Thursday, September 01, 2016

Podemos And The Battle Of Tourism

Terraferida is an association that only now is starting to make its name known. It was Terraferida who first drew attention to the spill of faecal water in Albufera a couple of weeks ago. Its name has been attached to images on social media of the "invasion" of Cabrera beach by superyacht users. Its blog would appear to have started in April last year. Since then it has posted almost sixty items - articles about land, roads, biodiversity, tourism and - the largest category - "denuncia". As part of this latter category, in June it complained about the "occupation" of Es Caló in Betlem and the activities of a tourist boat taking visitors to the coves of the Llevant Nature Park.

It's all worthy stuff. All well-informed and researched. As is its publication for Mallorca, Summer 2016. Entitled "Tot Inclòs", the strap line reads "damage and consequences of tourism in our islands". There are features about land, about "political protection" for "grand capitalists" in the Balearics, about holiday rentals, about resources, about impacts ("climate suicide", for instance). You can probably get an idea, therefore, where it is coming from. If you still need more explanation, then you can find, inter alia, a graphic with election posters. Under "vota" are the faces of Gabriel Escarrer senior (Meliá), Carmen Riu (Riu Hotels & Resorts), Miquel Fluxa (Iberostar) together with the amounts they are said to be worth - each a dollar billionaire.

In a broad sense, therefore, Terraferida is an environmentalist group. For an island considered to be "saturated" by tourists, there seems an equivalent risk of Mallorca being overwhelmed by the number of groups and associations lining up to confront tourism and the consequences of tourism. There are familiar targets for Terraferida in "Tot Inclòs" - all that occupancy of beaches of whatever sort, roads jammed with cars, land colonised for polo fields. On and on it goes.

Terraferida has had another boost to its growing reputation. "Tot Inclòs" formed the basis of an assault by Podemos on the regional government's tourism policies earlier this week. Laura Camargo and Carlos Saura, respectively the parliamentary spokesperson for Podemos and a parliamentary deputy, railed against tourism minister Biel Barceló and others. "The government is on a party boat looking at a wonderful reality that doesn't correspond with the truth." Tourism success, Saura remarked, only generates more social poverty from the majority and greater wealth for a few - the grand hoteliers - at a cost to the environment and to land.

Podemos, one feels, are working themselves up for the mother of all confrontations with their so-called partners in the "government for change" following the summer break. One battleground will be the legislation for holiday rentals, an issue that greatly confuses the left. It is a democratic right for someone, for a family to earn extra income from a property. Thus spake Toni Reus of Més some time ago. The implication of his words was that there should be a sort of free-for-all. His domain - Santa Margalida so therefore Can Picafort - would indeed be saturated.

Since he said this, his party has moved into government. The realities are rather different. Podemos are correct in this regard. Camargo, however, somewhat echoes what Reus had to say. There is a difference between renting out to make ends meet and a form of property speculation with the sole aim of making vast profits from rentals. Camargo wants a review of the tourist tax, arguing that the "objective estimation" for self-assessment of what is to be paid means that hotels do not reveal exact numbers of places. And these places - tourist places of all kinds - need to be subject to limits.

The Podemos rhetoric, not confined to tourism matters, marks the opening exchanges in the confrontation to come, one being heightened by the struggles that each of the three partners in the pact have politically.  Podemos see themselves, with some justification, as the main power in the pact, and there is a great deal of mileage to be had from the tourism debate. They accuse Barceló and the government of improvisation and complacency when faced by the "gravity" that is tourist saturation. They take issue with President Armengol, Pilar Costa and Cosme Bonet (all PSOE) for seeking to downplay the "saturation" argument and the call for limits. PSOE are fearful of such talk and rhetoric, yet Podemos are cranking it up, fearful of nothing it would seem.

But what do they want from tourism? It wouldn't be surprising to learn that Terraferida and Podemos are more or less one and the same. The Terraferida agenda finds absolutely nothing good about tourism - this, at any rate, is the impression given - and it is an impression which Podemos convey. Their tourism "guru" once spoke about sun-and-beach tourism being obsolete. What do they want from tourism? What do they actually know about tourism?

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