Madrid's shameful hiding of poverty in Cañada Real

2 min
Butane stove to one of the houses without electricity in the Cañada Real, Madrid

In recent times we have had plenty of chances to hear about the excellent Madrid as a paradise of "freedom" and the engine of economic growth in the state. The cracks have been evident for some time, especially during the pandemic, but it is not new that there is another Madrid, unequal and poor, which does not appear in grandiloquent speeches.

One of the best known and most extreme is Cañada Real, considered the largest shantytown in Europe, which is only 15 kilometres from Madrid and is home to hundreds of families who take refuge in shacks or houses without adequate minimum services. The situation is especially serious in sectors V and VI, the latter the largest of all, which have not had electricity for more than a year. In sector V they have some, but the power is barely enough to keep a light bulb on. Residents use butane canisters for heating and cooking, but in some cases the precariousness is so great that some neighbours can't even afford to buy a catalytic heater.

Last year they were in the news because during the big snowfall in Madrid they were forced to burn wood in the street to cook and heat their homes. The children couldn't do their homework, they couldn't use electric heaters and they couldn't use basic appliances like fridges or washing machines.

The problem of Cañada Real is certainly complex. Both because of the type of population that lives there – a recent Caritas communiqué estimates the percentage of inhabitants who deal drugs at 5%, which also makes the area a focal point for drug dealing and insecurity – and because of the mix of immigrant and Spanish people who have not found any other way to live and who have been living in precarious conditions for years. The problem is that, as they are irregular dwellings, energy companies do not supply them. On the other hand, some traffickers use illegal set-ups for their marijuana plantations, and this causes an oversaturation of the lines that causes collapses. It is a vicious circle and it means that there is no easy solution for the almost 4,500 residents, 1,800 of them minors, who are excluded and cannot pay for their services as they would like. The problem is entrenched, and although the 2017 Regional Pact for Cañada includes a strategy to relocate part of the population, the actions are practically paralyzed.

Meanwhile, as denounced last year by the United Nations, there continues to be a "humanitarian emergency" in this area, which should embarrass and mobilise the Madrid and state authorities more clearly. The excuses, both from the administration and energy company Naturgy, which is hiding behind bureaucratic problems and the illegal overexploitation of the line, do not justify the abandonment of these settlements. There are mechanisms to solve the situation provisionally until a definitive solution is found. The entities demand palliative solutions –generators, solar panels, butane stoves– to avoid a second winter of ice, darkness and misery for these 1,800 children