“Not only have we achieved what we wanted, but we have multiplied it by a thousand.” This is the balance performs Daniel Esteve, leader of the Desokupa company, about the impact that the banner that has been hung in the center of Madrid addressed to the President of the Government has had on his company. His company has managed to break into the campaign with this banner that reads “You to Morocco, Desokupa to Moncloa!”. This message appears next to the faces of Pedro Sánchez and that of Esteve himself.
The funder of the Desokupa canvas: a lawyer and businessman of the night with controversies behind him
The PSOE has denounced the action undertaken by Desokupa before the Central Electoral Board, although as Esteve has pointed out, this institution has endorsed that the banner continue to be displayed. For his part, the mayor of Madrid, Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida (PP), assured that it will not remove the canvas because the City Council will not act as a “censorship body.” In this way, Esteve’s company has managed to set the agenda again during the electoral period, after calling a rally in Barcelona days before the municipal elections.
At that time, the objective was to attack Ada Colau, mayor of the city during those days. The Desokupa leader organized a mobilization with the publicized intention of evicting two squatted properties in the Sarrià-Sant Gervasi district, the wealthiest in Barcelona, an area that is usually quiet and without incidents. Despite Esteve’s threats, no eviction was ultimately carried out. “The elections were held and the demonstrations disappeared,” recalls Marc Guinjoan, a political scientist and professor at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC).
First sentence against Desokupa
The political pressure exerted by Desokupa has traveled from Barcelona to Madrid. In the decisions and marketing campaigns of this eviction company “nothing is accidental”, as the political scientist Jaime Bordel points out. He maintains that this organization “has a very clear political intention”, unlike other companies that carry out the same function and that do not have and do not seek social relevance or the media positioning that Esteve’s company has.
The direct attack on the coalition government parties, their presence on social networks and television programs; as well as the attraction generated by its brand –printed on t-shirts, caps and sweatshirts– has made this organization become a “hybrid” company. “It is a company, but it does not behave like one, nor does it function as a political party or as a social movement. They are on horseback between everything, ”adds Bordel, a specialist in far-right affairs and author of the book Salvini & Meloni: children of the same rage (Ed. Apostroph).
Desokupa has become the company dedicated to evictions and unemployment with the greatest impact, although in recent years this type of company has been increasing. Esteve has managed to position himself as the most publicized of the members of these vacancy brigades. For years the owner of the eviction company has dedicated himself to spreading hoaxes and racist messages on social networks with the aim of expelling alleged squatters from the homes where they were residing. Justice has just pointed out Desokupa’s methods. A magistrate has sentenced the organization’s parent company for posting images of an activist on its social media
Its visibility was increasing shortly before the pandemic. That irruption coincided with a spike in the statistics of convictions for usurpation. At that time, in some television programs Desokupa was positioned as “the subject that appears as citizen power” replacing the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages, as explained to this newsroom by Víctor Palomo, lawyer and spokesman for the Union of tenants and Madrid tenants. This company has been one of the actors, along with PP and Vox, that has influenced the narrative on the right to housing to stop revolving around evictions and focus on occupations.
Change of story around the house
Despite the media impact that the canvas has had, for the political scientist Fidel Oliván Desokupa it is only “a phenomenon in social networks and in the media.” “I don’t think it has social or electoral relevance,” says the author of Vox, the European extreme right and the workers’ vote (Ed. Tecnos, 2021). For her part, Anna López, a doctor in political science and an expert on the extreme right, maintains that the methods and values that emerge from this organization have managed to penetrate a “young and male public” that considers that the members of Desokupa “are the true manly men in the face of the progressive left that defends women”.
In this context, Unidas Podemos announced a measure that confronted Desokupa’s methods. The confederal group registered in Congress, before the end of the legislature, a bill to persecute these companies through a reform of the Penal Code. The Minister of Social Rights, Ione Belarra, assured that they wanted to prevent the organizations desokupas “Moved by the spirit of profit, harass, harass, discriminate or intimidate people in a situation of vulnerability.”
“In the end they force me to present myself to the elections,” Esteve replied to Belarra on his Twitter account. He posted that message on May 17. Less than two months later, this Wednesday, she assured that those who had said that Desokupa was trying to “enter the Government” had “no idea what marketing is.” His banner, he added, “is a marketing ad.” Esteve has refused to attend to this newsroom and explain if behind the controversial banner there is any partisan objective.
Impact on the vote?
In this commitment to use aggressive language against Sánchez, and linking the Moncloa Palace with an vacancy company, there is an alignment with Vox’s discourse, according to Guinjoan, who asserts that the content of “the canvas inspires values” of the formation of the extreme right. However, the UOC professor “does not believe that the PP is happy” with this banner, advocating for a more moderate image.
Can the banner deployed by Desokupa influence the vote? There is no consensus among the interviewees. “I think it may have some effect on the left because it is difficult to mobilize more on the right. Any right-wing person who wants to vote against Sánchez does not need any canvas, ”says Bordel. In a commitment to a campaign aimed at the male public, Oliván maintains that this banner “is more like a fight between machos than an electoral strategy.”
On the other hand, López does believe that “especially among young people” these messages can have a political impact. All of this, he adds, as the extreme right has already exploited in other countries, this is what happened in the United States, where former President Donald Trump clung to “everything that generated hatred, emotional polarization” and exploited “emotions.”