Tenerife aiming to revive the ‘essence of Vilaflor’ 22 years after the biggest environmental demonstration on the island

Tenerife made a stand ‘enough’ 22 years ago. In 2002, close to 150,000 individuals marched on the streets in what became the largest environmental protest in the history of the island. Thousands of Tenerife locals united against the installation of power lines in Vilaflor municipality. The initiative, pushed by Unelco (Endesa), intended to erect 45-meter-tall structures in the canopy of the Teide National Park, cutting across four protected areas. Community pressure successfully halted the project. On this coming 20th of April, the inhabitants of the island aspire to rekindle the spirit of this movement in a potentially “historic” demonstration, aiming to tackle the tourist overcrowding causing the Archipelago to face a state of “collapse.”

The 2002 demonstration took place in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and was organised by the municipality of Vilaflor, led at the time by the socialist mayor José Luis Fumero. The protest garnered unprecedented support. The people of Tenerife not only rallied against the power lines but also voiced their opposition to the environmental degradation the entire island was experiencing. The Unelco project, as reported by The country back then, posed a threat to endemic and endangered species such as the common kestrel, the great woodpecker, or the blue finch. Through social pressure, the installation of the power lines was successfully halted.

Román Rodríguez, who now leads Nueva Canarias, was overseeing the autonomous government at that time. ”I was directly involved in the protests against excessive development practices. The key is to listen and not vilify. Tourism should not be demonised here as it is crucial, but I believe that those supporting the demonstrations are not anti-tourism, but opposed to the specific tourism development model,” he stated in an interview shared on social media. Rodríguez also recalled that in 2001, the Canary Islands Parliament passed an urgent measure to suspend the issuance of licenses and initiated a process to reclassify tourist areas.

Presently, the President of the regional government, Fernando Clavijo, has urged the people of the Canaries to exercise “common sense” since images of the protests are circulating in the media in Germany and the United Kingdom. Additionally, The Ashotel hotel association has expressed worries about the demonstration on April 20, emphasising that the tourism sector “should be left undisturbed.”

Nonetheless, organisers have reiterated multiple times that the protest is not aimed at tourists, but rather at the uncontrolled growth model being pursued in the Archipelago, which is not only jeopardising the natural surroundings but also pushing the Canary Islands’ services and infrastructure to a breaking point in this confined territory. Five islands have already joined the movement with the slogan The Canary Islands have a limit: Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, and La Palma.

The demonstrations are centred on demanding a shift in the economic and developmental approach to curb the “unrestrained” expansion of tourism. They are also calling for protective measures for the local populace against homelessness. Requests include restrictions on property acquisitions by non-resident foreigners on the islands, safeguarding natural spaces with increased surveillance, imposing a tourist tax, and implementing an immediate moratorium in this sector.

In addition to the protests on April 20, the group Canary Islands are sold out has announced that some of its members will commence an indefinite hunger strike if within ten days the regional government does not engage in negotiations with citizens, scientists, and associations to halt the tourism initiatives in Cuna del Alma, in Puertito de Adeje, and the La Tejita hotel, in El Médano. They have demanded an immediate imposition of a tourism moratorium. ”We understand the risks to our lives this poses, and despite being fully aware, we say enough is enough because the current and future generations, as well as our present, are in peril,” they concluded.

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