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Vol. 74/No. 5      February 8, 2010

Latino farmers fight unfair lending
(front page)
The U.S. Supreme Court January 19 turned down a request to review a discrimination suit filed by 110 Latino farmers. The refusal leaves standing a lower court ruling that the Latino farmers have to try their claims case by case, not together as a class action that would have allowed thousands of farmers to join the suit.

The court ruling flies in the face of government statements admitting to racist discrimination against minority farmers by U.S. agriculture agencies.

Latino farmers often cite 1997 congressional testimony by then agriculture secretary Daniel Glickman. “Good people lost their farmland not because of bad weather, bad crops, but because of the color of their skin,” he said.

The lawsuit documents discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other government farm agencies. Among greater obstacles Latino farmers face compared to white farmers are: denial or delay of loans, restrictions on access to loan money, and being granted loans and then told there is no money available.

“To farm today you need financial help,” Hector Flores, 74, who farms 90 acres near El Paso, Texas, told the Militant. “Otherwise you end up just subsisting.”

One year Flores applied for a loan in March. “We got our loan in November, too late for the cotton we needed to plant,” he said. “But Anglo farmers got their loans on time.”

In 1995 Jose Luis Galvan, a farmer in Hancock, Texas, was told he had been approved for a loan by the Farmers Home Administration, but that to get the money he would have to sell his house because the farm he was buying already had a home on it.

After selling his home, he was told the loan application was out of date and he must reapply. Galvan did so and was denied the loan.

Today he farms 80 acres. Keeping his head above water is even more difficult in today’s economic crisis, Galvan noted. “I grow alfalfa and cotton,” the 59-year-old farmer said. “But the market is very depressed and fuel and fertilizer prices are going up.”

“The crisis is hitting everyone, but when you’re a big farmer, you have money and loans coming in, you’re able to absorb it better. But if you’re a small farmer like me you can’t,” Galvan stated.

Statements by Galvan, Flores, and other Latino farmers from California, Texas, and New Mexico are posted on the Justice for Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers Web site along with other documents in the case.

In a phone interview, Guadalupe Garcia, a New Mexico farmer and the lead plaintiff in the court case, said that local committees that have the power to approve farm loans are dominated by large farmers and ranchers.

“They look down on small and medium farmers,” he said.  
Black farmers case aids Latinos’ suit
In 1984 and 1988 Garcia lost large parts of his crop due to flooding, and was refused loans to help him recover from his losses.

Garcia lost most of the 626 acres that he farmed with his father and son when he was foreclosed in 1999. “That’s when I called the lawyers that were helping the Black farmers because we were facing the same situation,” he said, “and they agreed to help us out.”

In 1997 Black farmers launched a case known as Pigford v. Glickman that challenged the government’s discriminatory treatment of Black farmers. A settlement was agreed to in 1999. That same year, Garcia and other Latino farmers launched their lawsuit.

Native American farmers and women farmers have also sued the USDA. While the judges hearing the case of the Black and Native American farmers agreed to allow the cases to proceed as class actions, U.S. federal district judge James Robertson, who is hearing the lawsuits of both the Latino and women farmers, refused.

“We need to get all the minority farmers together,” Garcia said. “Blacks, Indians, Hispanics, Asians, women. We face the same discrimination. All our cases need to be settled.”  
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