Angel Vadillo: The hungry mayor on a mission

For 74 days, he has been starving himself in protest at austerity policies that he says have ruined his town's future. But how long can he last? Alasdair Fotheringham met him

Every weekday morning Angel Vadillo, mayor of the Spanish town of Alburquerque, holds meetings, replies to emails, and fields telephone calls. Indeed, it would be business as usual, were it not that Mr Vadillo is currently on day 74 of a hunger strike outside the huge office blocks that house the ministry of industry in Madrid.

For over two months, Mr Vadillo has been conducting a one-man fight against austerity measures that have, he says, ruined the prospects for Spain's renewable energy industry. Visibly emaciated, his only daily sustenance is eight litres of water with honey as he sits or lies in a hired van in a car park 10 metres from the ministry's gates.

"They could let me die, but if they allowed a mayor of a town to die, for a democracy that's a serious problem," Mr Vadillo – a gaunt giant of a man who has lost 23kg and 5cm of muscle mass since his strike started – tells The Independent as he shakily rolls a cigarette. "The longer my struggle goes on, the more I suffer, the more attention people are going to pay me."

His decision to stage the strike came after the Industry Minister, Jose Manuel Soria, announced all subsidies for new renewable energy projects would be cut in January as part of austerity measures to help curb Spain's debt crisis. Mr Vadillo says the consequences for Alburquerque, whose economic future was heavily dependent on five new solar power plants, are disastrous.

With the power plant plans on hold, the mayor estimates some 850 workers in Alburquerque, a town of 5,000 near the Portuguese frontier in Extremadura, will now join Spain's millions of unemployed. Not only that – the €36m of taxes that filled Alburquerque's coffers thanks to advance payments by the new plants have been wiped out, forcing him to close the town's old people's home as well as a centre for the disabled.

His fury at what he views as unnecessary job losses (the cuts are estimated to cost around 10,000 jobs across Spain) and the government's failure to exploit a natural resource that Spain has in abundance – solar power – provoked first his lone 400km protest march from Alburquerque to Madrid, and now his hunger strike.

"We're in recession and we could generate employment with these sorts of projects all over Spain," Mr Vadillo says. "It can't be that Germany is the No 1 in solar power in Europe when we've got this amazing sunshine."

Spain had been regarded as a leader in the renewable energies field, but has now slipped far down the global rankings. "We have the technology and it seems incredible that Spain does exactly the opposite that we need to as a country. Rather than cuts, investing in an area like this creates employment," he says.

Mr Vadillo says he will end the strike when the ministry, which plans to save around €190m as a result of the ban on the subsidies, initiates negotiations involving all parties affected by the cuts. "When I started the hunger strike the minister received me for an hour but, rather than a conversation, it was practically a monologue on my part, and he limited himself to saying goodbye to me. It was like he hadn't heard me."

A letter then sent to Mr Vadillo from the minister rejected his proposals, claiming that they "could not guarantee the profitability of the specific business plans as you [Vadillo] suggest". It asked him to end his protest as "it was not the right course of action".

However, interest in Mr Vadillo's case has grown elsewhere. Civil servants from the ministry leave their desks to join him in a half-hour protest each morning and he has an estimated four million supporters online. After what he calls an initially sluggish response, Spain's ecological movements are also coming on board too.

As the mayor continues to refuse to back down, Mr Vadillo has become a symbol of a grassroots backlash against round after round of government cuts across Spain

"They [the government] are obsessed with cuts and more cuts, but where is the logic in cutting back in a sector where it can create employment?" Mr Vadillo asks. "They're exploiting the recession to promote a particular kind of political ideology, defending the interests of the big electrical companies. Renewable energy means the democratisation of electrical production – it lets in small companies and common people, and they can't stand the thought of that happening."

As befits a protest sparked by austerity measures, the interior of his white van is sparse in the extreme. A bare mattress lies on the floor, a photo of Charlie Chaplin is stuck to the wall – "He inspires me, along with Gandhi" says Mr Vadillo – and several bottles of water and cans of honey are grouped at one end. Along with a mobile phone and computer – both powered by solar energy – that is pretty much it.

"I know above all about hunger strikes involving people who died, in Cuba and Northern Ireland in the 1980s. They lasted from 60 days to 100 days," Mr Vadillo says.

"The public health service comes by once a week and I send in my medical reports to a judge, and if one of my vital organs breaks down, I know he'll probably send me to hospital. But as soon as they let me out, I'll stop eating again."

"The hunger strike was a last resort. But I've found that nothing is in its right place and what little that I can do, I will try to do it."

Spanish squeeze: The crisis in numbers

24.6 Percentage of people unemployed – the highest in the EU. More than half of young people are out of work.

25 Percentage drop in house prices in Spain since 2008.

£27bn Value of cuts to public spending made this year alone.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'