of normative state channels. The campaign is accompanied by the usual scare-lies in the press about junkies taking over your country house.
Directly after their electoral triumph in the city of Madrid, the right went on a revanchist rampage of closures. It began with La Gasolinera (@LaGasoli) in 2019.
La Gasolinera was an innocuous place, full of parents and kids. But they showed a film that the neighborhood councilman didn’t like, and that Vox man, the neo-fascist political party with whom the Partido Popular “center right” has allied, demanded the place be closed. Thereafter they didn’t give any excuses. They just evicted places and cancelled contracts. I’ve lost count, but it must be close to a dozen citizen-run spaces closed. Madrid is becoming a desert for open-door places.
This campaign, which is hardly finished, gets petty: Most recently in the Lavapies neighborhood agents of the city tore up a tiny patch of land – Replantamos Plaza Lavapiés – that had been planted with flowers and vegetables. The activists replanted it.

Impromptu Homeless Shelter

In her report of that day, @LeahPattem tweeted that La Quimera had become “an informal shelter for homeless people, many of whom are undocumented migrants, and some have mental health issues and PTSD from their journey to Spain. Today, these people are back on the streets and La Quimera is empty.”
There’s no question that the place was troublesome for the neighbors. The grand plaza that La Quimera faces, named for an African hero, is ringed by stores, cafes and other apartment buildings. When there’s screaming, fighting, fires and ruckus, everyone gets upset.

So What Happened? We Don’t Yet Know

For years, even decades, La Quimera was a useful social center. In the late ‘90s, the partly-constructed abandoned building was occupied as part of the famous series of Laboratorio okupas. A Vallecana activist told me she had lived there then. But it wasn’t congenial – no water, no power. A hard place to be.

Happier days for La Q. The bar in 2016, @largarder81

According to the movement wiki 15Mpedia (at:, the CSROA La Quimera is – was – a re - squatted social center. ("CSROA" they call it. CSOA is Centro Social Okupado Autogestionado; "R" for "recuperado").

La Quimera was re-squatted in the spring of 2013 during the “Toque a Bankia” campaign, a coordinated hacking and squatting wave that responded to the corruption of a major Spanish bank, corruption that finally sent the ex-finance minister, Rodrigo Rato, to jail.

La Quimera Feminista

When I came upon it, La Quimera was run by a radical feminist collective. They had a bar, held events, made posters and t-shirts – normal punky okupa stuff. They’d given keys to a group of African migrants who were attempting to organize a union of street-sellers, the Sindicato de los Manteros. An arts agency, Hablar en Arte, funded a public art project wherein two artists, Byron Maher and Alexander Ríos Pachón, worked together to support the formation of this nascent group. I was asked to write about it.
Byron and Alex made banners, took photos, and organized an event at La Ingobernable, a social center next to Medialab Prado. (La Ingob had water and power, so people could cook.) A former health center squatted in 2017, the place, like La Quimera, was also a strongly feminist okupa project, was. It was evicted in 2019, directly after the election of the rightwing Mayor Almeida.

When La Ingobernable Was Still in Play

La Ingob's doorway can be seen in the distance; in foreground, the "green wall" of the Caixa Forum exhibition space.

La Ingobernable was also a player in this story. Like the Laboratorio before it, Ingobernable was a long-term project with several occupations and evictions. Writes Leah Pattem: “La Ingobernable began in 2000 with the aim to fill the support gap caused by Madrid’s shrinking public services. This independent collective provide[d] information, advice and support in housing, mental health, gender violence, immigration and more, depending on the skills of the volunteers involved.”
As a key center of organizing for things like the massive 8M feminist march, the rightwing city government needed to evict them. That was also vengeance. Followers of this blog will have read of La Ingobernable’s key role in partnership with the official city project Medialab Prado, as a nerve center of social movement alliance with the short-lived municipalist government.
(The municipalist platform of Manuela Carmena, however, did not give La Ingob a contract of tenancy when they could have. Not that a contract would have protected them from the revanchists; it would have delayed them.)

A Union for Migrant Street Vendors

I attended numerous meetings at La Quimera of the prospective sindicato of manteros, which was also supported by activists from SOS Racismo. Occasionally the artists would attend. (I was the old white guy taking notes in the corner, who didn’t understand much of what was going on.) The collaboration of the artists with the manteros unfolded during the brief warm progressive thaw of governance in Madrid as institutions and foundations began to stretch out their tender tentacles towards social movements.
Finally I submitted a long text on the process of Byron and Alex’s complex project with the manteros. The text was first edited, then cut from the book published by the Collaborative Arts Partnership Programme (CAPP) “an ambitious transnational cultural programme focusing on the dynamic area of collaborative arts” at:

Meeting of manteros' assembly at La Quimera, ca. 2018

Major meeting of manteros and Afropean speakers from Madrid and other cities at Medialab Prado, ca. 2018

It always stings when a text is rejected. I intended to post the text, but life intervened, and other projects. (I have a new book! ) It’s four years later, and a new epoch after the major threats of Covid virus have lifted. So I’ll soon try to post the finished unpublished text to my page at –

A Store for the Union

I didn’t follow this story after the fracaso with HablarenArte. The Sindicato de Manteros seems to have done okay. They are constituted, with a website, and there is now a store, opened last year, called “Pantera”. They sell the clothing brand Top Manta, produced by the Barcelona street vendor initiative.
After the social and economic trauma of the virus and its lockdowns, everything has become more unstable. Government repression and violence, however, has continued unimpeded. A delicate project like La Quimera – volunteer, ideologically motivated, rough material conditions – became corrupted. Crime never sleeps, and it doesn’t wear a face mask.

A Loss for the Autonomous Movements

I don’t know what happened, and I don’t know who does. I can only say this is a failure of autonomous management. No one in governance has an interest in the success of autonomy. It's not a hard thing for police undercover operations to destabilize volunteer projects. Both Swiss and NYC activists have noted how cops directed narcos and dealers to their occupied places, told them they wouldn’t be arrested if they worked there. Did the same happen at La Q? Without a diligent assembly, it easily could have, since the virus broke the organization in many places. And "easy" is what cops like to do.

In a Utopic City, it Coulda Been Different

Solutions can be found to the problems that beset La Quimera. "Narcopisos" can be eliminated by providing addicts with safe injection spaces. In effect, “narcopisos” are privatized safe injection spaces run by criminals, complete with illicit pharmacies. Drugs can be legalized, regulated and taxed. Desperate migrants eager to work can be absorbed into the workforce by giving them papers so employers can hire them. (They do so anyway in the agricultural districts, for slave wages, papers or no.)
But solutions aren’t what politicians seek. Here they still cut off the power for months to the peripheral barrio of racialized people called Canada Real on the pretext that the district is full of marijuana plantations. ‘Look at the fancy cars parked there,’ say the supposed leaders of Madrid. (The UN charged that the situation was a violation of childrens’ rights; but you know, George Soros?)

Punks + Crooks + Useful Fears

The national police here still crow on TV about hauls of marijuana and hashish they’ve confiscated. As Colombian president Gustavo Petro recently said, drug prohibition “will leave us Latin Americans with one million more dead and the mafia organizations will be ten times more powerful than they already are”.
In Spain? The mafias are also getting stronger, and linking up with their foreign cousins. Prohibition suits them fine. Crime rises. People lose hope. It suits authoritarian-curious governance too; it’s a good pretext for increased repression. Like the long-term punishment the rightwing has meted out to Cañada Real.

Anti-racist demo in Madrid, 2017

When La Quimera was closed I tweeted that it was a “racist attack”. Did the officers barge in with flash-bang grenades, screaming racial epithets like in USA? Likely not. (The courts send an official witness, a letrado de administracion de justicia, to such events, but their report is not public record; it can only be accessed by parties interesado en este proceso – lawyers for the arrested persons, for example.)
I’m not a reporter. I’m a shy reader and direct observer. But I did wander a bit, watching the police that day, parading around in front of La Quimera. Everyone standing around the plaza was studiously disinterested in them. No mobilization. The community accepted this action without complaint. I found the offices of SOS Racisme closed.
I chatted with a black man on the street whom I saw scribbling in his notebook. He was writing poems. He was a rapper, “Bey Uno Bey”, he said (B1B?). He was sitting on the sidewalk outside a park on calle Lavapies where Africans usually congregate. It is gated up “for renovations”, By this, and now the eviction of La Quimera, I can see that African migrants in this barrio are being denied every place in public space where they might organize, socialize, and have a life together besides aimless hanging out.
So yeah, a racist attack.
And it’s happening to everybody all over the city. As Ruben Bermudez asks in his brilliant photo essay book -- ‘Y tú, ¿por qué eres negro?’ / And you? Why are you black?. It's a question as well to a white person, on the same order as that posed by Norman Mailer's infamous 1957 essay "White Negro". We’re all being deprived. Some much more than others. So where is our “army of hipster revolutionaries who can bring about an urban utopia”?
They’re around, hanging in the shadows. Perhaps they all have long Covid. But they’ll be back.
La lucha continúa.And I’ll blog it as I can.


After her tweets, Leah Pattem posted the first English language report on the eviction on her blog.

Patricia Peiró, “Desalojado uno de los mayores edificios ocupados del centro de Madrid: ‘Era el gran hostal de la delincuencia’”, 21 sept 2022

I haven't blogged continuously on the eviction of occupied and legalized citizn spaces, but it's been a continuous campaign. I last posted on "Flxible Batons and Social Unions" in May of 2021).

Early fightback attempts to the eviction campaign. I must investigate their status now.
Susana Albarrán Méndez, “Nace la red de espacios de Madrid autogestionados”, 28 ene 2020 16:30 @SusiQiuMad

Toque a Bankia / Touching Bankia
Portada » Toque a Bankia

alexander ríos, artist

Byron Maher (@byronmaher) / Twitter
The Daily Edit – El Salto: Byron Maher - A Photo Editor

Sindicato de manteros de Madrid

URL for the PDF “Narrating Collaborations” English and Spanish version
This book does not include my text, but it does document the artists’ collaboration with the manteros › uploads › 2018/07

Jose Carlos, "El Sindicato de Manteros de Madrid acaba de abrir Pantera, su primera tienda de ropa para escapar de la criminalización y la precariedad."

Sandra Moreno, 04/08/2021 - 05:00, "Salir del 'top manta' para vender 'merchandising': el proyecto para alejar a los manteros de la calle"

Sam Jones, “‘You kind of die’: life without power in the Cañada Real, Spain”, Wed 27 Oct 2021
Little has changed in Europe’s largest shantytown since the UN said the lack of electricity ‘violates children’s rights’ in 2020

Kyle Jaeger, “‘Democracy Will Die’ If World Leaders Don’t End Drug War And Pursue Different Strategy”, September 20, 2022