Concha Prados, 69, orders a coffee with milk and a single and lights a cigarette. “They have taken over everything. In the afternoon you can’t go out, there are foreigners on every corner. And I’m not a racist, I swear to you,” she says. She addresses Pilar Castillo, 52, her hairdresser, with whom she shares a high table at mid-morning in a bar on El Ejido Boulevard, the main road of this Almeria municipality of 84,000 inhabitants. Of these, 25,700 —30%— are foreigners, most of them from Morocco, according to the Institute of Statistics and Cartography of the Junta de Andalucía. Castillo recounts that she sold her house because they came to steal with her inside (“they came to kill us”), that another day they pushed her in the street to steal her purse with 300 euros and that her daughter “was swollen with sticks” to rob the store where he works. “I am not from Vox, but there are things that I like. The first thing they say is: whoever has a job, stay, and whoever doesn’t, go to hell. And they are right.”
Immigration and citizen security were two of Vox’s ideological assets during the 2018 regional election campaign and that led to the ultra formation being the most voted in El Ejido. A result that was repeated in 2019, when it added 30% of the ballots. Santiago Abascal’s party saw in the capital of Poniente Almería and in its seas of plastic – expanded greenhouses thanks to intensive agriculture supported by foreign labor – the best terrain to materialize its political creed. The place to install the laboratory of managing him for the rest of the country. To this end, they chose Juan José Bonilla as a candidate for mayor, a lawyer and farmer and the son of one of the three ejido residents who were murdered by people of North African origin in February 2000 and who unleashed the anger of hundreds of neighbors who took the justice by his hand, attacking the immigrant population.
Vox did not win in the municipal elections of 2019, remaining as the second force behind the PP, the party that has governed since 1991. But it did become part of the local government. An agreement that barely lasted a year and a half and was plagued by disagreements. In January 2021, Bonilla announced the break with the popular: the Vox councilors lost their municipal responsibilities and Bonilla himself ended up leaving the party. A fiasco that inside and outside Vox is explained by the political inexperience of its mayors, the absolute control exercised by the party’s national leadership and the fragility of its provincial structures, where power struggles and changes of direction are common.
“The councilors of the PP had been in politics for a long time and we came from private activity,” acknowledges Bonilla, who maintains that the clashes were constant and that the popular “appropriated” ultra party flags such as “immigration, security, agriculture, squatters”. “It was very difficult to govern with them because of their lack of experience, humility and ability to work, because of their demagoguery and daring,” remarks the mayor of El Ejido, Francisco Góngora, from the PP. “They have their ideology oriented towards a certain voter, but they have no knowledge of reality”, he abounds.
Bonilla also points out, among the obstacles encountered, the pyramidal structure of Vox, which leads the national leadership to exercise tight control and prevents its councilors from presenting proposals or motions without their approval. “In our flagship issues, this delay has made us lose the initiative,” he maintains.
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“I don’t notice racism on a daily basis, but sometimes I do”
Some conversations with residents of El Ejido show the concerns of those who have seen their town change at full speed without the administrations, they say, having facilitated coexistence. “This is no longer what it used to be,” laments María Vázquez, 64, from her meat stall in a nearly empty municipal market. She remembers that she bought a plot of land in 1975, when “there were only pencas”, in reference to the prickly pears and cacti of Almeria. “When they have let us work and live, this has grown. Not now. With so many payments, you give people 400 or 500 euros and they spend the day out there doing nothing, ”she says. “Come out who comes out [elegido]it will not change anything for us, the normal citizens”.
José Miguel Alarcón, municipal secretary of the PSOE in El Ejido, is very critical of Vox’s passage through the local government: “They came here without a political program, only with ‘Viva España’, bracelets, flags and the mantra that They were going to expel anyone who did not have papers, but when they entered the institutions they have realized that one thing is to preach and another to give wheat”, he sums up. Alarcón believes that the message close to racism with which Vox broke into 2018 has lost steam: “The neighbors have seen them govern and they have seen that they have not changed anything.” An interpretation shared by the popular mayor.
A walk through the most commercial area of El Ejido allows us to discover some sensations regarding the Andalusian elections. “In the others they voted for them because there are many immigrants and people are against that,” considers Ainhoa Peinado, 19, who will vote for the first time on 19-J. On the avenue, huge Mercedes and BMW sports cars cross the bicycles on which many migrants move. There are women with hijab shopping, but you hardly see foreign men of working age: they are all in the greenhouses. “I don’t notice much racism on a daily basis, but sometimes I do,” says Mohamed Dichou, a 59-year-old Algerian who has lived in Almería for 32 years, the last 15 in El Ejido.
“Sometimes they look at them badly, that’s true,” says Wenceslao López, 34, as he helps install a billboard in front of Torre Laguna. A 105-meter building that wanted to be the local emblem of the wealth that the municipality accumulated thanks to intensive agriculture, and that today looks practically empty.
Sexist violence and Pride Day
The first disagreement between PP and Vox was due to sexist violence. In September 2019, the mayor, the popular Francisco Góngora, announced that the municipality was abandoning the Viogen system for monitoring victims of gender violence. The pressure of the opposition forced him to back down and in a subsequent plenary session, promoted by the PSOE, the leader of Vox, Juan José Bonilla, addressed a socialist mayor in these terms: “In times of reds, hunger and lice ”. It was the first time that Vox broke the voting discipline agreed in the government pact. In November of that year, the Councilor for Social Services, in the hands of the ultra formation, said that she would not attend the 25-N demonstration because she did not believe “that gender violence exists.”
In June 2020, the dispute broke out over the City Council’s celebration of Pride Day. Pressure from Vox caused the Consistory to eliminate the rainbow flag on municipal social networks for a time.
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