I receive by email a daily average of two copies of articles from the British media that are critical of Spain, its housing problems, the Vera demolition, illegal homes, bankruptcies and the like. Poor Spain – the country we have come to love is now the target for the vilest accusations from Fleet Street and Broadcasting House! Reports of threats of demolition, special payouts for illegal homes, fraud, calls to the European Court of Human Rights… it sounds like Morocco in 1958 when the lunatic king decided to nationalise all the foreign land. The British media love a good story and this one has it all – all those rich bastards going to live the Life of Riley and losing their savings while we are stuck in an increasingly horrible Grate Britain.
After all, one house was knocked down this January in Vera by a maniac who should by all rights be in prison or at the very least fired from his job in the Junta de Andalucía for incompetence. But they haven’t fired him - not for his arrogance or his immorality and certainly not for costing Spain a staggeringly huge amount of both money and jobs. Indeed, they haven’t even fired him for going after ‘opposition’ town halls like Cuevas, Zurgena and Vera while ignoring places like Arboleas, Huercal Overa, Albox and Carboneras (all PSOE towns).
And the Brits don’t think local politics are interesting…
The Spanish aren’t very keen on being criticised by the foreign media. They don’t like these daily stories, ITV’s ‘Holidays in Hell’ and the rest of them, that are continuously beating the same drum. So, they circle the wagons and ignore them. The Spanish press will admit that there are too many empty houses already – although most of these were built around the cities as apartments for working families – but they don’t want to report on the problems facing the coastal towns or those concerns experienced by the Northern European émigrés that are so lovingly followed by The Times and Telegraph. And, as long as a few breasts make an appearance in the story, count on The Sun and the News of the World for joining in with some of their trademark sensitive reporting.
Locally, there is bemusement among my Spanish friends. Why have they turned on us? Well, you’ve got mayors, councillors, builders and architects all facing court sentences, I tell them, for fraud. Companies with a capital of just 3,000 euros change and switch to avoid bankruptcies but, if sued, only have those three thousand euros and, traditionally, a penniless president who resides in a nut-hatch. Politicians who can patiently wait until long after they are out of office before having to defend themselves in court or who rely on ‘compañeros’ in the system to get them off the hook. If it wasn’t for the lack of judicial expedience, some of these characters might even have gone to jail by now. In fact, the Minister of Justice defending that the nation’s judicial system was ‘not in chaos or collapse’ admitted that it would take a while to straighten things out. But, we can’t blame the town halls entirely. In the recent years as the money came in, they enlarged their legions of public employees (it’s good for votes) who get a guaranteed sinecure for life, and started on various projects such as museums, sports stadiums, multi-storey car-parks and all things nice. They are now stuck with continuing with these projects. At the same time, the traditional power of a mayor to decide what’s good for his pueblo (i.e. to give out building licences) has now been passed to higher authorities, sometimes with little understanding and sympathy over local issues.
There’s a story of a wasp that flew in through the window of a speeding car and stings the driver. The car flips and crashes into a bus. Twenty dead. One little wasp is responsible for a major accident. So, too, one demolition in Vera has started the cry from the foreign press (well done, most of our local freebies, for staying staunchly silent on this issue!).
Of course the problem of Spain’s building industry is much larger than one pointless demolition, although one has to wonder at the poor question of timing.
This article appears as an editorial in The New Entertainer and as a feature in The Olive Press (Granada)