Cherry season puts police on full alert as thieves make hay

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SANT Climent: Drop those cherries, you’re under arrest. Crops and cops are converging along Spain’s journey through economic crisis: people enduring hardship are stealing the earth’s bounty from farmers to help get by from day to day.

Police have added the patrolling of farmland – sometimes on horseback – to their list of daily tasks. Farmers in some areas are teaming up to carry out nighttime patrols on their own.

In villages near farming areas, several thousand paramilitary Civil Guards, regional and local police are even setting up checkpoints to sniff out stolen fruit or farming equipment, like copper wire used in irrigation systems. The Civil Guard says sometimes its officers mount “cage operations” – sealing off entire villages to check cars and trucks for, say, pilfered pears.

Last year alone more than 20 000 thefts were reported at Spanish farms, and authorities and farm groups blame the thefts on Spain’s economic crisis.

In Sant Climent, a village of 4 000 just outside Barcelona, in the north-eastern Catalonia region, the booty this time of year is cherries – dark red, shiny and sweet – dangling like ornaments from stubby trees in orchards rising up the slopes of a river valley. They’re everywhere, with people selling them from their front doorsteps and on stands inside bars. A drawing of a cherry adorns the mayor’s business card.

The theft reflects a real problem for Spain’s farmers and is a reflection of how harsh times are making ordinary people turn to crime.

“The increase that has taken place since the crisis started a few years ago has been spectacular,” said Estrella Larrazabal, spokeswoman for a farm association called Asaja. “Thieves take anything they can get their hands on.”

And things have happened in the Spanish countryside that make it look like the Wild West, or in some cases, Wall Street.

Farmers’ prize bulls have been slaughtered in open fields, tons of oranges stolen and driven away in dilapidated bakkies.

But in Sant Climent there is one intruder that police and farmers cannot fight, at least not on their own.

“Wild boars. They weigh up to 90kg. They come in and ram into the trees to knock them down,” a policeman said.

“It is for their little ones to eat. They love cherries.” – Sapa-AP


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