Alberto Velasco as president of the Geneva Grand Council

A former illegal alien on the roost

Published today at 9:10 p.m.

At 76 years old, wouldn’t it be appropriate to give way to someone younger? “Presidents are rarely young elected officials,” notes Alberto Velasco. It is rather a position where you must have experience of people, of the political village, of the regulations, of customs. You access it at the end of your career, which is my case.”

Arrival from Tangier

The first citizen of Geneva for a year, Alberto Velasco completes an incredible personal journey. He was born in Tangier, Morocco in 1947, an autonomous city then under international administration. “My mother was from Tangier, she belonged to the Jewish community. My father was a Spanish Republican, who went into exile after Franco’s victory. But in 1956, Tangier – which until then had a special status – was attached to Morocco which became independent: the family left the country for Geneva.

But not the whole family! Alberto stayed with his aunt in Tangier, and only arrived a year later, clandestinely, because family reunification was not a right at the time. The family already has four children and that’s a lot. At 12 years old, the youngest was placed with a peasant family near Chavannes-des-Bois.

A shock? “No way. I was with very open, very welcoming people from Basel, much less racist than the Vaudois peasants next door, who were afraid for their daughters,” he remembers, before continuing: “I lived like the family: I I went to school, I worked on the farm. In the evening there was no heating; we gathered around the stove and the mother told stories, talked about the farm animals. For a child, it was heaven.”

At 15, it’s apprenticeship. “At first, they didn’t want me to become a mason. I was told I was limited.” So he found an apprenticeship as a mechanic at the Charmilles workshop and worked in hydraulic turbines. Then, it’s the evening technical school, a half-degree in physics, a postgraduate at EPFL. “At my expense, these studies,” he sighs. When I think about it, I didn’t have a youth.”

One day in prison

At the turn of the 1960s, he was in Geneva and active in the Spanish Communist Youth. “Demonstrations, transport of newspapers in double-bottomed suitcases in Spain.” The Geneva police are on the lookout: “I went to prison one day for a demonstration and they threatened to deport me.”

The second part of his life will be entrepreneurial. In the 1980s, he said he founded two or three turbine companies in Spain. “When it worked, I gave my shares to the employees and founded another company.” Is the story too good to be true? “Yes, well those are my beliefs,” he assures.

Then came the divorce, the definitive move to Geneva. Entry into politics in the 90s, membership in the Tenants’ Association, which he chairs, entry into the Grand Council, where he specializes in housing, energy and finance. During his career, he also served on the Constituent Assembly and on the Municipal Council of the City of Geneva.

Marc Bretton is a journalist at the Tribune de Genève. He worked in the national section and has followed political and economic issues for the Geneva section since 2004.More informations @BrettonMarc

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