Roberto Sánchez, a 66-year-old palm tree maker, leans against one of the small walls located in front of the Casa Massieu, in Los Llanos de Aridane (La Palma), and watches how dozens of people enter and leave this office, the one in charge of care for those affected by the Cumbre Vieja volcano. He has lost a “farm” in the Todoque mountain, where he planted tubers, peppers and some other vegetables, both for his own consumption and to distribute to his children. He jokes, while adjusting his cap, that before the lava came he took ten sacks of potatoes from the field and left twenty. “They will have already burned,” he says.
The Canary Islands works “against the clock” so that the volcano does not “ringworm” the future of La Palma
Roberto lives in Tazacorte and has come to Casa Massieu because the City Council has told him to do so. Here, the social workers of the affected municipalities have centralized the data collection of those who have been left with nothing. But the information collected so far has not gone beyond the main thing: what is the destroyed house or farm, where is it, name of the owner … Legal aid, however, is not being offered. Although that does not surprise Roberto either. “It’s so difficult. The pool is bad. Food and clothes are available, but how are they going to tell me if they are going to give me something. I don’t ask for much. But I don’t want to pay lawyers either.”
La Palma (and the rest of the Canary Islands) had a volcanic emergency plan, the well-known PEVOLCA, to evacuate all residents in danger from their homes in the event of an eruption and create a hierarchical structure to coordinate the taking of decisions. PEVOLCA integrates national, regional and local entities and filters civil protection measures from a single heterogeneous body. So far it has been a success, as there has been no personal injury since the land was opened in the plain, now mountain, of Cabeza de Vaca, in the municipality of El Paso. However, actions aimed at social and legal assistance have gone apart. In shape and form. The lawyer for the Los Llanos de Aridane Duty Shift, Dulce García, explains it. “The volcano explodes and the next minute the activation of security and emergencies is immediate. But in the Archipelago there is no that same plan for social assistance in any field: neither social workers, nor psychologists. Nothing at all. Everything is beginning to connect now, “he sums up.
A group of four lawyers from the Santa Cruz de La Palma Bar Association arrived at Casa Massieu this Wednesday. They, along with a score of volunteers from all over Spain, also lawyers, will be in charge of providing free advice to those who still do not know what will happen to their buried houses, their lands burned by lava or their damaged farms. Roberto is a clear example. “I have no idea how they are going to help me. They haven’t told me anything.” But there it is, waiting. And like him, he finds most of the evicted palm trees who roam the streets, those who open and close their eyes every day without knowing what they will be able to recover from their old life, when they will do it and how.
Counseling for them is kicking off this week, but it can last for years. This is how the terms work in this of justice. “We have to talk with the judges to speed up the deadlines. I have already proposed a modification of urgent measures for a girl who has been left without a home and they have given me a hearing for 2022. That cannot be,” laments the lawyer.
Still, this is the bread and butter of court proceedings. Nobody dares to confirm when the first lawsuit will be resolved or how flexible the institutions will be to refound the neighborhoods buried by the lava, as is what, in principle, they want to do with Todoque. In Lorca, for example, it took about two years to lay the first stone of the building New Ensanche, which had to be demolished due to the damage of the earthquake of May 10, 2011.
La Palma lawyers, aware of the complexity of the procedures that lie ahead, roll up their sleeves. Dulce García, sitting on the brown table in the office that has been set up for her and her lawyer colleagues at Casa Massieu, narrates the different queries that could be found in the coming days. From a person who has lost his plot and the boundaries were marked by a stone, a fig tree and a tunera (on La Palma, many people do not have their plot georeferenced and the “cardinal points” of it are determined by these landscape elements) and you will find, in a few months, a bad country ten meters high where there will be no stone, no fig tree or no prickly pear tree. How to deal with, among other things, the ashes, if they are a direct damage or not from the eruption. For now, the College of Property Administrators of Santa Cruz de Tenerife has already said that the expenses for cleaning the volcanic sand are consorciable. And everyone can claim, even La Palma Airport.
These trench lawyers still don’t know what will come their way. The dean of the Santa Cruz de La Palma Bar Association, Juan Antonio Rodríguez, acknowledges that “there are many open questions and all those that will be raised cannot be foreseen with absolute certainty.” There will be training courses, but Rodríguez admits that this natural catastrophe has raised “notable legal questions” without even knowing what the palmeros will fight for. Or if they will be clever, as García suggests, and will look for the cracks to fight for the indirect damages of the volcano. He gives an example: “The Hotel Sol, in Puerto Naos, will not be taken away by the lava, but it is closed by the volcano. They, if they want, can go to the Insurance Compensation Consortium because it is impossible to access the hotel. The Consortium will say no, he does not take charge. But I would sue that “.
Lawyers have proposed the creation of four specialized work groups to advise on the most common problems: the lost property with insurance, which remains to be seen how many are taking into account that in the Canary Islands less than 50% of families have their home insured ; addresses that are not insured, “which are going to be very numerous,” adds the lawyer; everything that has to do with affection to rustic properties and agriculture and also the loss of profits of premises, freelancers and companies.
That, in principle, is the general photo of the hecatomb. But García continues to report specific cases that occur on La Palma that will make it even more difficult to recognize the ownership of the destroyed property. He brings up the example of the famous Calle de los Veintisiete, in Todoque, which at first only housed a house facing the road but now, he says, with around five homes, it is a small community with 27 residents where all are family and today, also, affected by the volcano. “Those people only had the first house registered. The other five had not. Neither declared nor registered. They have no water or electricity bills or a way to prove it because they all got hooked on the main address. They have no way of proving anything.” In contrast, those who can prove that the farm is theirs will have no problem, says the lawyer, in recovering their land. It doesn’t matter if the lava would have buried it. “When I can return to my farm after all, will it continue to be mine? Yes, of course, what about the public domain and that the laundry is property of the State? That will have to be seen,” he warns.