By Joe Wallen
MARTA PASCAL, secretary-general of the Catalan European Democratic Party described Catalonia’s ’s pro-migrant policy as ‘the Catalan Dream.’
“This is a prosperous and interesting territory in the south of Europe where the Catalan Dream… works,” she told the media. If you came to Catalonia and learnt the language your respective identity would be respected, Marta had enthused.
Yet, it now appears that the Latino population of Catalunya have had a rude awakening.
“ I can’t take it anymore is because of the fear, of what will happen to us that live in Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia.” confides Valentin Mogrezutt-Gómez, a Venezuelan who has lived in Barcelona for fifteen years.
Valentin works in a hotel in the centre of Barcelona which typically hosts employees of some of Spain’s largest companies when they come to do business in the city.
“We are at 40% down on bookings for the next couple of months and cancellations are increasing because our main clientele, business people, managers and employees of the major companies including San Miguel and Banco Sabadell, no longer want to do business here.”
He says he has had his hours slashed as a result and is struggling to pay rent and put food on his table. “This conflict has already done us a lot of damage.
“Who will come to visit Barcelona and spend their money in our hotels, restaurants and shops when all outside our borders all they see is instability and civil unrest?” Valentin says. His situation is not an isolated one.
There are over 190,000 Latin Americans with official residential status in Catalunya, according to the 2016 Generalitat de Catalunya survey.
The Spanish Ministry of Employment and Social Security estimates that once you take into account Latinos who are on temporary work visas or living illegally in the region this figure could be twice as high.
Latinos play an integral part in civil life in Catalunya but they were not allowed to vote in the October 1 referendum as the Catalonian Parliament restricted voting to Spanish citizens but they must deal with the fallout.
Traditionally, Latinos worked and thrived across a whole range of sectors in the region benefitting from the pro-independence Catalunyan parties’ positive attitude to immigration.
Between 2000 and 2010, the population of Catalonia swelled by 20% reaching 7.5 million, driven in a large part by immigration, with nearly 14% of residents listed as foreign born.
Pro-independence parties promised citizenship to Latinos in the new Catalan Republic in exchange for their support. It seemed everyone was a winner.
“Life in Catalonia a was fantastic,” says Maira Macheda Bustos, a Colombian living in Barcelona. For many, years Latinos were welcomed. It was an open door and we were grateful to live and work in this rich land,” she said.
However, it is the industries dominated by Latinos that have been hardest hit by the capital flight and economic uncertainty in the province following the referendum.
Revenue from the tourism industry has fallen by 15% compared to the same period last year, said Jose Luis Zoreda, vice president of the Exceltur trade association.
“The tourism industry is one of the biggest for us Latinos,” says Myriam Caren Acosta over an impossibly sweet gin and tonic in the bar she works at in La Barceloneta.
Myriam has been an adopted Barcelonian for eight years since she moved from Santiago in Chile.
“Since the referendum, people are stopping coming here, and the Latinos are the first to lose their jobs.
She added, “I know of two friends, two Dominican girls, who have already lost their jobs because their restaurant can’t now afford to keep them on, while many other of my Latino friends with similar jobs are having their hours cut.”
The construction industry in Barcelona was another dominated by Latinos. Construction companies in Spain once built more residential homes annually than the whole of Western Europe.
However, Spain suffered when its early 2000s credit-fuelled construction boom went bust, with the industry now worth half of what it was a decade previously.
While Barcelona was hit hard, Latinos working in construction were somewhat cushioned from the widespread job losses elsewhere in the Iberian peninsula. Continued migration to the region had resulted in an on-going demand for new accommodation and office space but uncertainty over the region’s future has led businesses to freeze investment and look elsewhere in Spain.
Inmobiliaria Colonia, a leading real estate firm, and Abertis, the infrastructure company, have already moved their head offices outside the region.
Companies have “seriously put the brakes on all investments until the end of 2017,” says Jose Luis Zoreda.
Previously, construction firms in Catalunya typically hired Latinos, who were often experienced and prepared to work for lower pay than their Spanish-born counterparts.
While the hours were long, Latinos could make a stable living, particularly in the Catalan capital. This is no longer the case as Jorge Eduardo Perez, a Colombian engineer explained. “Companies are stopping building here, as – businesses and tourism – leave Catalonia,” he said.
“Over the last two months, the lack of work for has been shocking, and is causing conflict within the Latino community over remaining jobs.”Javier Eduardo Salazar, a Peruvian said:
“Building work is completely stopping across some industries – textiles, manufacturing and of course with tourism – It is not just me but also my wife and children not to mention my elderly parents at home in who relied on the money I used to send home.”
But there are, , some Latin Americans who have so far been untroubled by the instability caused by the referendum. “Work hasn’t changed too much for me,” says Karina Figueredo, a Venezuelan who works in advertising.
“Much of our invoicing goes to companies outside of Spain and obviously they aren’t affected like Spanish companies.”
But she expresses frustration at the strikes being held in the region with international clients experiencing difficulty reaching her offices from Barcelona-El Prat Airport.
For many Latinos life in Catalunya is changing beyond recognition and the Catalan dream may be becoming a nightmare with those who had made the province their home being forced to consider relocation.
“There will be many lost jobs,” says Daniel Caballero Cáceres, a Paraguayan living in Barcelona. The Catalans will not want Latin Americans here, and the Latino population will move to other cities”
“There will be no single positive aspect for us,” he concluded with a heavy heart.