Friday, September 19, 2008

The 12.00 from Cantoria

Cantoria. Sunrise. I had agreed to meet Becky from the television crew in the main square – or perhaps it’s the only square – in the small interior town for an early morning bit of filming. Me looking dashing in a (for once) ironed shirt, sitting at a bar-table and droning on convincingly about the damage that the Spanish are doing to their economy by threatening to knock down homes which have not only their town hall paperwork in order (one way or another) but happen to belong to Northern Europeans. Bad for business I say to the camera which winks back at me unbelievingly. All we want is the opportunity to leave England for good (it’s all right, they’ll edit that bit out) and go and live somewhere warm and peaceful. If the Spanish authorities are hell-bent on making sure that this particular corner of Europe is an unwise choice for retirees, then there’s always Cyprus.
Outside, Britons dressed in fluorescent traffic pyjamas are beginning to gather. They will help direct participants to today’s protest march.
Cantoria is a pretty quiet place. No beach, no hotels, no souvenir shops, no brothels, Macdonalds, gas stations or sky-scrapers. A few bars, Spain being Spain, a supermarket and, down at the foot of the pueblo (at 3,800 people, I don’t know whether it’s a town or a village), there’s a half-hearted marble-cutting factory running with apparently a staff of about two people. The tumbling down plant is located next to a railway station, closed these thirty years.
It was outside this industrial complex that the protesters were meeting. I arrived, trailed by the film crew and a few Spanish journalists, and called the town policeman to come and open a door and find a plug for the P/A system.
Turns out that a journalist I know who works for Ideal de Granada lives just in that square. He came out and grabbed me for a radio interview which went out on Radio Nacional de España.
Bruce Hobday had called the ‘peaceful protest’ and had been at the tender mercies of Becky and company the evening before. He is a local resident of Cantoria and lives in a house which may be demolished at any time. Like many Britons, he had moved there for the many attractions which a quiet and warm place in the sticks can provide (and I’m not kidding – there are many worse places than a peaceful sunny village in Southern Spain). Besides falling like an unnoticed pawn between the authorities of the provincial town halls and the regional government, Bruce and many others like him are keen to stay. ‘We’re not going back to England, come what may’ said one of his fellow protestors. ‘We’ll see it out’. Bruce himself would say in his speech later that morning in front of around 300 protestors that he hoped his next public speech would be to thank the Junta de Andalucía for resolving this issue satisfactorily.
More people arrived. Orange pyjamas from Cantoria and white sports shirts from Albox with AUAN on the chest (Abusos Urbanisticos del Almanzora - ¡No!). A chap I know from the telephone called Katwi introduced himself. Others drifted by in groups, saying ‘hello’ and swapping gossip. The anti-urban abuse AUAN people seemed to know what to do – they had held a protest in Albox a couple of years ago and had just last week been in a meeting with the supreme gauleiter himself, Luís Caparros, an Almerian whose job – apparently – is to lose this province as much foreign income as possible. Caparros is the provincial representative in urban affairs for the Seville based Junta de Andalucía. After announcing that some 5,000 homes in various urbanisations scattered throughout the hinterlands of the province are illegal, he is not a popular man amongst the British.

Whistles and away went the protestors led by the police Landrover. Hardly a Spaniard in sight. Up the hill went the group, waving their polite signs ‘Save Our Homes’ and ‘We’ve Done Nothing Wrong’ and so on. They swerved to the left, down the narrow high street, past the bar (and its competitor across the square) and down as far as the town hall where the protestors stopped and Bruce asked for a minute’s silence for those who could lose their house (and life’s savings!). A few local Spaniards looked on from their terraces. Crazy these British!
The minute was enough for the trailing TV crew, which caught up with the rest of us and followed Bruce into the mayor’s office, me bringing up the rear. Bruce wanted to hand over a petition for water and electricity for the stricken urbanisation, the surprised mayor wanted to put his cigarette out, the film crew wanted a statement and… just as a Mexican standoff was developing… my phone went.
It was the journalist from the Spanish radio I work at, COPE Mojácar. I passed the phone to the mayor, ‘it’s for you’ I said. Relieved perhaps to have someone Spanish to talk to, the mayor was soon gabbling happily over the phone (and, indeed, the radio). ‘There has been enough with the demolition of the house in Vera’ said the mayor to our radio listeners, to Bruce, me and the British cameras ‘and I send a message of tranquillity to the ingleses. This is doing lots of damage to my pueblo, to the Almanzora area, to Andalucía and to Spain’ Got that right, Jack, I thought. The mayor said that he would be in Seville later this month and would be seeking solutions to this ‘aberrant situation’. He was reaching for another cigarette as we traipsed out of his presence.
The protesters outside were ready for the final mile and we were soon congregated by the old train station again. The speeches began. Bruce Hobday spoke for the Cantoria residents. I spoke for Ciudadanos Europeos de Mojácar (our local foreigners-welcome political party).
Helen Prior followed me with her always well-prepared presentations. Helen and her husband Len retired to Spain four year ago. Their house in Vera (with all legal papers) was arbitrarily knocked down in January (see Spanish Shilling for January 2008). So far, it’s been the only demolition in the province, the 22 storey illegal hotel in Carboneras included. The final speech came from Bob Naya from the AUAN and his remarks were very well put. You can find a copy of his speech on the AUAN website but I’ll quote one small piece.
‘Spain has earned itself a well-deserved notoriety for urban planning abuse and corruption. The Almanzora Valley is not an isolated incident. In Andalucía alone there are issues of illegal homes in the Levante region, in Marbella, in the Axarquía (Nerja and so on), in Mijas and in Chiclana to name but a few. This is a crisis which requires a strong and swift solution from our regional government, the Junta de Andalucía’.
Later, over a final beer in the square, the TV crew told me that the show would be broadcast sometime in March which I found a bit of a let-down. Things can change a lot here in six months.

1 comment:

mike the trike said...

What about the I.V.A. that was paid for these houses is that lost as well?