Society

Amsterdam Decides It's High Time To Squash Its Squatters

The squatter movement has long had a foothold in the Netherlands' canal-carved economic capital. As evidenced by a major early July raid, authorities are now looking to send its squatters packing.

Squatters during a 2009 demonstration in Amsterdam, Holland
Squatters during a 2009 demonstration in Amsterdam, Holland
Jean-Pierre Stroobants

AMSTERDAM -- The Mobile Unit was out in force: men and women ready for combat, wearing full-face helmets, clubs in hand, guns in their holsters. The heavily-armed police faced people hurling rocks, bottles and paint. They retaliated with tear gas and water canons that served their purpose. The barricades turned out to be weak, though some tried to stop trucks from passing through.

Fifty meters away, on Passeerdersgracht in the heart of Amsterdam, young girls wearing white wedding gowns came to the protestors' aid. The operation, covered extensively in the local media, was aimed at evicting the occupants of an abandoned building. The squatters belong to the art collective known as Schijnheilig, or "krakers." The group is well known in the city. It's a distant heir to the 1970s revolutionary movement in the Netherlands. At that time, the squatter movement organized occupations of buildings, and developed a very Dutch version of the large, global youth protest movement.

This type of confrontation in Amsterdam at the beginning of July is a perfect example of the way the country's attitude has gone from sweet to tough when it comes to squatters. Those supporting the squatters shouted loudly, waving plastic puppets - a symbol for what they call police officers acting like "puppets without a brain." The area was cleared out within 10 to 20 minutes. Police used jackhammers to break open the locks. They then dragged out occupants in handcuffs before whisking them away in paddy wagons. Onlookers included 30-something hipsters, dreadlocked boys, punkettes with holes in their tights, anarchists, and men wearing full-face hoods. Together they attempted a sit-in, in vain. One young girl even jumped into the adjacent canal.

Composed and determined, a police officer summarized the report: 140 occupants—squatters—and their supporters were arrested, no one was injured.

The next day, the newspapers explained that many occupants of the Schijnheilig had refused to identify themselves, but that 52 of them had been transferred to the Immigration Department, and could be detained for as long as legally allowed. "It is a way to put pressure on them," a lawyer commented. Most of those arrested appeared, in fact, perfectly able to hum the Sinterklaas Kapoentje, the first song that all good Dutch children learn in order to thank the great saint who delivers toys. But in the country of Geert Wilders (leader of the far-right Party for Freedom), for many the krakers are nothing but foreign drug dealers.

Some 160 buildings and apartments in Amsterdam are still illegally occupied, along with several dozen others in other parts of the country. However, that's next to nothing compared to what the Provo movement generated in 1966, or what the "krakers' carried out during its early years in the mid-70s.

The movement's internal divisions

In October 2010, the Dutch parliament voted a law making it illegal to occupy buildings, land, caravans, or houseboats without permission. It took more than three years of deliberation in order to reach this legislative process. In 1993, a reform to the housing code kept squatting legal, but only in places that were empty for more than a year. This compromise weakened the movement, but it did not make it disappear. Already, the movement was a victim of its own internal debates and divisions. Some supported the use of violence against "the system" in general. Others wanted to limit their purview to defending access to shelter for the young and underprivileged.

The major battle—and the real turning point—of the kraker movement was the huge protest on April 30, 1980, which coincided with the coronation of Queen Beatrix in Amsterdam. The event transformed itself into an enormous clash, despite the presence of 10,000 police officers, gendarmes, and other military officers on the streets. Sharpshooters were positioned on rooftops and the airspace above the city was closed, but it didn't matter. The confrontation between the riot police and the protesters left hundreds injured and caused millions of florins in damages. It marked a milestone in the peaceful history of post-war Netherlands.

The spirit of the krakers survived, giving life to protests against real estate speculation, and to a continuing subculture of people who support their alternative work and residential arrangements.

In The Hague, the Villa Kabila, the former embassy to the Republic of Congo, is occupied by artists who sometimes open their doors to visitors for a concert and meal. At Maastricht, the former warehouse of Landbouwbelang has been occupied for over nine years now. It has a dance hall that can welcome 500 people as well as famous rock groups.

Before being cleared, the Schijnheilig of Amsterdam had been visited by the Dutch daily Volkskrant. The newspaper recounted how the local movement, led by a 29-year-old doctoral student whose passion is the works of Calvin, was planning to promote experimental art. "In the current political climate, that's already a political move," he says. Good point, young man.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Jos van Zetten

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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