In Rabanales there are some 300 lampposts for something more than 500 inhabitants. "In a few years we will have more streetlights than people," says the mayor, Domingo Ferrero. "I prefer not to look at the number of neighbors over 80," he says. The municipality is part of the region of Aliste (Zamora), which brings together some 70 villages spread over more than a dozen municipalities and borders Portugal, a border known as La Raya. They are the limit of a country, of an autonomous community, of a province. The periphery of the periphery. And they have the same problems as their Portuguese neighbors: they live in a place where many die, few are born and the young people leave.
In these lands of chestnut trees and oaks the diagnosis is shared, not so much the solutions. Its inhabitants complain about the bureaucratic obstacles to open businesses and livestock farms, the low quality of power lines, poor coverage and connection to the Internet. Of living "forgotten" by the big companies and capitals. With their pensions or their jobs, with their coffees at the bar or shopping at the store, they keep the vital signs of this rural patient suffering a demographic drain.
Zamora is one of those dark spots of depopulation in Spain. It was the province that, percentageually, more population lost last year, according to the INE: 1.5%. About 2,600 inhabitants. In the provinces of La Raya, 94% of the municipalities have more people over 65 than under 15. 84% have lost population between 2000 and 2017. 90% have less than 5,000 inhabitants and half, less than 500 In seven out of 10 there are more men than women. "Except in some areas such as the area of influence of Vigo, Badajoz or the Guadiana valley, almost 1,000 of the more than 1,200 kilometers of border are cannon fodder, since the sixties it has lost population," says Lorenzo López Trigal, professor at Human Geography of the University of León. "In the angle between Zamora, Ourense and northeastern Portugal you see, in the past economic activity was left aside, no industry was created," he continues.
Reward the entrepreneur
Domingo Ferrero, 54, is in front of the City of Rabanales since 2007, first by the PSOE and then by the PP. Six towns make up the municipality. The largest, with the same name, has about 200 inhabitants. The school closed. "There are two wakes and a residence," he says. "Young people leave to study and there is no work here, some lawyers may come, but not 10," he continues. "We must improve the Internet connection, finish the land consolidation, help the entrepreneur, if someone wants to start a business here, we should give him a prize," he asks.
Spain and Portugal celebrate the XXX Portuguese-Spanish Summit in Valladolid on Wednesday, a meeting that will address, among other issues, the demographic challenge.
"It is considered a priority to establish a strategy between both countries, which can combat the depopulation of border territories, which may have an influence on the negotiation of territorial, economic, social and environmental cohesion policy instruments with the European Union," they maintain. sources of the Secretary of State for the Valorization of the Portuguese Interior, created in October.
In La Raya, several associations boost cross-border cooperation between both countries, launching joint projects. For example, the European territorial cooperation groups Zasnet or Douro-Douro. "The problems we have are practically the same, we have turned our backs a long time and now we are moving forward, but there is still ground to travel," says José Luis Pascual, general director of Duero-Douro.
"Everything costs twice as much effort, I pay the same taxes as in a city, but in Madrid thousands of people would pass in front of my restaurant and here, 20," complains José Martín, 47, who lives in San Vitero, of about 250 inhabitants. Míriam Moral, 32, works in another restaurant in Rabanales, a "family business". There they deal with the coverage: "Sometimes the dataphones fail us and in February we had a breakdown in the town and it took a week to repair it: a week without connection". Your business "works well", especially thanks to people from outside.
"There's a lot of hunting here, and the region is part of the Iberian Plateau Transboundary Biosphere Reserve. Rural tourism begins to move, "says Moral." For the take-off, the mayor of Rabanales demands infrastructures, "such as signaling routes." Javier Faúndez (PP), president of the Tierras de Aliste commonwealth, which brings together 12 municipalities and about 60 towns, goes in the same line: "Opportunities are there, but also too much bureaucracy. There are no funds for projects that create employment. From the beginning there should be aid. "" We need favorable taxation, bonuses and better financing for small municipalities ", ditch.
Ángel Mezquita, 42, is the walking proof of what it takes to undertake. "I have a pig farm, it took me a year to give me permission to start building, it took me another year to start, I was able to do it because my parents helped me, but it's too long," he says. He lives in San Juan del Rebollar, a town that depends on San Vitero and where about 160 inhabitants live. There is no store there anymore.
These localities find it difficult to fix a population. In 2016, San Vitero launched a campaign to attract families and ensure that the school does not close. Now there are seven students from three to 11 years old. They are up to date: digital whiteboard, almost one computer per child. "We are like family," says the director, Yoana Prieto, 38 years old. He comes and goes every day from Zamora: "There I have my life, there my daughter was born, and 45 minutes is not so much".
It was the parents and the mayor who moved the most to save the center. They offered two free houses. There were 200 requests. Two families arrived. One did not adapt. Another is still there, in the house of the hermitage. "When we saw the opportunity, we did not doubt it, but we have to fight against the idyllic image of the people, you have to like this life, you spend a lot of time alone," says Esmeralda Folgado, 36, who is "delighted". "And if you want to go to the theater, you only have 45 minutes," he adds. Recognizes, however, limitations, such as the pediatrician only going twice a week. If children get bad, you have to go to Alcañices.
This town, with a thousand inhabitants, is the county seat. In the words of its mayor, Jesus Maria Lorenzo Mas (72 years, of the PP), are not free from depopulation, although here "the exodus has been less." "If we could get some 100 employees or employees who work here to move, we would gain a lot, but the people leave, they kill each other to get a civil guard post, for example, and then they go to live in Zamora," he complains.
Alcañices borders on Portugal. Luis Augusto Lucas, 65, presides over the freguesia meeting (Neighborhood council) of São Martinho de Angueira, which with about 200 inhabitants depends on Miranda do Douro, one of the municipalities that has lost more population in the Portuguese country in recent years. It differs little from Spanish towns with which it borders. They also demand work, opportunities.
"In the rural world there is no need to defend sustainability, but social justice," he argues. Teófilo Nieto, priest in 15 villages of Aliste. It arrived in 1995 and has seen it evolve. As he moves down the street, he is able to tell the houses he has been closing. Last year, 50 burials compared to 13 baptisms. "Of them, only one child will live here," he says. Trust that the solution will come. Believe in David's chances against Goliath. And he cites José Antonio Labordeta: "Neither you, nor I, nor the other one will see it, but we will have to push it so that it can be".