Wednesday, March 22

Open letter from Ecologists in Action before the demolition of Marina Isla de Valdecañas

We want to respond to the open letter written by the mayor of El Gordo regarding the future demolition, following a Supreme Court ruling, of the Isla de Valdecañas Marina complex, as well as many other articles that question both the judicial decision and the environmentalist action. It will not be on the part of Ecologists in Action that a constructive dialogue is avoided, which we consider necessary so that, as the mayor says, “we make a world where we can all live together: fauna, flora and human beings”. And of course, as we reason further on, that it defends the rural world, that it creates decent employment and bets on public services.

Precisely to promote this coexistence there are protected areas, such as the Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA) in Marina de Valdecañas. Unfortunately, the current development model is preventing this coexistence and has caused the sixth mass extinction, a problem that can endanger the human population itself, because without healthy ecosystems that properly purify the waters, fertilize the plants we eat or prevent the appearance of pests puts our very existence at risk, especially those of the now younger generations.

Nature protection zones are not an environmental whim. They are endorsed by the scientific community and regulated at all legislative levels. We need them to continue living, even more so in a country enormously vulnerable to climate change and heavily dependent on foreign resources. That we can continue to live well will depend on preserving natural spaces that allow the regeneration of life. These cannot be capriciously put on and taken off at the mercy of urban speculation. We want to remember that it was the Junta de Extremadura who decided that it was a space worth preserving for its natural values. For this reason, it makes no sense to say that it was a landfill, and if on occasions it was not well cared for, there is no other hypothesis than that of negligence, in this case by the Board, since it is an area that by law should be protected, both discharges and fires and the City Council, in charge of urban solid waste management.

As he makes clear CSIC report, an urbanization is not compatible with the preservation of certain wild species. No matter how much green grass a golf course has, it is not a space where threatened species in Extremadurasuch as the imperial eagle, the Bonelli’s eagle, the black stork, the imperial heron or the red kite, can nest, something that should not be a problem in a Special Protection Area for Birds (the underline is important). Noise, lighting, pleasure boats, the elimination of native flora or ostentatious human presence drives away these species, which are necessary for ecosystem balance.

The ruling of the Supreme Court is clear. The luxury complex Marina Isla de Valdecañas is illegal, something that the Board, the developer and those who bought the homes knew from the very beginning of the project. Thus, there is no other way out than demolition, selective dismantling – to make the most of the materials and generate more jobs – and renaturalization. Otherwise, it would mean an application of justice based on faits accomplis, something serious in itself, as well as a justice that looks differently at the small portion of wealthy citizens who can afford the purchase of illegal chalets worth 600,000 euros compared to to the rest, that they do have to comply with the law. This would aggravate the situation in a country already marked by real estate corruption, where the problem is not precisely the lack of housing or urbanized spaces, but the lack of accessible housing and wild areas in good condition.

We are not oblivious to the problem of rural depopulation or the historical debt that cities (which have absorbed population, investment, infrastructure) have with the rural environment (which has been destructured and emptied by this model). We believe that it is time –in fact we are already late– to turn the tables and recognize and dignify the importance of the rural environment and its knowledge as a fundamental axis of the ecological transition, not only in a literary way but with active policies for it. But it cannot be at the cost of shortcuts such as the Marina Isla de Valdecañas project. First of all, because it is illegal. Secondly, because it is not extensible to the rest of the rural areas: you cannot put a luxury urbanization next to each town; there is neither space nor rich enough. It cannot be that the proposals to solve the problems of the rural environment go through absorbing the most polluting industry or agribusiness or the most predatory tourism. Fighting against depopulation cannot be an excuse to return to real estate speculation either. This is nothing more than a “kick to go” that will not prevent problems in the future.

Give access to land, pay fair prices to farmers and ranchers, avoid unfair competition promoted by trade agreements (which ruin local farmers), favor the establishment of small and medium-sized industries, local consumption, fiscally support decentralization of companies, facilitating access to housing or promoting the restoration and custody of the natural environment are measures that can generate employment and establish population, in fact much more than tourist mega-complexes. Proposals that neither the Junta de Extremadura nor the central government have wanted to develop, despite the fact that millions of euros have arrived from Europe for the protection and development of protected areas, but which have been diverted to other objectives. It would be good to ask administrations about the destination of these funds.

Tourism can have a place in rural areas. In fact, nature observation tourism, well developed and dimensioned, can be positive for rural areas. A ZEPA can be an income attractor, beyond European aid. The restoration of rural homes (for much less than 600,000 euros), both for living and for second homes, also generates employment and allows a better and desired mix of the resident population with the visiting population. In El Gordo and Berrocalejo there is space for families who wish to live or have a second home. It would be positive if the resident families of Marina Isla de Valdecañas moved to these places. This as long as they do not mind living with a less wealthy population (there is no sarcasm in this phrase but the denunciation of the sad and proven fact that it is difficult for the upper classes to live in places with another type of population).

Nor should it be necessary for there to be a large tourist complex for public services to reach rural areas. Schools, health centers and public transportation are a fundamental right that should be guaranteed by the administration in all populations. Unfortunately, the neoliberal model, whose objective is to multiply economic benefits and not guarantee decent living conditions for all people, has caused a decrease in access to these services. Let’s not forget that El Gordo has a nursing home that should have been opened a decade ago, but is still not finished due to mismanagement by the municipal government. Without forgetting that if the Board had put as much effort and resources into obtaining these public services as it had into promoting an illegal urbanization, the situation would be radically different.

Therefore, any attempt to blame environmentalism is nothing but a way to divert the focus from the real problem. We find articles that lash out and disrespect people who have been on the front lines especially unfortunate. They have been the visible face of a complaint process promoted by organizations that have thousands of people behind them. Targeting them is petty and pitiful. Let’s aim at the real cause: we have a development model that does not respect the limits of nature, that causes social inequality and that undermines public services. Something that has been promoted by privatization policies such as those of the Junta de Extremadura and national governments. The confrontation of the population of rural areas with environmentalism makes no sense. Let’s talk, think and fight together for a world where we can all live together: fauna, flora and human beings in freedom and equality.