What Life on the Streets of Madrid Is Like According to a Spanish Ultra

Juan was born in Madrid and has spent most of his life fighting on its streets – usually over football, sometimes over social issues he deems significant. Juan is not his real name.

by Eloy J. Santos, Photos: Victoria Rosa Florez-Estra
04 March 2015, 7:00am

This article was originally published by VICE Spain.

Juan was born in Madrid and has spent most of his life fighting on its streets – usually over football, sometimes over social issues he deems significant. He is 23 years old, a tattooed baby-faced veteran of the street, and has asked me to not reveal his real name – Juan is an alias. He also insists that I write here that all opinions expressed in this interview are in his own: "What I'll tell you is what I think – just my life. It should be clear I don't speak for any groups or movements."

I met him in an Irish pub on the outskirts of Madrid and we randomly got to talking about Alfon – a 22-year old man who back in November 2012, was arrested and accused of carrying explosives during a demonstration surrounding the European general strike that took place at the time.

VICE: Do you know Alfon, the 22-year-old guy detained during the General Strike of 2012 and accused of holding explosives in his backpack?
He's my friend, my brother – him and I have been through a lot.

Have you heard from him recently?
He does not like phones – he'll get in touch when he wants to. I see little of him these days, he keeps to himself.

What do you think happened that day in 2012, during that general strike?
Like a lot of people, Alfon was going to the rally peacefully. I don't think he had walked more than 100 or 200 meters with the crowd, before he was rushed by the police. They started bombarding him with questions and accused him of glorifying terrorism. Then, out of nowhere, they produced a backpack with a bomb in it.

What do you think exactly happened with the backpack?
The backpack was not Alfon's – someone planted it on him. They came and put it, I don't know when exactly or how it happened – I cannot tell you too much, but the entire backpack story is false, fictitious, a pantomime and that's all they have. They say the backpack contained a plastic bag with homemade explosives. That is false. That was not the first time the police tried to fuck over Alfon and his family.

Alfon is now facing four years in prison, his case is with the Supreme Court. What the police wanted was to take control of his neighbourhood, Vallecas, and fuck over the good people who live there.

You live in Vallecas too. Do you like it there?
Vallecas is a working class neighbourhood, with a reputation for being a place of resistance since the Franco years. To this day, the people that live there tend to be be active in social movements. They are also people who've seen the ugly face of life.

In Vallecas, I see things that I haven't before – people who have suffered more than me. Life might be easier in other neighbourhoods but, to me, that is worth nothing: you need to see suffering to understand the reality of things.

Have you lived in other neighbourhoods of Madrid?
I've lived in the centre, where I used to fight with beggars and dogs over who'd get to eat the food we found in the trash.

Have you ever belonged to any collectives?
Other than my football club, I consider myself part of the antifascist movement in Madrid. I've been a part of it since I was 11 or 12 years old – now I'm 23. In Vallecas, I have participated in actions aiming at stopping evictions and I have also worked to raise money to help political prisoners, immigrants, the unemployed, etc.

Have you ever used violence to fight for a cause?
When someone has the means to create change and doesn't even try, that means they have no conscience. That's the kind of person I consider my enemy: I'm tired of seeing people sitting in parliament, doing nothing but pointing the finger at people like me for creating chaos. In that case, the violence I used is justified as a defence.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I assume you've been in a lot of fights.
You're not wrong. The first time I got in brawl was with a neo-Nazi thug, when I was 11. I was a total brat and hit him with a vacuum tube. It was in Columbus Square, near the Green nightclub – I used to fight with rappers from that area too.

Do you fight in the same areas or with the same kind of people or has that changed now.
Street fights happen less often these days, and when they do they aren't as intense. Now, it's mostly immigrants fighting over their turf – the Latinos with the Africans and so forth.

What is your relationship with the police?
Not great. I've been arrested and tortured quite a few times. I've been beaten with an expandable baton on the neck and stepped on with their heavy boots while on the ground. I've been kicked while handcuffed. I've gotten so badly beaten that I vomited.

I forgot to ask you, what do you do for a living?
I am a massage therapist. I have been through many different jobs though – including that of the beggar. I caught an infection once from eating from the dustbin but what does not kill you makes you stronger.