‘Drug flats’ blight the heart of Span­ish cities

Kuwait Times - - Analysis -

Adecade af­ter Spain’s prop­erty bub­ble burst, dozens of va­cant apart­ments in Madrid and Barcelona city cen­ters have turned into “drug flats”, to the dis­may of lo­cal res­i­dents who com­plain of aban­doned sy­ringes and fre­quent brawls. “You don’t live any­more. You are more afraid at home than out­side,” said Beg­ona Se­bas­tian, a 51-year-old ac­coun­tant whose build­ing was one of the first in Lava­pies, a district in the cen­ter of Madrid, to have a “nar­copiso”, or drug flat, where peo­ple come to buy and con­sume drugs.

For three years, deal­ers sold hashish and co­caine in the apart­ment be­low her own, which had been seized by a bank from a heav­ily in­debted fam­ily. In mid-2016, she man­aged to have the squat­ters evicted and the door of the flat walled up to avoid it from be­ing il­le­gally oc­cu­pied again by drug deal­ers. The build­ing was in­fested with bed­bugs, and the con­stant com­ing and go­ing of drug buy­ers, com­bined with the fear that the squat­ters could trig­ger an ex­plo­sion with the gas cylin­ders they used for heat­ing, caused her to lose sleep.

“You end up cry­ing,” said Se­bas­tian, a brunette with a round face, as she passed by an­other drug flat that has since sprung up in Lava­pies, an old district of steep and nar­row streets that has a high im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion. She knows by heart the ad­dresses of each drug flat and has learned how to rec­og­nize them from the out­side due to their bro­ken doors and win­dows boarded up with card­board.

Other neigh­bor­hoods in Span­ish cities, such as the work­ing class Puente de Val­le­cas district in south­ern Madrid and El Raval in the cen­ter of Barcelona, have seen an ex­plo­sion in the num­ber of drug flats in re­cent years, spark­ing street protests by lo­cals. Some have taken to hang­ing red flags from their win­dows to draw at­ten­tion to the prob­lem.

Evic­tions

Fig­ures on how many empty flats have been taken over by drug deal­ers are hard to come by. The in­te­rior min­istry does not have na­tional statis­tics on drug flats and refers any ques­tions to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. In the Madrid re­gion, na­tional po­lice say they have dis­man­tled 105 “narco flats” in 2017, and made 314 ar­rests. Cata­lan po­lice said that by early this month 17 flats had been searched so far this year in con­nec­tion with drug traf­fick­ing and 34 peo­ple ar­rested.

The au­thor­i­ties blame the rise in drug flats on the sharp eco­nomic down­turn that fol­lowed the col­lapse of a decade­long build­ing boom in 2008 caus­ing tens of thou­sands of fam­i­lies to be evicted from their homes. The empty flats they left be­hind of­ten be­long to banks or in­vest­ment funds, which can­not sell them with­out mak­ing a huge loss, so they leave them empty while wait­ing for prop­erty val­ues to rise. “El Raval is one of the ar­eas most af­fected by spec­u­la­tion, with build­ings in a de­plorable state of con­ser­va­tion, which fa­cil­i­tates oc­cu­pa­tions,” said Gala Pin, the lo­cal Barcelona city coun­cil­woman.

‘Zom­bies’ “Mafias oc­cupy the apart­ments, then they sell drugs there, or they in­stall peo­ple who sell for them,” a po­lice source told AFP. Traf­fick­ers take ad­van­tage of the fact that it is only pos­si­ble to evict squat­ters with a court or­der, which can take months to ob­tain, the source added. “They started by sell­ing a lot of hashish, then they saw that there was also a de­mand for co­caine and some­times even heroin.” The opi­oid epi­demic in the United States has re­vived bad mem­o­ries in Spain of its own dev­as­tat­ing heroin cri­sis of the 1980s. —AFP

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