I’ve often felt as if I was spitting in the wind as far as writing about the corrupt state of the Valencian government and the so-called ‘grand events’ and ‘iconic architecture’ of the city is concerned, at least in the English language. It’s well known about and often discussed among expats, but mostly any of the nicely nasty stuff is only reported in the Spanish press, and not always in any depth.
Yesterday was party time as far as I was concerned, when I joined a group on the ‘Ruta del Despilfarro’, the Route of Waste, which wasn’t a wander around landfills and rubbish tips, but a tour organised by Xarxa Urbana a collective of ‘street journalists’ (a title new to me) who show the fiscal and corrupt black holes of the city, from rampant over-costs of the emblematic buildings to the ‘disappeared’ EU money that was supposed to wipe out the use of portacabins as classrooms, or even complete schools. What we saw was the tip of the iceberg, but even what we did see justifies their comment that “the Valencian region is a byword for corruption in Spain”.
Plenty of us have known this and agreed with Xarxa Urbana long before we even heard of them but the ‘spitting in the wind’ was getting nowhere with the the hard-faced ne’er-do-wells of either the Town Hall, under the vice like grip of Mayores Rita Barberá (who makes Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher look like a purring little pussy cat), and the Generalitat, the regional government headed by Alberto Fabra, who’s probably wishing that Francisco Camps, his predecessor, hadn’t sold his soul for a couple of handmade suits, a minor part of the Caso Gürtel, the biggest nationwide corruption case since the death of Franco, and had had to resign before he ended up in court. (He won the case by a margin of one vote, which prompted the reaction of, “Yeah…and what did you expect!” from almost everyone except the sycophants of the Partido Popular, who both Lovely Rita and Camps represent.)
Xarxa Urbana have run these trips before, and are getting international coverage, but what must have been a painful poke in the eye for the Town Hall was that this time the jolly little outing was being covered by the BBC and, in the words of ABC an ulta-rightwing daily rag, in ‘the presence of Paul Mason, one of the stars of the BBC and guru of British economic information’, who just happens to be Economics Editor for Newsnight, in Spain recording for a special about our beleaguered country to be broadcast in Ocotober.
ABC’s headline ‘Colectivos vecinales cobran por desprestigiar a la Comunidad ante la BBC’ showed their disgust that the group were charging attendees four euros to ‘discredit’ the Valencian region in front of the BBC, but with every one of it’s fifty-five seats full, no-one appeared to be reticent about their reasons for being there – to learn more about the squandering of our money by the cowboys and cowgirls in charge of our city and regional governance. And many of those on the tour had their own stories to tell of political double-dealing and flim-flam.
As well as taking in the City of Arts and Sciences, and other ‘black holes’, the tour visited the port, re-christened Puerto Americas Cup in honour of the prestigious sailing event the city hosted in 2007. Now here’s a bag full of worms. As part of the contract to hold the race, Valencia Town Hall rebuilt the berths, put in a new access canal, built all the workshops and offices needed by the competitors – multi-millions of euros or our money, the total of which still hasn’t been full added up on Rita’s abacus – and then gave the whole lot, kit-and-caboodle to Alinghi the then current champions and hosts of the event. That’s right, not loaned, not rented – gave! They eventually got it back via the courts, but have since done nothing at all with it, despite it being right alongside Malvarosa, the most popular beach in Valencia.
The highlight for me was when we arrived at the port and the BBC crew began filming. A jobs-worth watchman came over and told us that no filming was allowed as it was private property owned by the ‘Consorcio’, and we’d have to leave. By this I can only assume he meant the Consorcio Valencia 2007, a private company set up for the America’s Cup under the administration of the Spanish government, regional government and the City of Valencia, in other words, a company run by taxpayers representatives with money paid from public funds. So, logically speaking, we were being thrown off our own land by someone whose wages we paid.
No-one moved, so dogsbody whistled up the heavier brigade, who arrived in his fancy lettered 4×4 (nothing more than showing off as Valencia is totally flat), a shiny leather belt with military-style gismos hanging from it, (although fortunately, no gun) and wrap-around shades. We were duly unimpressed, which didn’t sit well with him. When he asked one of the associates of Xarxa Urbana for his identification he was informed that as he wasn’t the police he had no rights to ask for anything.
One thing you don’t do, though, is come the heavy in front of a camera crew, and it was pretty obvious by the size of the camera and the pole mic hanging over Paul Mason’s head that this was no home movie in the making. As the semi-heavy continued playing the big boy I heard Mason say to camera, “Well, as you can see, the police have arrived to move us on.”
“Now that,” I thought, “is one clip that won’t end up on the cutting room floor!”
I suspect there is going to be a lot more where this came from.