Júzcar residents, outside the closed office.
This may be the 21st century with all its new technology and internet but there are still around 3,500 residents in the province of Malaga who can’t go to the local bank when they need some cash. They live in ten villages in the Valle del Genal and the Alta Axarquía, where either there has never been a bank or the only branch they had has closed down.
Of the 22 municipalities in the Serranía de Ronda, six have no bank. Unicaja has closed its branches in Atajate, Parauta, Cartajima, Júzcar, Faraján and Alpandeire.
Meanwhile the crisis has caused opening hours to be reduced in offices that do still exist. In the case of Igualeja and Pujerra one employee divides her time between the two branches. Benarrabá still has a bank but it is only open between 12.30 and 2pm.
In the Axarquía, of the four villages that have no local bank, three have never had one (Macharaviaya, Salares and Cútar) while the old Caja Rural de Málaga in Alfarnatejo closed its doors 40 years ago.
Another three villages (Sedella, Árchez and Moclinejo) have small branches of Cajamar, although they have no ATM machines and are only open one or two days a week, in Sedella and Moclinejo, and as little as two days a month in Árchez.
In the Ronda mountains the majority of villagers criticise the closures and say they feel “marginalised”. Some recall that it was Unicaja, back when it was still Caja de Ahorros de Ronda, that was a pioneer in Andalucía in terms of its social programme and that now it is “cutting their rights”, according to Manuel Fernández, a resident of ‘Smurf village’ Júzcar.
“I suppose that the bank in our village wasn’t profitable. When the banks made more money there wasn’t this problem,” he adds, pointing out that he drives neighbours to Ronda to withdraw their cash.
“One elderly neighbour asked me to take him toRonda to draw his pension as he didn’t have any money. He hadn’t been for three or four months and he told me that he had been living off a few savings he had at home,” adds Manuel.
The mayor of Jubrique, David Sánchez, explains that his villagers make do with just a couple of days a week: “Unicaja has cut down its hours and only opens Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.”
In Salares the residents also help each other out when it comes to getting cash. Pablo Crespillo, 35, is local councillor for the Environment and regularly drives his parents, Manuel and Esperanza, to the neighbouring village of Canillas de Aceituno (seven kilometres away), so that they can go to the bank.
“Other neighbours always join the trip,” says Crespillo.
Ana Navío, another Júzcar resident, says that one of the most typical questions among local people is: “Are you going to Ronda for your money? Well I’ll go with you.”
“We elderly people who haven’t got cars suffer most. We have to spend 50 euros every month to go to Ronda. I go every month and bring back the cash I need until the next month,” she explains.
Sonia Fernández has a grocery store in Júzcar. “I run a business and I have to shut up shop and lose a day’s takings when I have to go and pay at the bank.”
She also complains that rather than having to go to nearby Igualeja, the Júzcar villagers have their accounts in the Ronda branch.
The situation is complicated even further when businesses don’t accept plastic. This is the case in the Salares restaurant Mesón los Arcos, where there is no credit card terminal. Owner María Jesús Durán explains that on more than one occasion she has served customers lunch, then let them continue to Canillas de Aceituno, where there is a bank, and pay their bill on their way back. “We prefer to give credit than lose a service,” she adds.
Local Parauta woman Isabel Morales has bought the premises that used to be occupied by Unicaja. “I want to extend my house,” she explains. Nevertheless she is still critical of the closure, as is Miguel Gutiérrez: “To take out 20 euros you have to spend 20 euros to get to Ronda and back. It’s disgraceful,” he says.