The Canarian anarchist activist Ruymán Rodríguez visits the Valencian Community, invited by the Mostra del Llibre Anarquista d’Alacant, to share the work carried out by the Sindicato de Inquilinas and the Federación Anarquista de Gran Canaria. An interview.
Image above by Miguel Ángel Valero.
Visiting the southeast of the peninsula last weekend, his first stop was Murcia and from there he travelled to Alicante. Being cities that by train are just over half an hour from each other, he decided to make the hour and a half journey by bus so as not to support scabbing during the Renfe machinists’ strike that began on September 30. Ruymán Rodríguez spoke to El Salto shortly before the start of the presentation of the Mostra del Llibre Anarquista d’Alacant, whose different events will take place during the month of October in the capital of the province. The presentation on Saturday, focused on the theme of the fight for the right to housing, closed with his intervention.
If you want, you can start by explaining a little the work you do with the Federación Anarquista de Gran Canaria (FAGC) [Anarchist Federation of Gran Canaria] and the Sindicato de Inquilinas (SIGC) [Tenants Union].
The tenants union tends to be a mass organisation in which it is not necessary for people to identify themselves ideologically to participate. It is an open organisation and it is basically focused on the issue of housing. Although it is talked about as a tenants union, the reality is that it is a comprehensive tool to address housing issues; it touches on mortgages, rent, precariousness, and it touches a sector that is often forgotten by certain housing groups, which is homelessness; and in the end, it approaches the different stages through which the working class passes in addressing housing problems. The FAGC already has an obviously much more political profile, of people who call themselves consciously anarchists and as such, have a broader activity. Its activity though has also derived almost entirely from work around housing, in the union, and now it is dedicated to a social activity, but of another kind; it is very much involved in the issue of migration, especially with the fierce persecution of migrants who are living in Gran Canaria, with the virtual hunting of human beings, and not by neo-Nazi groups, but by official institutions. There are communities specifically organised to house migrants in a situation of persecution. There is also a health care network because these people are excluded from the Canarian health service out of fear or apprehension that if they go to it, that they may be deported or locked up in concentration camps. We have an advisory office for precarious women, which is a way of starting an informal union for people who historically are not unionised. We are talking about caregivers of children and the elderly, cleaners, comrades who collect scrap metal, comrades who practice prostitution; people who want to know how to report their pimp, who want to know how to make their employer pay them for the stairs they just cleaned, what happens when they are interned and find themselves practically in a situation of semi-slavery, and other questions of this kind which are quite hard and raw. We also have self-managed gardens, which are actually very large expropriated rural lands, from which many of the people who work with the FAGC obtain up to 50% of their food. It has to be kept in mind that a lot of the Canarian population have a serious nutrition problem and on an island as rich as Gran Canaria they do not taste fresh food such as fruits and vegetables, so they can get them from there. And finally, there is a network for the exchange of belongings and shelter, in which appliances in poor condition are repaired and shared, clothes are exchanged and other things, so that people have all their needs covered. What we are trying to create de facto is a parallel society.
Regarding the work of the FAGC with the crisis of the migration from the African continent and that the media tend to refer to as an “avalanche”, with its negative connotations, you have committed yourselves to responding to this situation, to attend to all of these people who have been arriving. Under what circumstances are they arriving and in what way are you helping them?
The first thing to understand is the phenomenon of migration itself. Currently, it is obviously forced by capitalist and imperialist dynamics, but migration is a natural human phenomenon. If migration did not exist, you and I would now be in a pond with fins. We left the pond, we emigrated to have a better life and thus human development takes place. The people who emigrate from the African continent, who are the only ones who bother us by emigrating, from the African continent and South America, the rest are welcome, are people who are emigrating because the West has fleeced them. People do not understand why Senegalese come to Spain, but they come because their territorial waters have been sold to Europe and China, and an eminently fishing country no longer has anything to eat. Why do people flee from Guinea Conakry? Because its mineral reserves, in an eminently agricultural country, have been used for international trade run by the old metropolises, that agricultural economy has been transformed, now it is mining, but those mines do not belong to the people. And if you add to this civil wars and coups d’états, then that will tell you why the people of the African continent come. But then there is no migrant avalanche, there is instead a big lie. We received 23,000 migrants in the last two years. For the people who fixate on the sum and do not understand what that means for the bulk of the population, they may be surprised, but they will be much less surprised after if I tell them that we also receive 15 million tourists every year, or at least until 2018, and nobody talks about an avalanche in this case. People would also be surprised if they knew that of the migrant population of people who come to work, people from the African continent are an ultra minority. The majority are Italians, Germans, English, many are tourists but many also come to work. And that European and white migration does not bother us. We are not talking about avalanches or migration problems; we are talking about racism and xenophobia. Why has the FAGC had to get involved on this front? Well, because the institutions have completely abandoned their functions, they have locked up these comrades in concentration camps, malnourished them, mistreated them, and above all, the NGOs have dedicated themselves to a thriving business with the management of the misery suffered by our comrades. In those circumstances, we have two options, well three: either we join the fucking Nazis and go to the streets to defend populism and the demagoguery of hating and spitting on those below us, because we dare not spit on those above us, that is, we continue with the dynamic that the second to last person in the cue steps on the last one; or we dedicate ourselves to doing nothing and crossing our arms and lamenting on Twitter about how bad things are and how they are treating our migrant sisters, followed by some symbolic gesture, a concert to raise funds and thereby continue with a clean conscience and dirty hands. Or third: get involved, collaborate and prevent people of your class from being persecuted for a single reason: the colour of their skin.
Moving on to the specific work of the tenants’ union, how many people have been helped? What is the socio-economic context on the islands where real estate pressure from tourism has so much of an impact?
If we speak in figures, we are talking about eleven self-managed communities on the island [of Gran Canaria], helped or promoted by the SIGC or the FAGC. In total, adding communities and single-family homes, we currently calculate that there are more than a thousand families living in self-management in Gran Canaria, which is not a bad ratio. And these are people who make up the panorama of the Canarian reality. We are talking about the long-term unemployed, who lost their jobs due to the financial crisis, people in the construction sector who have not returned to work. We are talking about single-mother families in which a single person has to raise her children with a subsidy of 430 Euros. We are talking about these persecuted migrants. We are talking about homeless people who have never known hot water or electricity. We are talking about terminally ill people who contact the FAGC because they were already evicted from the system and they need four walls to die in peace. How can these harsh realities be reduced to numbers? Well, the Canarian reality is that of the unrecognised third world. We are talking about the fact that in the Canary Islands, 60% of the population recognises that they cannot make ends meet between paychecks, that 40% of the population lives in a regime of exclusion or already directly below the poverty line. We are talking about the fact that we have the poorest children in Europe; 35% of Canarian children are poor. We are talking about a third or a quarter of the Canarian population being unemployed. We are talking about the fact that we have the lowest salaries in the country, officially, already ahead of Extremadura. And we are talking about, even with all of this shit, of 300 evictions per trimester, which could possibly be up to seven a day. And we would need to talk about much more, because we have the most expensive shopping basket in the country, as well as the fourth most expensive rent. We have an average rent in the province of Las Palmas of 997 euros. We have 150,000 abandoned houses. Gentrification has become a sort of genocide. Tourism is not an innocent and innocuous reality. Tourism in the Canary Islands is the new colonialism, and it is an imperialism that seems bloodless because it has no cannons and no weapons, but perhaps it causes much more damage than an armed conquest. We are being expelled from our neighbourhoods, people without resources can no longer pay even the cheapest rents because they are used for vacation homes, all urban equipment is intended solely and exclusively for the floating, temporary population. We no longer have outpatient clinics, we no longer have centres for the elderly, we no longer have nurseries. What we have are terraces, shopping centres and dog groomers. Well, it is in this context that the FAGC has to rise up, because they are breaking us apart.
In this regard, speaking of a recent issue, a few days ago I heard you mention in an interview that Sareb and the banking owners announced that they would give homes to those affected by the La Palma volcano, at the same time as in Gran Canaria, in Telde, they were trying to evict 38 people, 19 of them minors.
It is a situation that has already become normative, it is something totally normalised and standardised. The banks, the same ones that talk about social responsibility, pro-childhood campaigns, provide breakfasts for children and scholarships, are the ones that later violently throw those same children out on the streets. The institutions and political parties, on the left and right, that speak of guaranteeing human rights, that no one is going to be left out on the street, that no one is to be left behind, allow evictions when they do not promote them. An entity like the Sareb offers housing for the victims of La Palma and later, on the sister island, it evicts 38 people, 19 children. We are talking about 13 families, and those people are not being evicted from their houses by the lava, they are being thrown out by Sareb, a court is throwing them out, the police are throwing them out. What psychological impact does that have on families? Initially despair, when the official world that is supposed to watch over for you collapses, the people who supposedly have some kind of responsibility and who, in addition, are rubbish, well, you panic, you feel alone, defenceless. But then something occurs that I like more and that is much more interesting from our point of view, and that is that when from above they lose their shame, those from below begin to lose their respect. If these people have abandoned you, if they don’t care about you and you are completely helpless, well then maybe you should start building the solutions from below.
For this reason, on the basis of the FAGC and the SIGC, you offer people direct action as a tool to solve these real problems. Has this meant an approximation to anarchism of people who were initially not ideologically linked?
I would not like to further self-deception. In the union and in the FAGC, we distinguish ourselves by being honest, and of the thousand families that we have helped, a low percentage remain militant and committed, we are talking about 10%. Now we have exceeded that number because we have 600 affiliates [of the IACS]. However, basically, the level of involvement is always going to be much lower than the number of people it reaches. The problem is reaching more people, if you want to have 1000 affiliates then you will have to reach 10,000 people; if you want to become like the classic CNT, that is so hard for so many people, you will have to reach a million people; basically, this is what it is. But this is like sowing seeds. People who are dedicated to agriculture know it. When you open the furrow, you do not put in a seed, you put in several, because you know that some are not going to take and others do. Well that seed that takes root is the one that is worth it. And when you have a neighbour, when you meet her desperate, anguished, wrecked, and then you see her grow by conquering her self-esteem, that is, she begins to feel valid, she realises that she can bend the arm of the City Council, she can bring Sareb to its knees, she is not afraid of a bank but rather the bank is afraid of her. When that woman has her little pictures of saints and her virgin on an altar, and one day you go to the house to bring her a microwave and you see that next to all that she has the FAGC logo printed and suddenly she starts talking about anarchism and the same woman who when the press interviewed her, said “please help me”, directed to the institutions, and now when they interview her as a union spokesperson, what she says is “we are anti-system, we don’t want governments”, this is because something has happened, and I believe that that process, even if it only occurs in one out of every 100, already deserves everything that can be done.
And in that same sense, has your judicial process also generated attention and brought people to approach the FAGC and the SIGC? The situation of your own complaint against the Civil Guard, since the last hearing last March, must also count for something.
We obviously don’t want to invite further repression so as to continue growing, but the reality is that, things have backfired for them. The logical thing is that when you ask for an 18 month jail sentence for a person, along with a fine, and on top of that you do it after having tortured him in the police station, you understand that people are scared and back off and do not want to know anything about these people, that they torture them, beat them and go to jail. Well, the opposite has happened, the people who had a trial that coincided with ours on the day that they were going to prosecute me saw the panorama and what they said is that if they are going to ask you for 18 months in jail for stopping an eviction, then I will join the FAGC. For the comrades who had already seen our previous work and perhaps were looking for which group could better adjust to their work, all doubts were cleared away as soon as they saw the repression against us. The reality is that the FAGC is now more numerous than ever, we have never had such a large number of members and the tenant union has grown more than ever. But nor do we give it too much credit and say that it’s thanks to the repression, but yes, we must recognise that the judicial system and the Civil Guard have contributed to strengthening the anarchist federation (laughs). And about the process, they had to try me on March 24, but because of the media campaign and the support among social groups that arose – the truth is that I am completely grateful, I do not deserve it -, because I think that these people felt intimidated and gave up on the judicial process at that time due to the tension. [The Civil Guards] asked the court for the trial to be transferred to the higher, Provincial Court. The judge granted the request and now we are waiting for the court to determine if they tortured me and illegally detained me and if I I kicked one of them in the groin. That is more or less the result.
In your case, by accusing you of only injuries and disobedience, the sentence being requested is less than two years. It does not make sense for the Provincial Court to try you, but in the case of the Civil Guards, you accuse them of torture and illegal detention, so in addition, the aggravation of ending up sentenced would bring them greater grief.
Well, yes, but it is also that the accusation of illegal detention and torture was imposed on them ex officio. I simply told the investigating judge what they had done to me and there the accusation ended. It is curious how the media, most of the more honest counterinformation media, have reported the thing correctly and only some local media has focused on the problem as an attack on authority and not that a person in the 21st century can be picked up, be placed in a prison hole, be beaten, insulted, humiliated and subject to torture with strangulation, with all of this stopping only when that person begins to spit blood. However, we would be mistaken if we believed that this has only now been discovered in Gran Canaria and that it is only with me. This has happened in the 21st century and the Basque and Catalan people, and many people before me, can talk a lot about it. Torture is a standardised and generalised fact in the Spanish State and in the Canary Islands. What happens is that it is not reported for fear of reprisals. More than torture, what hit me the most and what has indicated most clearly what our political direction should be, is that when the Civil Guard detains me, they say a lapidary word: “If you are an anarchist, why are you here helping families, housing them, when what you should be doing is burning rubbish containers and ATMs”. They preferred me burning containers and ATMs than helping families. Well, thanks for the clue of where we should go, for it is there where we are going.
Your case dates back to 2015 and it is also part of the wave of repression that existed with the subject of singers and others, because as you say they prefer you in the stereotype of the radical vandal than helping people and doing useful things.
Nobody should think that this is spontaneous. There is here an orchestrated campaign to see how far the repressive levels of the State can go without a popular response. Here what has been set is a bar for the future. The same was done, as is known, with the ley mordaza [gag law] after the financial crisis. And it is now being done with the management of the Covid crisis and with everything that may lead to anger and personal and collective frustration. Artists have been repressed, people whose crime is a crime of opinion, people whose crime is saying things that don’t seem right to them; from puppeteers to Hasél, to fellow rappers and more. The anarchist movement has been repressed, placed within and compromised by a false and artificial spectrum of itinerant groups planted and paid for by Soros to sow chaos wherever they go. I’m sorry but if that were true, put my contact in the article so that they can call me and sign me up and then this way, I won’t have to be poor. Let’s see what happens to us (laughs). And then they moved onto the spectrum of we are going to hook these people – the Italian comrades that I would like to have a few words for, who have been involved in riots and others -, followed by also wanting to go after a housing activist for trying to stop evictions. All of this is to send the message that what is wrong is fighting, whether you do it at the barricades or in front of a house. It does not matter if you have a stone in one hand or you have a shear to break a lock, what is wrong is to stand up to the system, and they have covered the whole wide spectrum. However, with all of this, I am a privileged person. Fortunately or unfortunately, we have been involved in many projects. Someone knows me, they have spread some of what I have written, and when I have been repressed, people have been able to talk about my case. The Italian comrades have not had the same luck; they are still in preventive detention, which is a very serious thing for me and it has not been given the attention that it should have had. The same holds for the comrades from Granada who were retaliated against. There are many reprisals, of a second and first order, and we can’t afford that dynamic, as a social movement that has a certain awareness and sense of dignity. We must place all our comrades in the situation that they deserve, give them the importance they deserve, because today you can ignore them because you do not know their names, you have not seen them on TV or in a documentary or read anything about them, but tomorrow that anonymous person may be you. So I think it is important to open the doors of solidarity and that everyone should be able to find a place there.
And to finish, I wanted to ask you about the statement that you published on Twitter from the SIGC a few months ago in which you announced that you would stop responding to the requests of activists from different countries who come to you, so that you give them accommodation in exchange for volunteer work. To what extent has that become a problem?
Ever since the FAGC became somewhat well-known for its work, every summer is a fucking horror. Every summer, an avalanche falls upon us that mistakes us for a libertarian Airbnb. People from all over the European continent who ask us for houses with terraces or houses near the beach because they can’t move, because they are anti-cars, but not anti-aircraft as the bastards came by plane. People who want to stay in the communities as if they were at a safari and then treat the neighbours paternalistically, holding men and women who already have gray hair and running their hands over their heads as if they were dealing with children; that it bothers them that they watch football or listen to reggaeton; what they say or what they eat bothers them. These are people who are very class-oriented and very paternalistic. It is not about whether there are good tourists or not, which I don’t think there are, but we don’t even get the good ones. In the end, it is a hyper-unpleasant situation and we have very bizarre cases, such as people coming and asking us if they can rent a place, and those who do not come to ask us for free housing but who tell us that they have taken a rent but of course that it is suddenly very expensive, that they tried the same thing two years ago and it was much cheaper and they ask why we think they have risen. You bastard, it is because of you, because you have come here and like you, so many others, that rents have increased. Revolutionary tourism is not very different from other types of tourism; the only thing is that it tries to do it with a clear conscience. The terms are changed, they are no longer tourists, they are travellers, but the damage they cause in the territory is exactly the same. They consume resources that they do not replace later and they come with a European colonialist mentality to come and tell us that we are doing anarchism badly and that they would do it better, that our assemblies are a mess because there are children running around and so on. I’m sorry, but with the soundtrack of the FAGC, there will always be children playing, people screaming in the background, the sound of football and the sound of reggaeton, because our assemblies are made with real people and real people on the street are like this.