Land occupations are more commonly associated with countries like Brazil or Guatemala, but now rural communities in Andalusia are also claiming back farmland.
The most successful and long-standing reclaimed farm is Somonte en Palma del Río, in Cordoba province. Occupied for over 18 months, it is now home to 30 families.
The union driving land reform is the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (Andalusian Workers’ Union, SAT by its Spanish initials).
SAT had been ‘symbolically occupying’ lands concentrated in the hands of the Andalusian aristocracy for many years, but when it heard regional government was putting 20,000 hectares of public land up for sale, it decided to make this occupation permanent.
Somonte, which was put up for auction and due to pass into private hands in March 2011, covers over 400 hectares. Semi-abandoned, it was producing nothing – in an area where 50 per cent of people are unemployed. The families who work the land support themselves by selling crops such as peppers and chard at farmers’ markets and through consumer co-ops.
The occupation of Somonte has inspired takeovers elsewhere in Andalusia. Workers have occupied farms owned by the military, such as Las Turquillas en Osuna in Seville province to the West, and La Rueda – which was foreclosed by the bank with the loss of 600 jobs – in Jaén to the east.
Meanwhile, workers in greenhouses in Almería are also fighting to have land turned over for management by co-operatives.
SAT has been calling for land reform in southern Spain since the 1970s. When the crisis began in 2008, SAT began a wave of actions in protest, occupying banks and public housing. Last year, ‘Robin Hood’ mayor Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, one of SAT’s leaders, famously raided food from supermarkets to hand it over to poor families. In September, SAT struck again, this time stealing materials for the new school year.
Their actions have been met by heavy repression from both the police and the judiciary. They have clocked up over 150 arrests and $540,000 in fines.