Moments of 16 months without light in the Cañada Real

For the second consecutive winter, 4,000 residents of the Cañada Real Galiana, 1,800 of them minors, live without electricity. The rehousing plans are advancing slowly on this old cattle trail, 13 kilometers from the center of Madrid, bordering the municipality of Rivas for part of its route. After 16 months of struggle with hardly any results, and with residents on the verge of exhaustion, a group of press photographers today opens the exhibition 'Ignite dignity' with images that illustrate the ups and downs of a life without electricity in the richest region of Spain.

The exhibition is outdoors, on an esplanade next to the Casa de Asociaciones de Rivas-Vaciamadrid, hung from fences on tarpaulins, which can be reached on foot from the next sector 4 of the Cañada Real, explains Olmo Calvo, collaborator of and one of the photojournalists who has been documenting La Cañada's fight for the right to receive electricity since the blackouts began. “It is a basic human right that no one should be missing in a society like ours,” he defends.

The show "embodies reality as it is," says Houda Akrikrez, founder and spokesperson for the Tabadol women's association. A child contemplating the sunset before another night of intense cold during the heaviest snowfall in 50 years, a woman relieving the gloom of the home with a candle or the ritual of refueling the generator that will allow a few hours of light to charge the phones , or that children can study, truffle the selection. The images have been published in Spanish media, but also in international headlines, such as the New York Times or the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat. In addition to Calvo, the photographers Samuel Aranda, Luis de Vega, Susana Girón, Inma Flores, Bruno Thevenin, David Expósito and Jaime Alekos participate.

Although 2021 closed with relocation agreements within the Pact for the Cañada Real Galiana, which includes the state government, the autonomous government and the three municipalities involved (Madrid, Rivas and, to a lesser extent, Coslada), the process is slow and Meanwhile, the situation continues to have “humanitarian emergency dimensions”, as the Ombudsman, Ángel Gabilondo, confirmed again at the end of the year. The relocations, starting with sector 6, to the south, can take years, and winter is not waiting.

"We neighbors are very exhausted, our lives don't matter," laments Akrikrez, who recalls the bleak balance of so many months of battle. “Last year there were many butane poisonings. Admission of children with symptoms of frostbite, hypothermia, pneumonia. There was a death. And with all this, the Community of Madrid is not moved. It's a disappointment”, she laments, convinced that “if they see it in La Moraleja they won't believe it; she cries out to heaven.”

A civic platform to continue the battle

The fight now continues through the Civic Platform for Light Support in Cañada Real, which has drawn attention to the Naturgy company's plans to remove almost three kilometers of surface electrical installations, to which the community of Madrid has not put an impediment. The reported peaks in consumption, blamed on the demand for marijuana plantations, are the official culprits that the supply does not recover in sector 6, permanently in the dark, nor in sector 5, where the neighbors organize themselves to take turns in access to network. The town is in an irregular urban situation, so connections to the network cannot be formally legalized. It is not an excuse, the UN Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty, Oliver De Schutter, insisted a little over a year ago, alarmed at a situation that represents "a humanitarian catastrophe and a defeat of social rights."

Another open front is the criminal complaint filed by the Tabadol association, with the support of the Social Studies and Advisory Center (CAES) against the Community of Madrid and the electricity company. The Court of Instruction number 42 of Madrid is waiting for an expert report detailing the situation of the settlement, whose incorporation into the case is imminent, according to Akrirez. Despite the fatigue, in La Cañada they do not give up, explains the association's spokesperson: “The political juice is to try to tire people out and make them withdraw from the battle, but the civic platform is growing. That is our tool now, our salvation.”

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