The south of Gran Canaria is a different place from the rest of the island. The signs sparkle and shine and line up like a chain throughout the avenue, especially the busiest. There are many bars and hotels. And they should be noticed. Tourists, with their pockets full of money, want to spend to breathe “the good life.” It could be said that San Bartolomé de Tirajana, a municipality of just over 50,000 inhabitants, is the economic engine of the territory. But in the bowels of the streets and buildings you also live. Rather, it survives. Even within the shopping centers of Playa del Inglés and Maspalomas, the cult spots in the era of consumerism.
Severe poverty soars 49% in the Canary Islands in 2020 and affects more than 343,000 people
The reality of San Bartolomé de Tirajana is also this, not just waste. The town, almost dependent up to its last euro on tourism, cries out for a Marshall plan to relaunch its economic activity and rescue thousands of citizens from severe poverty, now many more due to the pandemic, who in the worst of cases have been forced to build substandard housing in the most remote and gloomy spaces possible. They don’t want to be seen. They are excluded from the system and take refuge in the neighborhood catacombs.
Trine barely sees the light when she wakes up. In his five-square-meter house, on the first floor of the Nilo shopping center in Playa del Inglés, there are no windows, no water, no internet (although that doesn’t affect him, he sees it as a luxury). A little less than a decade ago, he broke his hip and has undergone several operations. She also has osteoarthritis and back pain that keeps her from walking or standing for more than five minutes. Eat thanks to the solidarity of a friend, who goes every 15 days to get fruits and vegetables at a food bank.
Trine knows almost nothing about Minimum Living Income (MVI). He says that he handed over his papers to one of the City Council social workers, but since he cannot follow the update of a possible processing of the aid, and they have not communicated anything to him, he has given up. Her fight is now focused on trying to get the disability pension, for which a minimum of 65% disability is required: she has 61%. Born in Norway, with no relatives in the Canary Islands, she does not receive any income. “What I have to do is endure,” he laments.
Its is one more in one of the poorest regions of Gran Canaria. According to the latest data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), published in 2018, the percentage of people who earn less than 5,000 euros a year in San Bartolomé de Tirajana amounts to 10.2% of the population. Only one other municipality comes close to it: Mogán (10.4), the neighboring town, also touristy. The figures are amplified if we adjust the time to after the outbreak of the pandemic and focus the magnifying glass on the foreign community settled in the area. According to Cáritas, 61% of the people treated in 2020 in the south of the island were of foreign nationality.
The Canary Islands have suffered like no other Spanish community, apart from the Balearic Islands, the economic crisis derived from the pandemic. According The report The Map of Severe Poverty in Spain. The Landscape of Abandonment, severe poverty grew in the Archipelago by 49% in the last year and already affects 16.5% of the total population of the Islands, a total of 373,665 people. The unemployment rate, at 24.7%, is one of the highest in the European Union. And dependence on tourism, the industry hardest hit by the epidemic, is palpable with the huge number of jobs linked to the hospitality industry. Only in San Bartolomé de Tirajana one in two do so. With the impasse that the sector has suffered, it was foreseeable that more and more neighbors would fall into marginality scenarios.
This is the case of Angela. He lives with his 12-year-old daughter in an old premises in the Eurocenter shopping center, a few meters from the Maspalomas police station of the National Police Force. He pays 400 euros for a precarious apartment that he maintains thanks to the support of friends and family. He can barely speak, but he tries. She has just left the ICU after being admitted for testing positive for coronavirus. “I am learning to walk again. I feel like a little girl. The virus has left me sequelae in the lungs and the kidneys ”. Faouzia Belghari appears in the corridors with her two girls, ages 5 and 4. He also lives in a cabin within the walls of this complex. Why does he do this? “The owners don’t want us, the Moors.”
The image of these shopping centers, a few decades ago the maximum expression of the exorbitant economic and urban growth that the tourist center of Maspalomas Costa Canaria was experiencing, is phantasmagorical. The property is abandoned. There are no sanitary conditions that recommend a stay longer than a couple of hours. Most of the open shops face the street, where the first tourist apartments in the area are erected a few meters away.
Some workers, who prefer to remain anonymous, claim that they have rented a warehouse within the Eurocenter complex to collect their work material. It is on the second floor, where you can see certain offices and establishments, but all are closed and used as warehouses. In the upper area there is more movement, with even a modeling agency receiving clients every so often. In the one below, yes, it is like falling into a fragile and ephemeral world. Those evicted from the pandemic, and before, have found a place here to shelter from everything. More of the same happens in the Nilo shopping center.
The San Bartolomé de Tirajana City Council is aware of this. As indicated by the councilor for Urbanism, Tourism and Environmental Policies, Alejandro Marichal, the Consistory has met with the owners of the shopping centers to propose that they initiate a planning modification and, thus, modify the use to make it residential. “That way they can build housing properly. And not be in precarious as now ”.
However, Marichal continues, the term has expired. “It is out of order. I cannot urge you to do something when the action is already expired ”. And when dealing with private matters, “the administration is tied by the hands.” The question now is to attract investors who are willing to buy these venues and improve their conditions. Otherwise, says the councilor, there is not much else to do.
A meeting point
The hunger queues bring together the likes of Trine, Angela and Faouzia. Also Leticia, who is approaching along with her three brothers. All four suffer from Cowden syndrome, a rare inherited disorder characterized by the formation of many benign tumors and a high risk of cancer. They live alone thanks to the pension that one of them receives, but it does not give them to make ends meet. They should go to the food bank, as Hilda and Toni are doing The Cuban guy, of legal age who support themselves thanks to the IMV. “I was out of work when the crisis started. I didn’t come here much before, I had only done it a few times. Now I do it every 15 days. It’s like going to the supermarket ”. Shortly after, a roar upset everyone present. A convertible, which appears to be driven by a foreigner, leaves one of the nearest tourist apartments. The double reality that spreads throughout San Bartolomé de Tirajana.