October 31, 2014
The Village Against the World
Posted on Nov 8, 2013
By Nomi Prins
“The Village Against the World”
The most expensive government on the planet—ours—was shut down over budget concerns, health insurance and passive-aggressiveness. The inane partisan squabbling most acutely affected those with the most to lose—the people at the bottom of the economic pile. Meanwhile, grossly unequal division of wealth and power is a growing blight on the face of humanity. Dangerous mechanisms of financial ruin are nurtured by governments while they spew rhetoric about helping citizens. A future in which reckless economic exploitation will diminish seems highly unlikely.
But what if another world were possible? One in which the spoils of predatory capitalism, subsidized by central banks and federal policy, aren’t rapaciously consumed by a tiny minority at the expense of the vast majority of global citizens?
In his captivating new book, “The Village Against the World,” Dan Hancox shows, in lyrical and penetrating prose, that not only is it possible, but “an observable fact.” And so begins his tale of the alternative.
Nestled in farmland about 60 miles from Seville, Spain, in the region of Andalucía, exists Marinaleda, a village of 2,700 people. The cry OTRO MUNDO ES POSSIBLE—another world is possible—adorns a metal arch over its main avenue. For 30 years, the citizens of this tiny pueblo have fought and won a struggle to create a utopia in which everyone has a job and a home. Communism seems too dismissive and combative a term for Marinaleda’s ability to exist in defiance of a system that has shattered surrounding towns, and entire countries around the world.
“The year 2016,” Hancox writes, “will mark the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia … But … how do you go from a fevered dream, an aspirational blueprint, to concrete reality?”
The answer unfolds as Hancox takes us on a trip that inspires one’s visual senses as he depicts the white-washed beauty of the village, one’s taste buds as he describes simple meals capped with thick bread doused in fresh local olive oil, and invites us to envision a collective life freed—as much as possible—from global crises, acquisition and power plays.
In Marinaleda, the Che Guevara stadium houses sporting events, oversized placards of doves decorate streets named for left-wing idols like Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda, and “profits” from the local vegetable canning factory or olive oil co-op are used to enhance the village. Marinaleda’s main housing “development” consists of 350 casitas—modest homes self-built by their inhabitants, with materials furnished by the village. Mortgages are 15 euro per month. The village has, and needs, no police force.
For eight years, Hancox was fascinated with Marinaleda’s “miracle struggle,” transforming from “abject poverty” in the late ’70s (60 percent unemployment, and people going without food for days at a time) to the functioning “utopia” that it became.
Beyond Marinaleda, the economic suffering of Spain at the hands of a speculative overdrive unleashed by big U.S. banks and adopted by European ones, remains acute. It is made worse by austerity measures that punish citizens, while providing banks and bondholders with EU subsidies.
Youth unemployment sits at a sickening record high of 56.1 percent, second only to Greece’s 62.9 percent. Spain’s adult male unemployment at 25.3 percent tops all other EU countries.
The Spanish housing market remains in tatters, after catastrophic levels of overbuilding and leverage, complementing America’s housing bubble before it burst in 2007-2008. Just as in the U.S., Spanish banks foreclosed on slews of properties for which the population had been forced to overpay during the bubble, increasing homelessness.
The current economic crisis has left Spain with 4 million empty homes, and ghost towns on the outskirts of Madrid. In contrast, “Marinaleda brims with excitement and festivity during its famous annual ferias and carnivals,” though most of the time, “it is incredibly peaceful.” No one there has experienced a foreclosure.
“Even before the crisis descended on Spain, the wealth gap in Andalusia was a chasm,” Hancox informs us. “It has been so forever. It is a region where mass rural pauperism exists alongside vast aristocratic estates—the latifundios. It’s an oft-repeated bit of southern rural mythology that you can walk all the way from Seville, the Andalusian capital, to the northern coast of Spain without ever leaving the land of the notorious Duchess of Alba, a woman thought to have more titles than anyone else in the world. While 22.5 percent of her fellow Spaniards survive on only €500 a month, the duquesa is estimated to be worth €3.2 billion—and still receives €3 million a year in EU farm subsidies.”
It’s important to note, as Hancox does throughout the book, that the rich get more government subsidies than the poor do. This is, of course, not unique to Spain, which is one of the things that makes this book so important, and so timely.
Central to Marinaleda’s history, and Hancox’s book, is its mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo. He is a modern-day revolutionary, reminiscent, in appearance and inner fire, of Che Guevara. Sánchez Gordillo has been employing resistance techniques, including hunger strikes and occupations, for years. In 2012, he was dubbed the “Robin Hood of Spain” after he and a group of laborers refused to pay a supermarket for shopping trolleys filled with food, which they then distributed to local food banks. The action made headlines worldwide.
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