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Mafia running olive oil thefts, stealing 'liquid gold' extra virgin oil from Spanish orchards and processors

Olive oil

(NaturalNews) In the Spanish village of Navalvillar de Pela, Christmas 2015 was a time to be on guard. The Extremaduran olive groves of central Spain are in high demand, and, as reported by the U.K.'s Telegraph, organized groups are starting to raid the olive groves, stealing the "liquid gold" in the middle of the night.

Farmers must now enlist armed night patrols to protect their crop from thieves. The village of Navalvillar de Pela is home to 4,000 people, and almost every family in the village participates in the harvest, since most have a grove of olive trees on their property. A recent spike in olive thefts has forced the families to get together and enlist night time patrols to combat the thefts. On Christmas, villagers gathered outside around a large bonfire at 3 a.m., to sing Christmas carols and to defend their crops.

"We've always had some thieving here, but I've never seen anything like this. Looting has become the order of the day," Antonio Masa Cañada, who was out on night patrol on Christmas day, told the Telegraph.

His wife, Rosa Arroyo Baviano, admits, "We don't have a life at the minute; you come home from picking, have a shower and then go out again on patrol."

Spanish olive growers setting up night patrols to defend their crops

As the olives began to ripen in November, Romanian and Bulgarian thieves took to the night and ambushed entire groves, stripping the trees and taking the olives by the sack load. The thieves use long poles to jar the olives loose from the trees. One November night, thieves got away with taking around 26,000 kilograms (over 57,000 pounds) of olives. The stolen goods were then sold on the black market.

"People come during the day to choose where to steal from. They mark the trees for later," said Mr. Masa Cañada, who set up the night patrols in April, after villagers started complaining about an influx of organized mass thefts, reportedly being carried out by mafia-backed groups. A dozen vehicles go out at 8 p.m. every night now, as upwards of 40 villagers take up arms to defend their crops.

"Once we showed people that the thieves could be caught, things changed," continued Mr. Masa Cañada. Late in the year, the village patrol caught seven thieves in the act and got into a high-speed car chase with them. When the village patrol caught up to the thieves, they opened up their van and 218 kilos (approx. 480 pounds) of freshly picked olives poured out.

The police, who are few and far between in the remote areas, released the thieves just hours after they were caught. They never appeared in court, frustrating the village patrol even further. Mr. Masa Cañada and his wife said that farmers are on the verge of taking matters into their own hands if law enforcement continues to fail them.

"Imagine what could happen if the wrong person finds someone stealing in a very remote spot... And we will be in the news as the village where someone got lynched," said Mr. Masa Cañada.

"We think there is a mafia behind this. Clearly if they steal olives, someone is buying the stuff. We know of big landowners who are effectively laundering stolen olives."

"If you stop the buyers, you stop the problem in 24 hours," said another farmer named Paco, who preferred not to reveal his surname. "People are picking earlier than normal this year due to the fear," he added. "If you wait, you get more oil in the olive. By February the fruit is shiny with oil almost oozing out."

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