Friday, January 12, 2007

Old Blood in the Season of Giving

On the last day of the year, in Villaconejos (‘Villa’=‘small town’; ‘conejos’=‘rabbits’), a village thirty miles southeast of Madrid, a crowd of several hundred gathered at 4 pm in the town square to perform what they considered a long-overdue community service: they were going to teach a neighbor a lesson.

Why? This particular neighbor, known as "El Calvo" ("The Baldman"), had terrorized the locals from the day he moved in seven years ago, carrying a large pistol and knife around as he took whatever he wanted from the town's stores, bars, and restaurants, and drove his cars wherever he pleased (on and off the roads).

Only after a local youth confronted El Calvo, in a bar two days before Christmas as the latter bullied the bar's patrons, did things change. Screeming "No more!" the youth gave El Calvo a beating.

Saturday night, El Calvo returned to the bar with a group of toughs, looking to seek vengeance on his aggressor. Not finding the youth, El Calvo and his men trashed the bar instead.

Word spread, and a group of youths starting making plans to punish El Calvo. The Guardia Civil in neighboring Chinchón were called, and several officers were quickly dispatched to meet the crowd gathering at El Calvo's house.

When the officers arrived, El Calvo confronted them with his pistol blazing. After a long mediation, the Guardia Civil arrested El Calvo, along with four others, and took them to the local jail. They also were able to disperse the crowd. But this story was far from over.

The next morning, fuelled by outrage over ETA's airport attack, the townspeople again gathered, and at four in the afternoon, four hundred of them marched to El Calvo's house. Despite the presence of El Calvo's pregnant wife and elderly in-laws, the mob proceeded to burn El Calvo's house, garage, two cars, motorcycle, and truck, among other things.

As they carried out their retribution, members of the group prevented the local firefighters from intervening, and the four Guardia Civil officers who arrived succeeded only in getting the inhabitants out of the house before being forced to stand nearby, watching helplessly.

The episode is eerily reminiscent of the great Spanish playwright Lope de Vega's 1619 play, "Fuente Ovejuna" ("The Sheep Well"). Based on an actual incident that took place in the town of Fuente Ovejuna, in Castile, in 1476, in which a visiting military commander mistreated villagers who then banded together and killed him. When a magistrate was sent by King Ferdinand II of Aragon to investigate, the townspeople, even under the threat of torture, only responded by saying, "Fuente Ovejuna did it.”

After the violence in Villaconejos, the town's mayor, aptly named Lope, said one of the mob approached him and said, "It was all of us, Mayor. The town did this." Despite a police investigation, the townspeople are keeping silent, offering no names, and when asked about El Calvo's expected revenge, they're saying the same thing: "We'll all respond together."

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