Thousands of residents in the province of Teruel, southern Aragón took to the streets to protest over the decades-long neglect they have suffered at the hands of various central governments, leading to their population dwindling rapidly.
Only two towns in the whole of the province – Alcañiz and Teruel city – have more than 10,000 residents; in fact, Teruel is the smallest provincial capital in Spain, with fewer than 36,000.
Of the rest, a total of 92 villages have fewer than 100 inhabitants.
The campaign group Teruel Existe has, in fact, existed for over 20 years, and was set up to remind the national government and the rest of Spain about its underfunding.
Huge swathes of countryside lie between practically all of Teruel’s municipalities and their nearest large town or city, meaning commuting is impossible and jobs, other than on residents’ own family farms, where they have these, non-existent.
As a result, inhabitants of child-bearing age tend to move away as soon as they need to start their working lives or university, leading to the few remaining village schools shutting down due to lack of demand – and forcing more families out because they have no educational facilities.
Teruel as a province works hard to create opportunities for work – the ski slopes in Javalambre and Valdelinares attract day tourists from the regions of Catalunya and Valencia, and the neighbouring province of Zaragoza, and rural hotels and apartments cater for skiing fans from farther afield and for visitors on walking holidays in spring and autumn, whilst the Dinópolis theme park, located on an archaeological dig where real dinosaur remains have been found, attracts day-trippers from all over the country.
But it is not enough, and a general lack of services and facilities aggravates the situation – for example, many municipalities have no internet or mobile phone connection as it is not financially viable for network providers, making it difficult to start businesses and putting existing ones off setting up branches in the province.
The province has no decent rail service, the hospital is poorly equipped – patients have to travel to the provinces of Zaragoza or Valencia for radiotherapy – and no hospital transport for regular patients who cannot get to appointments themselves has ever been in operation.
Many of the roads are neglected, cracked and filled with potholes, and plans to build a second hospital in Alcañiz have never come to fruition.
To increase visibility, Teruel province residents staged their demonstration in Zaragoza, Aragón’s largest city, throwing on coaches from their home villages.
Each carried a banner with the name of their village and ‘…exists’ after it.
They campaigned not only for Teruel but for all other parts of Spain which suffer similar problems of declining population levels – most of which are inland, particularly Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha in the centre of the country.
Teruel Existe says the underfunding and underpopulation problem has affected their own province since the mid-1970s, and ‘very few solutions have ever reached’ the area.