Fri | May 26, 2017

Cash-strapped Spain can't afford old capital restoration

Published:Thursday | June 25, 2015 | 6:00 AM
Jesus Gracia Aldaz, Spain’s secretary of state for international cooperation.

There is no possibility of Spain giving development assistance in a monetary form - at least not any time soon - for restoration works in Jamaica's old capital of Spanish Town, St Catherine.

The town, where signs of the Spanish influence can still be seen, has long been touted as being ripe for restoration, and Spain, once colonisers of Jamaica, has been looked toward by both government and non-government organisations to assist in the process.

But Jesus Gracia Aldaz, Spain's secretary of state for international cooperation, told The Gleaner that his country, which has suffered from the economic recession, is not in a position to offer financial assistance at this time.

"There has been a shortage of funds, and that is why we have moved from the funding of direct restoration in many cities ... . We have moved to sharing experiences, practices and training in terms of how to manage historical projects," Gracia said during an interview at the Spanish Embassy in St Andrew on Tuesday.

Gracia stressed that with the change in Spain's economic fortunes, the efforts of the government have been on getting the economy to grow again and to reduce a staggering unemployment rate.

He said the area of development cooperation, which would allow for direct financial assistance in restoring areas like Spanish Town, has seen massive funding cuts as part of Spain's austerity programme.

"We had to make adjustments in development cooperation and we had to use a lot of the funds that were going to development cooperation. I explained this to all of our partners," Gracia said.

"It was much easier to work with a big budget to share, and to be popular wherever you go, but I had to go to Niger, ... Mali (and) ... several other countries - very poor countries - to say, we want to continue to work with you, (but) we are going to reduce our generosity," he added.

The secretary of state said that with the reduction in the budget for assistance to other countries, Spain has now turned its attention to capacity building with other partners.

"What we are doing now in many countries, because, as you know, the Spanish heritage in the Caribbean and Latin America is huge, we have been working with many countries, including Jamaica, to restore part of its heritage. What we are doing now is technical cooperation and training," Gracia said.

Spain has, in the past, sent technical persons to Jamaica to assist in restoration works.

Professor Antonio Sanchez-Barriga, a restoration expert from Spain, led the restoration of the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

$400-million price tag

Norman Scott, mayor of Spanish Town, told The Gleaner yesterday that while he would be happy to get assistance with restoration work in the old capital, he fully understands the position as expressed by Gracia.

The mayor said there was no project in Spanish Town that he had been hoping for Spain to take over.

"There are some projects that I would put to them for financial assistance if they were experiencing financial buoyancy," Scott said.

He pointed, for example, to the town square, which he describes as "a one of a kind in the western hemisphere" as well as the old court house, which was razed by fire, as projects for which the town would welcome assistance in having them renovated.

The price tag for the renovation of the court house is $400 million.

"Sometime ago, the Spanish ambassador and the Queen ... assisted the Spanish Town hospital by building the maternity ward. We appreciate that a lot. If that is what they can afford, maybe somewhere down the road when their economy has made a turn around, they might be in a position to give us some other financial assistance which we would greatly appreciate," Scott said.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com