Farmers Kicked Out of Community Farm in South-Central Los Angeles
Betrayed by Mayor Villaraigosa, Adherents to the Other Campaign On The Other Side, Together with Sympathizing Neighbors, Resist Riot Police and SWAT Attack
By Margarita Salazar
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign on the Other Side
June 13, 2006
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department arrived just before 5 a.m. to evict some 350 families – most of them immigrants from Mexico and Central America – who in the past 15 years have managed to transform an arid and abandoned plot of land into a celebrated and loved collective farm that produces fruits, vegetables, legumes and flowers for the benefit of the community.
The land held by the farmers had been abandoned for decades, but as a result of the popular uprising in 1992, the city government authorized the use of the land by those now evicted (the same year the city burst into flames with the acquittal of policemen for the brutal beating of Rodney King, an African-American).
Tezozomoc, a spokesperson for the farmers, said the aggression shown today would certainly unleash a strong sense of community discontent against the city government.
The government, headed by Antonio Villaraigosa, a politician of Mexican roots, did not keep its word to the farmers and denied them the economic and political support. Villaraigosa chose to award this support instead to the new owner of the property: real estate speculator Ralph Horowitz. Villaraigosa opted impress capital and sacrifice those with whom – when convenient – he shares a common heritage.
Horowitz was the original owner of the property and sold it to Los Angeles at the end of the 1980s for $4.7 million. But in 2003, Horowitz, in a typical sweetheart deal – or “behind closed doors,” as these acts of favoritism are sometimes called – regained 14 acres of the land for $5 million. He is now asking for $16.3 million, a sum the farmers, despite their best efforts along with other civil society groups were not able to collect.
Unofficial sources within the local government claimed that the government would step in with some financial help, but today it seems Villaraigosa did not move a finger to prevent the eviction.
All this, despite the fact that the Annenberg Foundation, a non-profit institution, had promised a contribution of $10 million to begin the buy-back in favor of the 350 families that until early this morning worked the land to produce – prickly pear cactus, greens, chipilín and squash, for example. The farm is a much-needed oasis amid the urban stain of the city, fractured as it is by long highways and concrete overpasses, the richer cousins of those Mexico City’s residents must put up with.
But the so-called “second floors” constructed by the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution for the benefit of the wealthy and the “freeways” that make the city an endless and undecipherable crossword puzzle are not the only parallels.
The Other Journalism confirmed that below and to the left, the farmers of South-Central – adherents and members of the Other Campaign on the Other Side – have joined with their Mexican brothers and sisters south of the border.
“We are all Atenco and South-Central!,” “Villaraigosa, asshoooole (culerooooo)!” were some of the chants that could be heard along the avenues of Alameda, Long Beach, 40 and 41, the streets that mark the boundaries of the farmers’ cooperative project, a piece of land that political and economic calculations deemed expendable.
Not so, for the hundreds and hundreds of young students, activist, environmentalists and homemakers, just to name some of the diverse sectors of civil society who decided to make that farm, “their farm,” arriving early in the morning to protest the abuse of power through peaceful resistance.
Indeed, opposite the high-caliber guns and police batons were guitars, drums and whistles; in front of the high-impact helmets and shields were bandanas and ski masks, Zapatista symbols that are by now imbued with anti-capitalist significance; answering the prominent acronyms of LAPD and SWAT (Los Angeles pioneered the creation of this repressive unit, which is armed to the teeth and is by definition charged with fighting “terrorists”) were “Viva EZLN”, “Save our Farm” and “The people united, will never be defeated!”
Rufina Juárez, one of the most tenacious defenders of the community’s land, said to the Other Journalism that the aggression they were subjected to will not be forgotten. She also had strong words of criticism for Villaraigosa, who over the course of his corporate ladder-climbing, power-hungry career has used his “origins” and “race” as political bargaining chips.
“Mexicans,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes, “have a long tradition of defending our land and we aren’t going to forget this aggression. Those who don’t love their land have no mother, so it’s clear that Villaraigosa has no mother. It would be better if he dropped his name and just went by ‘Tony.’ He doesn’t care about women, kids, nothing.”
Rufina makes these remarks as heavy machinery begin to raze the land parcels that with so much love and patience the farmers manage to make productive. The produce from this land was often given for free to neighborhood families, who are certainly among the most vulnerable of this First World city.
It mattered little to the political establishment that the farmers of South-Central, who were able to spark interest throughout their country and in the world in their own right, had the backing of prominent liberal figures associated with the Democratic Party. That is, stars from the world of entertainment: Joan Baez, Danny Glover, Martin Sheen, Laura Dern, Tom Morello, Willie Nelson, Alicia Silverstone and Daryl Hannah. The last was still high up in a walnut tree with three other people, as of this writing, hoping to stop or at least temporarily block the incursion led by the Sheriff’s office and the LAPD. Hannah, who acted in the movie Blade Runner, a staple of the science-fiction film genre, said she would stay up in the tree as long as possible.
The initial force of the raid was composed of the sheriff’s riot unit, and it arrived in full combat regalia to confront the unarmed farmers and sympathizers. A large part of the perimeter was blocked off for the operation, and police resorted to using train cars to block off intersections, and they also used more than 40 policemen as well as various helicopters.
Inside the farm a hundred people waited, armed with no more than their own conviction; they asked for water from those outside – some 500 protestors, who clamored with authorities over the excessive show of force.
Time and again they indignantly asked: “Why are you destroying the crops?” Some of the evicted women pleaded, “That’s food for our children. What, don’t you have a family?” The only response from a cynical policeman was: “No, I don’t have any children” and “We’re doing this for your own good.”
So far, 39 people opposed to the eviction have been arrested, and the situation remains tense. The police are warning the people to disperse and leave the area, but the diverse group remain firm, declaring: ¡Aquí estamos y no nos vamos! (“Here we are, and we won’t leave”).
Whatever happens in the next few hours will have to be reported by the local, national and international press present. Of course, that is if for once instead of listening to the voices of power, they can listen to the people who are below, who at the end of the day are the ones with their hearts in the right place, which at moments like these, beat in unison: firm and to the left.
Click here for more Narco News coverage of Mexico
Lea Ud. el Artículo en Español
Narco News is funded by your contributions to The Fund for Authentic Journalism.
Please make journalism like this possible by going to The Fund's web site
and making a contribution today.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism
For more Narco News, click here.