Portuguese traders from Chaves and Galicians from Feces de Below have counted the days for the reopening of the border between the two countries to resume the secular link that unites them and achieve economic recovery.
In the past, villages that currently belong to the municipality of Chaves, in the district of Vila Real, such as Soutelinho da Raia, Vilarelho de Raia and Lamadarcos, were divided by the border and were, therefore, Portuguese and Spanish. The so-called ‘promiscuous peoples’ ended the Lisbon Treaty in 1864, and the localities became only Portuguese.
Currently, and since 2008, the towns of Chaves and Verín, in Galicia, Spain, separated by 28 kilometers, form a eurocity, a cross-border cooperation project that involves sharing a citizen card that gives access to swimming pools, libraries, events , training or contests, as well as a cultural agenda and more recently transport.
Since 16 March, both secular traditions and the latest Eurocity project, which unites cross-border peoples, have been suspended with the closure of borders due to the covid-19 pandemic.
“For us, this measure was very complicated, because here we don't feel Spanish or Portuguese. These are friendly peoples, with villages from both countries, and when there is a fire in Portugal, we go there to help and on the contrary it also happens ”, summarizes Galician Puri Regueiro.
The owner of a supermarket and butcher in Feces de Below, located right next to the border, noticed a lot of the “lack of affluence of the Portuguese”, who seek the establishment through varied purchases, gas, animal feed and even the smokehouse produced by the butcher. .
Puri Regueiro, who from his store sees the Spanish authorities controlling the border daily since March, counts the days for the 1st of July to arrive, the date when the border closure ends.
Not far away, and also with the border in sight, the “Tony” supermarket is also waiting for the return of Portuguese customers.
More expressively, the Galician trader who gave his name to the supermarket says that 90% of the business is done with Portuguese.
Three and a half months later, Tony, in addition to waiting for the borders to reopen, is waiting for customers and for them to come “with respect for the 'bug' [new coronavirus]”.
With shop windows full of assorted chocolates and other products such as the Iberian ham 'pata negra', which attracts the Portuguese near the border, Tony says that this “is already a lost year” where he hopes to recover “something” by December.
On the way to Verín, but still in Feces de Below, a fuel station is installed, which also suffered from the closure of the borders.
“It was small and I remember that the passage was not free, but it was totally different, because people came,” recalls Juan Feijó.
With 80% drop in sales during the last three months, the owner is now waiting for the return of the usual customers: the Portuguese.
That post is, moreover, an example of the absence of borders, as it employs even more Portuguese than Spaniards, adds Feijó.
On the Portuguese side, the city of Chaves is regaining normalcy, with the reopening of the thermal baths or the arrival of national tourists, but traders miss the Spanish neighbors of Galicia, a constant presence by shops and gastronomy establishments.
“The Spanish are missing. We are a frontier city and all businesses need them to survive and live ”, explains Chaves entrepreneur Rui Machado.
Rui Machado, owner of several businesses, including Armazéns Europa, reminds customers of the neighboring country every day.
“They come looking for textiles, above all, or for objects for the home, and they also come for friendliness and service,” he points out, adding that, as the date approaches, there are already customers calling, asking if the warehouse is open and if from July 1st you can already visit it.
Also owner of a restaurant and hotel, the entrepreneur sees greater difficulties to recover in these sectors.
In the total of the group with more than 100 employees in the municipality, Rui Machado managed to save jobs and has even hired in other sectors, such as cleaning, due to the new rules of hygiene and safety.
Place of passage to taste the gastronomy of the region and a place frequented by Spaniards, the restaurant “A Talha” has its doors open, but still a long way from the pre-covid-19 movement.
“From a space for 170 people, we removed 15 tables and about 100 chairs, we can receive 67 people and it would be good already if we served half a day”, says João Monteiro, who awaits the return of the usual Spanish customers.
“We have many clients from Verín who, even during their workweek, come here to eat and return to Spain. Many have called to see if we have reopened and we are waiting for them ”, he reveals.
João Monteiro even sees the reopening of borders as the “lifeline” for the business breakdown.
The Flavian government is also waiting for the end of the 'barrier' between Chaves and Verín, which has even put the Euro-city on a 'pause'.
For the vice-president of the Chamber of Chaves, Francisco Melo, it will be positive to be able, as of Wednesday, to “retake the ancestral ties that unite the two peoples”, as well as economic relations.
“The populations get along well and are friendly, they do business and the shops operate continuously”, he explains.
But it also leaves warnings for “extra care” and for “social security and removal rules” to be met, so that there are no “setbacks”.
In Portugal, 1,568 people died of the 41,912 confirmed to be infected, according to the most recent bulletin from the Directorate-General for Health.
The disease is transmitted by a new coronavirus detected in late December in Wuhan, a city in central China.
DYMC // JAP
Lusa / End
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