La Mina. The Mine. A district of some 10,000 inhabitants in the outskirts of Barcelona, straddling the Besós River and part of Sant Adriá. For many years a name associated with social instability, controlled by rival Gypsy clans. The Baltasars. The Zorros. The Peludos. The Cascabels. A barrio continually associated with heroin problems. According to the municipal cleaning service, since last summer the number of syringes being found in La Mina's park, which divides the district in two, had gone up from 90 to around 500 per month. This is an area where, during the worst period of desahucios - state-enforced mass evictions of property-owners who could no longer pay their mortgages, following the 2008 economic crisis - heroin dealers were known to have set up shop in twelve of the empty properties. To tackle these dealers, the vecinos of La Mina took decisive action, organizing public demonstrations, saucepan-beating protests in front of the Ayuntamiento and patrols in front of the dealer-controlled flats, known as guarderías. This in turn prompted a huge clean-up attempt by police. Operación Titán as it was known, mobilized 1300 agents, leading to the detainment of 27 dealers. By Christmas only two of the guarderias remained. Residents were optimistic. Light was beginning to creep into The Mine.
However, social protest and community action can only do so much. And, when, in January a new outbreak of violence broke out between warring Gypsy clans, it prompted renewed fear and panic, resulting in a mass exodus from the problematic district. Overnight, over 500 people - 20% of the population - left the community, most of them moving into abandoned properties in other districts of Barcelona and Alella. This has left the semi-abandoned community exposed once again to the narcotraficantes.
La Mina's new wave of problems started on January 23. But not in La Mina itself.
The spark was the death of a 27 year-old member of the Baltasar clan, who had been out enjoying himself in the Nirvana nightclub in Port Olimpic. He was approached by eight men, members of rival clans. One of them - now in police custody and said to be the son of a mother belonging to the Peludos clan and a father of the Zorro clan - allegedly murdered him with a broken bottle.
Orally-transmitted Gypsy Law is savagely clear on the subject of murder: 'un muerto se paga con otro muerto' (one death is paid for by another). Also, it's customary in Gypsy society for the family of the murderer to visit the deceased's family in order to pay their respect. This is where things get complex. The Baltasar clan demanded that not only should the alleged murderer's families pay them their respects, but also demanded the families of the other eight suspects involved should follow suit. If they didn't there would be bloody retribution. This prompted an immediate mass exodus, as family members of the clans and other residents from La Mina fled from the prospect of a turf war.
Meanwhile the Mossos d'Esquadra were left with a near-impossible juggling act to perform. They must convict the killer, while at the same time protecting the neigbourhood's residents and reconciling clans whose reconciliation, according to law, can only be achieved by the trading of an eye for an eye. Normally the time-honoured body of mediation would have been the Consejo Gitano - the Gypsy Council. But this has been rejected, as one of its the council's main spokesmen is a member of the Baltasar family.
So, instead, mediators from another local community organization, the Oficina de Relaciones con la Comunidad (ORC) de Badalona, were approached. Through these mediators the Mossos managed to convince members of the Baltasar clan to allow distant relatives of the clans involved to return. Over half of the exiled people were thus accepted back into the community. But getting the Baltasars to guarantee the safety of closer relatives proved more difficult.
During these awkward negotiations, the drug problems began to intensify again. La Mina had long been subject to a violent tussle for control of the drugs trade. As Operación Titán had achieved considerable success in arresting suspected traffickers, this had left the local drugs market with no clear chief, and provided a clear opportunity for one of the remaining clans to assert itself.
Into this space in the narco market stepped the increasingly powerful Jodorovic clan, heavily linked via several marriages with (who else but) the Baltasars. Once again, there were dozens of newkly abandoned flats available for use as guarderías for storage and sales.
As negotiations drag on between the Baltasars and mediators, the estimated timespan for the remaining families to be allowed to return is around six months. Long enough for the Baltasars, along with their allies the Jodorovices, to take control of the drug trade?
That's what several newspapers suggest, including El Periódico. Perhaps, the newspaper ponders, it had actually been in the Baltasars' business interests to keep La Mina half-empty, so they could establish a firm grip on the local trade.
Regardless of the politics it's clear that La Mina's bad old days are returning. A report in La Vanguardia says that La Mina, and in particular, a group of housing blocks with planetary-themed names (Saturn, Venus, Mars) has once again become the choice recourse for a cheap hit, obtained for as little as a fiver, or, failing that, a piece of scrap metal or stolen goods. Heroin users who once preferred the penumbrous allies of the Barri Gotic, are now to be seen somnambulating in La Mina's streets and park. The knock-on effects on the community are also being noticed. In one local school, nearly 30% of pupils have gone missing, the total number dwindling from 250 to 180. For now at least, the light at the end of the tunnel has receded for residents of La Mina, leaving an uncertain future for one of Barcelona's most embattled barrios.