Business

The Mexican money that changed a Spanish village

Antonino Fernandez Image copyright Junta Vecinal Cerezales del Condado
Image caption Mr Fernandez left Spain after the country's civil war in the 1930s

There's only one bar in Cerezales del Condado, a village of just 30 people in northern Spain and it sells "almost exclusively" Mexican beer.

But its beer is not the only thing that Cerezales owes to influences from the other side of the Atlantic.

Fresh drinking water, the restoration of its church, a chapel and the cemetery, as well as the redevelopment of a public square and a street lined with 92 cypress trees are just some of the things paid for by a fortune made in Mexico

Antonino Fernandez was born in Cerezales in 1917. He left Spain after the civil war in the 1930s and became the general manager of the largest brewer in Mexico, Grupo Modelo (now owned by the Belgian firm Anheuser-Busch InBev) where he worked from 1971 until 1997.

He eventually became the company's honorary chairman and died, aged 98, on 31 August this year. It had been 70 years since he left Spain for Mexico.

Mr Fernandez is credited with boosting one of its best known brands, Corona beer.

Image copyright Junta Vecinal Cerezales del Condado
Image caption The village's only bar, La Cantina, stocks mainly Mexican brands of beer

"He came from a family of farmers and was also a local policeman in Leon. He then married Cinia, a niece of Pablo Diez one of the founders of Grupo Modelo, who was also from Leon," says Pilar Infiesta, editor of the Diario de Leon newspaper.

"He went to work in Mexico - he was 'a hard worker'."

Fortune-seekers

As elsewhere in Spain, the benefactor of Cerezales is referred to as "an Indian". It's a term used for those who emigrated to Latin America and came back - albeit temporarily - after having made their fortune.

Sometimes, these so-called Indians are seen as almost mythical figures who embody the dream of those who left - and who even today still do leave to "do the Americas".

In other words, to try to make their fortune.

The mansions these people built, with large gardens dotted with palm trees, hark back to their experiences in Latin America. They can be seen in several Spanish towns, mostly in the north of the country.

Some of these wealthy emigrants became patrons and carried out philanthropic work in their home towns. Mr Fernandez was one of them.

Image copyright Junta Vecinal Cerezales del Condado
Image caption Antonino Fernandez also paid for the restoration of the church

In Cerezales there's a street named after him. There's also a modern art centre that's hosted exhibitions by artists such as Richard Serra and Eduardo Chillida.

It's been redeveloped from the shell of the former school which fell into disuse as the population dwindled. Currently there are only two children in the village.

"At some of our events we attract [from outside] six, seven or eight times the amount of people who live here," said Alfredo Puente, the Foundation's curator.

"Our activity is closely linked to a view that Fernandez always held about having been forced to leave school sooner than he wished. At that time children left school at 13".

A 'Mexican heart'

Those who knew Mr Fernandez claim his public image does not fit the stereotype of a pretentious person, often associated with those who have made their fortune abroad, the so-called 'Indians'.

Image copyright Junta Vecinal Cerezales del Condado
Image caption Mr Fernandez was "a very discreet and simple person"

"He was an austere person. He was not the typical millionaire who showed off with yachts, houses or ranches. He was a very discreet and simple person," Pilar Infiesta says.

"The things he held close were Leon and Mexico because he always had 'a Mexican heart' and was so thankful to that country for his vast fortune.

"He also spoke about God a lot as well as Isabella I, Queen of Castile. He wanted to get her made a saint. He spent a lot of money on making the case for her to be elevated to sainthood. But nothing has happened yet," she adds.

However, the influence of Antonino Fernandez - who died without any children - not only affects Cerezales. There's a modern day dilemma.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption As elsewhere in Spain the benefactor of Cerezales is referred to as "an Indian"

After his death this summer, in Mexico City - 9,000 km away from Leon - the local press wrote about the fortune left by the businessman and how the distribution of his wealth could be beneficial to Mexico.

"The lawyers are on the case in Madrid. But they've been very discreet. Some of the relatives, who tend not to speak publicly, said that his fortune will be more than $200m or more," says Pilar Infiesta.

"The whole process could take six or seven months. Antonino had 13 brothers and sisters, so imagine all the nephews who are descended from them.

"A few years ago he gave them all some money. Now, as the lawyers go through his last will and testament, they're finding that he's not forgotten any of them.

"The amounts they will inherit vary but everyone will get something," she adds.

'Family matter'

Despite the media hype, in Cerezales the exact terms of the inheritance is not something people know that much about.

Image copyright Junta Vecinal Cerezales del Condado
Image caption Mr Fernandez helped to pay for several renovations in Cerezales

"The issue of inheritance is a family matter. They are the only ones who know anything about it. We have no idea," says Maximino Sanchez, president of the neighbourhood council.

"What's been important for us is how he's never forgotten this place.

"There are several nephews who have a house here and when they are on holiday they come back. But for most of the year there's no family of Don Antonino here in town," he adds.

Mr Sanchez also runs the village's one bar - La Cantina - whose name is a tribute to the Hispanic-Mexican businessman, he says. And, he adds, the investments Antonino Fernandez made in his hometown were "his best legacy".