By Fiona Govan
A left-wing mayor of a small town in Andalusia has become a modern-day Robin Hood, organizing robbing raids on local supermarkets to feed the poor of his community.
Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo has, over the past week, led several raids on supermarkets around the town of Marinaleda, near Seville in southern Spain, arguing that “someone has to do something so that families can eat.”
Sanchez, 53, an avowed communist with a bushy gray beard who has been mayor for 33 years and a member for the regional parliament of Andalusia for the United Left party (IU), did not take part in the raids themselves but stood outside the supermarkets directing his “comrades” over a megaphone.
At one Carrefour supermarket on Tuesday around a dozen carts were filled with staples such as milk, sugar, oil, pasta, before being wheeled through the checkout without payment.
Another similar looting, at a Mercadona in the neighboring town of Ecija occurred later the same day and Sanchez vowed the raids would continue.
“There are people who simply don’t have enough to eat,” explained Sanchez, describing the raids as a symbolic and peaceful reaction to the government’s handling of the economic crisis.
“We’ve decided to expropriate basic foodstuffs and give them to the soup kitchens, which are struggling to provide for everyone because demand has increased.”
In the Andalusia region, where the collapse of the construction industry has hit particularly hard, the unemployment rate has soared to nearly 34 percent.
Five people have been arrested for taking part in the raids but police have not arrested Sanchez because of his position as regional MP. Instead, he has been asked to give a statement in front of an investigating magistrate.
Civil Guards on Friday also moved in to dismantle a protest camp on the grounds of a vast estate owned by Spain’s Defense ministry where Sanchez was sleeping out with more than a hundred members of the Andalusia Workers’ Syndicate (SAT).
The protestors took over the finca of Las Turquillas, a 3,000-acre farm near the town of Osuna, two weeks ago, demanding a more equal distribution of land in Andalucia, which has a tradition of large private landholdings.
Under the slogan “The land for those who work it!” a call to arms dating from before the Spanish Civil War, activists had taken over unused farmland on the estate and planted vegetables inviting unemployment workers across the region to join their self-sufficient community.
Sanchez labeled the dismantling of the camp by authorities as “heavyhanded” and a “sign of the return of fascism.”
Sanchez’s actions have led him to be dubbed in the nation's press as “the Robin Hood of Spain” and “the revolutionary of Andalusia.”
Marinaleda, a town of 3,000 residents run by Sanchez since 1979, has attracted people from across Spain to join its farming cooperative and municipal housing program.