The suicide of a Basque woman just minutes before she was to be kicked out of her foreclosed home has led to a temporary freeze on all evictions by Kutxabank, a merger of three Basque banks. Another regional lender, Caja Laboral Ipar Kutxa, previously decided to do the same.
Public protests against the banks grew in intensity on Friday, after Amaya Egaña's death was reported by the media. Thousands of people took part in a spontaneous march in Barakaldo, the town where the former Socialist councilor lived, and over the weekend several bank branch offices were spray-painted with the word "Murderers."
In a two-paragraph press release, Kutxabank chairman Mario Fernández said he had "issued instructions for the [bank] to immediately suspend all eviction procedures" until new information emerges on mortgage legislation reform being hammered out jointly by the ruling Popular Party and the opposition Socialists.
But Banco Popular chairman Ángel Ron warned that a legislative change would end up "rewarding" defaulters, harming the majority of mortgagees who pay religiously, and hindering economic recovery.
There have been 400,000 evictions since 2007 in a country with extremely high home ownership levels. With the EU forecasting six million jobless Spaniards by 2013, growing numbers of people will foreseeably be unable to meet their mortgage payments. The problem has become such that support for evictees is coming in from unexpected quarters. On Sunday, the Unified Police Union (SUP) announced it would back officers who refuse to participate in an eviction on ethical grounds, even providing them with legal defense if necessary.
Meanwhile, Spain's 47 chief judges have joined forces to find ways to reform mortgage legislation. "We cannot live with our backs to reality, to society. We cannot be that insensitive," said the Chief Judge of Bilbao, Alfonso González-Guija, who called the judges' reform drive a move "without precedent. "