Land and Freedom
In Somonte on 9 December 2012 at 20:32
Somonte, Sunday December 9
After two weeks I have finally explored Somonte up to its outermost borders.
The main access road comes from the north, the direction of the river and the village. On the east and in northwest, the estate is bordered by small winter streams. On the west side the border is a straight path.
This is the entire territory of Somonte, as it has been handed over from father to son throughout the ages. It was expropriated by the Andalusian government during the transition period in the late seventies and early eighties. Since a couple of years the estate has been broken up after the northern part – about a third of the total terrain – was sold off to private agricultural industry.
We consider North Somonte to be illegitimately occupied by capitalist forces, and we claim it as part of our own free autonomous zone. Nevertheless we have been planting trees all along the border from one stream to another.
You don’t need the trees to see where the border is. Our side is green. The capitalist side is brown. It has been recently plowed and poisoned. If you look closely you can see the thin veil of dying weed. After the terrain gets sprayed with herbicide, the leaves of grass first turn bright red, then they slowly get covered by yellow dry stains, then they just shrivel away. At that point the terrain is ready to be sown by modified corn.
Dozens of people came to help us in our reforestation effort. We planted about 650 trees of different types. The whole operation has been sponsored by sympathisers from France. And this is not yet all. Apart from the borders and the paths, more trees are to be planted along the streams to avoid erosion.
When the streams are revived as a result of the winter rainfall, they can dig deep into the terrain, and they can flush away the precious layer of humus which is necessary for anything to grow. The roots of the trees are supposed to prevent it.
After reaching the borders we turn back on board the tractor. It’s almost sunset. The banner of the Andalusian Workers Union is waving from the vehicle.
The citadel of Somonte consists of one double house and three barns. Together they form an inner and an outer courtyard. During the first four days of this week, one of the ‘ships’ housed the sixty odd people who came to Somonte for the meeting of rural collectives.
Exchanges and workshops were held in between all the daily activity of the ranch. Many people here are from communities that have been operating more or less self sufficiently for years, sometimes decades.
One of these is Lakabe, an abandoned village in Navarra which was occupied thirty years ago. The abandonment of these mountain villages was encouraged under the Franco regime, by excluding them from electricity and other benefits of modern civilization. After the dictatorship ended, a handful of those places have been reoccupied. Lakabe is both the biggest and the oldest. It currently counts about fifty inhabitants.
Five more villages have been occupied in the region, but they all have a hard time to grow beyond a dozen inhabitants and evolve into a society with enough internal checks and balances to be able to survive.
The villages can neither be too big. A few years ago, members of the younger generation left Lakabe to colonise an abandoned village on their own. After that the hometown opened its doors for new people.
As a result of the crisis, the waiting list of people who want to join Lakabe has grown. But already the village has put immigration on halt, because the inhabitants still have to adapt to the latest influx.
Alternative ways of working the land and living together are possible and practicable, and very difficult. The scale is extremely small. It makes me think of the savages from Huxley’s Brave New World. We are free to live differently, because on the whole we are economically and demographically irrelevant.
Nonetheless, there is a lot and growing support in the cities for a move towards healthier food and sustainability. And here in Andalusia in particular there is a lot of support for Somonte.
We may only be about twenty people living here, but we are all fully aware of the importance of this struggle from a historical perspective.
For centuries, and up until this very day, great parts of Andalusia are controlled by a handful of nobles, while multitudes of people can only survive by selling their labour day by day.
Somonte is a revolutionary act against a feudal economy. And the people who inspire this rebellion are neither hippies nor veggies nor gurus. Their philosophy is simple and logic.
‘The land to those who work it.’
In Somonte on 2 December 2012 at 19:38
Somonte, Sunday December 2.
Since last spring I heard amazing traveller’s tales about a place somewhere over the hills, in the South. A place where the people had taken over the land. A place called Somonte.
The tales made me curious enough to venture into Andalusia, up the Guadalquivir valley to a village called Palma del Río, halfway between Seville and Cordoba.
From the village it’s another 11 kilometres southward into the hills before you get to ‘Finca Somonte’.
I have been here for a week now. It’s enough to give you a general idea. Which is what I will try to do for the moment.
Somonte is an estate of 400 hectares. In a square it would amount to 2 by 2 kilometres. It’s public terrain, legally owned by the regional junta of Andalusia. For thirty years the junta made Somonte bear fruit in various ways. It was planted with corn to get European subsidies, the corn was left to perish to cash in on the insurance, and ‘experimental’ biofuel trees were planted to cash in on some more subsidies. Actual agricultural production was practically zero. The fields around were abandoned, there was one person looking after the place.
This year with the crisis it was decided to auction it off among friends. The event was planned on March 5 of this year.
The day before the auction, Somonte was occupied by local day labourers of the Andalusian Workers Union. They had done symbolic occupations of abandoned estates before, but this time they decided to stay.
At the end of April, the occupation was evicted by 200 riot police. The day after, people returned, and invited everyone to a massive May day celebration on Somonte.
Currently there are about twenty people living and working here. Plus another twenty odd persons from the villages around who regularly lend a hand. There is a number of people from outside the valley as well, but the hard core is formed by the ancient race of Andalusian jornaleros, coming from centuries of struggle against the overlord.
Their fathers worked the land under Franco, their grandfathers fought in the civil war with the anarchists on the republican side, their ancestors worked the land under the Castilian nobles, under the Arab caliphs, under the governors of mighty Rome.
And now they occupy. The first thing you see when you enter the citadel of Somonte is a huge, elaborated Anarchy sign on the barn. On top there is the red-yellow-purple flag of the republic.
The next thing you notice is that the place is clean, cured, orderly. Both in the house, in the ‘ship’ as we call the barn, and in the vegetable gardens. It’s the fruit of hard work, every day of the week.
We work more or less from sunrise to sunset. At eight we have coffee, around eleven we have breakfast, at two we have lunch. From four to six we return to the fields. Six and a half days a week. Sundays in the afternoon we rest.
The daily routine consists in weeding, cleaning, harvesting, cooking, weeding, painting, building, weeding, and much much more. There is no lack of work here. Of all the terrain around, we have only about one and a half hectares planted, mainly with peppers. Other fields are being prepared with a tractor for this winter’s corn. With more people we could do much more.
All over Andalusia there are 8000 hectares of public land which the junta wants to sell. One of the successes of this occupation has already been that the auctions were called off, and that nobody dared to buy Somonte.
The peppers and other vegetables are being sold every week at a local market and to consumer groups in Cordoba. For our own consumption we also have potatoes, oranges, granadas and olives at the moment.
Somonte has a lot of weak spots too. The water for example. The water in the well is not drinkable. We have to import our drinking water from the village. And the electricity. We ‘inherited’ the connection from the junta. For some reason it was never cut off, but without solar panels on the roof, we could easily be left in the dark.
Problems can always be solved. Somonte is a long term project. That’s why we’re planting trees. Not so long ago a group of friends from Vallecas working class neighbourhood of Madrid came here to plant a battalion of olive trees. And next week, with the support of a French association, people will come to help us in a reforestation effort along the paths and the streams.
One of the things that no-one here has told me, but what I feel very strongly is that Somonte considers itself an example. And actually, it is. Somonte is something more than a demonstration, or an action, or an assembly, or all of those together. It’s the day-by-day practice of revolution. And I’m happy to be part of this.
That’s it for this week. Next week from Monday to Thursday people and collectives from all over the country will come together here in Somonte to create a web and share ideas. Then in the weekend, we will be planting trees.
Letter from Greece #3
In #globalrevolution on 24 November 2012 at 00:06
I received another excruciating letter from a friend in Patras…
“Things are getting worse and worse. Fascists now make raids in public care and check if the health booklets of patients belong to a Greek citizen or a foreigner. They keep terrorizing the people undisturbed.
On Saturday we had the celebration of the Insurrection of Politechneion (university students in 1973 went into the university, occupied, made a radio station, stayed there and demanded the fall of the junta of Papadopoulos). Every year we march. This year police officers were so harsh even here. They threw teargas in the middle of the crowd to break up the march.
My friend and I feel that we live under a junta again, and the biggest problem is that Greek society cares about silly things on youtube and on TV. They are blind (…)
Many people commit suicides… last month only in Patras I heard about 3 people from 15 to 34 I think (…)
I want to leave Greece. I don’t want when I narrate the story of my life to have a civil war as a chapter. I love Greece, I really do, but I can’t stand fanaticism, racism and violence. I don’t know how to react to all this. I don’t know what to do. I want something creative to unite people. Greek society won’t go out on to the streets for another “useless protest”, they don’t believe that something can change. You were here, you saw, you know. We are people that wait for someone else to save us and we don’t care if this someone else is crazy, or fascist, or murderer.”