Italy’s earthquake city set to remain a ghost town as cuts bite, reports Rob Ray for Freedom anarchist newspaper
Over 20,000 people who used to live in Aquila were on its streets recently, pleading with the government to make good its promises of restoring the town in central Italy. On Wednesday they were out again, marching on Rome to demand Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi live up his promises to help them.
The flattening of their town in April of last year left 65,000 homeless, while 308 died as their homes collapsed around them. Temporarily, it became the object of worldwide fascination and a site for political photo ops and rhetoric.
But a year on from Prime Minister Berlusconi’s declaration that Italians were “a proud people who need no aid,” and his promise that the town would be rebuilt “in six months” it has emerged that there is no money for restoration.
Shops are still closed, buildings are still unsafe, the historic town centre is a pile of rubble. Weeds are beginning to choke the ruins and crawl up shops which still display the merchandise of April 6th, 2009. And to add insult to injury, Aquila’s former citizens are now being told to pay tax arrears as part of the premier’s hated new austerity budget – Berlusconi is demanding money with menaces from displaced people living on the floors of rural houses or out of cheap hotel bedrooms.
Instead of public aid funding resotoration works that people can use and live in, Critics say Aquila has been the victim of an “Italian shock doctrine,” after author Naomi Klein’s book on the methods of neo-liberalism in exploiting natural disasters.
Journalists for left wing papers such as Il Manifesto rail against the “speculation, corruption, opacity in commissioning contracts masked by the mechanism of 'emergency,’ all with a good dose of authoritarianism and repression of civil rights. “There has been a militarisation of the territory, even the prohibition of public assemblies.”
An orgy of corrupt rebuilding contracts were signed in the wake of the disaster, but reports from the region suggest that whatever work has been going on is not for the benefit of local people. The stores are still closed. The university, formerly a local economic driver with 27,000 students, is shattered. Millions of euros promised for the restoration of sports facilities never materialised. And the government has refused to consider a national tax for restoration – the only way campaigners for the town can see to get Berlusconi to nail himself to a rebuilding plan.
The town is likely to see worse times in the future as an austerity budget announced by Berlusconi adds to a tsunami of cutbacks and attacks on welfare systems taking place across Europe. Government funding is being slashed across the board, including at local government level, with local authorities staring down the barrel of 14-22% cutbacks on top of a freeze in public sector salaries.