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Spanish Collection Agency Using Blacks To Prod Debtors

September 17, 1995

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Help wanted ads in Spain often specify requirements on age and sex. But one recent offer of employment was even more explicit _ only black women need apply.

Newspapers in the United States, Britain and northern European countries would likely have refused such an ad on grounds of bias.

In Spain, where the black population is very small, the ad raised few eyebrows _ but it did draw 60 applicants for what turned out to be a collection agency’s latest idea for prodding bad debtors to pay up.

Other agencies have tried such visible ploys as sending out male collectors wearing top hats and tails or even men dressed like the Pink Panther to embarrass debtors into coughing up.

The Bad Debt Collection Co. thought black women dressed in yellow outfits would be even more eye-catching. The company’s trademark colors are yellow and black.

``Collecting bad debts is a very difficult job. You have to set your imagination in motion,″ said Carlos Moreno, head of the company’s ad department.

The three women chosen _ two from the African nation of Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, and the third from the Dominican Republic _ make high-profile trips to people’s homes and offices to remind them of their debts. Working individually, they make their visits in a yellow and black Mercedes pulling a yellow trailer bearing the firm’s name.

Debt collectors have occasionally been punched or pushed out the door by deadbeats, but Moreno said none of the women has had problems so far. He said aggressive debtors would be unlikely to attack a woman collector and even less a black woman, for fear of being accused of racism.

The firm’s gimmick underscores the difference in the degree of racial sensitivity that exists in Spain as compared to other European countries with larger racial minorities.

``There are things in Spanish culture that are racially offensive, and that’s because people here are unaware of other ethnic groups,″ said Rosalind Williams, a black American from San Francisco who is married to a Spaniard and has lived in Spain 25 years.

She has filed suit against the Spanish Interior Ministry because a police officer stopped her in a train station and asked for her ID, later explaining that he had orders ``to card people like you.″

Compared to Britain and France, Spain has a very small black population that probably does not exceed 10,000. Many are Africans from Gambia or Senegal who arrived a decade ago to work on farms in northeastern Catalunya.

In recent years the number of Africans and people of African descent from Latin American countries, has been increasing, leading to race-related incidents.

When Freddy Rincon, a black Colombian soccer star, signed a three-year contract with Spanish league champion Real Madrid in August, graffiti advising him to ``go back to the jungle″ showed up on the walls of the team’s stadium.

It is not uncommon to see TV commercials featuring blacks pushing chocolate candy or ice cream with brand names like ``Negritos″ _ ``Blackies.″

``I sometimes feel as if I were living in a time warp,″ said Williams. ``I have lived my adult life in Spain, but I saw all this insensitivity in the U.S. back in the ’60s with the civil rights movement.″

The women who got the collection jobs say they were not offended. If they find work at all, African or black Latin American women in Spain usually work as domestic help.

``It was about time I got a job because of the color of my skin,″ said Marisol Ferrero, 26, a native of Equatorial Guinea who is in her final year of law school in Madrid.

Rebecca Reinosa, a 31-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, said she was proud she was contributing to the company’s success.

Debt collection is big business in Spain where even reputable companies _ and the government _ take up to three months or longer to pay routine bills.

The 2-year-old Bad Debt Collection Co. has 2,500 clients and plans to hire more black women for branches in other parts of Spain.

Moreno said the debt-collection rate has increased 20 percent since the three black women started visiting debtors in July.

He said the women earn 80,000 pesetas ($640) a month, plus an unspecified percentage for each debtor they get to pay up. Spain’s minimum wage is $500 a month.

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