The latest statistics on the Spanish economic crisis. Unemployment is now at 24.44 percent, close to the record of 24.55 percent in 1994. In Extremadura, Andalucia and the Canary Islands the figure is 30 percent.

The latest statistics on the Spanish economic crisis are truly devastating. Unemployment is now at 24.44 percent, close to the record of 24.55 percent in 1994. In Extremadura, Andalucia and the Canary Islands the figure is 30 percent. There are now 5.6 million unemployed out of a total population of 47 million. Amongst the 18-25 age group unemployment has reached the incredible figure of 52 percent.

When the historians of the future attempt to understand how this disaster was allowed to happen, they may want to visit the city of Ciudad Real in Don Quixote's province of La Mancha. Situated 115 miles from Madrid, this city of 74,000 has few attractions beyond its associations with Spain's most famous literary character.

In 2003 however, a private company named CR Aeropuertos began to attract investment for a new airport with a capacity for 5 million passengers, with the support of the regional government and the city council. The company claimed that a new airport would put Ciudad Real on the international map and pick up the overspill from Barajas airport in Madrid.

That was the aspiration, some might say, the fantasy. But it was enough to attract €1.1 billion in private investment, backed by a €140-million guarantee from the Socialist regional government, which also spent millions on flight subsidies and on advertising campaigns.

In 2008 Don Quixote airport opened, with a 4 km runway, a 28,000 square metre passenger terminal, a freight capacity of 90,000 tons a year - and approximately 1.1 billion euros worth of debts. But the pull of Cervantes failed to draw the expected ten million annual passengers.

In its first year only 55,000 passengers passed through the airport, and flights soon dwindled to a handful a week, many of which had more crew members than passengers.

In 2010 the airport went into receivership, owing its creditors more than 200 million euros. Last December commercial flights stopped and this month the airport was closed even to the few private planes that still used it.

Don Quixote is one of various airports built during Spain's boom years, many of which are under-used or not used at all. Take the 150-million euro airport that opened in Castellón, Valencia last year.

Unlike Ciudad Real, this airport has yet to receive a single plane because its runway is too narrow for planes to turn around and it has to be widened to meet regulations - something that neither the builders nor the regional government realised until after it was opened.

These 'ghost airports' are a symbol of the financial practices that characterized the época de las vacas gordas - the epoch of fat cows, when Spain was the sixth largest economy in the OECD.

For more than two decades Spanish banks financed infrastructure projects of dubious viability and prestige architectural projects in an attempt to turn money into concrete and concrete into money. These efforts have left the country dotted with museums, marinas, cultural centres, theme parks, motorways, and speculative real estate projects, that have made huge losses or have yet to recoup their investments .

In 2007, Valencia opened a a new 1.8 billion euro marina to host the 32nd America's Cup. Now the marina and its racing hangars are deserted. Nearby the massive €1.3 billion City of Arts and Sciences, a cultural complex designed by architect Santiago Calatrava has now been forced to offer itself as a wedding venue.

Further south in Benidorm, the Valencia regional government is looking to recover €65 million through the sale of the €400 million euro Terra Mitica theme park, which was inaugurated in 2000 and is now laying off half its staff.

Now the construction industry has collapsed, the banks are bust, and ordinary Spaniards are footing the bill. In 2010 the Socialist government announced 5, 250 million euros worth of cuts, and this year's austerity budget by their successors has called for public savings of 15 billion euros.

Meanwhile the IMF is insisting that the taxpayer and the government play a greater role in re-financing the Spanish banks that did so much to cause the crisis in order to avoid ' resolution costs becoming too high for the industry to bear'.

The IMF's concern is not merely driven by concern for the ailing Spanish economy. During the boom years Spain was the sixth largest recipient of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Europe, most of which came from within the European Union.

The recklessness of the country's ruling elite is not a uniquely Iberian phenomenon. Spain may have its ghost airports, but other countries have their own white elephants, their dodgy banks and dodgy politicians, and have undergone the same transformation from dreams of endless wealth to ruin and enforced 'austerity'.

And if Spain's overblown infrastructure projects are monuments to the folly, corruption and despilfaro (waste) that took place under both Socialist and Conservative governments over the last three decades, then Spain itself is a symbol of the global economic model that has crashed and burned with such catastrophic results in the last four years.

Don Quixote, the would-be knight who mistook windmills for giants would have understood Spain's dizzying fall from grace. But at least his fantasies were honourable, which is more than can be said of the institutions and individuals who have squandered so much of his country's wealth and have left a bleak legacy of airports without planes, marinas without boats, and trains without passengers, for which ordinary Spaniards will be paying for a very long time.


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