Spanish 15M movement takes a big bank to court

Cacerolazo protest in Madrid against Bankia on June 16. By Adolfo Indignado Cuartero, via Flickr.

“This is not a crisis, it’s a fraud,” goes one of the most-chanted slogans of Spain’s 15M movement. Now, the movement has decided to use the courts to get the board of directors of Bankia on the dock.

“The courts are there to be used when we see illegal activity. Since we have this tool, it is logical to use it,” says Francisco Jurado, one of the members of the legal team for this campaign. It’s called 15MpaRato, a name with a double meaning in Spanish: on the one hand, “15M vs. Rato,” referring to Rodrigo Rato, a former minister of the economy and Bankia’s recently-resigned president, and, on the other, something along the lines of “15M forever.”

Bankia emerged in late 2010 with the fusion of Caja Madrid, which was managed until then by the Government of Madrid, and several smaller savings banks. This fusion was followed with an IPO and a public campaign to find new shareholders. But those new shareholders who came on board didn’t know about the billions of euros in losses the company had suffered — all under the leadership of Rodrigo Rato, until he stepped down as Bankia’s insolvency became clear in early May.

Meanwhile, 15MpaRato grew out of the working group in Barcelona that was planning actions for the movement’s one-year anniversary in mid-May. “They decided to put names and faces to the people who caused the crisis,” explains Jurado. Although initially the goal was to collect information throughout this year and file the lawsuit next year, participation and support spread so quickly that within three weeks they were ready to go to court.

First, 15MpaRato began with the #15MpaRato Twitter hashtag on May 23. After it quickly began a trending topic, a website for the project launched and the legal team started to look for shareholders of the bank who would volunteer as plaintiffs. The Twitter campaign continued with several more hashtags, including  #AcciónpaRato (Action for Rato) and #querellapaRato (lawsuit for Rato).

“In a few days, more than 50 people got in touch with us to participate in the lawsuit,” says Jurado.

The next step was to collect money for lawyers, procurators and other legal expenses. Again, Twitter enabled them to gather massive support for a crowdfunding campaign with the hashtag #Ratofunding. The group set a goal of €15,000 for their campaign, but within only 24 hours it received almost €20,000 from more than 1,000 donors, shutting down the website that hosted it for several hours. Although there were over 10,000 more people interested in donating money, the team behind 15MpaRato decided to close the campaign.

Others outside the movement have sought to take advantage of the momentum. A few days after the news of the 15M lawsuit appeared in the mass media, the Spanish government’s state attorney announced an ongoing investigation about possible fraud in the merger and IPO of Bankia. The right-wing union Manos Limpias and UPyD, a small political party, have also begun filing lawsuits against Bankia, but the 15M organizers have not made an effort to reach out to them.

“We have always said that the 15M movement is nonpartisan and has no unions behind it,” says Jurado. “We wish them well with their lawsuits, and we hope that all of them continue. But we trust in our work more than in others’ work, and we know that people have trust in our work, so we are only assuming responsibility for ourselves.”

The process of bringing Rodrigo Rato and other directors of Bankia to the dock will take a long time. But, as it proceeds, other actions against Bankia are taking place as well. The bank is currently responsible for 80 percent of evictions in Madrid, and the 15M-affiliated Platform of People Affected by Mortgage continues using legal means and direct action to keep people in their homes. Several days ago, hundreds of “iaioflautas” — the grandparents of 15M activists — occupied offices of the bank in Barcelona, Seville, Madrid, Valencia and other Spanish cities. Almost every week in Madrid, people take to the streets, banging on pots and pans, and declaring to the bank and one another that they will not give up.

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