Sunday, May 01, 2011

Ordinary People: Muro

How many of you know the town of Muro? Not the Playa de Muro resort that is mistakenly believed by many to be part of Alcúdia, but the town itself, some ten kilometres inland.

In common with other old towns in Mallorca, Muro is distinctly old. Roman in origin, its name (the wall) dates back to this time. The Moors, strangely for them, didn't re-name it, but instead monikered the vast wetlands to one side of the town as Al Buhayra - Albufera. The town church is one of the most impressive and forbidding of all the island's religious colossi. It is the imposing focal point for a town centre to which relatively few tourists venture. One reason for this is that there is no bus route that connects town to resort. The lack of direct public transport is symptomatic of an affliction that Playa de Muro shares with some other resorts, that of distance from the centre of local power, the town hall, and of perceived and possibly even real neglect.

Like other towns on the island, Muro's past was one of agriculture. Its ruralism is re-created in the fine museum in the town, and the role of its co-operative during the earlier years of Franco has been assiduously documented by the town's archivist in creating an outstanding source of original, historical material. Current-day Muro retains its association with the land. Together with its neighbour, Sa Pobla, it is the centre of much of the island's vegetable growing.

The growth of Playa de Muro and a process of economic diversification away from agriculture owes much to one hotel chain. Grupotel. The chain is identifiable with the town, and so it is also identifiable with the town hall. Grupotel's president is a former mayor. The current mayor, Martí Fornes, is a former director.

The accusation that is made regarding the apparent neglect of the resort doesn't quite square with this town hall representation, while the one big tourism issue for the resort, the building of the golf course on the Son Bosc finca, is one in which Grupotel is a significant player; in fact, the most significant. It is the major shareholder, along with other hotel groups, of the development company.

Inevitably, given the opposing camps and controversy that surrounds Son Bosc, the golf course was a matter up for discussion when the town's mayoral candidates gathered in the municipal theatre for their public grilling on Wednesday. There were seven of them in all, including Fornes. His party is the Convergència Democrática Murera, essentially an offshoot of the Partido Popular, and one founded by ... the president of Grupotel.

Fornes has not enjoyed the smoothest of rides since replacing Jaume Perelló, he who has been obliged to take a holiday on account of vote-rigging in the late 1990s. While Son Bosc has dominated the headlines, he has been confronted, in addition to a parlous financial position that has left town hall suppliers unpaid, with the threat of being denounced by the local police for alleged harassment, with consternation at the decision to acquire the town's bullring at a cost of some 450,000 euros and with the threat to property on the coast under new demarcation plans emanating from the Costas authority.

The most public example of this threat to coastal property has been the case of the bizarre enclave of Ses Casetes des Capellans, an urbanisation of former church cottages that reach into forest land and which sit right on land that has clearly been influenced by the sea, a key determinant where the Costas are concerned for sending in the bulldozers.

For reasons of sheer oddness and uniqueness, Ses Casetes must be preserved. And there is another reason. The cottages, for the most part, belong to ordinary people of the town who use them as holiday and weekending homes. It is the clash between ordinariness and the long march of tourism development that goes to the heart of the Muro debate, both politically and socially. There was no clearer an expression of this than a banner that was unfurled during a protest against demolition. "A golf course is for the rich, Capellans is for the people."

It is the obsessing over the golf course that has created the town's divisions. Not because it's widely unwanted, because it isn't, but because of what is seen as being a wrong priority.

Whoever wins the election in Muro, and perhaps more importantly who wins the regional election, will determine the fate not just of the ordinary people and their "casetes" but also that - finally - of Son Bosc. And the outcome is unlikely to be one that sits easily with many of those ordinary people.

Any comments to please.

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