A Heroic Architect-Politician Exists

A previously little known architect is the topic of conversation in Spain right now. The discussion has nothing to do with built work, yet it nevertheless has to do with the future of the country. This architect has suddenly become famous –or infamous, depending on your political views– because he represents a small, regional citizens’ platform called Teruel existe (Teruel exists) whose single seat won in the latest national election was crucial in the investiture of Spain’s Socialist government a few days ago.

It’s possible you’ve never heard of Teruel, an Aragonese province situated between Valencia and Zaragoza. Its only claim to fame is having set Spain’s lowest temperature record in December 1963: -30º Celsius. It is also known as Spain’s most isolated province, lacking a direct train connection with Madrid. Its population has been declining slowly for decades, along with investments in infrastructure and availability of services, and so citizens formed Teruel Existe in 1999 to fight de-population and to demand fair and equal treatment by Madrid. 

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Rail map of Spain. Teruel is the province south of Zaragoza without rail service. (image courtesy spain.info)

The latest national election –the fourth in four years– did not result in any party obtaining a parliamentary majority, and so the winner, the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) headed by Pedro Sánchez, needed to make deals with other parties to be able to form a government, including negotiating an abstention from Catalan and Basque leftist separatist parties.  Teruel existe, represented by architect Tomás Guitarte, committed its vote in favour of Sánchez mainly in return for a promise to improve train service. 

Since the investiture vote was expected to be very tight, the right, far right, and extremely far right parties mounted an aggressive, dirty campaign against Guitarte, calling him a “separatist traitor” and inundating him with nearly nine thousand e-mails demanding he change his vote to “no”. He also received several death threats from neo-fascists, forcing him to be provided with a bodyguard and to seek hidden accommodation in Madrid the night before the investiture vote to ensure his personal safety. A “boycott Teruel” movement was also started, although there isn’t much to boycott from that province other than cured ham, ironically Spain’s very national symbol.

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Graffiti calling Tomás Guitarte a “separatist traitor” (image courtesy heraldo.es)

To a majority of Spaniards, however, architect-politician Guitarte is a national hero for withstanding the pressure and the vile insults coming from the mouths and keyboards of a minority of rightists who just don’t ever seem to be able to accept the fact that democracy means the will of the popular majority, not their antiquated, nostalgic king-country-and-flag ideology

So if you’re thinking of visiting Spain to see the work of its finest architects, think of visiting Teruel. It is now the hot-spot.

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Architect Tomás Guitarte (image courtesy elpais.com)

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