Life in the pueblo: How Spain stops rural life dying out

5th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

Many Europeans dream of finding that finca in the Spanish countryside. But with its own rural population dying out, Spain has started to 'import' Latin Americans to stop the 'pueblo' from disappearing. Diana Campos reports.

The population of rural Spain is dying out

Spaniards who over the past decades have been leaving small towns and villages for the cities are being replaced in the countryside to some extent by Latin American immigrants who see better prospects in the rural milieu than in the urban one.

For many Latin Americans, who make up the second biggest group of foreign immigrants in Spain after Africans, working for a better future on the other side of the Atlantic is a kind of 'golden dream'.

This now seems easier, thanks to the initiatives of Spanish private networks and town councils that offer immigrants a 'new life', in exchange for having them settle in towns that are at risk of becoming depopulated.

The 'Abraza la Tierra' (Embrace the Land) programme promoted by the Spanish Rural Development Network (REDR), tries to find the best candidates to repopulate the at-risk towns.

It is contacted more than 100 times per day by Latin American families ready to embark upon a new life in the country.

*quote1*"My husband and I have two school-age children and we'd love to exchange the hustle and bustle of the city for the pure air and peace of the country," wrote Brenda Mendoza Pimentel.

"We're very businesslike people with a great desire to work."

Mendoza Pimentel, an Ecuadorian agronomy engineer, put her comments in the Abraza la Tierra visitors book.

She is just one of the many people seeking a change in their lives, and REDR director Antonio Gonzalez says that "the demand by those who want to settle in small Spanish towns has overwhelmed us".

The arrival of new residents in the rural communities serves to guarantee the availability of young workers, as well as allow schools, dining halls and other services to be kept open, many of which are in danger of closing due to a growing lack of school-age children.

In 2000, the town of Aguaviva in the north-eastern region of Aragon was in danger of disappearing.

Spain wants Latin Americans to move to the countryside

Sixty percent of its population was older than age 65 and economic activity was very weak.

"At that point, we thought that nothing the town hall could do would make any sense if nobody were here to enjoy it, and we thought that the most important thing for us to do would be to bring young people to the town," said Ljuis Bricio, mayor of Aguaviva, who is the current president of the Spanish Association of Municipalities against Depopulation (AEMCD).

"In five years, the population of Aguaviva went from 550 to 700, the number of jobs doubled, construction of new homes went from an average of two per year to 34 in 2004," he said, noting that it was mainly Argentines and Uruguayans who had moved to the town.

The AEMCD is made up of rural towns, most of them with fewer than 1,000 residents, in the Spanish regions of Aragon, Valencia and Castilla y Leon.

*quote2*The new country residents must be married and aged 40 or younger. The head of the family has to have the right to Spanish citizenship through his parents or grandparents, and the couple must have a minimum of two children under age 10 and make a commitment to remain in their new town for at least five years.

Immigrants are offered jobs in factories, construction or agriculture with salaries that vary between $840-$1,000 per month, as well as a home whose rent is about $180 per month.

Once the town councils present their requests for new residents along with the corresponding job offers, the AEMCD makes a preliminary selection from its database, but in the end it is the municipalities that decide which prospective settlers best fit their needs.

Four-fifths of Spain's territory is classified as rural, but it is home to only 23 percent of the population.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

[September 2005]

Subject: Spain, Latin Americans living in the country

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