When Marie Carmen Garcia was elected mayor of La Pesquera, a Cuenca town of 200 inhabitants, she had a very clear mission: she wanted to remove the doors from the countryside. In 2011, a battle began to rebuild roads out of the city, cut off by the owners of several large hunting grounds, a situation that is all too common and tolerable in many parts of Spain, but which angered the new mayor. This time the little boy dislocated the landowner’s arm: 11 years and four trials later, the roads were open.
“As someone who believes in the public with closed eyes, I wanted to give back to the neighbors what was theirs, no more and no less,” says this socialist mayor. Located on the border between Cuenca and the Valencian Community, next to the gorges of the Cabriel river, you must go to La Pesquera specifically. There is only a narrow road that ends in the city, so for transportation its inhabitants depend on roads, paths and paths that have always connected them with neighboring cities or farmlands.
It is a land of limestone mountains and pine forests, with few people and a lot of wildlife, halfway between Madrid and Valencia, ideal for hunting business. A type of hunting very different from what the neighbors practice. “Everything that is hunted in this small town serves as food,” the mayor says. The other is part of a business that has begun to erect barriers on traditionally used roads: “They come from Madrid, take very large tracts of land for hunting grounds and cut off all the roads that go there so that no one enters either on foot or by car. They put up gates, they put up fences, and that way no one touches their animals because they say they are theirs,” says Garcia.
Doors and mounds half a meter high
When he reached the town hall, he found roadblocks at 15 points. Some are as brazen as the GR-66, a long 600+ kilometer highway (known as the Castile-La Mancha highway) that connects La Pesquera to neighboring towns. There, the owners of the private reserve have put doors and mounds half a meter high to prevent access. “It was one of the main roads, there was a communication route between three cities,” explains Garcia.
There are two types of public roads: cattle trails run by autonomous communities such as the royal ravines, ancient routes used to move herds around the Iberian Peninsula, and municipal and local roads that have always been used. By law, they are the property of the municipalities and are an asset of the public domain and use, which, according to the Constitution, is “inalienable, inalienable and inalienable”.
The latter means that the public road can be restored at any time by the city council, even if it has not been used for decades or has been eaten away by weeds, explains Manuel Trujillo, coordinator of the Iberian Public Roads Platform. “It doesn’t matter if it was closed many years ago or someone long ago appropriated it,” this activist clarifies, “but you have to investigate, see what evidence there is that it is publicly available.”
It was here that La Pesquera began its fight against closure; He hired a technician from a local development association to prepare a municipal inventory of public roads based on road trips, conversations with neighbors, and searches in historical archives.
A field more and more impassable
“The problem with the closure of public roads is that it is very widespread,” says Manuel Trujillo, “due to the massive implementation of commercial hunting, hunting, understood as an economic activity, and the depopulation factor.” The platform he represents brings together associations from all over the state, but especially from the south, the Levante and the Balearic Islands. They deplore the fact that the field is becoming “impassable” due to the “failures” of the competent authorities when it comes to restoring this public heritage.
The most scandalous for Trujillo are the cases of cities closed by the owners of hunting grounds, such as Villaescuza de Palositos (Guadalajara), uninhabited in the 70s, where a protest march is held every year demanding to open roads and prevent a collapse. its Romanesque church of cultural interest.
Faced with this general scorn, the small town of La Pesquera in Cuenca decided to stand up. After preparing the municipal inventory, the council faced several reserve owners in court who claimed ownership of the four roads. The mayor is outraged, telling the story. “These people looked like squatters. I cannot understand how it is possible that if this property belongs to the people, I have to prove that it is not theirs.”
Marie Carmen Garcia, who, like many small-town councillors, is a mayoral worker who works in the afternoon, in her case, says she felt like giving up on many occasions. “Landowners have friends in the highest echelons of power,” he says. “They keep sticking sticks in your wheels,” he adds.
After years of litigation, two cases were dismissed in favor of the city, including the GR-66 case, and two others are still pending judicial review. But Garcia is pleased that the checkpoints have been removed and residents and visitors can now move freely. And that even “these people from the reserves have stopped coming to the city.”
“I call on all people to fight and fight for everything they consider their right. And let the mayor muster up the courage and rush forward,” the mayor says. “If such a small town can do it, why can’t anyone else do it,” concludes Manuel Trujillo.
This article was prepared by the environmental journal Ballena Blanca. To learn more about this journalism project, get information here.
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