By Paul Hanna
I looked at the clock, it was 4:47am, the ringing phone that had woken me was flashing the photographer’s name, Felix Ordoñez. I thought, “What the hell?” as I struggled to achieve some form of consciousness before answering. By the serious tone of Felix’s voice on the other end of the phone, I became immediately aware that something terrible had happened. “Buenos dias Paul, un coche bomba enorme acaba de estallar en Burgos,” (Paul, good morning, a huge car bomb just exploded in Burgos) were his first words. It was July 29, 2009, and ETA, the basque separatist rebels, had just blown up an enormous civil guards barracks in his home town of Burgos, only fifteen minutes earlier. Felix was already there, shooting pictures, describing the scene to me, and telling me that he would be transmitting pictures very soon.
I thought this anecdote was appropriate as a tribute to Felix’s professionalism and dedication. The scene sprang to mind vividly this morning when I received a call with news of his tragic and untimely death. Last night, after covering a Champions League soccer match in Madrid, Felix died after suffering a devastating heart attack as he drove back to his home town of Burgos.
What soon became known as “The 15M Movement” and its camped-out protesters labeled “The Indignant” caught me, and the rest of Spain, totally by surprise. As one demonstrator’s sign read “Nobody expected the Spanish Revolution” couldn’t have been more true! The surprise came not from the lack of a cause for protest, in a country in which the unemployment rate of 22% is the highest in Europe, but rather the spontaneity of the movement, its resolve to stick it out through weeks of massive outdoor camps in city squares across Spain and its ability to remain a largely peaceful demonstration.
Since the crisis began in Spain, photographer Andrea Comas covered press conferences by Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, ministers announcing several major economic reforms, meetings between the main unions, employers and government, fighting between the ruling Socialists and the opposition Popular Party at Parliament, a trade union demonstration, a relatively weak general strike and, hardest of all, the unemployment lines. The economic numbers and unemployment were particularly devastating. And yet, out in the street nothing was happening. Far less happened than during the mass protests over the war in Iraq. But whoever you talked to, everyone was worried, tightening their belts and angry with the politicians and bankers.