Friday, July 1

The “greatest” forced expropriation of the State that has been announced for more than 20 years and could never be done

Margarita bought a plot of land in Ojos de Garza (Telde), a town of just over 4,000 inhabitants on the island of Gran Canaria, when she was 17 years old. She was raising stone by stone what she was going to make her house for the rest of her life. And when she laid all the foundations, the information arrived that she could smell, but she hoped it was not true: the expansion of the airport that was located a few kilometers from the neighborhood was going to swallow everything that had been built. The neighborhood was (and still is, after all) destined to disappear.

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The Gran Canaria Airport Master Plan, the document that details how the aerodrome is today and how it intends to be tomorrow, was approved in 2001 with the forecast of laying the foundations for a new runway to the west. It should be remembered that to the east of the complex is the Gando Military Base and to the south, according to the text itself, a work of this magnitude “would detract from the functionality of the system as a whole.”

The rationale for the expansion is not entirely clear. Those who proposed the project consider that Gran Canaria, for reasons of insularity, importance as a European tourist destination and the linking of the economy to adequate air transport networks, deserves a third track. In 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, 13.2 million people landed on the island. Last year they did 13.57 million. And the previous 13.92.

The arrival forecasts of the Master Plan have not been met. It was believed that by 2015 there would be 17 million passengers. And although that figure is still far away, the intention has not died. Ojos de Garza is exposed to the “most devastating expropriation” of the State, with 888 homes and 4,000 neighbors with suitcases at the door waiting for Spanish Airports and Air Navigation (AENA) to specify the dates of the procedure. “You can’t live peacefully like this,” summarizes Margarita Alonso, president of the Platform for the Expropriated in Ojos de Garza.

This week, the reality of this important group of Canarian residents has returned to the regional Parliament. The deputy of Nueva Canarias and mayor of Telde (municipality where the affected town is located), Carmen Hernández, has highlighted the “absolute uncertainty” that is felt in the town. “There are too many years of suffering and helplessness,” said the Teldense councilor. “[El caso de Ojos de Garza] It is a story of institutional abuse.”

There have been demonstrations on the highway, hunger strikes, a fight against the power of the media and the living forces of Gran Canaria, agreements with AENA and even surveys with alleged irregularities. 24 years after the news broke, everything is still up in the air. There could be a third clue as there could not be. The budget estimate for the foreseeable development of the airport is close to 500 million euros.

“Right now, the existing forecast of traffic growth in the medium and long term means that it can be served with the two current tracks,” AENA sources point out. The regional government, in the words of the Minister of Ecological Transition, José Antonio Valbuena, is willing to review the agreement and propose modifications, if it considers it so. “What was urgent, we do not know if it is today,” he added. “Any infrastructure in the Canary Islands that affects the territory has an importance that it does not have in the continental territory. As we move away from 2001, the expectations about enlargement are diminishing”.

The track might not be necessary (or it is)

The recent hesitation is joined by the movement flygskam, which translates as “the shame of flying”, a trend that was born in Sweden by the young environmental activist Greta Thunberg who aims to raise awareness about the use of airplanes to travel. In the Canary Islands, 4.99% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2018 were due to national air transport, according to the energy yearbook of the Islands.

“Regarding the expansion of infrastructures such as airports, the only valid argument at present should be to the extent that flight safety is increased,” reflects Abel López Díez, doctor in Physical Geography from the University of La Laguna (ULL). ) and one of the authors of the Article Tourism, transport and climate change: the carbon footprint of international air traffic in the Islandswhich highlights that, among other things, a flight between the Canary Islands and Gambia emits more carbon dioxide than a Gambian in a whole year.

“Enlarge [el aeropuerto] with the aim of encouraging new international routes to continue to be opened or for the volume of tourists to increase is clearly going against the guidelines that are committed to reducing greenhouse gases to achieve the long-awaited climate neutrality”, continues the expert . “In spaces as fragile in the face of climate change as the Islands are, we must start thinking that continuing to aspire to grow in tourists should not be the solution.”

But the ‘no more tourists’ sign could be of little use in this matter. Those who defend a third runway at Gran Canaria Airport also allude to the need for the island to become a kind of logistics platform for the main supranational organizations, such as the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU). This week, without going any further, the Foreign Minister of the National Executive, José Manuel Albares, has once again raised the idea, taking into account the new relations between Spain and Morocco.

Back in 2017, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a institutional statement on the expansion of the Fifth Freedom of the Air in the Archipelago, which would guarantee airlines to enter the airspace of the Islands and carry out stopovers with the possibility of loading and unloading passengers and merchandise.

“Its application in the Islands would be equally beneficial and would allow the Archipelago to become a commercial bridge between Europe, Africa and America,” says the proclamation. “In addition to having a positive impact on connectivity, economic development, progress and international competitiveness, promoting trade relations and the development of the tourism sector.”

The arguments in favor of the third track are heard less than yesterday because the matter has lost relevance. But at the beginning of the century, according to the Article Information media or propaganda media: the case of Gando airport in Gran Canariapublished in the Latin Magazine of Social Communication by the professor of Journalism José Manuel de Pablos Coello, were a constant in the media. To the point, the investigation indicates, that the newspapers presented the declarations of the defenders of the project as “dogmas of faith” and turned a deaf ear to the rest.

what’s new now

The Master Plan does not set dates for the expropriation. It only specifies that “actions will be considered when demand approaches capacity”. However, since 2008, after AENA initiated the expropriation proceedings, the owners of the homes in Ojos de Garza have not been able to remodel their homes or sell them, because nobody wants to go live in a district about to be swallowed up.

At first, they stood up to enlargement. “We managed to get 3,000 people out on the street,” recalls Alonso. Later, renegade at the impossibility of reversing the program, they fought for the signing of an agreement between all the administrations involved that would harmonize the procedure and allow the inhabitants of the neighborhood to decide what to do: whether to be rehoused or wait for the forced expropriation.

The first of the options was the one I liked the most. In 2007, at a meeting held between the Government of the Canary Islands, the Telde City Council, Civil Aviation and those affected, 75% of the resident population agreed with voluntary relocation. In another unofficial survey also carried out around the same time, 88.42% of those surveyed asked to be relocated with the rest of the neighborhood. The autonomous Executive came to approve a law that would favor relocation in an area close to the community, Montaña de las Tabaibas.

The second alternative, that of forced expropriation, was attempted to be avoided for one main reason: if the fair value offered did not meet what was required by the neighbors, many of them could be left homeless and with little money to buy another. In fact, Margarita Alonso declared a hunger strike in 2014 for this, among other reasons.

“AENA has set up a speculative operation (sic) with our houses and, taking advantage of the economic crisis, is waiting for the market prices of houses to reach minimum levels to acquire them at the lowest possible prices and thus obtain benefits at the expense of the citizens”, prays in a statement in which he justified his decision.

After a push and pull that lasted years, AENA, the Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Territorial Policy, the Cabildo de Gran Canaria and the Telde City Council signed the long-awaited agreement in 2014, but with one condition: a new survey that endorse the popular request for relocation, to which 60% of those asked would have to accept for AENA to finance it.

The results, made public in 2019, revealed that this percentage was not even remotely reached. There were only 253 votes in favor. “Therefore, the notable decrease in neighborhood interest in rehousing is evident,” wrote the Deputy Minister of Relations with the Parliament of the Canary Islands, Manuel Marcos Pérez, at the time.

However, both for the mayor of Telde, Carmen Hernández, and for Alonso, the methodology used in the survey, carried out by the public company for territorial and environmental management and planning (GESPLAN), was not the best. The first has described it this week as “incorrect” and “anomalous”. The second filed a complaint with the Autonomous Government in which it denounces the “multiple irregularities” that occurred in it, such as “the non-identification of all those affected” or the “not properly collecting the documentation provided by the neighbors ”.

“These and many other irregularities are not understandable in a decision-making process,” says the complaint letter from the expropriated platform. “We understand that this result does not enjoy the minimum guarantees of reliability, since the process has been flawed from the beginning.”

“The survey is invalid. We ask that the poll be suspended, that it be declared null. Because it was done poorly, because the methodology was incorrect, because it was time-barred,” Hernández exclaimed in Parliament. He came to the neighbors five years later without any guarantee. Nobody would sign a relocation authorization if they were not told how much the new house where they are going to stay is worth. Let us remember that we are talking about the largest forced expropriation of the entire State“.

The regional Executive, given the pressure received, has opened the door these days for the survey to be repeated. It is the main claim of Alonso and the rest of the victims of Ojos de Garza. And so, that the entire neighborhood manifests itself again in case it wants to move or, on the contrary, wait for the expropriation of an airport project that is still unknown if it will go ahead or not.