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Alberto Benito García, Dean of the Malaga Consular Corps since November. Ñito Salas
'More than 50 countries have consuls in Malaga, representing 1.5 billion people'

'More than 50 countries have consuls in Malaga, representing 1.5 billion people'

At a time of intense international conflict, the apolitical Consular Corps has set itself the goal of becoming more visible in Malaga societyAlberto Benito García Dean of the Malaga Consular Corps

Cristina Vallejo

MALAGA.

Friday, 17 May 2024, 13:30

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If a country has a consul in a particular area it is because it considers it important for its interests, explains Alberto Benito García, Dean of the Malaga Consular Corps since last November. He recently made a public appearance with his team, who are aiming to increase their visibility and create ties with the local community. Benito García, who is honorary consul of Armenia, said that more than 50 nations have a consul in Malaga province, a number that is sure to increase as a result of Malaga's thriving society.

–How did you first enter the consular world?

–By chance. For the last fifteen years I've been involved in international education. We have a school and accommodation for foreign students who come to study Spanish. On one of my trips I happened to meet an Armenian agency. And we started working with the country. I went there twice a year. We managed to bring lots of people from Armenia. Then the country needed a representative in Andalucía and they offered me the job. It was in 2013 or 2014. But I have been consul since 2017. It took three years because of the paperwork and there were also elections in between.

–What does a consul do?

–Every consul is different because every country is different and has its own strategy, and it is according to that strategy that it forms its consulate. It depends, for example, on the country's importance in terms of the number of residents and visitors. It also depends on whether it is a European country or a Latin American one... Although consuls are all equal - it makes no difference whether they are career consuls - civil servants - or honorary consuls,as I and most of us are. In the case of Armenia, what the country is looking for is visibility, especially in the educational, cultural and business sectors. And my profession was one of the reasons why they chose me: I understood their needs as a country.

–And how does the Consular Corps act as a union of consuls?

–We follow the logic that there is strength in numbers. Inasmuch as we are united, synergies are created between all countries. We think of the majority, not of the individual, nor of the needs of one country or another. The Consular Corps represents all of us when we can't be there, because institutionally we cannot be everywhere. This grouping benefits us all because in this way we represent 1.5 billion people, 20 per cent of the world's nations, as well as the fact that a huge percentage of Malaga's 14 million visitors also come from our countries.

–Consuls act on behalf of a country. But many of you are Spanish. Is there ever a conflict of interest?

–Not at all. We're professionals. The appointment process involves a proposal from the corresponding country and Spain has to authorise it. Honorary consuls don't receive financial compensation compared to a career consul, a civil servant, who does. We're free for them, and they also benefit from our skills, relationships and knowledge, which we put at the country's disposal. It's not a position for life; the country can close the consulate at any time. Just as they elect you, they can decide against you. It wouldn't be the first time. It already happened in Catalonia, after the conflict, when many consuls overstepped their powers.

–Most of the Malaga Consular Corps is made up of honorary consuls - Spaniards, not civil servants.

–Yes, but there are also many career consuls, such as those from Germany, UK, Ecuador, Paraguay...

-What services do the consulates offer foreign nationals in Malaga?

–We offer administrative support, although this varies according to the size of the consulate. The biggest, such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany can even issue passports, but others, such as Brazil, are smaller. We act in emergency situations: someone can request consular assistance if they are arrested and the consulate is obliged to give it. We can also help with the loss of a passport. A relevant example would be our work during the pandemic: the consulates chartered planes and boats, we issued letters of safe-conduct and made sure that people could get vaccines. In my case, for the Armenians religion is very important. Here I mediated to help them get a church, the first Armenian church in Spain, which is in Benalmádena. And just recently I accompanied the Armenian community in Malaga to remember the genocide of 1919.

–What would you like to highlight in your mandate as head of the Consular Corps?

–We have to be present in the life of the province, in a very participatory way. We want to play a leading role in cultural, social and business aspects of tourism. We want to be much closer to the reality that Malaga is experiencing and to which we have contributed so much: this prosperity is closely linked to its consular presence. If a region has a consul, a representation, it is because that region is important for that country. And the number of consuls in Malaga is increasing; we already have more than 50.

–What will further involvement with Malaga society look like, in specific terms?

–We currently have a dean, a vice-dean, a secretary and four commissions, for relations with the institutions, security forces and cultural activities.With all of this, the aim is to maximise our representation, which up until now has perhaps been limited to one person and which will now be carried out by a group, giving us more visibility.

–We're living through very troubled times, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the siege of Gaza. How does this influence relations in the Consular Corps?

–We are one of the diplomatic cogs in the machine, perhaps one of the last. There is a Russian consulate for the whole of Andalucía and we have a consulate for Ukraine, Israel and Turkey. But we work at a different level. Logically, like any other citizen, we are not oblivious to this, but we do not get involved in political issues.

–We're living through very troubled times, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the siege of Gaza. How does this influence relations in the Consular Corps?

–Something must influence the fact that Russia is already a banned country in the international community.

–Our mission is first and foremost with the citizens. We must not forget that there is a very significant Russian community here. They have been here for many years and are part of Malaga, which welcomes them no matter what country they come from. Moreover, this affects me directly, because many of them have Armenian origins; they are Armenians with Russian passports.

–You are the honorary consul of Armenia in Malaga. What are your responsibilities, your relationship with the country, and to whom are you accountable?

–The relationship is very direct and close. I deal directly with the ambassador, with whom I coordinate and to whom I report. At the end of each year we review the strategy reported to Armenia and prepare the roadmap for the following year.

–And what is the emphasis this year on the Armenian side?

–We want to give more visibility to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh: we have suffered a military invasion by Azerbaijan in part of a sister territory that we have been supporting, and logically we are also affected by it. There have been thousands of victims associated with the conflict; displaced people, unjust imprisonment... It is vital for us that the international community knows that there is another war in Europe.

–How does Malaga welcome tourists, workers, migrants...?

–Malaga has always been hospitable. Last year we had a record number of both residents and tourists, and this year we will beat it again. The influx of foreign workers is due to the need to fill jobs and most of them are citizens of the countries we represent here. It is our responsibility to cover and assist them in their arrival and integration needs. Malaga stands out for being very welcoming for tourists, residents and workers.

–You are in a privileged position to analyse Malaga's economic prospects. How do you see them?

–To answer that question you have to look at the data and it is clear. Business figures are increasing. The presence of foreign companies is also increasing, as well as the figures for tourists and job creation, which says it all.

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