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Local resistance wins the battle in Burgos
Por DIAGONAL English

Burgos town council announces the halting of the construction on the €8,5 million boulevard

By Doris Gutiérrez / translated by Esther Ortiz Vázquez & Susana Macías Pascua

“With what's happening in Spain this had to occur at some time or another, but I honestly thought the outbreak would have taken place in a big city such as Madrid or Barcelona. I had never believed Gamonal would be the beginning”, says F. a youngster from Burgos who prefers to remain anonymous.

In the 90.000-dwellers working class neighborhood of Gamonal the imposition of the boulevard sparked locals discontentment . After a five-day groundswell of opposition, on January 14th the mayor of Burgos, Javier Lacalle, announced the halting of the project. Nevertheless, he leaves the door open to resume it should political parties, neighbours and experts come to an agreement. It is a break so as to “obtain the widest degree of consensus as possible”, he stated.

This project seeks to drastically transform the activity in Vitoria Street, Gamonal´s main artery, which is an eminently commercial street and aims to relieve traffic congestion as well. “Two years ago, Gamonal's residents rejected the project in a straw poll”, says Manolo Alonso, one of the neighbours who has been in the protests from the very beginning. According to Angel Ibáñez, the local government spokeperson, 3,000 people voted against the construction. However, the council preferred to listen to those groups who supported the plan.

“They shouldn't spend €8,5 million on the boulevard while they are shutting down nurseries, cutting off community centers’ budgets, reducing the investment in social services and even leaving roads without streetlights”, another resident remarks. However, while the council claims that this boulevard “will openly improve residents' quality of life”, demonstrators decry the construction would remove one hundred car parks in the most densely-populated neighbourhood in Burgos. The rest of the car parks would be privatised and offered to the residents as a 40-year concession by paying €19.255, an out-of-reach price for them. They also denounce that, by reducing two lanes in each direction, a traffic bottleneck will be created.

Lucio Merino, a family butchery owner in the area, does not want the boulevard because “customers wouldn't be allowed to park and all access will be blocked”. He saw himself forced to reduce staff and –according to him- the business survives by "putting in the hours”. To his view the boulevard project is “a great citizenship swindle”. “This is a neighbourhood of trustworthy people, so the one who cannot pay, does not buy either” -he says, making a comparison to Burgos town council, which he believes responsible for scattering outstanding bills with companies across the city allowing its budget accounts to be on the verge of bankruptcy.

The € 240.000 worth plan was awarded to a company belonging to Méndez Pozo, a well-known businessman in the area. Owner of Promecal, a media & communication holding with regional TV, radios and newspapers all over Castilla y León, Méndez Pozo was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment in 1992 for fraud relating to construction documents in Burgos. This, along with his relationship with the municipal mayor, Javier Lacalle, led people to voice the protests out in the streets.

Protests started last Friday January 10th, when a handful of people tried to block construction by "linking their arms in a human chain", as one of the participating youngsters said. "Then five members of the riot police showed up, they bashed us and so the machines started working", he relates. The following Monday and Tuesday, about 200 people were preventing the construction work so labourers decided not to go to work fearing for their physical safety.

With 46 people under arrest at the time of publication, F. complains that media have not alluded to the "unconditional support" the neighbourhood is showing to the detainees, by daily attendance at the police station to demand their freedom. While kids are throwing rocks, neighbours rebuke riot control police both on the street and from their windows. And when kids start running, gated entries and main doors suddenly open for them. The riot police's bewilderment ends up in beatings in dark streets and arbitrary arrests. Some of the mothers are considering reporting the police for "the bad shape their children were when they arrived home last Friday"

Against the boulevard since 2005

August 2005. First Victory. After 15 demonstrations, 19 petitions to the then mayor of Burgos, Juan Carlos Aparicio, and 10 500 signatures on a petition, neighbours of Gamonal succeed in stopping the first attempt of the construction of a car park in the neighbourhood of Burgos. In 2005, after a great protest which ended up with nine detainees, the mayor was finally compelled to listen to the neighbours.

Summer of 2011. The project is back on Promecal Holding, owned by businessman Antonio Miguel Méndez Pozo, submits an improvement plan for Copiscol neighbourhood in Burgos through his subsidiary company MBG. Two months later, the town council proposes an identical study for the Gamonal neighbourhood instead. This plan is aproved by the local government supported by some of the neighbourhood associations. The new project included changes in traffic planning for the area and car parking.

2014. Neighbours mobilise. Friday January 10th, a modest group of people forming a human chain tried to stop work at the building site. They were beaten up and scattered by riot forces. The construction continued. Next day, 200 people now gathered in the street to impede continuation of the roadworks. Every evening for a week, demonstrations of thousands of people occured along with neighbours taking 24-hour-day turns to block them. Up to 30 supporting protests in other cities all over the country have also taken place. Despite the suspension announcement, the neighbourhood assembly has decided to follow up with actions this time demanding required improvements for the neighbourhood.

[This article was originally published in Spanish on January 14th, 2014]




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