Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

There were a couple of marches in Santa Cruz and La Laguna over the weekend by fringe political groups claiming to be Guanche and calling for independence for the Canary Islands. Reading about them wound me up a bit.

Having been on a number of protest marches at various points in my life, I’m certainly not against them. And coming from a small Scottish island I’m no stranger to the feeling of being oppressed by a larger nation. But what was going on in the metropolis just seemed a bit of nonsense that had more in common with Citizen Smith than serious politics.

First of all what’s all this guff about being Guanche? I’d love to meet someone who is actually descended from the Guanche, but think that’s unlikely as the descendants of the people on the march were probably partly responsible for wiping them out. I made a comment as such on Facebook and the author of the article about the protest marches replied that they meant that they were Guanche in spirit. I still don’t buy it; surely that would be like the citizens of the good old US of A saying that they were all Native American Indians in spirit…how we would guffaw if they claimed that one.

I like the fact that there was a mysterious primitive people populating Tenerife before the conquest changed the island’s destiny, but elevating them to mythical status is romaticised fancy (not that I’m necessarily against that either).

There were a couple of comments by the marchers that I felt were worth addressing and would be appreciative if anyone could answer them. One quote from the People’s Movement said that “the islands were in a perpetual state of economically underdevelopment,’ complaining that the decline in agriculture in recent decades had left the islands dependant on expensive food imports.

Who’s fault is that? Who is actually managing Tenerife’s economy? Spain…or Canarian born and bred politicians? And who was it who embraced tourism, one of the major factors probably leading to the decline of agriculture? Who is it that continues to sanction more new buildings to eat up the coastline? It’s not me and as far as I know, It’s not the Spanish government.

Another said  “The economy is very bad now. Spain owes much money to the world banks, but we don’t want to pay for it.”

There’s no arguing about  Spains’ problems, but every week I read about money coming from Spain to fund various projects designed to improve Tenerife. I take it those who want independence would send that back? They might not want to pay for Spain, but they have been happy to take Spanish money.

A reality check is required.

And this is the real problem I have. It all feels terribly insular. The fingers that are being pointed are being pointed outwards. Everybody else is to blame and yet from an outsider’s perspective I see home grown policies, ineptitude and accusations of corruption that has me seriously worried that without some objective and informed control Tenerife could destroy all the good things it possesses.

Quoting the spirit of the Guanche seems to me to be further evidence of a desire, subconscious or otherwise, to become even more insular and that’s a route that takes you backward, but maybe that’s what they want.

The thing that really escapes me is this. There is no question that being Canarian is unique; it’s something to be celebrated and shouted about…but why try to fabricate a Guanche heritage when the one they should be shouting about is far more impressive? I just don’t get it.

Five centuries ago following the conquest, visionaries, farmers, artists, explorers and entrepreneurs from Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland, Italy etc. settled on Tenerife and built wonderful towns and cities with radical layouts that influenced the New World. They created seats of learning and flourished at the crossroads of the old world and the new.

Like America, it was a blend of nationalities that made up the pioneers that created a society which surprised visitors with its levels of sophistication and inventiveness. It was an open society which benefited from the contributions of forward looking minds from a number of countries. Every so often you come across reminders of this like the statue in Santa Cruz which boasts the classic name, José Murphy.

If I was a born and bred Canarian, that’s what I would be allying myself with. I would be proudly saying I was Canario, a unique creature fashioned from the best of Europe with a dash of South American spice. What I certainly wouldn’t be saying was that I was a fur wearing primitive…unless in my heart what I really wanted was a return to a simple life of growing crops and having no money, whilst keeping the outside world at arms length.

Advertisements

In some ways being officially self-employed (autónomo) in Tenerife, and no doubt the rest of Spain is a bit like sticking your head above the trenches on a night when there’s a full moon (should that be fool?), shoving three fags (cigarettes for any Americans who may get the wrong idea) in your mouth and lighting them with a flare.

Firstly there’s the autónomo payments – the equivalent of the NI contributions in the UK. These are around €260 a month. €260 down before you start, but that’s the system so I’m not moaning about that. What is poor in Spain is the lack of support for small businesses. The odds in many way are stacked against them.

I’m a trusting person – actually I’m not really. Having Presbyterian Scottish roots means that my default setting is to be suspicious of everyone until they prove me wrong…or right, but I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Like many people on Tenerife I’ve fallen foul of sincere promises of payment when firms I’ve worked for haven’t paid me on time because ‘times were hard’. Many of the people I know – differing nationalities from Canarios to British, German and French ex-pats – have carried out work for people on Tenerife for which they were never paid. This is something you learn when working with businesses based on Tenerife; in some ways it can still be a frontier society.

I’m a lot wiser than when I first moved to Tenerife and now am fully aware that this is an unavoidable risk of doing business here and am more cautious as a result. But the biggest shock of all was learning that if you get shafted by an unscrupulous contractor officialdom, instead of helping, puts the boot in.

Here are a couple of examples that any newly arrived might want to know about.

Be very wary of cheques
One company issued me with an cheque which duly bounced higher than a power ball. Damned annoying, but what followed was even worse. The bank charged me €45 for the fact that the cheque bounced. Not only did I not receive the money I was owed, I was punished for the fact that someone else issued a dodgy cheque. A double whammy.

Watch out for the Retención
The retención is a crazy system which positively encourages dishonest employers to shaft the self employed. As an autónomo I’m not responsible for paying all my taxes, oh no. In a law which makes no sense at all, anyone you carry out work for is responsible for holding back between 7 and 15% of your earnings – a retención – which they are then supposed to pay to the tax office on your behalf.
So what are the potential consequences of this? Dishonest contractors get away with paying you less than they should and don’t pay the retención to the tax office. But guess who gets hit with all the questions about the missing money that effectively was stolen from you in the first place. It’s an absolutely illogical system that makes no sense.

Check the Details
So after you’ve not been paid, had money held back from your earnings and been charged for the pleasure of being diddled, what happens at the end of the tax year? Well here’s what can happen. Honest Harry, the firm you carried out work for, has supplied you with incorrect information about his business details. It turns out you’ve been declaring work for a company that the tax office has no record of. So what can happen then? You can get fined for supplying incorrect information.

As you light up those cigarettes, the bullets are flying at your head from all directions whilst Honest Harry is scuttling to freedom along at the bottom of the trench with wads of notes stuffed into his pockets.

Does Spain need Labour Market reforms? Damn Right it does, but whether it implements the right ones is a completely different matter altogether.

A Canario, an ex-pat and a tourist walked into a bar…
This sounds like the start to a joke and in some ways this is a joke, but it’s not a funny one.

The other day we went to the Beehive Bar in Puerto de la Cruz to watch the football. Whilst waiting for the game to start we had a gander at Tenerife News and Island Connections.

A couple of reports in Tenerife News were about the problems being faced here in Puerto de la Cruz with one report being about tourism being in trouble and the other about Puerto being in the financial mire as a result of “massive debts inherited from previous administrations.”

It turned me into ‘outraged of Puerto’ sparking a debate in the bar between ourselves, a Canario and an ex-pat resident. The reason the articles annoyed me was that a year ago both papers ran stories about how good for Puerto the overthrow of the socialist council was and generally agreed the new administration was the right one to revitalise Puerto.

It was suspect reporting at best considering the new council was more or less the ‘old’ council under the same leader who for the first few years we lived here did nothing at all to move the town forward. So the newspaper reports demonstrated either a lack of political understanding, or worse treated readers as though they were stupid. An approach that is clearly continuing. Using the term ‘previous  administrations’ was a cheap and deceitful way of not telling people that ‘previous administrations’ (apart from the short period the Socialists were in power and things did actually move forward) is actually the current administration. They have inherited their own debt.

Anyway it opened up a debate about the state of affairs in Puerto. The Canario complained that one of the main streets into the town, Calle Zamora, had been blocked for months whilst work moved along at a snail’s pace. Without any help from the council during this time and a loss of passing trade, unsurprisingly eight shops on the street have gone out of business. He pointed out that road works outside of Loro Parque had been completed in two days. His conclusion about why one set of works should take months whilst the other would take days was ‘money talks’.  However, he wouldn’t go as far as to criticise the current mayor because the mayor is a ‘friend of the family’ and his mother once asked a favour of him which the mayor duly carried out – good old fashioned politics. Bizarrely, he attributed some of the  problems Puerto is facing to a small Gay Pride parade last August for which money was allegedly taken from the Carnaval budget to stage, with the rationale that we shouldn’t by staging things like that for small groups (that’s all minority groups shafted then), we should keep things the way they are.

It says it all; some people just don’t want to move forward. Some may see this as commendable, but when tourism is your main income, you’re playing a very dangerous game by adopting this approach.

Then the ex-pat joined in, saying that the politicians were all liars, the  council had millions to pay for a huge brand new marina so they weren’t skint (they don’t) and that the Canarian government were lying when they said that tourist figures in Puerto had gone up by twelve percent.

As I get the tourist figures as a press release and I’d never seen that claim, I questioned the accuracy of this statement.

“It’s bloody well true,” he insisted, adding. “Somebody told me that in the Robin Hood last night.”

Somebody told him in a bar! Even when I told him I’d seen the actual press release he wouldn’t have it. His source in the bar was apparently more reliable than the actual document with the statistics on it.

As Andy and I realised that quoting facts as opposed to spouting rumours was a complete waste of time, two thoughts occurred to me. Ex-pats like him didn’t have a clue what was really going on and I’m not sure how much they cared. Worse, some of the Canario population seem quite happy to be led into an abyss because they’ve been hit with shameless propaganda and lies for so long that they no longer can see what’s in front of their faces.

Then the final straw arrived in the shape of a female British tourist who came up to the bar and announced:

“It’s not a very nice day is it?”

“No, it’s a bit too hot,”
Carlos the barman replied.

“No, I mean, it’s cloudy.”

It was 30C and apart from 2 hours max, there was about 8-9 hours of sunshine that day. Eight to nine hours of sunshine and it had been like that nearly every day last week! But I’m willing to bet that when this woman returns to Blighty she’ll confirm that the north of Tenerife is cloudy. No doubt she was warned that the north was cloudy and the first sight of a cloud simply confirmed that.

Between the Canario who doesn’t want to move forward, the ex-pat whose information come from bar room gossip, the tourist who only sees cloud on what would be considered a hot and sunny day just about anywhere else in the universe and newspapers printing contradictory features willy nilly, Puerto faces a hell of an uphill battle.

This is what we battle against…the 300 Spartans had it easier.

Shortly after I moved to Manchester someone played a John Cooper Clark album at a party. Everyone fell about laughing, but I just didn’t get it. I watched the other people with tears running down their faces and wondered if I’d ever fit in to this strange new world.

By the time I left I was an honorary Manc and felt as strongly about the place as I did the country of my birth. I could really relate to what made Manchester tick.

The other night I was watching the American TV series Life gather momentum towards the series’ conclusion. On Spanish TV it’s customary to show three episodes of a series on the same night (not always in order – sometimes you get the latest first, an earlier episode from the same season second and then a completely different season third – don’t ask me why). So we watched the first and the second in English. We don’t do dubbing – it’s crap, so we watch Spanish TV programmes in Spanish, but English and American programmes in English where it’s available. Then the third episode came on…and the English option didn’t work. Normally all three are in English, so presumably someone somewhere was distracted and forgot to hit a switch or something.

This is not the first time this has happened. Allied to this little ‘error’, the TV channel’s website stated the programme was being screened on Monday, despite it actually being broadcast on Tuesday.

I could reel off any number of similar Spanish TV ‘quirks’ – ER is my favourite Spanish TV moan. It went from being on nearly every night to a mix of nights and mornings to only mornings, apart from the occasional nocturnal appearance. The channel’s website states that it is soon to be shown on Mon-Wed nights again…as well as some episodes on Mon-Fri mornings. WTF, who has work hours that allows them to follow that schedule?

What I don’t understand is why do the Spanish public accept this sort of cavalier approach and apparent lack of concern about disrupting their viewing pleasures?

This might seem a frivolous complaint, but the truth is that this sort of casual approach seems to be endemic.

Two weeks ago Spain announced, in a political variation of Bart Simpson’s ‘I didn’t do it’, that the country was out of recession. It was a surprising announcement given that a few days before Spain was economically being lumped in with the likes of Greece.

What was less surprising was that by the end of the week, the government also announced austerity measures. Presumably having conceded that just saying something isn’t happening doesn’t actually make it go away.

Then the IMF raised concerns about Spain’s economy and the BBC reported ‘It is not the first time that the IMF has said Spain needs economic reform, but the language has a much greater sense of urgency.’

The IMF advised that the Spanish labour market just wasn’t working and that part of the problem was ‘heavy indebtedness in the private sector, and weak productivity and competitiveness.’

Two years ago Andy and I sat outside a tent in the forest around Vilafor where there were only a handful of other campers, one group of whom happened to be British. In the still night it was impossible not to hear every word spoken by this group.
One of them talked about the impending world economic crisis with an authority that suggested his knowledge about what was going on was more informed than what he’d gleamed from the papers.
I eavesdropped intently as he warned that Spain was heading for an economic crisis that would be worse than that which affected other countries mainly because, instead of trying to tackle it, they would bury their heads and try to deny it was happening until it was too late. He hasn’t been proved wrong.

The inconsistency in screening ER and the depth of economic crisis might seem unconnected, but I don’t think so.

TV companies could listen to the moans of people like me and easily improve their TV scheduling for the benefit of their viewers and the Spanish government could actually take on board some of the advice the IMF have been giving them for years… but neither seem likely to happen.
It’s a mindset which works against Spain’s own interests and that’s what I just don’t think I’ll ever get.

John Cooper Clark’s unique brand of Manc humour was far easier to understand.

Photo by Sufi Nawaz

Britain’s in a mess, anyone can see
Simply by turning on their HD TV
No second house in the country
The bank refused my loan
I text my best mate
On my trendy iPhone.

The Poles have taken all the jobs
A life of unemployment looms
For the kids hooked on FB and PS3
Ensconced in their rooms
There’s no work of the type they seek
Doing nothing all day for 300 a week.

I have to admit, it’s a cause for fear
Who’s going to keep them in designer gear?
And don’t talk to me about the pound
I can hardy afford to pay for the beer
When we go abroad on our hols
At least three times a year.

But today things will change, the lion will roar
The missus has already gone in her pink 4X4
Me, I’ll stop off on the way to the boozer
If I find a spot for the family space cruiser.
So I’ll tick the box and help decide our fate
Cos it’s people like me who will make Britain grate.

I was told something the other day which shocked, but didn’t completely surprise me. It was this. The Canarian government have a policy of only employing people who are Canarios, or have relations who are Canarios.

Now I don’t know if this is true, I’ll ask someone I know who’s involved in politics here next time I see them. But if it is, it’s an absolute disgrace, probably against European law, and also explains a hell of a lot.

I’ve been involved in recruitment at various stages of my working life. Each time there were stringent regulations to ensure that everyone who applied had a fair chance of being employed. But even with these in place, from a personal point of view, I had one criterion which mattered more than anything else. I wanted the person who was best for the job; simple as that.

If you want to run a professional and successful business/organisation whatever, choosing your staff based on where they were born rather than because they’re the best person for the job seems… well, I’ll let you finish that sentence for me.

It can’t be true, can it?

I’ve just completed a trawl of the Tenerife council websites to find out what interesting things are happening over the Xmas period so that we can let people know for our Tenerife Matters blog.

And I have to say that by the time I was finished I felt like banging my head against the wall.  We all know that there’s a communications revolution taking place in the big wide world. In the last couple of years the use of social media on the internet has completely changed the way businesses and organisations promote themselves… unless they happen to be on Tenerife.

In two years the way we use the web has changed almost beyond recognition, but some Ayuntamientos (Town Councils) on Tenerife have not only missed the train, they haven’t reached the station yet – they obviously don’t know where the station is, in fact I’m not sure that they know that there even is a station.

The councils which didn’t have websites a couple of years ago still don’t have websites. Those which had had websites as primitive as Guanche drawings on a cave wall, still have primitive websites. There are a couple of councils which had quite decent websites who have changed them – and now they’re worse (Icod de los Vinos, I’m pointing the finger at you here).

To be fair there are towns which do have decent and informative websites, interestingly these are the towns which were historically always the most advanced (La Laguna, La Orotava). But some of the municipalities which attract a lot of tourists have appalling websites (San Miguel and Granadilla) and these, historically let’s say, were not the most advanced and clearly still aren’t.

And then there’s dear old Puerto de la Cruz which for the first few years we lived here didn’t have a website, then did have one during the last couple of years and now doesn’t seem to have one again (nice to see the new council members are ‘getting things moving’).

Christmas is almost upon us and Tenerife’s first tourist town doesn’t have a website to inform visitors of all the wonderful things which are taking place. How smart is that?

This lack of internet savvy might seem quaint and charming at first and part of the Island’s little quirks, but when the bulk of your main GDP comes from tourism and people who live beyond Tenerife’s warm and sunny coastline, it could  also be seen to be unbelievably stupid.

However, if you are unwilling to listen to advice from outside of the family circle, what do you expect? I’ll tell you what you get, though.

Boom and bust, boom and bust, boom and…