Tuesday, January 18

Tomás Barreto, president of La Palma businessmen: “We need more population, attractive for young people to come back”

On La Palma everyone knows Tomás Barreto. Born in Garafía, he has lived most of his life in the capital, Santa Cruz de La Palma. He founded a limited company that bears his name and surname, mainly for food distribution. At present, through Tomás Barreto SA it manages the SPAR supermarkets on the island or the Áridos del Riachuelo company. In addition, since 2014 he is the president of the Federation of Entrepreneurs of La Palma (Fedepalma), an employer’s association dedicated to informative and advisory work for small and medium local businesses.

Industry allocates 146,580 euros to the Las Rosas area in Los Llanos to accommodate companies affected by the volcano

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The Santa Cruz de Tenerife Chamber of Commerce estimates that the La Palma volcano has affected some 300 companies, either because they were buried by lava or because they have remained closed in evacuated areas. Unemployment has increased by more than 400 people and more than 1,000 workers are in ERTE (Temporary Employment Regulation File). In La Palma there were some 2,471 companies registered in the Social Security until September 2021, according to the La Palma situation report, prepared by the Federation of Entrepreneurs of La Palma and the Island Council.

With the end of the eruption, Barreto says that now he is “closer” to recovery, a path that in his opinion “will not be easy” to walk, but “you have to take whatever steps you can.”

How has the eruption affected the commercial sector?

It is important to understand that there are different levels of disease, but all must be taken into consideration. There are some who, because they have been washed away by lava, or because they are in evacuation zones, the level of affection is much higher. But there are others who, even though they are not in that group, have also suffered serious difficulties. The ash, the inoperability of the airport, the absence of cruise ships, the confinement or the recommendation that it not go out on the streets have resulted in a very drastic decrease in the volume of operations, and that now it is necessary to recover and compensate.

Visits, initiatives and donations of promotional items have been received from various business organizations, both in the Canary Islands and in the Peninsula, which have made the local business community positive. And it is fair to recognize it, since, thanks to these contributions, things have taken on another dynamic, which has allowed the survival of some and the hope of many. We have been promised from official bodies that consumer bonds will be issued, both for the tourist area and for commerce, with special emphasis on La Palma. It is very important that they arrive and that they stay.

It also affected its supermarkets

The lava did not respect anything. A supermarket of ours between La Laguna and Todoque was swept away and we have another in Puerto Naos that is closed. We hope that there can be decent roads to access and that the population and tourism return. It will have to be reborn again. The affected workers are in ERTE as an interim solution; Those of Puerto Naos hope that they will be able to return and we aspire to build another similar one in the area where the affected clients of La Laguna go.

What initiatives has Fedepalma carried out?

We immediately set out to help with informational tasks, especially regarding aid. We also got in touch with the municipalities to find out the priority needs. The solidarity that we have found on La Palma, in the Canary Islands, throughout Spain, even beyond, is immense. From all levels: companies and people. The contributions received and delivered immediately are innumerable. We have coordinated actions to ensure that all contributions reach, and the sooner the better, their true recipients.

What is needed to carry out the recovery on La Palma?

The first thing that would be needed is a unit of criteria. Faced with situations like this and especially in a small place like La Palma, diverse opinions appear, each one from their point of view. Those directly affected by the eruption must be listened to and must be listened to well. No one who lives in Madrid, on another island or in other parts of the island of La Palma has the right not to take into account the wishes and wishes of those affected.

Do you think that aid is taking a long time to reach those affected?

If I’m going to say what comes out of my heart, some authority may not like it. But trying to be fair, everyone has their vision of things. Some agencies have been slower and others have been more agile. The bureaucracy exists and will have its positive effects, because they do not give themselves to those who are not deserving or there is always someone smarter than the account. But I believe that aid must be given soon to those who need it. When someone is very thirsty, you have to give them a glass of water right away. Do not wait for it to despair.

Your Todoque store, a grocery store that was buried by lava, reopened for Christmas in Los Llanos de Aridane, is it an example of recovery?

It’s a good example. Sympathetic, who encourages and shows the drive of people. It is fair to admit it. But it may not be valid for other cases, because it will depend on the size of the store. A small one, with little clientele, works. But when it is of a larger dimension, more factors influence, such as accesses, for example.

For the recovery of the Island, from Fedepalma they have launched a statement asking to bet more than ever on the local product.

Local consumption gives us food sovereignty. I am sure of one thing: if there is a blockage of maritime communications, we have the capacity to last more than a month in certain products, between the stocks we have in our distribution platforms and in the points of sale. The more local product we have, the easier it is to not depend on the outside.

What do small and medium-sized companies need on La Palma?

We have always opted for training, for the improvement of knowledge, the use of procedures to bring customer service closer. And that is one of the maxims. There is a necessary question for commerce and the economy in general, which is the population issue. In La Palma we need more and for that we must promote attractions so that young people who go out to study abroad return to the Island and can develop professionally here. If we achieve that, we can all celebrate success.

We need to clarify where the people who have had to be evacuated are going to live. As they return and the situation normalizes, in each case it will be seen if it is possible to carry out the activity where they were, if they have enough population in the environment or not. A master formula is very difficult. What will work is the initiative and judgment of the people. We hope that not many leave and that you choose to develop your imagination and your ability here. And it is not about promoting the creation of more businesses, but about improving the way of running the current ones. As long as there is no population increase, there is not room for many more. Tourism is important for the recovery of the Island.


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