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Inside Spain For Members

Inside Spain: Where heat kills and anti-squatter vigilantes

Inside Spain: Where heat kills and anti-squatter vigilantes
Dani Esteve, the head of Desokupa, a private company used by property owners to forcibly remove unwanted occupants, speaks during a demonstration against Barcelona's former mayor Ada Colau. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

In this week’s Inside Spain we look at how the Spanish government is upping its game to protect its citizens from extreme heat and why the country’s ‘okupa’ problem is increasingly being solved by tough-talking bodybuilders.

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That it gets hot in Spain in summer is nothing new, but often decimal points can mark the difference between life and death.

Spain is the second European country where most people die due to heat, with a record 11,300+ casualties in the summer of 2022. 

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Every year, the Spanish Health Ministry launches its prevention plan to protect the most vulnerable from the dangerous effects of exposure to extreme heat, and this year they’re aiming to provide warnings that are more specific than ever. 

On June 3rd, authorities will launch a reference map that will alert of heat episodes in 182 territories within the country’s 52 provinces.

 

After all, temperatures can vary greatly within the same province or region- it can be sweltering down in Málaga city but cooler in Los Alcornocales Natural Park, or horrifically hot in the concrete jungle that is Madrid but fresher in nearby Cercedilla up in the sierra.

Each of the 182 territories will have maximum risk thresholds that register differences of more than ten degrees Celsius. These limits have been set by studying the exact temperature at which heat-related deaths and hospital admissions increased in previous years in set locations.

Heat tolerance is logically higher in some places of Spain than others, so whereas in southern Córdoba the heat alarm threshold is set at 40.4C, in northern Asturias it's 23.9C.

Although the effects of meteorological phenomenon La Niña are yet to be confirmed, most meteorologists agree that this summer will probably be another scorcher in Spain.

READ MORE: Will this summer in Spain be as hot as the previous two?

If you haven’t started making plans to protect yourself from el calor (the heat), now is probably the right time to do it. 

Preparation is also what many Spanish homeowners need when it comes to preventing their homes from being occupied by squatters. 

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The okupa (squatter) movement is very controversial in Spain, not least because Spanish law often sides with the squatter over the owner unless the latter acts quickly (48 hours usually), and okupas know exactly what to do to ensure their occupation is legally protected.

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What’s emerged in recent years as a result of this powerlessness on the part of affected property owners are numerous anti-squatting companies popping up around the country. 

Staff members are usually made up of no-nonsense muscle-bound tough men who promise clients the swift exit of the okupas, for a fee of course. 

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These desokupación firms often operate on the margins of the law, sometimes threatening squatters and using underhand tricks to get them out. In fact, some of these anti-squatter vigilantes have been charged with coercion, and they are often accused of having links to alt-right and fascist groups.  

 

"People know that Desokupa is faster than the justice system," Daniel Esteve, head of the most famed anti-squatting firm in Spain (Desokupa), which has reportedly carried out 9,400 squatter evictions without any of his team or clients being prosecuted, told El Periódico de Ibiza

In fact, there is evidence that even Spanish banks now are hiring the services of these companies rather than relying on police to retrieve the properties they own, and that judges are accepting the normalisation of these anti-squatter companies rather than the issues being resolved in the courts. They even now offer customers the possibility of cleaning up and refurbishing their recovered homes, as many of them are left in a poor state when the squatters leave.

“We are professionals, lawyers, bodyguards and detectives, we are not thugs," Esteve concludes.

“In Spain those who don’t pay are protected, we defend the owners from a great injustice.”

Thugs or not, the emergence of these companies specialising in the eviction of squatters are a prime example of people in Spain taking the law into their own hands when they feel justice isn’t being carried out.

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