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Faces of Spain's economic crisis

Xavier Cervera / Panos for
Electrician Ivan Camillo has been unemployed for five months.Xavier Cervera / Panos for

By F. Brinley Bruton,  — Despite boasting Europe's fourth-largest economy, hundreds of thousands have been forced into destitution by Spain’s housing crash.

Many Spaniards now exist on the margins of a society that just a few years ago promised them easy access to cars, holiday homes, trips abroad and regular tickets to professional soccer games.

The crisis was born out of a mighty housing and construction bubble that saw house prices triple between 1995 and 2007. They've fallen by at least a quarter since then. About one out of every four people in Spain is without a job, according to government statistics, and hundreds of thousands have lost their homes.

Last week, spoke to some of those affected for a report on the crisis.

When Ivan Camillo, 33, above, took out a foreign currency mortgage in 2007, the bank assured him that he would pay very little interest for around 15 years. This has not been the case, he says, and monthly payments ballooned from 900 euros ($1,125) per month to around 1,500 euros ($1,876).

Camillo, an electrician, has been out of a job for five months and can no longer cover the mortgage, he says.

"The government could try to help us but it doesn't want to know," he says.


Xavier Cervera / Panos for

Juan Antonio Pache, 67, lost his business and home during the economic crisis and now lives with his son. Pache doesn't receive a state pension and has been forced to live separately from his wife, who has moved back in with family in another town.

"The only ones helping me are (Catholic charity) Caritas. I've always worked, I've worked a lot, all I've done is work," he says.

"I have no pension, no income, nothing, nothing," he says as he stands in Sabadell, near Barcelona. "I'm living with the 50 euros ($62) my wife is able to send me occasionally."

Xavier Cervera / Panos for

Tony Cortes and Ana Valderrama sit with daughters Jennifer, seven, and Ariadna, 11, in the apartment the family occupies illegally in Terrassa, Spain. Cortes, 38, worked in construction and Valderrama, 36, at a cleaning company until they both lost their jobs around three years ago.

"I was left without a job and even though I searched and searched I couldn't find another one," Cortes says.

In December, the family joined 10 others to occupy an empty building owned by a bank.

Xavier Cervera / Panos for

Araceli Sanchez, 48, standing in Rambla del Raval, Barcelona, says she used to work in the hotel industry but has been unemployed for three years.

"We are stupid, we let ourselves be fooled (by the government and the bankers)," she says.

Sanchez gets 426 euros ($532) per month in government assistance.

Xavier Cervera / Panos for

Members of the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) campaign group meets in Barcelona's Old Town.

The weekly meeting is full, with first-timers hoping to get advice on how to avoid repossession vying for time with others trying to plan future protests and actions.

The PAH, founded in Barcelona in 2009, has made a name for itself across Spain by calling attention to the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes after the housing bubble burst. The organization estimates that there are about 200 home repossessions a day throughout the country.

Xavier Cervera / Panos for

M-15 activists Xapo and Diana (who prefer not to use their last names), are journalists with 15Mbcn.TV, which works with protest groups throughout the country to create and disseminate video packages about the movement.

Also known as the "Indignados," M-15 was born in 2011 during spontaneous demonstrations against the handling of the economic crisis and helped inspire the global "Occupy" movement.

Xavier Cervera / Panos for

Marti Olivella, a long-time peace activist from Catalunya, was a founder of Spain's first group of conscientious objectors to military service. He currently works with a variety of peace and protest groups both in Spain and abroad in an effort to change society fundamentally, he says.

"I am opposed to the armed violence of the military, and the structural violence of the bankers," he says.

Xavier Cervera / Panos for

House-cleaner Stephanie Abarca, 28, says the economic crisis has hit her hard and she now works 20 hours a week instead of 40. The Costa Rica native earns 120 euros a month for cleaning one house for an hour a day Monday to Friday. Her commute to the job in Can Matas, Sant Cugat del Valles, outside of Barcelona, takes over an hour each way, she says.

Read the full report: Spain's economic crisis turns middle-class families into illegal squatters.