The city on the Margins

Apartment buildings in he neighbourhood of Los Pajaritos / VANESSA RODRÍGUEZ
Apartment buildings in he neighbourhood of Los Pajaritos / VANESSA RODRÍGUEZ

At three miles southeast of Fuente de Híspalis, the tourist center of Seville, an area known as Tres Barrios-Amate, which encompases three undeserving neighborhoods los pajaritos, madre de dios and la Candelaria, suffers the most consequences of unemployment in the city. According to a report published in 2016 by the national statistical institute (INE), los pajaritos, has the lowest average income per household in spain, at just 12,614 euros per year. Several residents vocalize their frustrations with the work of the seville city council, among them rafael amarillo, former president of the association of neighbors and owner of the bar “la morena.”

On a sunny day in March, the sounds of reggaeton playing in the background, dogs barking above conversations of old men who light their cigarettes on rusty benches and tire screeches of motorcycles that brake can be heard all around. Surrounded by old apartment buildings with peeling paint and clothes hanging outside the windows, we find ourselves in Plaza del Zodiaco adjacent to the Street Cordoniz, the street that links Los Pajaritos and Madre de Dios. At the corner, Rafael Santos, 31, chats in front of his bar La Morena with some of his clients while rearranging tables and chairs. With short, dark hair, and a bracelet from his soccer team of preference, Real Betis Balompié, a tired Rafael observes his clients. Both he and his wife, Patricia Santos, opened La Morena five years ago. Rafael has spent his entire life in Madre de Dios, and is one of the few that has managed to establish himself during a period of unemployment that has plagued not only the neighborhood but a large portion of the country.

In 2012, before opening his business, Rafael prioritized his commitment of calling attention to the injustices that were present in his vicinity. “I ran for the position of president of the Neighborhood Association after the previous president was not fulfilling his responsibilities,” explains Rafael. “As the years went by, I saw fewer and fewer opportunities for the community. Tres Barrios was being neglected. Most people were unemployed and the youth without jobs would resort to selling drugs and having botellones. There are still nests of mice and oranges falling from the trees, scattered all around. All areas of the city center are taken care of, but what about the surrounding neighborhoods?” he bitterly says with about his experience in Tres Barrios.

According to the official protocol of the Seville City Council, members of the community can vocalize their issues in an effective way by writing to the Municipal Registry. However, this procedure is unknown by the majority of the population in Tres Barrios. “Since I became president, I learned a lot. If a normal resident were to go to the District’s Office and complain, then not much would happen. What is the way to be heard?”, he asks. “One has to write petitions, and then the city council is obligated to respond. The petitions enter the Municipal Registry and that is why they are required to respond. When I found out, I would send a letter a day because of course, one must be very persistent in order to gain attention. There were times when I got phone calls asking me not to send any more petitions,” Rafael claimed.

Rafael Santos en el Bar La Morena / VANESSA RODRÍGUEZ

Rafael’s petitions requested adequate playgrounds for children, a soccer field for the youth, and a community center for the elderly, none of which has yet come to fruition.

Under Francoist Spain, the construction of cheap apartment buildings was in high demand throughout Spain for the low-income class, mostly composed of the community from the rural exodus that were relocated to the city for work. The area of Tres Barrios in Seville is a product of the construction project. The Board of Housing built most of the buildings between 1952 and 1958, however, the buildings were not fully constructed until 1975.

Diego Carlos García, Secretary of Trade Union and Workers Rights Policy (UGT) in Seville and former member of the Tres Barrios Platform, elaborates on the past of the neighborhoods and its effects on them today. “The philosophy that was adopted in those days was one

of creating industrial estates for the poor. What happens?” –he asks rhetorically– “that low-income people, who were subjected to live in certain neighborhoods, are discriminated against, and one thing leads to another and these neighborhoods become slums.”

There are many who think that the public administrations have not done enough to solve the problems that occur in these neighborhoods. UGT-Seville, on the other hand, is involved in combating these situations of marginalization and has the rights of workers as a priority. Five years ago, they collaborated with the Tres Barrios Platform to report on living conditions and problem areas that affect the community. They found that 70% of the population was unemployed, which was a big contrast in comparison with the city average of Seville, which was then at 26% between the ages of 25 and 55 years. “We have unemployment, housing overcrowding, a lot of drug trafficking and the lowest income in Spain. But, presenting statistics is useless if we do not make appropriate proposals,” says Carlos.

It has been 40 years since the construction of Tres Barrios was completed and there has been little progress with their management. Juan Bautista, also a member of UGT-Seville and former neighbor of Los Pajaritos, remembers the first apartments as “small” and “humble.” “We must recognize that these neighborhoods are neighborhoods for the poor, and those dependent on social assistance. So, if they are not repaired, they continue to be neighborhoods for the poor… in other words, marginalized neighborhoods,” explains Juan.

Three businesses down the street from Rafael’s bar is the Bakery Polvillo, belonging to a wellknown local chain. Customers come to the bakery to pick up their daily bread and to chat enthusiastically with long-time employees. However, some customers are still caught up in their harsh reality as residents of Tres Barrios. “I’m about ready to leave here. This is terrible, worse than Barranquilla in Colombia,” says Juan Campos Vargas, an older man, customer of the bakery, who is better known as the Kayma, for his participation in the successful Spanish techno-rumba band Kayma in the 90s. With resentment in his voice, Juan concludes, “The people here don’t leave easily because, who would be willing to buy their apartments? Besides, where will they go when they have nowhere to go when they leave here? “

According to Carlos García, the solutions lie in the hands of the public administrations in Andalusia. Improving social life will consist of promoting green spaces that do not exist yet, inserting labor programs for unemployed people and rehabilitating old and abandoned housing projects. Projects of this type would have longterm benefits. “Politicians have to think of the disadvantaged people. They should keep in mind policies that ensure the integration of all people to attain a more homogenous society with fewer social differences. If not, we come face to face with the present problem in marginalized neighborhoods, which is hopelessness. Many times, hopelessness gives way to despair and allows for a vicious cycle to continue,” insists Carlos.

Young people are particularly affected by the lack of alternatives and, in many cases, become victims of stereotypes and prejudices, such as being labeled as criminals. “There are a lot of unemployed kids with few options. Before, there used to be school-workshops, but now they are reducing them to a minimum. There are fewer spots available, and there is less opportunity to sign up for one of them,” says Rafael with pity.

Forced to find alternatives on their own, Rafael asks for understanding for the vulnerable youth of this part of the city. “I would tell people to not associate drug trafficking only with Tres Barrios. Drugs are sold in all neighborhoods of Seville. And yes, it is true that there are troublesome people here. But, it is dangerous to write them off as criminals because we are not all delinquents here; many of us are hardworking humble parents.”

While the streets of Los Pajaritos, Madre de Dios and La Candelaria confirm a sense of abandonment and vulnerability, Rafael defends them with conviction, “the only thing left to do is to raise our voice and call attention to a moral duty.” •