I did rather think that the Alberto Garzón affair would fade away and be forgotten. But no, it has gathered further momentum. This is thanks to the consumer affairs minister himself and various critics who have weighed in against him.
Garzón, to remind you, last week offered his views about tourism. It is low added value, it is precarious - in terms of employment and in the event that there is a crisis of the type we are currently enduring - and it is seasonal. These remarks came on the back of him having said a month ago that it was advisable not to book summer holidays, something else which brought him into conflict with the tourism industry but which, at the time, wasn't at all dissimilar to statements that were emanating from the European Commission or the German foreign affairs minister.
Pretty much everyone, with the exception of the UK's minister of health, now seems to be saying the contrary when it comes to holiday bookings. A month is a long time, therefore, in Covid-scare tourism-related politics; or maybe it's a short time. When he made his remarks back in April, at least Garzón was sticking to his portfolio. Unlike others, such as the German foreign affairs minister, his more recent comments haven't touched on the likelihood of travel and so therefore the possibility of making bookings. Instead, he has focused on the nature of the tourism industry and its role in the Spanish economy.
He now stresses that he had not intended to harm the industry but to strengthen it. He hadn't thought that his "analysis" would arouse the controversy that it has and reckons that the criticism is all part of an attempt to destabilise the government. But far from seeking to win friends, he has reinforced what he said and has in the process taken aim at "some elements" in the tourism industry and the Partido Popular.
"I understand that there are some elements in the tourism industry who are comfortable with high levels of precariousness. They pay a pittance to chambermaids. And there will be many in the PP who think this way. There are people with very thin skins, but we (the government) have to make policies to reinforce quality tourism. A responsible government must understand that this is the reality and work to change it. Fighting to improve it is better than taking offence by something that we all know to be real."
He has also now said that the majority of the tourism industry agrees with him. With all due modesty he has remarked: "My observations are technically impeccable and are shared by all economists, although there is a minority who are resisting and prefer the previous model."
The real problem with what Garzón has had to say is, in my view, the fact that he is a communist. Not everyone in Unidas Podemos is, but Garzon most certainly is. But his observations, while poorly timed, are not unreasonable. There has been an interpretation of his having shown a lack of appreciation of employees in the industry who are currently experiencing very difficult times, but he wasn't making an anti-tourism statement. It was the same with Pablo Iglesias when he said that tourism should have less weight in the economy. Iglesias wasn't attacking tourism, he was stating the need for there to be less dependence.
Juan Pedro Yllanes, also of Podemos, is the Balearics vice-president. In reference to the government's urgent measures, he said last week: "To deny that tourism will continue to be the main economic engine for the Balearics would be to deny the evidence. But the decree points to there being sectors which must start to be important in the Balearic economy and which allow us to diversify."
Absolutely, and who can truly deny this. Yllanes hasn't copped for any flak as far as I'm aware, which may have to do with the fact that he isn't a communist and is a Podemos moderate. But because it's Garzón, with his political background, he is jumped on from a great height by those who clearly have a big issue with his politics and with Podemos, full stop.
I defend him but at the same time believe he is wrong to have brought this all up when he has. As the leader of Ciudadanos, Inés Arrimadas, has said: "The quality of our hotel industry and tourism is among the best in the world. Its professionals don't deserve this lack of recognition. You (Garzón) should apologise and show more respect for sectors which need all the help they can get in order to overcome this terrible crisis."
The Garzón analysis isn't fundamentally wrong, but he should be more sensitive. Tourism is in crisis and the people who depend on tourism - low paid and precarious or not - are victims of the crisis. The debate is for another and better time.
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