San Antonio and the Change that Never Happened

The New San Antonio Govt led by Marcos Serra

A new centre right alliance has taken over at San Antonio Town Hall for the next 4 years.

The 2015-2019 council is confined to the history books as a once in a generation event. A time when the youth of San Antonio came together, tired of seeing the same snouts in the same trough and the town seemingly on a downward spiral they formed their own political party.

The ‘Reinicia’ Political Party started as a Facebook protest group against the then PP Mayor Pepita Gutiérrez, it gathered momentum and caught the imagination of the 20-40 year olds who had previously been passive in their voting habits.

Reinicia touched a raw nerve with the 2nd and 3rd generation electorate and in their leader Pablo Valdés they found the charismatic talisman that brought them together with a common cause. Valdés, a fiercely intelligent individual, driven by anger at what he was seeing in his town became the mouthpiece of the movement and as their protests at council meetings intensified they decided to do something tangible and start their own political party. On Election Day in May 2015 Reinicia were greatly underestimated by other political parties as their fervent supporters swarmed to the polling stations in their numbers.

They returned 4 councillors which was unheard of for a new political party and in a fragmented election it meant that they had a place at the top table of local government. Their protestations putting residents needs  above tourists struck a chord with those who thought that San Antonio was selling its soul to the tourist dollar.

In the 2015 San Antonio election the socialist PSOE party (with ex-PP member Pep Cires as it’s leader) won 6 seats meaning that between them and Reinicia they had 10 seats in the 21 seat chamber. The centre right PP party won 8 seats (down from their previous 12) and The other 3 seats went to the Propuesta Illes party (PI) who had fallen out spectacularly with the PP during the previous 4 years even though they were both centre right parties.

Just like in the 2019 elections, in 2015 the PI party (now known as PXE) with Juan Jose Ferrer as leader found themselves as the power brokers. Even though it was a giant leap for the Centre right PI to join forces with the left wing Reinicia they did it with glee, revenge after all is a dish best served cold.

Ferrer, Cires & Valdés form the 2015 Coalition

So the 2015 tri-party coalition was born with much fanfare, I wrote a blog post about it at the time. The 3 leaders assuming the mayor, deputy mayor and 2nd deputy roles. The PP was confined to the opposition benches for the first time ever. Now is a good time to declare that I was a part of this PP team, the worst performing PP team in the history of San Antonio, not a nice feeling but a steep learning curve.

So myself and many others gathered in the town hall in June 2015 to watch as the 13 councillors from 3 different parties took the oath to carry out their duties for the greater good of San Antonio. A change is sometimes required to start afresh but it can also remind us what had gone on before.

All the time the ever-serious Pablo Valdés with his steely gaze determined to do things his way shaking up local politics just like Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias had done at national level. No suit for this guy, along with his 3 Reinicia comrades they were the wild bunch of Ibiza politics sticking up their collective middle finger to the establishment, they had the people behind them after all.

The coalition started off amicably but cracks soon started to show and it was always Valdés in the middle of things. It soon became apparent that PSOE leader Pep Cires was more than happy to leave most things to his young deputy, he would open meetings before slipping off, presumably for an early lunch.

So in effect San Antonio was now in the hands of Valdés, a young radical with no previous political experience and with less than 20% of the seats in the chamber, democracy works in mysterious ways. What was clear though was that Sr Valdés had an agenda and now he had the vehicle to drive it through with a complicit Mayor by his side who had fulfilled his job merely by overseeing the PP’s fall from grace.

Valdés focused on cleaning up the town by negotiating a new street cleaning contract plus culling the excessive West End area which is always at the heart of San An’s biggest challenges and something he viewed as his own personal mission.

But all wasn’t rosy within a coalition of differing values and things started to unravel in August 2017 when a feud between Pablo Valdés and Juanjo Ferrer came to light over the new proposed opening hours for the West End.

Ferrer wanted the terraces to be removed at 2am but a hardline Valdés insisted on 12am midnight. Ferrer thought his compromise proposal was agreed but when he was overruled by Valdés he asked Mayor Cires to back him and when that never came he deemed his position untenable and duly resigned.

Valdés riding roughshod over the chamber became a theme. I personally confronted him on a few occasions about the decision to close bars at 3am in a tourist resort fames for its nightlife, the total lack of security in town and his vagueness about the amount of residents genuinely affected by extreme noise pollution in San Antonio. His tone was was always autocratic and dismissive, viewing myself and others as bothersome citizens with no right to directly cross-examine his decisions.

After Ferrer’s departure the PI Party replaced him with the wily Joan Torres, a canny individual not prone to suffering fools and it soon became clear that the dynamic within the 3 party coalition had changed significantly. PI’s Cristina Ribas became more withdrawn and drifted towards the PSOE so when in early 2019 she announced that she was jumping ship it caused an institutional crisis of sorts. PI demanded her resignation and once again Mayor Cires went against them causing the coalition to permanently break up.

As the political fallout was continuously covered in the press, San Antonio hadn’t improved much and for all the hyperbole and promises the revolution hadn’t taken place, the problems had merely been shifted to other areas rather than being solved. Valdés’ revolution never happened because it wasn’t needed, all that was needed was extra police on the street, a consensus with local business and clear framework for delivering small steps rather than giant strides.

The 2019 vote recognised this and as Valdés disappeared from view during the last months of his tenure his fervent 2015 supporters became passive once again. In a close election the PP went against the national trend and won by a whisker and confined Pablo Valdés and his vision to the history books.

Sr Valdés’ attitude to local business and his dismissive manner means he will be forever loved by some but also hated by others. Where his other council colleagues will be able to walk with their heads held high, his decision to make it his personal mission to ‘clean up’ San Antonio will ultimately be viewed as a divisive era for the town.

The strategic plan for San Antonio that he and his colleagues tried to push through without much consensus was a nice idea but yielded very little in real terms except for a handful of people close to the West End having an extra hour of peace while hard working businesses saw trade tumble through no fault of their own. Meanwhile San Antonio’s tourists were a mere afterthought, mostly treated with contempt which is always a dangerous game to play when you have no other industry to fall back on.

What’s clear from the 2015-2019 experience is that running San Antonio is a big job. The biggest job on the island and you can’t please all of the people all of the time but you can confront the challenge with honesty and humility communicating clearly with the people and explaining why you are making the tough decisions and with as much consensus as possible.

Let’s see how the new council led by Marcos Serra approach the challenge but just like the previous 4 years, the Man in San An will be watching every move.

Author: Martin Makepeace

Englishman living and working in Ibiza since 1991. Entrepreneur with a passion for villas, boats, sunsets and San Antonio. Read my blogs, listen to my podcasts and catch me on Radio One Mallorca every Tuesday morning.

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