Day After Day, Barcelona Mortgage Protester Ends up in Jail

Antonio Díaz condemns the Spanish justice system in front of the City of Justice court building in Barcelona, as he is about to be arrested for the 20th time for his daily protests. (Photo by CAIN BURDEAU/Courthouse News Service)

BARCELONA, Spain (CN) — It’s 11:30 in the morning and Antonio Díaz begins shouting at the top of his lungs. He hollers at the towering court building, condemning the judges and prosecutors behind the walls and rows of glass windows. His hands and body tremble in rage.

“Thieves! It’s not legal!” Díaz shouts as the veins in his neck pulse and bulge. “Face up to it! Face up to it! Don’t put me in jail! Be brave! Face my demands! Investigate!”

The scene is the same day after day: Díaz arrives as Barcelona’s city courts begin work and he paces back and forth in front of the main court building. He’s angry, determined and single-minded.

For more than two hours, he paces outside the court building like an angry bull. He talks to anyone who cares to hear why he is so angry at the courts and banks. And he resumes his pacing.

He wears the same white T-shirt every day: On the front are the names of banks and financial companies he accuses of illegally seeking to seize his family home and taking money away from him and his parents by way of a contested mortgage.

On the T-shirt’s back, he accuses the court system of letting the financial companies off the hook. The shirt states in big letters:

“Justice is rotten.”

Although Díaz cuts a lonely figure out in front of the Barcelona court, his story and protest reflect the agonies of many Spaniards in the wake of 2008 financial crisis.

Spain was hit particularly hard when the global real estate bubble broke. The country’s surplus-happy public budgets went bust and by 2009 public deficit amounted to about 11 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product.

Standing outside a court in Barcelona where he has staged a daily protest against the Spanish justice system, Antonio Díaz explains his fight against banks and mortgages companies. (Photo by CAIN BURDEAU/Courthouse News Service)

For decades, Spaniards had been encouraged to buy homes, and by the time the crisis hit Spain had one of Europe’s highest rates of home ownership, at about 80%.

A housing boom started in the mid-1980s and lasted until the crisis began in 2007. Construction was crucial in making Spain’s economy tick. The construction extravaganza was spurred by easy credit, financial deregulation, an end to rent controls and passage of laws encouraging real estate development for domestic use and tourists. In turn, the boom led to inflated home prices and rising rents, which pushed even more Spaniards to buy real estate.

Then the crash hit. Construction froze and Spain’s banking system teetered on the brink. Real estate prices plummeted by about half and homeowners were increasingly unable to pay off mortgages.

After the crash, banks foreclosed on more than 415,000 properties and hundreds of thousands of people were evicted from their homes. Evictions continue to this day and remain a source of deep anger.

“There are lots of people in a situation like mine,” Díaz says.

On this hot day in August, Díaz will be arrested for the 20th time since Catalonia’s high court ruled that his one-man protest is illegal because he is disrupting work for court employees.

The high court’s ruling took effect on July 8, according to El País, a Spanish newspaper. He was ordered to “immediately refrain” from disrupting the “normal activity” of the court.

The morning is just getting started when he talks with a Courthouse News reporter about his one-man protest.

“I’m here protesting my parents’ mortgage,” he says, speaking through a translator. “I’ve been protesting for two and a half years.”

He wasn’t always alone outside the court: His elderly father used to be at his side shouting outside the court. But he says his father suffered a heart attack and was forced to stop protesting. He blamed the heart attack in part on the legal and financial troubles his family has been put through.

“They were taking everything from my parents; they were taking everything from their bank account,” he says.

His case is a tangled story of mortgages and corporate takeovers. He said his family entered into the disputed mortgage with the Caixa Tarragona bank, which was merged with other Catalan banks and became part of Catalunya Caixa in 2010. In 2014, Catalunya Caixa was bought out by BBVA, a major Spanish bank.

During this period of corporate mergers, he said his family’s mortgage was transferred to Anticipa, a real estate and mortgage company now owned by Blackstone, a major U.S. private equity firm.

Díaz blasted Anticipa as a “fake company” that imposed a “false mortgage” on him. He accused lenders of charging his family exorbitant interest rates and failing to abide by a European Court of Justice ruling that he said condemned the kind of practices BBVA and Anticipa engage in. He also accused the Barcelona courts of issuing “false sentences” against him.

He declined to specify how much money was at stake, saying the courts are reviewing his case.

On Wednesday, Jesus De Las Heras Gutierrez, a BBVA spokesman, said the bank does not disclose information about a customer and would need more time to look into the matter. He said that Catalunya Caixa’s mortgage business had been transferred to Anticipa before BBVA took over Catalunya Caixa.

Anticipa did not immediately reply to requests for comment from Courthouse News.

Police arrest Antonio Díaz for the 20th time, at the City of Justice court building in Barcelona. (Photo by CAIN BURDEAU/Courthouse News Service)

Díaz says people often come up to him and tell him they’re facing similar problems with their mortgages, he says.

He aims to get BBVA to renegotiate his mortgage payments and to get back money he feels his family should not have paid. So far, he says, the bank has refused to meet with him.

“I want them to pay us for all the fraud that has happened here,” he says.

It’s after 11 am. The moment has arrived for him to begin shouting.

“Act now!” he shouts. “Thieves! This is not legal! There is a fake company that was created to rob people with their mortgages!”

His shouting is theatrical, even lyrical. Many people walk by and seem to hardly notice him. Others pause to listen before moving on.

All morning, two police officers outside the court have been standing next to a police van. Now they watch him. But they do not move. Díaz carries on shouting.

Eventually, a woman leaves the courthouse with a clipboard in hand. She approaches Díaz and a daily ritual begins anew: He is told he must stop shouting, and then he’s escorted over to the police officers.

The woman with the clipboard tells a reporter to stop photographing the arrest, but she does not cite any law forbidding it. The two police officers stand by, looking bored.

Díaz is read his rights and then he’s ordered to get into an unmarked gray car that’s showed up to take him away to jail.

He is taken off, sitting in the back of the car. It won’t be until late in the afternoon before he’s allowed out of jail.

Tomorrow, though, he promises to be back shouting.

“Don’t put me in jail, because anyway, I’ll be here every day,” he shouted at the court. “I’ll keep coming every day, I won’t let it go.”

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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