Saturday, 16.02.2019
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The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands
   The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands

Forging ahead
In his traditional style wooden panelled office, the mayor of Granadilla, Jaime Gonzalez Cejas, came out from behind his enormous desk, to give us a warm welcome.

Don Jaime explains his vision
Don Jaime explains his vision

01.11.2003 -

Born in Charco del Pino, a suburb of Granadilla de Abona, of a working family, he cut his social/political teeth with the creation of a youth football team, later helping to create a youth association and then fighting against the regime during his university days, a period he describes as being difficult times in this county (during Francos rule).

His father was a local farmer and his mum a housewife, but with the aid of grants he was able to take a degree in law, a profession that he combined with being director of a local bank, before becoming a councillor in 1983.  In 1991 his party, the Canarian Socialist Party, was elected as the majority group and he has been mayor ever since. I obviously have a clear public vocation.  Its difficult to hold on in politics, if you havent got a vocation.  Politics is a social art, which shouldnt be so discredited.  In some cases, there are reasons for disrepute, but not all politicians are corrupt, nor are all non-politicians the good guys.  As in all areas of life, there are good and bad on all flanks.  Overall, anyone who doesnt have a clear vocation of politics and sacrifice wont last very long, because no one wants to be badly treated, and criticised behind their backs, and we politicians are aware, that that happens daily.

Politicians dont have a set working day or week, we have to be there when the people need us.  Our families, in the quality of our family life, pay the price for this.  Im married with two children.  My eldest child is in his fourth year of studying law and I have a daughter of 16, who has really only known me as being mayor, Ive been in politics all during their lives.  I do try and dedicate time to them especially at weekends or in slack periods, but its not easy.  My wife Maria, my companion, shares a grand part of any merit.  She has always been there for them and for me, in good times and bad.

He tries to dedicate at least two or three days a week to what he calls contact with the citizenry.  That is contact with his collaborators, examining and visiting projects in hand and planned and getting out and about meeting people, talking to them in the street or their place of work, to try and get the feeling from the roots of what they want.  For the rest of the time he directs and coordinates all the other departments and oversees the town planning.

For those of us used to a little local mayor in a top hat, who toddles out on fete days to cut the ribbon and give out the school prizes, be aware that here it is a whole new ball game.  Local mayors here have enormous power and with the exception of the annual budget, the sale of local territories and similar decisions, which need a majority vote in council, the final word on nearly everything and millions of euros is within his or her control.

It is a huge job, but as Don Jaime told us, I try to delegate as much as possible.  However, a mayor is something like the witchdoctor of a tribe, he has the last word.  From the point of view of the ordinary man in the street, if the mayor can't sort it out, no one can.  They want me to fix everything from the colour of the water to a family problem.  The problem is, I can't see everyone for everything.  First they should see the 'tecnicos' the staff, if they can't sort it out, the councillors and in the last resort come to me.

Don Jaime is all for the 3000 European community in his areas getting involved in politics, forming associations to make their views known, but according to him the politicians are not too worried about the Europeans getting the vote, because the percentage who bother to use it are insignificant.  In his opinion, in local politics people vote for the personality not the political party.

Your vote has more power than you think.  For example, if all the European voters in Granadilla had voted for the opposition party, Coalicin Canaria, in the last election, the CC would now be in charge of the town hall!

He is a great believer in education.  The problem here has been the lack of qualifications.  Its unthinkable, that a tourist service economy like the Canaries didnt have a specialist tourist schools until a few years ago.  The lads working on the tomatoes went to work as waiters because the foreign girls were beautiful.  The Canarians havent made the most of their opportunities.  We want to bring the universities into the villages and see that everyone specialises in something.  Not just waiters, but electricians, plumbers etc.

Of several immigrant centres in the borough, only one a youth centre causes problems, and in his opinion, we need immigrant workers for the less qualified jobs our people are not applying for - to look after the livestock, in agriculture and in construction and cleaning.  He believes that there should be a quota system and that they should issue legal papers, to regulate what actually exists.  He claims that if we continue with the same policies that we have at the moment, the employment markets will be over run with cheap, illegal labour affecting local workers, and that the immigrants will not have proper health or insurance cover.

The Canaries is involved at the moment in trying to gain a substantial grant from Europe for ultra peripheral status.  We become Europeans when we get to Cadiz.  To be Europeans we need 60,000 pesetas (around 360 euros).  Once there, were all Europeans, otherwise, if we dont receive any grants, we turn into the most expensive place in Europe, simply because of the transport problem.

A firm believer in modernisation, he also tries to protect the traditional countryside but with common sense.  I think the PIOT (Island Development Plan) goes too far.  You cant impose a capital city solution on countryside problems.  You cant say that if I inherit an allotment with a shed, from my grandfather, that I cant extend it a bit to enjoy it, or even to live.  You cant oblige me to buy an apartment in San Isidro, Granadilla or on the coast.  If a man has a house on his land, and his daughter gets married, why cant he build her a house next door?  Why cant these middles zones be allowed to grow a little?

He seems tired and resentful of the reputation of the south.  The south isnt all the Veronicas and four hotels in bad conditions.  The south is agriculture, local restaurants, historical buildings and vineyards, not just Playa Las Americas.  He is working to renovate the cultural and historical inheritance of the area and to promote handicrafts, music etc. to attract a higher level of tourism.

He believes that the councils of the south should join together for joint projects and seek their own funding directly in Europe and not rely on the Island Government, which he claims may distribute cash more according to friendship or political colour than necessity.

An airport official claimed recently, that at present the proposed new runway for Reina Sofia airport was only necessary two or three days a week, Don Jaime agreed.  If the daily influx of visitors were spread out more evenly there is enough runway with the present development, but thats the tour operators choice on which days to travel.  However he would like to see Tenerife become a base for fleets, making the most of the economic advantages here and if we dont have the second runway that wont happen. 

He doesnt believe that the ecologists have ground root support.  There are too many cameras pointing to the south.  If we organise a manifestation here, on southern issues, with the people from the south they wont get more than 5000 people in Santa Cruz over 80,000 would turn up.  Id say to these university professors, that they need to got to the villages and ask - to go further than a mere theoretic examination.  They always have this memory of how green the South was, when I went to the banana plantations or tomato farms.  We in the south say, we want to live in equality with them, and our wives want to go to the hairdressers and we want to have a car and be able to study in the university and the only way to obtain that is by sustainable growth.

Despite expert claims to the contrary, he believes the port will be successful.  If we dont get the European funding and invest, then well never know.  There is nowhere in Europe, that has, within six kilometres, an international airport, a low taxation area and a special economic area with over 6,000,000 metres to generate business activity - Keep reading Island Connections to see the full comment in our Special on the Granadilla port in a future issue.

Don Jaime is what we would call a self-made man and his dedication to his work is unquestioned.  It is clear that he has a great affection for his birthplace and a strong determination to do all within his power to carry his plans for the future to fruition.


By Sheila Collis

Gallery: Forging ahead
Don Jaime explains his vision        
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