Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

On the Lookout for Thieves along Rural Spanish Roads

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

On the Lookout for Thieves along Rural Spanish Roads

Article excerpt

Farmers have become so worried that they have taken to patrolling their fields at night, their cars bumping along between rows of peach and pear trees.

Jose Bria finds it hard to sleep these days. Sometimes when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he drives out to his farmland a few minutes from the center of this tiny village just to make sure that everything is all right.

He has been robbed three times already this year: Once, chickens were taken. Then, some tools went missing. The last time, eight rabbits disappeared.

Mostly Mr. Bria, 62, worries that the thieves, who cut his locks, will get careless and let his 800 sheep out of the barn to trample across his neighbors' fields.

"Do you realize how much damage that would do?" he asks. "Do you know what sheep are like when they are scared?"

The farmers in Albelda have become so worried about thieves that they have taken to patrolling their fields at night, their cars bumping along between rows of peach and pear trees. They have found strategic spots that overlook their fertile valley in northeastern Spain from which they peer into the dark, watching for headlights or flashlights, any signs of intruders.

Such vigilance has helped, they think. But for many, it is a sorry state of affairs. For a long time, many of Spain's small, isolated farming communities seemed relatively immune from the economic crisis. The fields still needed to be plowed and the animals tended to, as always. Prices were not great, but there was work to be found.

Now, however, many of them believe the crisis is at their doorstep.

"You don't steal eight rabbits to sell them," said Rosa Marques, 43, who grew up in this village of 800 and is one of the organizers of the patrols. "You steal eight rabbits for food."

Albelda is hardly the only farming village worried about crime. Police officials say they have seen a steady rise in rural areas since 2009. Just about everything has been targeted. Three hundred onions one night. Rubber irrigation hose the next. In Albelda, thieves have taken diesel fuel, nail guns, electric clippers, even shampoo and soap that the workers use.

Villagers are also organizing themselves into patrols elsewhere in Spain, particularly in coastal regions where there is a lot of farming, like Valencia Province. It is not a trend that police officials like much. But they understand it. In many areas, there are not enough officers to cover vast stretches of farmland. And there are few useful alternatives to a watchful eye.

"You can't put doors up to protect fields," said Maj. Jesus Gayoso, an analyst for the Guardia Civil, Spain's military police.

Police officials says the criminals mostly fall into two categories: local people who are out of work and steal enough to subsist, and more organized bands of Romanians or Moroccans who once worked in these areas and know them well. …

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