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Spanish Land Reform Plan Winds Up in Court; Jobless Peasants Wind Up in Street

July 20, 1986|LESLIE CRAWFORD | Reuters

VILLANUEVA DEL CAUCHE, Spain — In the square of this destitute Andalusian village, jobless men stand about, arms folded, surrounded by land they could farm themselves under a reform plan that is being resisted by landowners.

Jobs? Francisco Navarro laughs. "There have been no jobs in Villanueva for years." The Marchioness of El Cauche employs one goatherd, a farmhand and a supervisor to run her 1,400-acre estate.

She is among the few thousand landowners who own almost 10 million acres, or half the farmland in Andalusia. At the other end of the scale are 370,000 jornaleros , day laborers like Navarro, who can at best find 60 days of work a year.

The Marchioness, who lives in Malaga, also owns the village and charges a yearly ground rent of one hen for every house built on her estate; two hens if it has a patio. "And they better lay eggs or she won't have them," Navarro says.

'Feudal Bastion'

El Cauche, described as "one of the last feudal bastions of Andalusia" by a local Communist Party leader, is one of the first estates to be affected by the land reform of the Socialist regional government (Andalusian Junta).

The Junta ordered the land of El Cauche and 11 other estates in the Antequera province to be forcibly rented to state-sponsored cooperatives. But a court in Seville suspended the order last November pending an appeal by the landowners' association, ASAGA.

The Junta is the first administration to tackle the issue of land reform in half a century. A collectivization experiment during the 1930s left-wing Republic was smashed by Gen. Francisco Franco after his victory in the 1936-39 Civil War.

The emphasis of the new plan, tied to training and the development of agricultural industries, is not on land distribution but the modernization of what is potentially one of the richest agricultural regions of Europe.

Miguel Manaute, the Junta's agricultural minister, dismissed the collectivization formula as archaic.

"We are not concerned with who owns the land, only whether it is productive," he said. "About 10% of the large holdings in Andalusia, some 400,000 hectares (988,000 acres), lie abandoned. The owners will be penalized."

The landowners' association is up in arms.

"The so-called agrarian reform is a thinly concealed attack on private property," ASAGA president Pedro Leira said.

The reform has also drawn fire from Andalusia's radical peasant movement SOC (Union of Rural Workers) and Communists, who demand the wide-scale takeover of large estates.

Paco Casero, SOC's tireless leader, argues for more far-reaching reform. His 10-year-old movement has been at the forefront of the revival of peasant militancy in Andalusia.

"Ask the land whose sweat waters it," proclaims a poster at the converted warehouse, which serves as SOC's union hall in Villamartin, south of Seville.

Casero takes the credit for placing land reform back on the political agenda.

He says the reality of Spain's southern interior--the absentee landowner, the ill-paid and insecure jornalero--has barely changed in 100 years.

No Work, No Land

"When we fail to find work, we have no unemployment pay, no land of our own, no possibility of employment in our villages or towns," Casero said.

SOC has combined nonviolent protest with something almost forgotten in other parts of Europe--opposition to the mechanization of agriculture.

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