To whom does Lanzarote Belong

"Set apart by Jupiter from the rest of the world, so that they would become a shelter for virtuous men."

(Horace, Ode 16, Book V).

View from "Las Nieves"

Origins apart, since the early 15th Century the Canaries have been populated by Spaniards.

Despite the efforts of a small independence movement in the islands, Canarians feel Spanish first and foremost. Indeed, the 1,000 kilometres of ocean separating the islands and Spain have proved to be a direct link with Europe rather than a dividing line.

Lanzarote is, in fact, much more accessible than many of the remote parts of mainland Spain. It would take a European holidaymaker much longer to reach the Don Quixote region of La Mancha in central Spain or Extremedura on the Portuguese border than it would to get to Arrecife, Lanzarotes capital.

The Canaries docks and airports provide well established links with La Peninsula and the continent of Europe much better links, in fact, than those with nearby Africa. In terms of outlook and trade, with the possible exception of fishing, the Canaries have always turned to Europe in preference to the Dark Continent.

For centuries, the Canaries have been exporting sugar, wine, cochineal, salt, bananas, onions, tomatoes and tropical and semi-tropical fruits to Europe.

Now much of the traffic comes the other way in the form of European tourists enjoying the fruits of their northern labours with holidays in the sun.

Talk of any such "Canarian identity" has validity only in a Spanish context, its significance comparable to the Galician, Asturian, Andalusian or Castilian "mentality". (In reality, only two of Spains regions have any significant claim to uniqueness namely, Catalonia and the Basque Country, where the two entirely different languages of Catalan and Basque are spoken.

A Canarian, despite his heavy accent would be understood all over Spain a Basque would be understood nowhere but the Basque Country.

Horses having a quick dip

As well as the European links of España Tropical, the Canary Islands are also part of an even bigger cultural community, the Hispano--American society of Spanish--speaking people on both sides of the Atlantic. Thousands of Canarians emigrated to Latin America, particularly in the late 1940s and early 1950s, looking for work.

In Venezuela and Uruguay the Canarian influence was already strong towards the end of last century.

But it was 500 years ago when Christopher Columbus discovered that the world was round when his ship failed to fall off the edge after it had passed El Hierro, the most westerly of the Canary Islands. Spains Catholic Kings (Reyes Catolicos) of Ferdinand and Isabella soon realised the fat pickings to be made in the Americas, and the Canaries subsequently became a strategic stop--over in the transatlantic crossings during the Golden Age of Spain in the 16th Century.

The role of the islands as a bridge between the Old and the New Worlds was to carry on down the centuries. Huge numbers of Canarians who emigrated to South America, stayed on, although many later returned to their island homes.

Bananas grown on Tenerife provided the stock for Caribbean plantations. In accent, music and customs, the Canaries fall mid--way between Spain and South America. And practically every Canarian has friends or family with South American connections.

Canarian newspapers cover items of news in Central and South America with great interest acknowledging the links between the two areas.

But it was to mainland Spain and Europe where the Canaries would always turn. The Canarian economic model developed alongside that of Europe, adapting to the continents changing needs and desires.

The Canarian sugar industry failed when the West Indies produced a cheaper product on a much larger scale. Canarian wines, once the delight of European courts and also the favoured quaff of Shakespeares Falstaff were replaced by sherries Malaga and Port wines. Even cochineal, used for dyeing, is being replaced by synthetic products.

Night skyline of Arrecife

But the Canaries have always responded in a positive way to such changes, exemplified best in the flowering of tourism in the islands. Again, here Lanzarote may consider itself to be the most fortunate of the islands due to local authority controls on the pace and style of development. Youll see no billboard advertising, a remarkable and welcomed lack of high rise buildings (apart from Arrecifes Gran Hotel) and a continuity of traditional architecture. Local politicians and public figures on the island have been highly conscious of the mistakes made in the some of the rushed developments of Spains costas and have subsequently kept a watchful eye on construction. Tourism came late to Lanzarote, taking off in the early 1970s, but only experiencing a boom in the mid--1980s. Lessons learned from the mainland could be put into practice with the island now becoming a textbook example of tourism planning.

The Canaries came out well from Spains Adhesion Agreement with the European Economic Community in January 1986. The islands had achieved the "best of both worlds", said leading local politicians, after concessions and special privileges were awarded to the islands.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Canary Islands, as part of Spain, became members of the EEC, but were not included in the communitys controversial Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They were subject to neither Value Added Tax (VAT) nor incorporated in the communitys customs tariffs. The islands produce may be exported to the community under rules established by the Adhesion Agreement and the exports maintain their tax--exempt status.