Poble-sec nightmare: shouting, fights and stabbings
A squat on Blesa street causes trouble for neighbours and shopkeepers alike
Barcelona"Two guys were fighting with a knife on the corner. They looked like two roosters. I was so scared that I ran away". Antònia walking past Blesa street in Barcelona's Poble-sec neighbourhood when she saw the fight, which ended with both men involved in a health centre. Neither sustained serious injuries; one was stabbed in the buttock and the other in the leg. According to police sources, the two men knew each other and are known in the area. The police are investigating the incident and no arrests have been made. Blood stains could be seen on the pavement an hour after the double stabbing. The blood stains go all the way to a large metal gate, where someone has already poured buckets of water to make them disappear.
All the neighbours' eyes are fixed on this gate, behind which, they say, lies a large warehouse. Locals claim it is used to store drugs, according to some also stolen goods. A graffiti has been erased from the wall that read "Ladrones" (thieves) with an arrow pointing to the doorway. "Inside there are squatters," Antònia and Juana say. The two link the squatters to the knife fights and thefts in the area: "It's been bad for a long time". No one is quite sure how long the premises have been squatted, although there is a consensus that it is well over a year.
On December 30, 2021, the police evicted two drug dealing squats in Piquer street and in Blesa street, next to the current squat. When the police mounted this operation, the neighbours, who had been protesting for weeks, applauded the action, but warned that there was still work to do: the other squatted premises on Blesa street. Since then, nine months have passed and yet they have not been evicted. According to council sources, the district of Sants-Montjuic and the police contacted the owner – a bank – to ask it to report the squat, which it did. But the court has not yet set a date for the eviction and the same sources consider that it is dragging on "inexplicably".
"What can we do?" local resident Carlos asks a police patrol. He expresses the desperation shared by all those who live there. "This is the third stabbing in six months. And there must be more we don't know of!" he assures. Carlos explains that at the small door to access the squatted premises there is a lot of movement of people: "They go out with scooters to deliver packages", which he deduces are drugs. He thinks that the screams they hear and the fights they see – the most recent stabbings had a prequel in the early hours – are to maintain control of the area.
Similar to Ali Baba's cave
"There are daily disputes between them. Every day the police have to come," complains Fidel, who has become accustomed to this nightmare. Xavi and Jordi see differences between the drug den evicted a year ago and the one that is still active: they no longer see drug addicts lining up outside. They suspect the previous squat allowed drugs users to take the drugs onsite. "Now kids are constantly coming in and out. They slam doors and since the summer the fights have increased. It looks more like the cave of Ali Baba and the forty thieves, where they keep the spoils of their thefts," they say. In addition to pickpocketing and muggings, neighbours and shopkeepers have also noticed that some squatters check car doors in case one was left unlocked, vehicles have appeared with broken windows, and there have been burglaries.
"Those premises have been empty for many years", say Xavi and Jordi, who regret that now there is nothing behind the shutters in Poble-sec which used to house businesses: "When they evicted the drug dealers, they just squatted other empty premises". "The neighbourhood is getting run down," says Carlos, who admits that a stabbing in the middle of the day is unusual because it is usually at night when conflicts escalate. This neighbour believes that the squatters on Blesa Street sublet the huge space they squat because they have seen that some people go in with suitcases. According to Carlos, some of the people who walk past live in tents on the mountain of Montjuic, and he denounces that it all contributes to the perception of insecurity. After the new knife fight, however, he suspects that for a couple of days the squatters will make themselves scarce.
City Council sources explain that the district has inspected the premises to identify possible risk situations and notify the court, because the City Council is not allowed to carry out an eviction. In this sense, they believe that more resources are needed for the judicial system to prevent a case like this from dragging on and they trust that, as soon as possible, the order will be given to empty the premises in order to recover some calm.