Long Life to Somonte

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All photos by Marco Bellido.

Somonte, Sunday December 16

Dear people,

On Monday morning, when all the people of other collectives and all the citizen treeplanters had left, normal life resumed at Somonte, and we were confronted with the fact of how few we actually are.

We cleaned up the house, the barns, the yard, and then the fifteen of us sat down to lunch. After two weeks there are many aspects of the internal affairs in Somonte that I don’t understand, but I got a basic idea of each person’s place in the community.

With the Intelligence Commission of the March on Brussels we developed the habit of comparing the march’s participants to Chess pieces. The same method can be applied here. We have our Queen, our King, our Knights and Bishops, our Towers and Pawns.

Between some of the pieces you will notice rivalries, either implicit or obvious. They influence the social dynamic of the community, and in doing so they create something we could call ‘politics’.

You find politics on all levels. Especially in a revolutionary enclave like Somonte. We have a huge anarchist sign on the barn and we take pride in not working for an overlord, but that doesn’t mean there is no leadership in Somonte.

There is, and you notice it. Instead of leadership, I should call it ‘drive’, maybe, but it’s the same. It comes from the people who decided over nine months ago to occupy the estate, and who are still here.

For now, this is my last dispatch from Somonte. One of the reasons I came to this place was to see what the occupiers have achieved through the seasons. And I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. There are two big vegetable gardens, where all the different plants are neatly organised with love and sweat into large green battalions. There are dozens of chickens, three geese, a turkey, cats and dogs, twenty sheep, five goats. You can pick oranges straight off the tree, a whole division of olives has been planted, a reforestation effort is under way, and this week, just before the rains came, 20 hectares of terrain have been sown with corn.

So yes, a lot has been achieved during nine months of occupation of Somonte. Things that would not have been possible without a strong ‘drive’. Not only by the people who live here, but also by all the people who have supported this project, in particular the Andalusian Workers Union that organised the occupation in the first place.

But however the big achievements and the symbolic importance of this occupation in the struggle against Andalusian feudalism, Somonte is not a viable alternative way of life at the moment. And the fact that the actual inhabitants are so few merely underlines this. There is room for hundreds of families here, there are enough stones to build a village. But as long as the earth doesn’t start to give fruits in abundance, they cannot be sustained. A day labourer would do the same job at Somonte as he would do for a boss, only here he doesn’t get paid. This is the season of orange and olive harvest, and a day labourer cannot afford to miss it in order to make some money.

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Another reason why Somonte is not yet a viable alternative is because of the precarious situation. This is still an occupied estate. We can be evicted at any given moment. Almost every day the Guardia Civil drives around the courtyard to remind us. They don’t stop, they don’t get out of the car, they just show up. On Sundays they usually come here to scribble down the license plates of visiting vehicles.

This week, the assembly has decided to look into the possibility of setting up a cooperative so that Somonte can officially apply for the terrains to be ceded, and so the occupation legalised. This could be important to prevent the terrains from being ceded to other entities who prefer the business of speculation.

The legal way is in any case a thorny one. Especially since the recent reintroduction of class justice in Spain, where you are supposed to pay considerable amounts of money to have access to the legal system or appeal judicial decisions. Unions and organisations are forced to create financial reserves for this purpose, and the poor are simply denied access to the law.

Somonte Resiste’ is written with rocks in enormous letters at the main entrance, readable from the air. And I’m pretty sure that Somonte will keep resisting, the revolutionary way, or by the rules. And after a chat with the tractor man, I’m also aware of great possibilities for growth.

He told me that someone had lent us a sack full of corn at one hundred percent interest. Now, in the financial world, you would be out of your mind if you took such a loan, and you would most likely be punishable by law if you provided it. But as corn is concerned, ancient farmers’ knowledge says that in an average season you harvest twenty times the amount you sow. So you can pay back the sack of the corn, plus the sack of interest, and you will still have 18 sacks of corn left.

Approximately four tons of organic corn have been sowed last week. It makes for a promising investment in the future…

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Land and Freedom

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All photos by Marco Bellido

Somonte, Sunday December 9

Dear people,

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.

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The lone tree at the border between North and South Somonte

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.

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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.

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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.’

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Agrarian Revolution

The people's fire place in the ship.

The people’s fire place in the ship.

Somonte, Sunday December 2.

Dear people,

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.

One more time for Danish TV

One more time for Danish TV

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.

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‘Somonte for the People – Let it be known to the World’