“Santiago del Estero is an area liberated for usurpation”

—Why did you leave Buenos Aires for the mountains of Santiago?

—It was 2018 and we were riding a sulky with my uncle Víctor. It had been a long time since I had visited the area and I noticed something new: a lot of fenced-in bushes. “All that mountain you see over there belongs to a doctor, and the other one also belongs to a doctor. When you can, m’ija, close your field. The land that is beyond belongs to the Gramajos, and in that other one lives an ampalao”, said my uncle. That moment is one of the most emotional and learning postcards of my life because the “neighbor” of the adjoining field was a lampalagua – in Buenos Aires, a giant boa. Since then I wonder who has installed such a high code of coexistence. And I thought I was an environmentalist!

—This increase in fenced mountains was associated with usurpations?

-Totally. The usurpation is a vertical phenomenon in this province, where the division of powers does not exist and no judge reaches his position by competition. Here you can be usurped by the president of the Superior Court of Justice, Eduardo López Alsogaray –- claiming to be heir to an entire area, because his great-great-aunt had a royal grant from 1600– even if you have a perfect title and ownership for five generations, as happened to the family of Don Manuel Ardiles in Chaguar Punco. Or the clerk Elio Curet arrives, with close ties to the Government House and, in complicity with the municipal commissioner, builds a social home for a political leader at one end of your property, while his peons enter by bumping old trees and making clandestine ditches . That is my case and that of so many residents of the Robles Department. These new “owners of the land” are generally officials, former mayors, deputies or notaries who, with direct access to cadastre and income information, deed thousands of hectares in their name or figureheads. The Copo Department is famous for that. A former mayor of Monte Quemado and deputy for decades, Carlos Hazan, advances and sells land through figureheads. There, the case of the lands of Don Antonio Chomo Díaz in El Caburé is emblematic, but they are also appropriating part of the nature reserve.

—And the peasant organizations like Mocase, what role do they play?

“That’s a taboo subject. It was hard for me to understand her future. The peasant movement of Santiago del Estero, which emerged in the 1980s and bravely organized itself in pursuit of the vindication of rights in the brave times of Juarismo, today is part of the government. Although at this stage of the process they are divided into two branches, Mocase and Mocase Vía Campesina, both have officials in the provincial and national states, so their territorial work is not different from that of the rest of the movements we know, like the Evita, the MTE, etc. They are all part of the ruling party’s electoral apparatus. The Vía Campesina, in particular, became the main actor in the dispossession of the peasantry in many departments in the south of the province. He acts with unusual violence: armed guys, in a gang, with strategy, logistics, financing and their own press for their false propaganda campaigns; campaigns that most of the time are accompanied by the alternative media in Buenos Aires, which generates the automatic solidarity of various human rights organizations. Being more than 1,300 kilometers away, they have stagnated in idealization, many – who no longer answered the phone – believe that Mocase is comparable to Zapatismo. Nothing further. Not only do they not reject the State, but they live on it and dispute it. I also clarify that I am not generalizing the organization, much less the people who, as compensation for the plans they receive, must go and usurp land from their own neighbors. It is about a rogue leadership that never had dirt on its nails, which in general are not even from Santiago, but it perceives itself as an enlightened vanguard and commands usurpations of peasant lands for its political project. Last year, the residents of the Aguirre Department had recorded more than 18,000 hectares usurped by this organization.

—What is the reason for this advance on the lands of traditional peasants?

The land issue in Santiago del Estero has a turning point in transgenesis. Nobody was seduced by “the Santiago mountain”, but since the modified little seed has the capacity to sprout in the middle of a salt flat, from Buenos Aires they began to buy thousands of hectares by telephone. And this is where we cannot help but wonder who are those who “sell” lands with traditional inhabitants inside who constitutionally have possessory rights, whether with or without property title. Or why grandiloquent domain regularization programs are launched for peasants (with directorates, secretariats, prosecutors specialized in land conflicts, organizations financed for such purposes) and in more than seven decades not only do they not materialize, but the usurpation of rural land with families inside.

“And how exactly was your return to defend your lands?”

—To stop the usurpation, I “settled” in an abandoned ranch. The nearest house was two kilometers away. Neither electricity nor gas. Make fire for everything. The water had to be carried. Smells, flavors, noises, flora and fauna. Everything was imposed on me and exposed my ignorance. I had no choice but to face one of the fears that I carried as a child in nightmares: vipers. Although I received the instruction from my grandmother when we went out to harvest, I couldn’t get over it. Until one afternoon we were talking with Don Marico Gramajo about fears. In his enrollment book, he says he is 90 years old, but they listed him as five years late. He still rides a horse. His common sense suggested that my greatest fear would be reprisals for the “high voltage” complaints he had been making about usurpations, well-founded fears, of course. But when I confessed that my biggest – and irrational – fear is finding a snake, she burst out laughing. I knew how wrong I was just seeing him laugh. She said: “And what makes you think that she wanted to meet you? Are you scared? She too!”. Can any pedagogue overcome the technique of this wise old man from the mountain? Conversing in rural areas is an art.

“Did you have to put up with pressure?”

-Several. Direct, indirect, with vans. Threats with machetes. I think I was saved because I was filming. Two years of constant harassment. They threatened my lawyer and she hung up on me. The notaries did not want me to sign a power of attorney to litigate with this usurper notary: “I’m out of a job” they justified themselves. We quickly put together a page on Facebook, called In Defense of Rural Life.

“And Justice?”

Collaborating with indigenous communities, I got to know Formosa. I thought it was an insurmountable feud until I began to walk through the offices of the Justice of Santiago. The Public Prosecutor’s Office, as it is said now, is an oxymoron. It is not public, the common citizen does not have access. Especially if he is a humble peasant. That peasant never comes back, because he had to leave his animals to travel by sulky or motorcycle to the town. Wait an hour for the bus to the capital and they did not take the complaint. They are breaking the self-esteem of the people, until they abandon the claims for their lands. Nor is the task of inspection exercised. I have four IPP (Preparatory Criminal Investigations) in progress since March 2019. The penultimate one for property damage, trespassing, theft and threats. The IPP 4985/2020 is held by the prosecutor Jaqueline Macció. If she had carried out her task, the crime of usurpation would not have been carried out. Today, prosecutor Alvaro Yagüe is in charge, and he is not making progress either. Santiago is a liberated zone for usurpation.

“And why do they appropriate so much land?”

—I think that behind the “ambition” –ponele– of the officials who advance on peasant land there is an implicit need to eliminate the peasant as a historical subject. That simple but powerful man, who produces what he consumes and therefore raises two children or ten children (when some orphaned “entenao” is not added) and who knows what plant he is going to use to stop his bleeding and fight his infections. That farmer who does not need INTA or Monsanto, nor does he need agroecological academics. Los Carrizo made me try melons from their harvest, a unique flavor. But, in addition, since we are in a peasant community, they gave me their seed, which they save harvest after harvest, as their grandparents did. Is there any actor more anti-system than a peasant?

—To close, explain to me in more detail about being a peasant today and being anti-system.

—They have been dispossessing the last farmers and crianceros of their lands, who are testimony that another country existed. The cultural heritage of these men and women made us reach the place of power on the world map. And that testimony throws overboard the story about our role as “dependent and underdeveloped.” They are killing what remains of those generations because they are people rooted in the land and in their family history. Regardless of the form of eviction (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyUQv7iPMB8), they lead them to overcrowding and dependence on plans so that they no longer have autonomy. The most obscene of absurdities is that, in this province of abysmal dimensions, slums are promoted around the towns. In Beltrán, in Villa Arroyito, there are peasants expelled from rural areas who managed to bring, for example, some pig. And then, in ten square meters, parents, children, dogs and the pig with its little pigs live together in a puddle on the sidewalk as a pigsty. The usurpations are the tragedy and the extinction of rural life.

*Journalist and screenwriter.

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