It is a unique initiative in citizen journalism and alternative tourism, which in an entertaining and concrete way, introduces its participants to the other face of Valencia, the dark side.
Among its promoters, the majority belonging to the now extinct local , intercultural newspaper Xarxa Urbana (Urban Network), there are journalists, teachers, students and citizens convinced of the need to educate and show how the construction projects and events which politicians and managers have been busy with, have turned Valencia in to the most indebted city in Spain.
This situation has come about thanks to the silent complicity of the public and the re-election of councillors from the Partido Popular, which has almost always had an absolute majority – for 21 years in Valencia and 17 in the Comunidad Autónoma (the Valencian region).
In response they have organized this journey every Saturday visiting 15 financial “black holes” : ostentatious or unfinished projects, unnecessary events, over-spending, embezzlement of funds, unjustified exchanges of land, loss of public spaces, projects which were never carried out even though they were paid for . . . . . Hundreds of administrative, political and ethical mistakes, which have cost €60 billion, and have mortgaged the future of several generations.
To document this, the itinerary is the result of a detailed search for information in newspapers, magazines, websites of various leanings. This oral and visual compilation ends with an informative section which explains a model of the city, its development priorities and the way that private economic interests have prevailed over public interest.
In designing the route, they have been helped by their hands-on, local experience of citizen journalism, during 3 years running Xarxa Urbana.
That is why, at some points on the route, the witness accounts of some of their sources are added, explaining to the visitors how a particular decision affects their neighbourhood.
The journalist Teresa Galindo Lozano describes this unique and original initiative to The Prisma.
For years we have collected all kinds of information about what has been happening in Valencia. And because there is very strong control of information in the Comunidad Valenciana, we want our initiative to help to break through this info block, and recover the function of social journalism to expose scandals, which is so necessary at the present time.
So we are trying to create a live global route through the projects and events paid for with public money for private benefit. We want the public to be able to understand or recall where their money is, and the reason for the debt that we will be dragging behind us for several decades.
Is Valencia an example of waste and corruption in Spain in general ?
It isn’t an example it’s the classic model. In Valencia we have lived through 20 years of the hegemony of the Partido Popular, without any opposition counterbalance. Valencia has wanted to show off how great it is, and has developed according to the laws of speculation in the property market, ignoring the sustainable growth projects that had been designed with European Union funding (The Valencia Green Plan). And the route demystifies the idea that Valencia is a modern and advanced city.
In Valencia they have insisted on megaprojects while the community lacks infant nurseries, health centres, sports stadia, and the hospitals are being privatized.
What places do you visit on the tour ?
Fifteen sites in which social benefits and public rights have been lost to make way for constructions or events which have brought great profits for private companies and individuals. We visit the City of Arts and Sciences, which in order to become the biggest tourist attraction in Valencia needed an investment of 1.3 billion euros, with the inevitable debt that follows. And worse, with unexplained and absurd cost overruns. The international prestige of Calatrava, was used by the governing Partido Popular, to exaggerate the benefits of this well-known architects company, (over-budget costs of more than 50 million euros).
The same happened with the Pope’s visit, which ran up costs of 100 million euros.. The Audiencia Nacional (Spanish Supreme Court) is investigating the fraudulent allocation of contracts for TV coverage.
Then we visist the seaside area of Nazaret, affected by the Formula 1 circuit, which cuts off the local inhabitants and makes them suffer the noise of a Grand Prix every year.The profit only benefits the millionaire Ecclestone. And the Town Hall took on the cost of adapting the port buildings to accommodate the route of the circuit.
Turning to education, now that there are 1200 pre-fabricated classrooms in use, we visit a college where all the classrooms are prefabs, in contrast to the expensive houses in the area around it.
In terms of big events, we have a look at the results of the America’s Cup, which at that time required the modification of a large part ofthe waterfront, and brought an increase in property speculation to the area.
The we go to Las Arenas, a public baths which was popular for almost a century, which the Town Hall auctioned , and now privatized, has been turned into a 5 star hotel with restricted access.
At the symbolic level, we go to the Cabanyal area, which for 15 years protested against the demolition ordered by the Town Council. Their local dish is Chorizos al infierno, because of its double meaning: chorizo = corrupt.
We also go to the Emarsa purification plant, another public entity implicated in a corruption trial. There we take photographs with masks on, because of the smell of underground political decay.
Afterwards we visit an area of market gardens, cleared to expand the port. Today it is just a huge empty space with no houses, and no gardens, and the building work has been halted.
How do your visitors respond ?
Very positively, with a group of up to 50 people from different classes, ages and backgrounds, who hope to recover the city with a different model of sustainable growth. On the first visit there was a woman of 82 who had lived through both the Republican and Franco-ist periods of Valencia, and regrets the decadence of the city despite its great urban expansion.
On the first one we were accompanied by the Police and the Civil Guard, on instructions from the central goverment. We were involved in citizen journalism and alternative tourism. We weren’t disturbing public order in any way. However we were escorted all the time. They said that were going to stay in case we needed anything. It seems that freedom of expression and freedom to demostrate is changing in Spain. We were only exercising our right to inform.
Referring to waste, the mayor of Valencia, Rita Barberá said a few weeks ago: “At the most we were too ambitious, but we never caused any waste in the Community”. What do you think ?
I think that along with the desire to make a great city a lot of business has been handed to their friends. Now the Comunidad Valenciana is thinking about building a Ferrari theme park. We haven’t finished paying the enormous public debt and already they are thinking of another big piece of business. There are many vested interests in play, and the waters are muddied.
There is a lack of political awareness, of information and historical clarity. We have the example of the Canal Nou, the local Valencian TV channel, which hides certain information: what isn’t convenient for the public to know, doesn’t exist, is not exposed and not explained. To that has to be added the lack of political analysis, people don’t get involved. They feel that it is someone else who is losing out.
But now people are beginning to feel that the cuts and the unemployment are coming home to them.
What is the main purpose of your tours ?
For people understand what is happening. The response is for the public to make. People have to see that there are people who are responsible for these decisions. We want the tour to have both an entertaining and an educational character, it should be a new way of looking.
Would you describe everything that has happened as robbery from the public ?
I wouldn’t call it that. It seems to me that the public are also complicit to the extent that they elected the same councillors for so many years. There is corruption, interests are created, and in the end the legitimate vote becomes weakened.
(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email firstname.lastname@example.org)