Madrid’s Shanty-Towns: Cañada Real

Big Issue  London, Edinburgh & Dublin, 1997, 1,350 words; extracts
Version de langue française  

2/cont. 

The conditions at Cañada Real provoked an immediate outcry from all political parties and the press. "The town-hall sends the Gypsies to hell," wrote Raúl del Pozo in El Mundo.

Their everyday life ticks on: some families deal in scrap, others buy and sell fruit and garlic, one or two have temporary labouring jobs.

The council reacted quickly by promising rehousing within three months - then, when that date passed, by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the mayor refused to investigate health conditions or explain his actions to the regional Parliament. In the autumn of 1995, the promise of rehousing was repeated for the end of the year. Then, two years after their arrival, the Gypsies were told it would be several years before they were moved. Alongside this, the health risks Valdemingómez posed to a wide surrounding area came under investigation by the Madrid Ombudsman.

HEALTH AND HOPE

Today, the protests about institutionalising slum living have become secondary to immediate health concerns. In 1994, Medicos del Mundo called the site "dangerous, noxious and unhealthy" and located cases of cloracne, a skin condition linked to the dioxines produced during toxic waste evaporation and combustion with chlorine present.

Seepage from toxic soil into the water system is another concern. In the first year there, 20 dogs, numerous chickens and pet canaries died. Skin and eye infections have multiplied. Many of the women complain of headaches. Most worryingly, last summer a 23-year-old Gypsy called Benito from a neighbouring shanty town, next to the rubbish dump died, supposedly of a brain infection.

After so many cancelled promises and the failure of widespread pressure on the mayor, the Gypsies are fatalistic. Their everyday life ticks on: some families deal in scrap, others buy and sell fruit and garlic, one or two have temporary labouring jobs. Drug trafficking has not taken root as it has in some other shanty towns.

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