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history tefia site observatory

History of the observatory site in Tefia
#1
I have been doing some research on the observatory at Tefia and its surroundings. Here are three brief notes for anyone interested
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#2
The Tafia parachute disaster
In April 1972,  the Spanish Army, Navy and Air Force mobilized 5,000 men in an exercise to take over the airfield in Tefia As part of the exercise, called "Maxorata-72, five DC3 planes with ninety paratroopers on board left the Gando air base in gran heading for the Tefia.
There were very strong winds over the plain that morning. An officer asked the commander of the brigade if the soldiers could be thrown with the wind and was told that the men were prepared to die. The jump continued.
After several paratroopers had jumped, a strong gust of wind began to hit the area. A local shepherd caught the first soldier who fell and using his knife cut the parachute strings and saved his life. There was more and more wind as men kept falling and being dragged, still attached to their parachutes, across the ground. Some were dragged over three kiloometers before hitting stone walls and others, already dead, were left hanging on the branches of the fig trees. Two sergeants and eleven soldiers lost their lives and 56 were seriously injured.
The Nuestra Señora de la Peña clinic in Rosario was notified of the accident  and the three doctors there, the only ones on the island, worked for more than six hours with the victims who arrived in private cars, taxis and small trucks and military vehicles  from Tefía. The help of neighbors to transport the victims was crucial on an island where there were still no ambulances. The casualties arrived in very bad condition, but medical facilities were limited and the wounded could not be treated  as there was no blood or plasma available. . Instead they were evacuated to Las Palmas.
The military censorship of the time acted swiftly to ensure that the circumstances of the incident were kept secret and there are no images or exact data on the circumstances of the tragedy. The facts that are known come from locals who saw the disaster and from a photographer who covered the maneuvers. His audiovisual and photographic material was confiscated and kept secret by the military. The families of the victims in Gran Canaria were slow to learn the news.
Eventually, the tragedy was recognised and a monument with the name of the thirteen deceased was raised om the Tefis plain, near the astronomical observatory. In 2003, another sculpture was added with an inscription that ends "triumph or death".
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#3
Tefia Camp
 
In 1953, a Special Court was created in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, to apply security measures to people considered dangerous by virtue of the law of Vagrants and Crooks . This law, approved in 1933, had the objective of rehabilitating people whose behaviors had criminal inclinations. However, it was frequently used as an instrument of repression and social and political control, and in 1954 was extended to include imprisonment for one to three years for homosexuality, which Francoism considered undesirable.
Earlier in that year, a Penitentiary Agricultural Colony was created at the abandoned airport at Tefía to accommodate detainees under this law.
Life in the labor camp was hard. Inmates undertook agricultural work, forced labor and military training, and suffered beatings, hunger and constant humiliation. They were made to work to exhaustion and subjected to regular mistreatment by officials uusing whips and canes. Water was taken from a well by prisoners and stored in jerry cans, and there was no electricity. Inmates slept on the floor of the barracks on a straw matress and during the day carried stones, transported water, dug ditches and broke stones. Food was three-day old bread, noodles with goat meat and peas with rooted sweet potatoes mixed with weevils. Washing was permitted only on Saturdays for a very short period of time, and local residents recalled the inmates being marched to and from church on Sundays.
These harsh conditions led two inmates to compare the centre to the Nazi concentration camps. One said – “I have seen everything done, the most horrendous things you can imagine: hunger, kicks, harassment. The same treatment that the Jews received in the concentration camps  Only the gas chambers were missing.”
The colony closed in 1976 due to the low number of inmates. These few were transferred to prison in Las Palmas.  Some of the building in which the prisoners lived can still be seen.
During its existence, the colony accommodated between 300 and 350 men, of whom perhaps 100 were there because of their homosexuality. Some other inmates were incarcerated for purely political reasons.
 
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#4
The first Fuerteventura airfield
In 1940, the Spanish government identified Tefía on Fuerteventura as the optimal location for an airfield. It could not be reached by enemy naval artillery and Western Sahara, where there were Spanish colonial interests,  was only about 100 km away.
The construction of an airfield was approved and 20 Spanish soldiers set to work with locals, armed only with pickaxes, shovels and baskets. Every day they loaded about ten trucks with lava rocks to create  an airstrip 1.4 km long.
In 1944 it was complete and the first aircraft of the Spanish Air Force landed at Tefía airfield, the first flight connection between continental Europe and Fuerteventura. A military aircraft flew regularly to the island thereafter. In 1946, the civil state airline Iberia acquired the license to fly to the airport and flew from Tefía to Gran Canaria and Tenerife. The initial wooden barracks were later replaced by a terminal building which has been restored as a youth hostel and astronomical observatory.
However there were problems from the start. The airport could only be reached from Puerto del Rosario via a rough track and there were no bus connections on the island. The hills surrounding the airfield produced strong winds and turbulence, and the inclination of the airfield across the landing direction posed massive problems for the aircraft of the time. As a result there were countless accidents.
It was eventually recognised that the Tefia airfield was unsuitable, and a new airport was constructed at Los Estancos in 1950. Even this was less than optimal, however, as the runway was crossed by a road which had to be closed for every take-off and landing. The terminal building for this airport is also still in existance.  The last flight from Tefia took place in 1952.
Los Estancos was replaced by the present airport, which opened in 1969, and the first international flight landed there in 1973 from Dusseldorf. In 1982 there were still no jetways or baggage handling facilities, and bags were delivered by truck to a low wall outside the terminal building.
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#5
A good read. Thanks.
I'm affraid Fuerteventura is burdened with a very troublesome, often hidden, customized history.
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#6
Thanks Pho for pulling this info together.

It's been on my 'to do' list for some time, to go and have a look at the Observatory and to find the Monument. Do you have any pics?
Living my dream
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#7
               
here are the few photos I have found - the camp office, men at work in the camp, the parachute memorial and the camp memorial plaque
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#8
   
ome more of five aircraft flying over the airstrip. They could be DC3s and if so could be the ones carrying the ill-fated paratroopers
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#9
last one -
Las Parcelas
In 1936 following a disagreement with the Spanish Goverment, General Franco of the Spanish Army was sent to an obscure post in the Canary Islands, from where he proclaimed a military rebellion. Following his victory in 1939, Franco established the Canary Islands Economic Command to centralize the economic and political direction of the islands. In 1943 General García Escámez, who had played a prominent role in the civil war, was appointed  head of the Command.
The organization focused on intensifying agricultural production and building infrastructure and houses, to improve economic activity and weaken opposition to the dictatorship. It initiated several housing projects in the capital of Fuerteventura, then known as Puerto Cabras, and in 1945 announced a new project called the Los Molinos Settlement.
On land between Tefia and Los Molinos, the plan was to green the desert by constructing a dam, and laying out 30 parcels of about 2 hecares of land each, connected to it by a network of channels. Houses were built to a standard design on 23 of the plots, and all were given to 30 poor families from Puerto Cabras. There were also lime kilns and a school.
The 200 residents of what became known as the Colonia Rural García Escámez  were given financial support to plant a variety of vegetables, and substantial amouts of alfafa for use as animal fodder and for sale in Gran Canaria.
The parcels could not be sold to third parties but could be passed down within the family, although recently there have been moves to lift this restriction.  Over the years there had been illegal building in the village, and in 2019 the Ayuntiamento demolished three houses and a farm, so effectively that it is hard to see where the buildings had been.
The village, now known as Las Parcelas, has a church and social centre, and the parceleros have renovated the channels that bring water from the dam.
In 2008 Spain ordered the renaming of all streets commemorating figures from the Franco regime, and many street in Fuerteventura have changed as a result, including Avenida Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Corralejo, which was previously Avenida Generalissimo Franco.  But the lasting benefits of General García Escámez’ work at Las Parcelas have made politicians reluctant to rename the street in Rosario that still bears his name.
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