Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dragonera: Forty Years Later

July 1977. It is a date when something highly significant occurred. An incipient environmental consciousness in Mallorca found both voice and direct action. It was extraordinary, an act played out against the background of equally incipient democracy. It was a time when public administrations - local authorities, police - were only starting to come to terms with what democracy entailed, a feature of which was the right to protest.

The date has in fact a far greater symmetry than mere month and year. It has entered Mallorcan folklore as 7-7-77. The day, seventh of July 1977 when fifty people occupied the island of Dragonera off the Andratx coast. It was a landmark protest, one that confirmed a movement of environmental conservation, something that had been all too conveniently ignored during the Franco era.

To understand the full background, one has to go back three years earlier. The island's owner sold Dragonera to a company called Pamesa for some one hundred million pesetas (around 600,000 euros at the rate that was used at the time when the euro was introduced). The understanding was that half of the island would remain in its natural condition; the other half would be developed and would include a marina. (The island's area is slightly under three square kilometres.) In fact, the plan was to involve the construction of four developments with capacity for some 4,000 people. Essentially, the whole of the island was to be built on. The alarm bells were set off.

It's important to appreciate that there were pockets of environmental resistance prior to the establishment of democracy. One organisation was GOB, which was founded in 1973. Although ostensibly an ornithological group, GOB's activism was to become far more broad-based. It was one of several organisations which voiced its opposition to the Dragonera plan in 1974, the year before Franco's death.

A joint statement from GOB and the other organisations was sent to the mayor of Andratx. It referred to the irreversible alteration that the project would entail and to the importance of Dragonera in the context of Mediterranean flora and fauna. It called on the town hall to defend scientific and social rights. Around the same time, the issue reached an outside audience. The Paris-Baleares magazine alerted France to the plan, while the Council of Europe was petitioned and requested to recommend that the Spanish government made Dragonera a nature park, which would mean that it couldn't be developed.

Two years later, in 1976, there were more moves to prevent development. This time, the opposition could also count on the Fomento del Turismo, the Mallorca Tourist Board. But all the petitions, the requests, the publicity were to prove to be to no avail. In what now seems one of the most astonishingly ridiculous acts of premeditated environmental vandalism (even by Mallorcan standards of the 1960s and 1970s), Andratx town hall approved the plan.

When the definitive project was published in the Official Bulletin on 5 July 1977 - it was given the green light by the provincial committee for urban development (there was at that point no Council of Mallorca or regional government) - the decision to occupy the island was taken. Two days later, with by now the whole of the Spanish media aware of what was going on, two boats with fifty people crossed the short stretch from the Andratx coast.

They were to be described as variously anarchists, leftists, artists and ecologists. They may well have been, but there were many people in Mallorca who certainly didn't fall into the first two categories, if any of them, who were outraged and supported the occupation. The occupation was to last two weeks. There were meant to have been many more occupiers, but boat owners were "persuaded" not to take them. The Guardia Civil kept watch, whereas in previous times it might have opted for its own direct action; the force's neutrality was to later be acknowledged after officers initially landed on the island to check on things. However, the occupiers were, up to a point, starved into giving up their protest.

The movement behind the occupation was known as Terra i Llibertat - land and freedom. It inspired enormous support from across Mallorca, and the occupation genuinely marked a major turning-point in conservation. The official reaction was to be uncommonly swift. The president of the Provincial Deputation, Gabriel Sampol, stamped his signature in opposing the development. The matter was to end up in the courts, and in 1984, following repeated demonstrations, the Balearic High Court dismissed an order that had permitted construction. Eventually, on 14 July 1988, the Council of Mallorca approved the purchase of Dragonera for 280 million pesetas. In 1995, it was given nature park status.

Last week, the events of 1977 were remembered. Sandra Espeja, the environment councillor at the Council of Mallorca, referred to how direct action awakened the people and transformed policies. Dragonera was a landmark.

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