Thursday, December 1

The two faces of Iznalloz, the second poorest town in Spain: “It is not sustainable to live like this”

“If you ask me if I want to go to the highest part of town, of course I will say yes. That is a dream for any of us.” As an aspiration, Gabriel (fictitious name because he does not want to be recognized), fantasizes about the possibility of living in another place that is a few meters from the one where he lives. Both are in Iznalloz (Granada). One is the historic center and the other is the extension that the municipality has been carrying out since the 1980s. The first is a decadent place and the second is an aspiration for many of the residents of the second poorest town in Spain according to the National Statistics Institute (INE)after El Palmar de Troya in Seville.

El Palmar de Troya, the poorest municipality in Spain, is young, agricultural and “very hardworking”

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7,036 euros per person is the figure that hammers away and converts the reality of a municipality very close to Granada into science, but which seems to live very far away in time. That is the average income per capita that Iznalloz accumulated in 2020 and that is the starting point of the visit that this medium has made to one of the most humble towns in Spain and that shows in each of its streets the peculiarities of the poverty of those who try to get ahead as best they can. Paradoxically, the historic center of Iznalloz, the place that should be the pride of the town, is barely a shadow of what it once was.

“People here have lost hope”

The Iglesia Mayor, which dates back to the 16th century and was designed by Diego de Siloé (the same architect who did the same with the Cathedral of Granada), is the best witness to the degradation of the old quarter of this town. A good part of its 5,000 inhabitants live in an environment that is anything but conducive to believing in progress. The old church is adorned by a square that has not been thoroughly cleaned for a long time – even a telephone booth survives – and the neighbors who walk next to it look resignedly at how the streets are degraded between the lack of cobblestones, the dirt and the subsistence of those who make public services their own task.

“What if we are poor? We are poorer than rats. Nobody remembers us. People here have lost hope,” says Juan as he cleans a garage that would not fit a vehicle larger than a small motorcycle. He laments that the City Council has long since forgotten about them. “To throw the garbage we have a single container for many people.” Later, Gabriel, the neighbor who aspires to live in the noble area of ​​Iznalloz, talks with three other locals about his misfortune. “Here we live thanks to the minimum”, which is what they call the Minimum Vital Income (IMV) that allows them to receive just over 400 euros a month that do not give them great luxuries.

“See that lamppost over there? Well, we’ve been taking care of it for a long time so that it doesn’t go out because if not, we’d run out of electricity”. Because that is the reality of those who live in the historic center of this Granada municipality. Public resources have not reached the streets and what was once the municipal cinema or the youth house are now occupied or boarded up buildings between exposed bricks and glass that were once windows. José Benancio, a retiree who spends his days remembering a better Iznalloz, assures that the decline of the town can be explained in the last 20 years.

In his opinion, the local economy has been above all a victim of its scarce agricultural muscle. “40 or 50 years ago, we had fields of all kinds of crops, especially cereals, but since the olive grove has spread there are hardly any resources.” He also laments that the new way of harvesting olives is removing labor in favor of machinery that does not leave money in the town either. “Then you just have to take a walk around Iznalloz to see how people live smells.” He refers to the marijuana that everyone mentions, some sideways, as the underground economy that is not reflected in per capita income. It may have to do with the high-end vehicles on streets with destroyed houses and dirt covered floors passing us while we chat with neighbors.

“It is normal that, if they have no other way of living, they end up resorting to marijuana plantations, but this is a problem that the Iznalloz City Council does not control either,” says another of the neighbors who lives in the upper area and who prefers not to identify yourself because in this place “it is better not to attract too much attention”. Everyone refers to everyone as “cousin” to break the ice and avoid questioning looks. And while insecurity is not palpable during the day, it is at night, they say. “Many illegal races have been held in the town, although fortunately they are less and less.”

We are poorer than rats. Nobody remembers us.

In Iznalloz there are two police officers to patrol the ins and outs of a town of 5,000 inhabitants with conflictive areas. The mayor of Iznalloz, Mariano Lorente (PSOE), admits this problem and explains that he has an agreement with the Granada City Council that allows them to have agents from Granada in the afternoons. Two more agents are also expected to join the staff and private security has been hired to monitor municipal spaces at night. “They do not replace the work of the police, but it is positive that there are people controlling these places,” says the councilman.

Two worlds a few meters

But as you walk from the old part to the most modern, the change of image is as abrupt as it is striking. With narrow and abandoned streets, full of neighbors who can do nothing but meet in circles to talk about life as they move aside as luxury cars pass by, Iznalloz opens up towards a higher part that is exactly the same as that of any municipality. prosperous. Wide roads, schools -which are not in the historic center-, bars and services that make this town a friendlier place. In one of the tobacconists, its owner, who also does not want to identify herself, believes that part of the problems have to do with how easy it is for people from outside the town to end up moving to live off drugs.

“The problem is not that there are more or fewer gypsies because I deal with them on a daily basis and most of them are exceptional people. The problem is that the word has spread that it is easy to come to the old town and live off marijuana because if you want a house you just have to occupy it,” says the tobacconist. A few meters below, another merchant who does not want to be singled out either, acknowledges that there have been problems with the occupation because people who are not civic have moved. “At my door I have seen a man with an ax insulting himself with a woman who was throwing beach coolers out the window. As you will understand, it is not sustainable to live like this”,

In any case, these two merchants believe that the poverty reflected in the statistics is not real. “You can live well here and we don’t lack anything, but there are many people who live off marijuana and then receive aid that is what counts for the Administration.” As an example, they state that there are those who buy school supplies for their children paying hundreds of euros in cash when in theory they do not have economic resources. But beyond that, the feeling that floats in the environment when talking to any local is that the City Council of Iznallozno notices them. “I parked wrong and there is a sign that warns that I can not have the car there, but I do not care because I know that there is no police who comes to fine me,” says one of the neighbors.

A “still photo” for the City Council

The mayor of Iznalloz, Mariano Lorente (PSOE), respects the complaints of the citizens. “It is normal for anyone to always ask for the best for their neighborhood, but we are working on improving it.” In his opinion, the INE figure that reflects the poverty of the people has more to do with the “still photo” of a specific moment such as the pandemic in 2020 than with something that is sustained over time. “This town lives from agriculture and services, but in 2020 everything had to close and that affected income.” He also believes that part of the problem lies in the fact that the large capitals that work in the locality do not leave money there, but invest it and pay it in other municipalities such as Granada and the metropolitan area.

“We have planned a plan of 5 million euros to rehabilitate the old town and reinforce surveillance throughout Iznalloz.” However, he does not hide his concern about the situation of marijuana, although the councilman says that his town is “neither above nor below” any other town in the area in that regard. “The illegal cultivation of marijuana is something that exists and that is evident, but that problem is beyond our powers.” A problem that goes hand in hand, he warns, of the incivility of some inhabitants. “There are many problems and it is clear that there are in a town with few resources, but many times when you find a dirty or degraded area it is not due to lack of attention from the City Council.”

At the same time, Manuel Lorente maintains that the occupation of dwellings is a “specific” matter. “There were people who bought the houses without seeing them and when they saw the life that is being lived there they have left, leaving the houses empty. If there has been occupation and it has been maintained, it is because the owners have not taken action.” On the other hand, he focuses on the ethnic distribution of Iznalloz: “We have 50% Roma, but that has its particularities. The laws are for everyone, but there are individual behaviors that must be solved through integration. This requires effort on the part of one and the other”.

A few meters from the Town Hall, a young man, who does not seem to be in his best moment, is required by one of the most respected gypsies in the town to stop bothering him with his dogs and leave the area. “This is like this every day. They think that because we don’t have studies we can always be ignored, but we are people who only want dignity”. All passers-by greet this man with affection, who does not hesitate to stop to talk about an Iznalloz who is no longer the one he knew. “Here neither the gypsies nor the Castilians – that’s what they call the payos – are criminals, but people who have to survive.” And as he speaks those words, the only local police officer on duty is sitting inside his vehicle flipping through a pamphlet.

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