Regional government makeover wanted

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VALENCIA’S regional government is concerned about the region’s increasingly bad press, much of it from outside Spain.

Lavishly-hosted sporting events, architectural and cultural investments plus a zealously-cultivated public image have recently been eclipsed by corruption scandals, squandered budgets and social protest, according to a report in Spanish daily El Pais.

Five years ago the Valencia Region received adulatory comparisons to Florida from the British and US media, but its 2007 reputation has since undergone some painful adjustments.

The Community’s three provinces of Valencia, Alicante and Castellon are being described as ‘Spain’s Greece’ and its plummeting fortunes reported as far afield as the US, Latin America and Asia. Former president, Francisco Camps, stood trial by jury for accepting bribes but was – foreseeably, some sources say – acquitted in January by just one vote.

Castellon possesses an airport which has yet to see an aircraft’s arrival or departure and is little more than a monument to Carlos Fabra, formerly president of the Castellon Diputacion or Provincial Government, the Spanish version of a county council. Fabra, who faces fraud charges, attributes €2.2 million of his fortune to fortuitous lottery wins.

Fourteen people from the regional government’s now extinct Department of Solidarity and Citizenship were arrested last month for allegedly misappropriating €9 million destined for foreign aid.

Neither were matters helped by the heavy-handed police reaction last February when students protested against education spending cuts.

Footage of police charging secondary school students went round the world via the media and social networking sites, even prompting a Twitter account called primaveravalenciana (Valencian spring).

Events have combined to provide Valencia with such a bad image that regional businessmen with foreign clients have complained to the regional president Alberto Fabra (no relation to the aforementioned Carlos).

“A negative story in Le Monde or Le Figaro does a great deal of harm,” admitted a highly-placed Administration source.

“We do have problems, but it’s not all bad news and we have to explain that,” he said. Alberto Fabra last week urged fellow PP politicians in Madrid to help sell Valencia’s “real image” which bore little relation to what was being said.

“We must communicate the strength, enterprise and optimism of the region and the courage of its people,”

Fabra insisted. Fabra has also spoken to the opposition parties, revealed regional government sources.

“Let them say ‘no’ to the government party but ‘yes’ to the Valencian party,” said one.

The opposition, meanwhile, has called for the regional government, which has been in power for 15 years, to shoulder its political responsibilities and regain the confidence of investors by improving its tarnished image.

By Linda Hall

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