You can get to Torre Pacheco by train from the north and when you leave the station there is an abandoned funeral home, some lots spread out on wide avenues with little traffic, a school and a supermarket. A little further to the right, a roundabout governed by a billboard: “With Vox you would be entering a safe city.” Among a sea of crops, low houses and industrial warehouses emerge a little further away, secondary roads, dirt roads and cattle trails that dissect, cutting as with a cutter, a territory dedicated exclusively to the primary sector.
The results of the November 2019 general elections in the Region of Murcia were atypical. Most of the regional map was stained red, something that had not happened since 1991, but it did not stop there. Vox swept the entire Campo de Cartagena, reaching up to 30 percent of the vote in some districts, and the external perception of the municipality changed, and some national press reports that consolidated the idea that Torre Pacheco was going to be the new bastion of the extreme right in Murcia.
Before those elections, the municipality was one of the agricultural enclaves of the ‘Huerta de Europa’: fields of melon, citrus and lettuce, halal butcher shops and golf courses, urbanizations everywhere — the ‘Spain of swimming pools’, which Jorge Dioni would say — inhabited mainly by English, Dutch, Belgian and German. Since 1979, when the Tagus-Segura transfer became a reality, the traditional model of rainfed agriculture was replaced by an intensive and irrigated configuration made up of 30 percent of the immigrant population.
“Robbers, like everywhere”
“With Vox you would be entering a safe city.” It’s a message that makes you frown. Even reaching into the pockets to locate the mobile and the wallet. Every car that crosses the avenue raises suspicions, after reading that notice.
Antonia, who prefers not to give her real name, is a “lifelong” stoner neighbor and does not see “any coexistence problem.” “There is some racism [por parte de españoles], But it is not normal. Of course there are robberies! Like everywhere, but there are also people here who steal.”
Although the electoral fence is not exclusive to the agricultural municipality – this pattern is repeated in Vox’s own headquarters in the capital, but also in municipalities such as Lorca or Totana, with a large immigrant population – the far-right party has championed security ” in the neighborhoods” as a campaign banner. Luis Gestoso, Vox candidate for mayor of Murcia, patrols the streets of the districts of the Murcian capital “taken” by “crime and illegal immigration.”
The campaign of the party led by the Galician José Ángel Antelo, who aspires to govern the Autonomous Community, in municipalities such as Torre Pacheco – although it is not limited solely to the municipality of Mar Menor – revolves around two fundamental pillars: agriculture and security , or, seen in another way, water and immigration.
Security, immigration and intolerance
The streets are quiet in the morning, hijab-clad women wander in and out of haberdashery, halal butcher shops, and there is a certain coming and going outside Western Union and similar businesses. Traditional bazaars and bars coexist on the same sidewalks. Although there are few men on the street – it is intuited that most of them are walking in the countryside at that time – some of them decide to share their impressions with elDiario.es from the Region of Murcia: “I’m twenty years old here and I’m just another neighbor . I came from Ecuador. Nothing has happened to me living here, and I deal with moorswith Spaniards and people from all over the place”.
Carlos López, PSOE candidate for mayor of Torre-Pacheco, has talked to this newspaper about the issue: “If you compare Pacheco’s crime statistics compared to the rest of the Region, we are not even in the top half. Has been problems with a gang that was performing in the area, but Torre-Pacheco is no more insecure than any other town in the Region. It is the strategy they have, but the reality is different.”
The crime balance of the Ministry of the Interior for the period from 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2022 – the latest data that has been made public – indicates that in the Pachequero municipality this balance is -4.7 percent compared to the beginning of the period, in contrast to other municipalities in those governed by the right, such as Alcantarilla, with a 22 percent increase. From the Government Delegation they maintain that the right “points to insecurity throughout the Region of Murcia”, but that “the crime rate is four percent less than the national average. [Hay] 3,792 Police and Civil Guard agents in the Region, 10% more than in 2017, with a replacement rate of more than one hundred percent. In fact, the Roca Teams also operate in Torre Pacheco [una brigada de la Guardia Civil especializada en robos en el campo]”.
Carmen, a Spanish neighbor, points out that there have been quite a few muggings in recent months: house breaks and the occasional assault. “There, there, in the area of the pharmacy, someone was recently robbed. Above all they have been houses, I think, and I think they have detained people ”. When asked if she considers that Torre-Pacheco should prioritize security before anything else, she affirms that: “Water worries me a lot more.”
Salva Moreno, a political scientist and professor at the University of Murcia, comments that Vox has a great window of opportunity in the Region, and, specifically, even more so in Torre Pacheco: “Immigrants have always been a key enemy in the speeches of the parties of the radical right, and in the case of Vox it was not going to be less. (The party) exploits that feeling by relating (immigrants) and the insecurity of the municipality, often magnifying it. On the other hand, insecurity fits well with other sub-themes, not necessarily related to immigration, such as squatting. Lately it is a very recurring topic and Vox intends to politicize it. In addition, it fits very well with the above: just by talking about insecurity and crime, both the issue of immigration and squatting are addressed.”
The theme of water, a polygon with a thousand vertices
In an agricultural municipality – actually, the quintessential agricultural municipality – the lack of water is a concern. And a lot. The data provided by the CEMOP winter barometer already warned that water was among the most serious concerns for Murcia.
One of Vox’s latest movements in the area has been the incorporation of the popular ex-president Alberto Garre in his lists for regional elections. The decision has not left anyone indifferent. A source, who does not want to be identified, has assured this newspaper that on Garre’s part it has been a “settling of scores”: “The Garre thing should not be surprising. Those of us from here are not surprised. Garre is a very conservative guy, it’s not uncommon for him to get close to Vox.” “No, he is not a regionalist politician. He did not do Somos Región because he was a regionalist, but out of spite for the PP. It is true that he has been very critical of corruption, and so on. But he is a very conservative politician, he is not out of place there. it suits them [a Vox] because it has always been very above agriculture and the issue of water, but for Garre this is revenge against the PP.”
Regarding old glories of the Popular Party, the PP itself has employed one of its former leaders, during whose government, moreover, the ‘Water for All’ campaign was created -winner of the GWA (Golden World Awards) award in 2001-, with the intention of disputing the ground with the ultra-right in one of the main stages of the electoral campaign. On May 5, the former President of the Government José María Aznar was acclaimed during the meal that he shared with more than a thousand farmers and activists in the Aquarius celebration hall of this Murcian municipality.
For Moreno, “Vox in the Region of Murcia has practically become a thematic party for agriculture. The successive crises of the Mar Menor have made public the exclusive relationship between the intensive productive model of agriculture in Campo de Cartagena and the health of the lagoon. The bad situation of the Mar Menor has caused the PP, through the regional government, to manage these crises to the discursive detriment of agriculture, while Vox, an anti-environmental party, can defend agriculture without any limit. That space left by the PP has been taken advantage of by Vox, especially as regards networks of power and influence. It is for these reasons that agriculture and everything related to it [como el trasvase] they are central to radical formation.”