Tuesday, September 02, 2008

 

Cantoria. Nice and Quiet. Usually.

Cantoria is a small town just six kilometres north from Albox on a rather nasty road which will one day be a motorway. There are some 3,500 residents there, including around six hundred Britons and one Dutchman. The town used to be known for its marble (there's a small factory at the end of the town by the now-defunct railway and station).
It was just a few days after the fiesta of San Cayetano, which, according to the blackened scars on the sides of the town's buildings, has a lot to do with fireworks. 'Well, no one got badly hurt this year', a local man called Manolo told me in the bar, adding with some satisfaction, 'sometimes people lose an eye or even get killed'.
I had come to Cantoria to be shown around by George and Bruce, two members of the Cantoria Residents' Association which has called for a demonstration - a peaceful one, says Bruce - for Thursday September 18th, kick off at 12.00 noon by the aforementioned railway station (decd.). The demo, followed by appropriate speeches from George, Bruce and others, has been called because, like many other places in Southern Spain, the town hall appears to have allowed 'illegal urbanisations' to be built, with the added threat that, in Cantoria, there are 23 homes which have demolition orders on them from the Junta de Andalucía.
George, Bruce and the other householders came to retire in Cantoria with their wives and the essential plan was, after many years of hard career work in the UK, to move to a quiet corner of Spain, put one's feet up and have a glass of tinto as the warm sun sets over the garden fence. The last thing that George, Bruce and so many other retired Northern Europeans expected was that they would have to spend money on lawyers to protect their 'small corners of enchantment'. They never imagined that they could lose their homes, their investments, their savings: almost everything.
The Priors, who gave their home in nearby Vera in January this year to the bulldozers, certainly lost everything. They've been squatting in their own garage since they lost their house and are paying a hundred euros a month for storage of their furniture, which they will continue to do, one supposes, until they receive compensation from either the Junta de Andalucía or their town hall (depending, of course, on who is telling the story) in anything from five to ten years time.
The threatened homeowners in Cantoria know the story of the Priors well enough, but they have had more time to organise (the Priors had just two hours).
The group have put out the bans for their demonstration. The provincial police chief has given his approval and several other British groups from other communities, where similar problems float uneasily under the scorching sun, have joined in. It's going to be a decent show, with well-behaved protestors and no inappropriate placards thank-you. From Albox, the AUAN (300 members) will be there. From the coast, the AULAN (100 members) plus the political group Ciudadanos Europeos. From other towns and areas, nascent associations and clubs will join the march. In Spain, you see - nobody's house is safe.
A march through a quiet high street is not going to have much effect, even when it's the foreigners doing it. However, the scandals of the illegal houses and urbanisations (picture of threatened homes in Cantoria below), the 'land-grabs', the, uhh, 'multiple-owned homes', the 'builders electricity' and the 'off plan homes (with artist's impression)' have all attracted the attention of the international press. Whether the local media shows up (the Spanish like to pretend that these things don't happen) - the foreign cameras and journalists will certainly be there.
One day, the Northern Europeans who come to live in Spain may have an agency that looks out for them: a champion. Until then, there's the media and the threat to the Spanish economy. Never forget (as I pointed out to Manolo), they build houses in Cyprus too.




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