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.