I think all my readers, including those in the US, realize that the Spanish economy is in pretty rough shape. When I say “rough”, I mean that unemployment is high, and getting worse. The price of everything is going up. Sales tax is up. Electricity bills have gone up twice this year. So it’s bad.
In the midst of all this “bad”, the population continues to get squeezed by all sides. I don’t get it, really. Sure, the Spanish government needs to get serious about collecting taxes and all that, but to continue to squeeze the very people who are struggling to make it seems to be a bad way to go about it.
I’ll give a few examples that I know about, and you can decide for yourself.
Apart from those who (used to) work on the coast in construction, one of the main employment segments around here was agriculture. Main crops included grapes, olives, oranges and chestnuts, and many men were employed in working in the groves, vineyards and fields. Employers were scrupulous about paying the accepted daily rate, which usually included lunch, too. This work was always casual work, however, because you couldn’t be sure how many workers you’d need, or for how long – it all depended on the crop.
So it came as a bit of a shock when “government representatives” started to spot check farmers, to make sure they had their employer paperwork in order. To make sure all the workers had their self-employment paperwork. Huge fines resulted if it wasn’t in place. OK, so I know this is “the law”, but the rules have never been enforced before – and no warning was given that things were about to change. The result? Most farmers no longer employ anyone to work on the land – the admin overhead is just too high. Add to that the rapidly falling prices obtained for crops (6¢/kilo for oranges, for example) and you get zero commercial agriculture.
Next example. Many villages in Andalucia have historically made a local wine that is sold cheaply in bars, or from small bodegas. This is not big business, in most cases, it just helps to top up the family income. In our village, there were 4-5 guys who made wine from grapes grown locally. Again, every vendimia many men would be employed to help with the work. But not any more. “Government representatives” have warned that the traditional presses, oak barrels and other wine-making equipment is no longer sufficient – and there will be huge fines if wine continues to be made in the old way. The result? All but one of the producers has stopped making wine, as the cost of new equipment is astronomical.
And the really ironic thing is that we have a fantastic fiesta here in Yunquera, called the “Chestnut & Wine” festival. It is meant to celebrate the recent harvests of (you guessed it) chestnuts and grapes. This festival is only a few years old, but last year, it attracted thousands of visitors, so it’s pretty important. The fiesta is promoted by (you guessed it) the same central government that is touting rural tourism as “The Way Forward” for rural Andalucia. The same central government that is levying the fines.
So on one side – yeah, let’s let agriculture die through the double whammy of fines and low prices. And yeah, let’s get rid of a craft wine-making business because we like shiny new equipment.
But, hey, wait a minute! We still want tourists to see our lovely white villages with their yummy fiestas.
Don’t they get it? Don’t they see that if a village no longer has local chestnuts and wine, there is really no point to a Chestnut & Wine festival? I mean, really, even a guiri like me can see it, so surely those (smart?) politicians can figure it out, right?