Doom and gloom

Something happened last Friday which is going to have negative repercussions on all our lives – not just people living in Spain but everywhere in the world. Oil hit a record high of $139 a barrel, twice the price it was a year ago, and the experts are predicting it will hit $200 by the end of next year. The G8 energy ministers meeting in Japan this past weekend called on the oil producing countries to increase production to push prices down, but that’s easier said than done. Political instability in several Opec countries – Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq and Iran – are keeping production down there, while fuel subsidies in most of the developing world – aimed at easing the burden on the poorest members of those societies – have increased demand, quite spectacularly in both India and China. Meanwhile, Opec has said no new decision will be made until its meeting in Vienna on September 9th – by which time we might all be riding bicycles. Here in Spain, the fishing industry is divided – the big boat owners observed the call to strike ten days ago but by the middle of last week, the small boat owners were back on the high seas. Even as they complained bitterly that fuel prices have risen dramatically while fish prices have remained the same for years, the small fishermen ruefully acknowledged they had to bring some fish in, to put food on the table for their families. This week, the men who drive the lorries that carry a lot of supplies to cities and towns around the country are threatening to go on strike for as long as it takes to force the government to help them cope with rising petrol prices. It’s a bit of a “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation because subsidies will only put off the effects of a worldwide fuel crisis for which there is no easy or immediate solution, while encouraging people to use more fuel. As empty shelves at the supermarkets and “No Petrol” signs become a common sight, perhaps we’ll all sit down and have a good, hard think about how to reduce our dependence on the oil that contaminates the air we breathe but which we can’t live without. Hopefully, if the lorry drivers’ strike really goes ahead, it may force Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to stop acting like a character out of Alice in Wonderland. Unemployment is rising, which is bad news for everyone except the PM, who said the latest jobless figures were “the best ever in democracy”. Zapatero watchers are still trying to figure out what he meant by that. The figures in fact were the worst for month of May since 1995; democracy officially began in Spain the last time around with the general election in June 1977. The only connection is buried deep in the mind of the PM, who still insists on calling the current economic situation a “slowdown” and has said anyone calling it a crisis is a “traitor”. Meanwhile, all the economic indicators show Spain is heading for a recession. Prices for just about everything people can buy are heading upwards, while car and housing sales are heading down. One car salesman said last month’s sales figure were the worst for May in living memory. People are going out less, according to bar and restaurant owners. And the Spaniards at least will be economising on their holidays this summer, either by spending fewer days away or by skipping holidays abroad this year – even though the currency exchange rates are in their favour. However, those same rates have been a hard blow for people who have to live off pensions sent from countries outside the euro-zone. The country’s current economic situation must be a great cause of despair for all those foreigners who came to live in sunny Spain “where everything is so cheap” and is ironically underlined by a book I’ve just read. Published by Survival Books in 2004, “Foreigners in Spain: Triumphs and Disasters” tells the real-life experiences of expatriates – mainly Britons on the Costa del Sol – who were attracted by the pleasant climate and cheap booze, fags and food way back in the 70s and 80s when most of them arrived. It’s a very sober read and gives a lot of food for thought. It should be compulsory reading for anyone thinking of pulling up roots and moving here, or anywhere else for that matter. The people who seem to have had the happiest experience of Spain are those who didn’t sell their homes to move here, but rented them instead “to have something to fall back on”. Some moved on to other parts of Spain after the Costa started to resemble a concrete jungle and a fair number went back to the UK. Let’s hope the doomsayers are wrong and what looks like a crisis will turn out to be a slowdown after all.


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