Friday, July 03, 2009

Desert storm

I took this photo yesterday in the Monegros Desert in Aragon, Spain. Los Monegros is a rare arid ecosystem with a landscape of stunning beauty which is unique in Europe [there are only two other ecosystems with the same characteristics anywhere in the world; they're located in Mauritania and Turkey respectively].

But there is a dodgy operation underway there now, consisting in turning the area into some sort of European Las Vegas with 32 [thirty two !!] casinos, 70 [seventy !!] hotels and numerous golf courses [don't ask me where the water to irrigate them is supposed to come from] according to the website of International Leisure Development Plc, the UK-based promoters of the project.

There are great controversies over this project of course, and the Aragon blogosphere is full of it, including expressions of concern of origins as diverse as the Association of Addicted Gamblers in Rehabilitation of Aragon and social and environmental activists.

It is scary to think that there are politicians who buy into the gross and vulgar propaganda on the promoters' website. And it is sad to see that local land owners are apparently left with no or little alternative, or that they don't want to see them.

Worst, it's hard to believe that this pharaonic project can be economic. So, if it does not fall apart before the bulldozers arrive, it's quite possible that after the damage is done, the promoters will vanish and leave a big mess behind [economic, social, environmental, cultural]. Spain's territory is plagued with scandals involving bankrupted unsustainable urban and touristic developments.

This second photo is from the Sierra de Alcubierre also in Los Monegros. I took it from a trench featured in George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. I only spent less than an hour in the trench, but it was moving to think that Orwell spent several weeks there, in the winter of 1937 during the Spanish civil war.

The local Government of Aragon recently restored this and other civil war trenches in the area, as part of an effort to rebuild the collective historic memory around the horror of the war. This is excellent, but also a little bit ironic: increasingly the defenders of rural life and the environment are forced to retreat into virtual trenches.

I could have written this piece in Spanish but I went for English, thinking of what a local environmentalist told me yesterday: "The only way we'll stop the destruction of Los Monegros is if the rest of the world gets interested, and the European Commission takes action". Hello, World.

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