Tierra Amarllla Update: The Land Struggle Continues

Against the Current, No. 21, July/August 1989

Alan Wald

IN “‘LAND OR DEATH’ in New Mexico: Struggling Against the heft of Communal Lands” (ATC 19),I reported on the historical and legal background to the current struggle of the Flores family and their supporters to prevent the theft of communal land by corporations in Northern New Mexico.

That article was based on first-hand research and interviews during December 1988 with lawyers for the Flores family and activists in the land occupation. However, at that time I was not able to get up to the mountains, which is where the contested land is located.

In late April 1989, I was finally able to visit Tierra Amarilla in order to meet with those defending the land and attempting to build a cultural center to preserve the authentic history of the area. I was also able to take photographs and to learn about the kinds of things supporters of this significant effort can contribute.

The five hundred acres is defended by five Vietnam War-style bunkers. During the day members of the twelve-person Council of Elders (men and women who historically have been involved in past efforts to protect communal land) watch over the area. Previously the elders had spent the night as well, but during this past bitter-cold winter two became ill with pneumonia.

Since that time, younger supporters, some of whom work during the day, come up for the night.

On the gate leading to the housing compound – a small shack, recently augmented by the gift of a mobile home – there is a sign warning visitors to bring “No Guns, Alcohol or Drugs,” a policy strictly enforced. In the center of the compound flies the Mexican flag, an impressive reminder that New Mexico is, in fact, part of the northern half of Mexico that was invaded and conquered in 1848.

Among those present on the day of my visit were Daniel and Estella Aguilar. The Aguilar family has been present in Tierra Amarilla for six generations. Daniel is a former U.S. Marine and member of the National Guard. Both his father and uncle have been active in defense of the current occupation, and last July his father’s house was burned to the ground. While threats previously received by Daniel’s mother strongly suggest arson, the police have done nothing to solve this case.

An architect from Berkeley has visited Tierra Amarilla and drawn up plans for a cultural center, most likely to be plated at the top of a mountain overlooking the entire region. but work has gone slowly due to financial limitations. The poverty of Tierra Amarilla is enormous; unemployment is over 90 percent and most people survive by producing just enough to keep themselves and &their families alive.

There are many ways in which supporters can be of assistance:

1. All types of building supplies are needed for the cultural center as well as for a cabin to house those living on the land.

2. Although there is water in the ground forty feet down, no well presently exists. Equipment for digging and building one is needed.

3. Video equipment is needed in order to record the stories of the elders, some of whom are now in their eighties.

4. A phone network needs to be put into place so that there can be a national response of protest should the local or state police attempt to violently remove the individuals from the land.

5. Both Daniel Aguilar and Pedro Arechuleta are available for national speaking tours to explain the situation and to help with fundraising.

6. Financial assistance is still needed for transcripts and depositions in the legal aspects of the case.

Against the Current readers who can help out with material aid and arrange speaking engagements should contact Daniel Aguilar, P.O. Box 15, Los Ojos, New Mexico 87551, (505) 588-7802. Those who can donate money to cover the costs of legal expense should make checks out to Amador Flores Defense Fund and send them to: Michael Vigil, P.O. Box 2328, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501.

July-August 1989, ATC 21

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