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A bulldozer with your sangria?

Spain's iconic beach bars face demolition in the name of coastal protection.

“Nobody understands why they want to make chiringuitos disappear,” said Israel, the Ponderosa waiter.

Even green organizations question the Ministry of Environment’s focus on these beach restaurants and bars when there are other illegal coastal constructions. “Coast protection is vital, but the big disasters are large complexes, such as hotels and marinas, many built after the law came into effect,” said Pilar Marcos, a Greenpeace spokeswoman. “A chiringuito is a small family business. It may be illegal, but so is a 21-story hotel built 14 meters [46 feet] from the water,” she insisted. Greenpeace identifies 100 of these so-called “black points” along the Spanish coast.

Ecologistas en Accion, another green organization, supports the demolition of illegal chiringuitos but also says that picking on them causes “a smoke screen” to “distract attention from high-impact problems,” which should be given priority, according to a press note.

The leading opposition political party, PP, recently cited economic arguments during a motion before Spain's Parliament to keep the chiringuitos. The party pointed to the 300 chiringuitos in Malaga province as an example, noting the area’s chiringuitos are a tourist attraction that provides 7,500 permanent and 7,000 seasonal jobs, and that they spend 225 million euros on purchases from suppliers. Congress rejected the motion.

Casa Julio, a restaurant on Alicante’s San Juan beach, has been serving meals since 1940. Alejandro Bolanos, a third-generation owner, said, “I don’t believe in the beach without chiringuitos. They provide services. It would be like going to the Sahara desert.” He said he collected 6,000 signatures in three weeks from customers against reducing the size of his place, now at 2,368 square feet. He serves about 300 meals a day in the summer and about the same amount on weekends during the winter. He said Casa Julio’s permit was granted until 2043; but demolition for most other restaurants on this beach, whose permits ended in 2000, will probably start in October.

Or not. Israel, the waiter at La Ponderosa, is hopeful. He explained to a group of German tourists enjoying a paella in his restaurant that San Juan beach chiringuitos should have been gone in January but that authorities seem to be aware of the unpopularity of making more people jobless. “The crisis keeps us here, for now,” he said.

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