Spaniards raiding farms for crops to sell at markets19/06/2012 - 10:41:56
Desperate Spaniards are raiding farm crops to sell at markets in an attempt to raise money as their economy falters.
Police have added the patrolling of farmland - sometimes on horseback - to their list of daily tasks. Farmers in some areas are teaming up to carry out night-time patrols on their own.
In villages near farming areas, several thousand paramilitary Civil Guards, regional and local police are even setting up checkpoints to sniff out not drugs or drunken drivers but stolen fruit or farming equipment, like copper wire used in irrigation systems.
The Civil Guard says sometimes its officers mount "cage operations" - sealing off whole villages to check cars and trucks for, say, pilfered pears.
The stolen goods are mainly for resale. The food ends up in small roving street markets and the metal goes to scrap dealers.
Last year alone more than 20,000 thefts were reported at Spanish farms. The Interior Ministry says it has no comparative figures from other years, or for so far in 2012. But authorities and farm groups blame the thefts on Spain's economic crisis and say they are a big enough problem for the patrols, which began last season, to stay in force this year.
In Sant Climent, a village of 4,000 just outside Barcelona in the Catalonia region, the target at this time of year is cherries in orchards rising up the slopes of a river valley. People are selling them from their front doorsteps and on stands inside bars.
Spain's agricultural sector, which accounts for about 3% of GDP, is not in jeopardy. But the thefts reflect a real problem for Spain's farmers and shows how harsh times are making ordinary people turn to crime.
"This has emerged because of social alarm. Because of the crisis, crime is up," said the local police chief, Ernesto Banos. "And when cherry season comes around, people say: 'What now, cherries? OK, let's go get them."
The usual suspects can be surprising, or not. "Retirees, unemployed people, young people," said Mr Banos.
"The increase that has taken place since the crisis started a few years ago has been spectacular said Estrella Larrazabal, spokeswoman for a farm association called Asaja. "Thieves take anything they can get their hands on."
And things have happened in the Spanish countryside that make it look like the Wild West, or in some cases, Wall Street.
A rancher in central Spain went out one morning to view his 200-head herd of cattle and found two prized calves which had just been released into the pack shot in the head at point-blank range, and perfectly slaughtered. They were to have been prized breeders.
A farmer in Cordoba caught some men stealing ploughing equipment from him. They were arrested, tried, convicted and fined. But they came back to his farm repeatedly demanding he pay the fine, and eventually threatened to kill him if he did not.
Sheep rancher and lemon grower Vicente Carrion, head of the local branch of a farm lobby in the region of Murcia, said thieves plan their hits according to what crops are getting good prices.
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