A makeshift migrant camp on Spain’s abandoned Formula 1 circuit | Business and Economy News


Valencia, Spain – Less than a decade ago, it was a huge playground for the wealthiest echelons of Valencian society in the heart of the city: a place where the elite toasted champagne, watched racing cars pass by. millions of dollars and internally congratulated himself on being part of a capitalist fairy tale.

Today, however, it is a makeshift and dilapidated home for migrants, refugees and the poor.

“I didn’t choose to live here,” Mohammed, a middle-aged Sahrawi told Al Jazeera as he stood at the edge of a circle of huts made of mattress walls, plastic poles, in wood and metal at the center of the old Formula 1 Circuit.

“I just needed a chance to work. And here I have a small one.

If Mohammed looks directly from his Spanish “home”, less than a kilometer away, he can see the huge curved white arches of Valencia’s famous City of Arts and Sciences complex.

To the left, the skyline is dotted with cranes and multi-story harbor buildings overlooking the Mediterranean.

In front of him, the site of the Formula 1 race, which last took place in 2012, is now a wasteland of tarmac, partly torn off barriers and concrete, as well as half a dozen circles. of cabins.

About 50 people live in the F1 slum of Valencia [Ian Walton Hemingway/Al Jazeera]

The local council estimates that around 50 people live in the F1 slum of Valencia. Mohammed said there were “dozens” from several different countries.

“People everywhere want to look for work. It does not distinguish between nationalities.

“There are people from Morocco. And Spain too, those over there with that Spanish flag flying over their huts. A guy from Ghana has been here for years.

“But if you can’t find a job,” he asks rhetorically, where else are you going to live? How can you rent a room?

Corruption cases

Mohammed’s situation is far from exceptional throughout Western Europe.

What makes this slum striking is that it is located in the middle of a racing circuit that has become the symbol of what local journalist and author Francesc Arabí has ​​called “an era of fast lane life – in every sense of the term “.

Valencia was ruled by the right-wing Partido Popular (PP) until March 2015. Then, the politics of the region and some of its economic powers, especially in construction, were plagued by corruption.

Subsequent police investigations into corruption and bribery cases have at times extended deeply into national politics.

An investigation was part of the Caso Gurtel, the largest preliminary investigation in Spanish history.

This saw 29 defendants sentenced to a combined sentence of 351 years in prison, including the former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas, who was sentenced to 33 years for fraud and money laundering.

The site has no electricity or running water and offers little shelter from the scorching summer temperatures [Ian Walton Hemingway/Al Jazeera]

In another case, the 24-year-old former mayor of Valencia and PP senator Rita Barberá, who said she was aiming to create a city to compete with Barcelona, ​​died while on trial in court Supreme Court of Spain for allegations of money laundering for election campaigns by PP officials. .

An ongoing judicial inquiry, known as Azud, is currently investigating the links between funds allegedly received by the city hall of Valence, mainly between 2004-11, in exchange for favors linked to urban development, and which are said to affect part of the city. ground on which the current -old pits of the Formula 1 circuit.

At the national level, the wave of corruption cases in Spain at that time indirectly led to the downfall of PP president Mariano Rajoy by a vote of no confidence the day after Caso Gurtel’s verdicts.

Meanwhile, in Valencia, the PP was removed from office after 20 years of government in 2015.

“A huge hangover”

As Spain’s worst economic crisis in half a century worsened, Valencia’s era of the high life was still going full steam ahead, even though its foundations were increasingly undermined.

“In Valencia, society, politics and citizens led a good life and didn’t think about what they were doing right or wrong,” said Arabí, who wrote an acclaimed book Ciudadano Camps. [Citizen Camps], about the time.

“So the circuit is now a dumping ground, a huge graveyard of rubbish and nothing, and the symbol and icon of a huge hangover from that era.

“It is extremely ironic and sad that it is now home to people who are desperate to make a living the best they can. “

The circuit was previously a top destination for Valencia’s upper classes during the days of the city’s “fast lane life”. [Ian Walton Hemingway/Al Jazeera]

The history of the Formula 1 circuit could be seen as a symbol of the city’s financial roller coaster past, a past that the people of Valencia still pay for.

“When the Formula 1 race started in 2007, the president of the region, Francisco Camps, said that it would not cost the people of Valencia a single euro, and that the total price was over € 300 million. ($ 353 million), “Arabí said. .

“A short while ago, we repaid 7.5 million euros ($ 8.9 million) which was part of the initial cost of 60 million euros ($ 71 million). And we still have two years of payments to make. “

Delayed redevelopment

In self-contained units on huge expanses of tarmac, residents survived recent temperatures that soared until the mid-thirties – without electricity or running water – as they searched for work.

A sinister sense of humor helps them get by.

An old cash machine adorns a wall of the camp. Someone scribbled on the bank symbol and wrote the words “broken down” below.

“I was able to get a few jobs in agriculture,” Mohammed said.

While he has his papers and work permits in order, “a lot of people here don’t.”

Others work informally, parking cars at the nearby Malvarrosa beach.

The social services of the town hall help some people.

An independent cabin at the exit of the pit lane, with the famous complex of the City of Arts and Sciences of Valencia in the distance [Ian Walton Hemingway/Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, protracted negotiations over a still unpaid local government payment of 42.9 million euros ($ 50.5 million) for the circuit and its current owners have reportedly delayed its redevelopment.

The town hall and camp residents insist there has been no conflict with neighbors in large neighboring apartment blocks.

According to an Algerian migrant, the police only surrender to prevent the riders from putting the cars to the test on the F1 circuit.

Yet there are still calls for the situation to be resolved.

“Just the fact that he [the camp] exists is worrying, ”Vicent Martínez, vice-president of the association of neighbors of nearby Grau-Port, told the local newspaper Levante-EMV recently.

José, an elderly man whose family ran a construction company near the circuit, told Al Jazeera during his morning walk past the site: “I can’t say I blame them for being here.

“It’s like everything. If there is a space, a vacant lot, people will move in.

José said the contrast between the site’s present and not-so-distant past is stark.

He has only one memory of racing days: “The noise of cars. It was deafening. “

Although the site remains a symbol of Valencia’s corrupt and high-flying economic past in its halls of power, Mohammed does not show much interest in what the Formula 1 circuit represents beyond his own situation.

“People are looking for a chance in society,” he says. “Every government comes and goes and does what it wants. The victims are always the same.

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