We reproduce in full the open letter addressed to the investor families of the Cuna del Alma project in Puertito de Adeje, Tenerife
This project aims to build 420 luxury tourist villas in one of the few corners of the coast that are still safe from mass tourism in the Canary Islands. The letter was written by Anne Striewe, president of the Canarina Foundation.
Dear Vandermarliere and Van Biervliet families, let me tell you in this letter a story about the Canary Islands.
As you know, we are islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, much closer to Africa than to Europe. A little over 500 years ago, these lands were inhabited by Berber peoples with a practically Neolithic culture, and in the 15th century they were conquered by the Castilians. In the process of conquest, the fate of most of the original inhabitants was extermination or slavery. Those who remained alive after the conquest suffered cultural annihilation, as their rites, customs and language were forbidden by the Castilians, who imposed their own. Despite the extreme acculturation suffered after the conquest, a small and precious legacy of these original peoples is still alive on these islands, expressed through vernacular sports, whistled languages, toponymy and archaeological remains.
After the Castilian conquest, things began to change a lot. A new hierarchical model of society was established, in which the clergy and the nobility, the conquistadors and some privileged aborigines became the upper classes, chieftains who had a lot of land and water. Meanwhile, most of the surviving aborigines had no privileges whatsoever and, along with peasants, artisans and other workers, occupied the lowest rungs of society, often serving as slaves. The Castilians also brought with them a new economic model: intensive agriculture based on monocultures for export. The first monoculture to spread across the islands was sugar cane, which was exported mainly to Flanders. Sugar was followed by many other monocultures: wine, which was mainly sold to England, the carmine dye obtained from cochineal, and finally bananas.
These islands lost almost 90% of their forests after the conquest, due to indiscriminate logging. Forests were cleared for agriculture, wood and other raw materials. Thermophile forests, Canarian pine forests and laurel forests (a tertiary-age forest unique in Europe) were drastically reduced in area. While the Nature of the islands suffered from these abuses, the poorer classes were working tirelessly and the monoculture business was enriching foreign traders and local caciques.
After 5 centuries of agricultural tradition, from 1970 onwards the economy turned around and agriculture began a process of decline in favour of the massive occupation of the coast, with the creation of tourism-oriented infrastructures. The locals, who until then only valued land that could be cultivated, sold their properties for ridiculous prices to investors who were clearly seeing the tourist potential of the coastal areas. Today, only 50 years later, there is hardly a metre of coastline left undeveloped.
Since the explosion of mass tourism, the problems in the Canary Islands have not stopped growing: firstly, the population has multiplied uncontrollably. This population increase has put immense pressure on scarce resources such as water. In addition to the ever-increasing resident population, there are also tourists, who, as well as consuming water and energy, also generate a large amount of rubbish, waste water and atmospheric pollution, especially from transport, both by land and by air.
Here are a few facts:
- More tan 80% of our waste is buried in landfills, which is a serious problem on islands with such limited territory.
- More than 60% of our waste water is not treated, but is discharged directly into the sea or ravines. It seems that our government would rather pay the sanctions imposed by Europe than invest in an efficient sewage treatment system.
- More than 80% of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels in inefficient thermal power plants, despite the fact that we have plenty of renewable resources such as the sun and wind. Lately, large wind and photovoltaic farms are being promoted, but unfortunately they are still in the hands of the same energy lobbies that do not allow small domestic self-consumption initiatives or a decentralised energy supply system to flourish, because they want to continue to control the lucrative energy business. The worst thing is that they are supported by the authorities.
- More than 90% of our food is imported, despite the fact that we have 125,000 hectares of unused arable land. Our authorities do not support the local primary sector, but favour imports, so that a Canarian farmer or stockbreeder is unable to put products on the market that can compete with those coming from outside. They have turned us into a territory that is completely dependent on the outside world. We no longer own anything.
When a tourist comes to the Canaries, what he sees at first sight is a showcase of well-being. He sees good roads, lots of cars, lots of hotels, shopping centres and luxury villas. But if that visitor were able to look behind the window, he would see a very different reality. He would see that the Canary Islands is one of the regions in Europe with the highest risk of poverty and social exclusion. He would see that our salaries are the lowest in Spain, that we have one of the worst-rated health systems and that the education system does not fare very well either. The youth unemployment rate is alarming, exceeding 40% (the highest in the whole country). The average salary of a Canarian is €1000, and it is practically impossible to find a rent in the islands below €600 or €700. And I’m not talking about luxury villas, but about 50 square metre flats. Now that holiday rentals have become fashionable, properties are no longer rented to locals, but to foreigners who can pay three times as much, so locals are being pushed further and further away. The islands have become a sun and sand theme park for visitors who are much wealthier than the local population.
If we look back at the history of these islands since the Conquest, it is easy to understand that in the Canaries there is a feeling of invasion and plunder. Our territory has been invaded and plundered. Our identity has been plundered, our culture has been plundered, our nature has been plundered and our resources have been plundered, all for the benefit of a few.
You must understand that we cannot continue to see even one more square metre of our land being sold off for the enjoyment of people who do not love it. Who do not love it because they do not know it, and because of that same lack of knowledge they do not hesitate to alter and destroy it. Understand that, although our nature is a unique jewel in the world, we see how it is being altered and mistreated so that a few can do business. Understand that, while for you our badlands are just wastelands full of stones and cactus, for us they are wonderful landscapes full of very special species of flora and fauna in which we have grown up and which we are seeing disappear. While for you our sea is just a big puddle in which to have fun with floats and jet skis, for us it is culture, food and home to whales, dolphins and turtles. While for you hotels and golf courses are your place of rest and leisure, for us they are symbols of precarious employment and savage and unsustainable resource consumption. Understand that the fight is not only against a single hotel or a villa complex, but against a whole model. Understand that this is the straw that has broken the camel’s back, that at some point a limit has to be set, that the time has come to say enough is enough and to stop allowing this kind of outrage. We can’t take it any more. We cannot make one more concession to this model that has brought us to the brink of the environmental, social and economic collapse in which we find ourselves right now.
For decades (if not centuries) we have watched our political and business classes oppress the people and destroy nature while lining their pockets. Please do not do business with them, do not give credence to their lies. The projects you want to bring here will not bring wealth and welfare to the islands. The islands no longer need this type of investment.
If you want to invest, invest in saving the Canary Islands. Invest in everything that our leaders are apparently incapable of tackling. Invest in converting part of the obsolete hotel plant into old people’s homes. Invest in cultural centres, in hospitals, in education. Invest in environmental projects, in reforesting our depleted forests, in plans to create jobs in our natural spaces, to disseminate their values and keep them clean and cared for as they deserve. Invest in water purification systems, so that we can stop discharging water into the sea. Invest in research into sustainable and decentralised energy models that meet the demands of these islands. Invest in science, culture and art. Invest in the regeneration of our agricultural soils and in creating a model of self-sufficiency and food sovereignty for our people. Invest in improving the public transport network so that we stop having the most unsustainable mobility model in Europe. Invest in improving our population centres, creating parks, green areas and sports centres. And, of course, also invest in tourism, but in tourism that focuses on quality rather than quantity, that does not depreciate natural resources, that is based on respect for culture and the local population, and that ensures a fair distribution of wealth.
I have written this letter to try to help you understand why what is happening is happening. So that you can understand why there are demonstrations against your project, why there are young people camping in the area and chaining themselves to the shovels trying to prevent the works. So that you understand why a large part of the population is very angry and sees in your project neither well-being, nor wealth, nor jobs, but the perpetuation of an unsustainable model. I write this letter in the hope that I am addressing sensitive and intelligent people, who I hope will be aware that you operate in spheres that are not at all representative of the majority of the population. I hope that you realise that the reality of this land goes beyond what the businessmen and politicians with whom you have dealt have wanted to show you, and that you now understand that this reality is much broader and more complex.
To conclude, on behalf of that part of Canary Islands society that I represent, I ask you to reconsider the situation and not to go ahead with the investment in the Cuna del Alma project, which has already been marked by alleged legal irregularities and controversy. With this, I assure you that you would be making history in the Canary Islands, giving a definitive boost to the change of model that we so desperately need. The other option, which will surely be the one you choose, is to go ahead. Unfortunately, we have seen this too many times already.
Right now you hold in your hands a seed for change and another seed for further destruction. You choose which one you want to germinate.
Biologist, Official Tourist Guide of the Canary Islands and General Director of the Canarina Foundation for Nature and Environment