Andalusia farmers fight to turn military land into agricultural collective

Farmers begin tilling the land almost immediately after occupying Las Turquillas
 
For the past two weeks, hundreds of out of work farmers have occupied a plot of land owned by Spain’s military in the country’s southern Andalusia region. Their goal: to set up a communal agricultural project aimed at breathing fresh life into an area hard hit by Spain’s ailing economy.
 
Known as Las Turquillas, the land has been occupied by a group led by the Andalusian Union of Workers (SAT) since July 24, inspired by a farming model set up in the neighbouring town of Marinaleda. In 1997, Spain’s government allotted Marinaleda’s 3,000 residents land that had been seized from a family of aristocrats. The redistribution of “El Humoso” came as a major victory for workers in the area, who had campaigned for the past 30 years for the 1,200-hectare plot.
 
In a show of support, Marinaleda’s Mayor Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo visited Las Turquillas not long after it was occupied. A representative of the leftist Izquierda Unida party in parliament, Gordillo has become somewhat of a folk hero in the region for throwing his weight behind similar causes.
 
For example, Gordillo played a role in a stunt earlier this week where several activists walked into supermarkets in two separate Andalusian towns, filled up carts of food and then left without paying to protest against inequalities in the region. His actions have even earned him the title of “Robin Hood mayor”.
 
Despite Gordillo’s support, the workers at Las Turquillas were forced to leave the land on Friday morning after the Guardia Civil was deployed to clear them out. Unfazed, the movement has vowed to return, hoping that the government will eventually give in to their demands, as they did 15 years ago with El Humoso.
 
In a country already devastated by soaring joblessness, Andalusia has the highest unemployment rates in Spain, with nearly 40 percent of the population out of work.
 
In a sympolic gesture, workers hold a ribbon cutting ceremony to inaugerate Las Turquillas.
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"We hope that the fruits and vegetables we grow will allow us to become food self-sufficent”

Juan José Sancho is a young farm worker who participated in Las Turauillas land occupation.
 
On the first day of the occupation, we talked with the military, who asked us to leave at first. But in the end, we were so determined, there was nothing they could do.
 
I worked on a farm at El Humoso, which had been collectivised by workers from Marinaleda. [At the El Humoso cooperative, farmers work between five and six hours a day from Monday to Saturday. Each employee receives the same salary, regardless of their job. During the month of November to January, the cooperative hired an additional 400 people to help harvest olives. In April, they took on an extra 500 hands to help pick Lima beans]. At this time of year, there’s nothing to harvest, so we decided to take advantage of the season to try to reproduce the model at El Humoso at Las Turquillas, because it has allowed us to provide work for entire villages. [Gordillo recognises that for the moment, the cooperative at El Humoso has yet to turn a profit].
 
Workers pose in front of Las Turquillas.
 
We had had our eyes on Las Turquillas for years. When the debt crisis hit Spain, farmers were severely affected, which was what really pushed us into action. The plot was completely unused by its owners, which is none other than the defence ministry. There’s more than 1,000 hectars of land there, but the military only uses about 20 of it to raise horses on.
 
The Guardia Civil dismantled a camp of around 50 people.
 
We held daily meetings to decide what was the best strategy to adopt. In the end, around 50 people camped out on the land by night, and hundreds would come occupy it by day. We knew that the police would eventually come to pay us a visit, so we decided that children shouldn’t be allowed to stay on site overnight.
 
"Women on the front line"
 
Women make up a large percentage of the population in rural areas and are among those most affected by rising unemployment. They’re the ones who are often on the front line in union struggles.
 
During the day, children were allowed to come lend a helping hand.
 
We’re working toward becoming food self-sufficient by living entirely off of the fruit and vegetables we grow, as well as the goats and chickens we raise. Given the amount of land at Las Turquillas, we should be able to generate enough to create a small industry. But we still have a long way to go.
 
 
All photos courtesy of the SAT Facebook page.
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