Abel Caballero (Ponteareas, 1946) attends elDiario.es by videoconference from an office overlooking the sea where the wind enters through the window and moves the institutional flags that decorate the room. The Vigo mayor strictly complies with all the precautionary measures against the coronavirus and those who work with him say that he has incorporated social distance in such a way that it is impossible to approach him without giving a start, recovering centimeters.
Abel Caballero confirms that the lighting of the Christmas lights in Vigo will be ‘online’
This historic socialist, trained in Cambridge and seasoned in the Communist Party, seems to have become in recent years a kind of Christmas agitator that drives his city to compete with half the planet for the brightness and quantity of lights that decorate its streets. Next Thursday he will hit the switch for ten and a half million light bulbs. According to himself, when Vigo turns on his lights “Christmas begins on this planet.” Just over 50 people will be able to follow this act at the foot of the lectern.
Politically, Caballero folds with Feijóo at the slightest opportunity that presents itself but avoids entering the wars that are beginning to be felt in his party after the failure in the regional elections in July. Gonzalo Caballero clarifies that he is not part of his bubble. De Feijóo, who generates “confusion” by giving opinions on the virus to seek “his minute of glory” every day.
Finally turn on the Christmas lights this week …
Yes sir. The next Thursday at eight p.m. I delayed it about twelve days, giving a little time for the hotel business to open. Christmas begins on this planet: Vigo turns on the lights.
What do the words “save Christmas” suggest to you?
I don’t pay much attention to the lexicon that way. I believe that Christmas is a very characteristic period linked to a very important cultural phenomenon. We are Christian culture and Christmas is always a very celebrated holiday. Vigo was very involved in a more modern way of understanding it. In a more global way. There is a general festival and in it Vigo stands out, it is Christmas.
The European Center for Disease Control assures that saving Christmas could condemn Europe to a third wave of coronavirus …
I never use the phrase “save Christmas”. We are going to celebrate Christmas with COVID security one thousand percent. In fact, we cancel things: we didn’t bring a Ferris wheel, we don’t do the markets, we don’t do anything indoors and there will be no Bethlehem. Those places where crowds of people were going to occur, we removed it. We are going to gauge the streets. In Policarpo Sanz on the day of the start there can be about 3,000 people and there will be between 50 and 100. And sitting, because the key is not the capacity, but also the concentration within the street. We are going to grade 60 streets in the city.
You lower the gauges but what does not lower are the LEDs.
We will keep the 10 and a half million lights.
Lots of electricity …
More light is consumed on a football field in the normal course of January than in all Christmases in Vigo. Four football games generate more consumption than every Christmas in Vigo.
Don’t you think that there are those who do not understand why so many lightbulbs come with people locked up at home?
When you manage to be a reference on this planet in something as important as Christmas, it is convenient to keep it because everyone would like to occupy the place of Vigo. Madrid would like it already, Barcelona would like it already, Malaga would like it already. So many cities in the world would like to take the place of Vigo. And we will continue to occupy it ourselves.
But I have something else to tell you. People are not at home, people are on the street. Take a walk every day. Do you know what families with children ask me? They don’t ask me my name, they ask me when I turn on the lights. I am going to ask people that the day of the ignition they do not go down, that we do it in a staggered way, that the lights will be on for many days.
To be a Christmas reference and that nothing less than Disney has come last year, to have appeared in the New York Times, in The Guardian, in La República and in all the major newspapers in the world … By the way, Madrid turned on, Malaga lit, Barcelona lit. That we do it better, yes. We mark Christmas.
Since you are talking about Madrid, what do you think of those patriotic lights with which Mayor Almeida has been dispatched?
Christmas lights are Christmas lights and the flag of Spain is the flag of Spain. The mayor of Madrid will be able to respect and love the flag as much as I do, but not. But Christmas for me is Christmas. That he understands them with the flag of Spain, it is his right.
How do you see your city after almost a month of closed hospitality?
With great sadness. The city is sad. Cities without hotels, with few people in shops, breathe sadness. It is true that I endorse the closure. Any decision made by the health authority I will endorse it because we will save lives. But I am hoping that there are conditions to be able to open and that we definitively defeat this terrible virus.
Feijóo is implying that in the coming days bars and restaurants will reopen …
I do not venture anything. In this I obey the health authorities.
If those authorities tell you that you have to spend Christmas with the hotel industry closed, do you accept it?
What the health authority says. We are talking about live or die. It has to be the health authorities who decide and the rest of us will like it more or less, but we have to accept what they say.
I think it is good that we all give the same message and do not generate expectations that we do not know if they will be fulfilled. That is why I think it is not good for politicians to give opinions. We have to wait. I am part of the inter-territorial health committee and I always insist that it is good that we all give the same message. It is not good that the president of the Xunta suddenly comes out saying “I think it should not be consider what at the time of accounting. “Look, first give the idea where it is debated and decided and, if there they say yes, you announce it. But why do we make hypotheses that may not be accepted by the health authority?
Do you think Feijóo should be more cautious and learn to be quiet?
I think it could be more prudent and not issue opinions because, if everyone gives opinions, we must bear in mind that we are 17 autonomous communities. And if two or three give their opinion on each one, then we are already fifty opinions. And if we mayors give opinions, we have several thousand opinions. Not good. Why do they go ahead giving opinions that may not be accepted? To create confusion? Not good. Now, if someone wants to have their minute of glory, let them know that it causes confusion.
Have you seen the CIS study according to which 47% of Spaniards would not be willing to get vaccinated as soon as the first vaccines arrive?
Well, we will have to convince them. And trying to bring to the collective vocation of society that getting vaccinated is the best thing to do. From the vaccine or not, we will save thousands and thousands of lives in the nearby environments.
The Xunta has just announced that it is going to spend one million euros to pay personal insurance for all tourists who come to Galicia during the Xacobeo. What do you think?
I don’t go into that. I enter that the Xacobeo is a festival of a city and it would be good if they talked about all of Galicia. I am concerned about the Xunta that they do not talk about tourism in Galicia, they talk about Xacobeo tourism and that is fundamentally Santiago. But the rest of us also have. I never heard the president of the Xunta speak well of Christmas in Vigo, on the contrary, he speaks badly. And Christmas in Vigo is a party with as much right as the Xacobeo.
I am not going to assess what is specific about what he asks me, but I do believe that we have to wait for the moment to maintain tourism. I know that this Christmas in Vigo there will not be a lot of people. But do you know what we are going to do? We are going to broadcast Christmas on streaming and, if the people of Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Valencia and New York do not come to Vigo, Vigo will go to their homes.
In the end, you are going to take advantage of the COVID situation to go hand-to-hand with New York.
I know that the mayor of New York is waiting for the lights of Vigo to be turned on.
Is Gonzalo Caballero part of your bubble?
No. Gonzalo and his family live very close, but we are a different coexistence.
It doesn’t seem very Christmas the fight who starred a few days ago the City Council of A Coruña with its mayor at the head and the staff organic controlling Knight …
I do not attend to these internal party issues. Neither little nor much. I am the mayor of Vigo. My project is this city. Transcending my own party in the city. In the last elections, I told people to go to the polling stations, take the Vigo ballot and cast it. And that sums up the way in which I understand the politics that is called Vigo.
So, if I ask you about the future you see for the leadership of the Galician PSOE, you will tell me that you are not in that …
Exactly. It is not a proforma answer, it is a decision made. I have long ago made the decision not to participate in the organic sphere in Galicia and that my role in politics is the mayor of Vigo, the presidency of the FEMP and my presence in the federal executive of the PSOE in Madrid. It already seems excessive to me. So I do not enter into the issues of the party in Galicia or think.
The Xunta has already selected the Galician candidates for the Next Generation funds with which Europe wants to provide an economic solution to the crisis. Are mayors also sending proposals or is this conveyed by the Xunta?
I believe that some leading positions are more about occupying space than the objective of obtaining investments. The president of the Xunta met with a large part of the automotive industry and said he had a proposal. But the Minister of Industry has just told us that the automotive sector is handled by the Government of Spain.
I know absolutely nothing about the projects that Feijóo is presenting in the field in which I am. I’m afraid what you are sending is a list of excel and that is not the best way to guarantee the solvency of the projects. And it worries me that the naval is not even talking. The main private shipbuilding industry in Europe is called Barreras and it has problems. The Xunta is not taking care of itself and it is its competence.
It is this way of acting of Feijóo, who one day says that he has 20 projects and three days later he has 108. They are 108 names on paper excel. Nobody knows about these projects and I venture to say that not even the Government of Spain.