The Earldom of Larios Uses Debt Blackmail to Build a Golf-Course on Agricultural Land

29 April 2021 by Eric Toussaint

Partial view of Maro where the Larios family wants to build a golf course. In the foreground the house of the Marquise de Larios.

Here we have a concrete example, in 2021, that plunges us into the debt system and history as it has been created through the class struggle. As I am short of time, I shall tell the story succinctly.

It takes place in Nerja, a small town of 20,000 inhabitants in the Spanish province of Málaga, on the Mediterranean coast of Andalucía. Like the rest of the region, the town has a long and rich history. (See Box 1 on Nerja and South Andalucía).

In Maro, a neighbourhood of Nerja with 600 inhabitants, the Larios family firm (See Box 2 on the Larios dynasty) own one hundred per cent of the land. They want to transform 200 hectares of agricultural land farmed by about 150 families into a luxury tourist complex reserved for the very wealthy: an exclusive 18-hole golf-course, a five-star hotel and 680 luxury houses.

A group calling itself "Another Maro Is Possible" has formed to oppose the luxury real estate project on the edge of the cliffs in Maro-Cerro Gordo Natural Park.
Debt plays an important role in the story. Indeed the Municipality of Nerja having contracted a fairly large debt with the Larios family company, the latter has tried to take advantage of this to get what it wants. The firm had every intention of signing an agreement with the Town Council of Nerja, according to which the debt would be exchanged for the reclassification of the land from agricultural to constructible. The Council is traditionally run by the People’s Party (PP Partido Popular), Spain’s largest right-wing party. And in this region, the party enjoys excellent relations with the Larios family.

The collective formed to defend the agricultural area and its occupants completely rejects the construction of the golf-course and other luxury installations. They denounce the illegitimate nature of the debts demanded by the Larios family for land occupied and ceded to the Municipality of Nerja, which they deem excessive.

Between 2015 and 2019, the PP was replaced by a left-wing municipal government formed by an alliance between the Socialist Party, Izquierda Unida (the Communist Party) and Podemos. One might have expected that the measures proposed by the citizens’ collective for the defence of the agricultural zone would immediately be taken up by this majority; however such was not the case.

In 2019, the PP was returned to power in the town and meant to finalize the agreement with the Larios family for the golf-course construction through an agreement that has yet to be approved by the Town Council, which meets on 29th April 2021. Of course the finalization would mean that Larios would evict its tenant farmers and their families since they do not own the land they farm.

To promote its project come hell or high water, the Larios family firm launched a communication campaign to convince the public of how beneficial constructing a golf-course would be in terms of environment, landscape and job creation. In a 7-minute advertising video the Larios firm heaps praise on its project. It is worth watching it. No need to understand Spanish to get the gist of it.

This video is unadulterated propaganda. One thing is clear: it makes no secret of the fact that the project is intended for a highly privileged ultra-minority of the country’s population and a handful of extremely wealthy foreign tourists. It is equally clear that this most luxurious project would destroy the exceptional protected landscape with its rich agricultural history. If the project is carried out, it would mean the eviction of tenant families and the destruction of the abundant archaeological and aquatic heritage from pre-industrial and industrial times, linked to agricultural production for over four hundred years.
In view of the gravity of the arguments advanced by the collective opposing the real-estate project, in particular concerning the illegitimate and illegal nature of the debts demanded from the Municipality of Nerja by the Larios family company, the Council has just withdrawn the debt swap from the draft contract. This is a partial victory for the collective, who will not give up the fight and who are demanding, come what may, an audit with citizens’ participation of the said debts.

You can sign the “Plan Larios” petition on the platform’s Web-site Another Maro, another Nerja are possible.

On Sunday 25 April 2021 a concentration of 200 people gathered, from Maro (with its 600 inhabitants) to Nerja, to protest against the construction of the golf-course and luxury residences. I attended and brought the support of the CADTM. The local press gave an account of the protest, see in Spanish

On Thursday 29 April, there will be another protest march.

 Box 1 - Nerja at the heart of a region with a rich history

On the territory of Nerja near where the Larios firm wants to build their golf-course are the Caves of Nerja, with cave-paintings thought to be over 40,000 years old. Should that be confirmed, it will be the oldest known cave in the world with cave-paintings.

2,800 years ago, the Phoenicians settled in the area, bringing writing with them. There is abundant archaeological evidence of Phoenician occupation in the south of Andalucía, which has seaboards on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The Phoenicians developed major cities such as Málaga (8th century B.C.) and Cádiz (12th century B.C.).

About 2,300 years ago the Romans replaced the Phoenicians.

At the end of the Western Roman Empire, a little less than 1,600 years ago, the Visigoths took over and dominated the region, more or less on the Roman model. However the Eastern Roman Empire, with Byzantium as its capital, was also present from the 5th to the 8th centuries, controlling Andalucía’s main coastal cities, including Málaga.

From the early 9th to the late 15th century, this part of Andalucía was part of the Arabo-Muslim world, and called Al-Andalus; culturally, this was its golden age. The region around Nerja is known as Axarquía (“oriental” in Arabic).

Almost all the main towns and villages of Axarquía owe their most significant development to that long period that lasted seven centuries. Most of the towns and villages have names of Arabic origin.
Later, at the end of the 15th, early 16th century, the region was conquered by the armies of the Catholic monarchs, who massacred or forcibly deported a large part of the local population and set up the courts of the Spanish Inquisition.

The domination of Spanish Catholics is connected to the exploitation of the New World, as the ships which linked the Kingdom of Spain to its “American” colonies sailed out of and back to Andalucía, mostly from the westernmost side, especially Cádiz, which is 300 km from Nerja (250 km from Málaga).

The region has also been marked by the struggle between Republicans and Franco’s Nationalists during the second half of the 1930s. When Málaga fell at the hands of Franco’s army, there was a mass exodus eastwards, towards Almería, via Nerja. Along the road, Málaga’s fleeing population was subjected to murderous air attacks from Nazi German and Fascist Italian air forces.

From late January to early February 1937, Fascist troops brought intense pressure to bear on strategic points around the town of Málaga. On 7 February, Franco’s troops entered via the Colmenar road and the Republican command had to be moved to Nerja.

In Málaga, Colonel José Villalba, responsible for the city’s defence, left the town with other military commanders and ordered its evacuation. The population of Málaga and the thousands of refugees from other provinces that Málaga was sheltering began a massive and disorderly flight along the only remaining free road, the one from Málaga to Almería (CN-340), which had remained a Republican town. This desperate escape, disorderly and with no means of defence, has gone down in history as “La Desbandá”.

In February 1937, the terrified population fled along the only road still free, the CN-340.

On the basis of the latest research it is estimated that 300,000 persons fled along the “Road of Death.” The entire civilian population, consisting of elderly persons, women, and children, were strafed mercilessly by the Italian Fascist and German Nazi aircraft and bombarded by Franco’s warships. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people were killed. However as the investigation of the events progresses, the number of dead increases. Many of them, 84 years later, are still buried under the ditches along the road and in mass graves.

In Maro, on the site where the Larios family plan to build, a 930-metre stretch of the former road that has been declared a “place of historic memory” by the Andalusian government (the Junta de Andalucía) is still preserved.

 Box2 - The Family of the Marquis of Larios

The Family of the Marquis of Larios is famous. The Earldom was created by Queen Isabella II in 1865.
An impressive monument to the “Marquis” stands in the middle of a square in Málaga, the provincial capital, and the main street bears his name. The monument is a sculpture group created by the favourite sculptor of the period, Mariano Benlliure, in 1899, and is located in the Alameda Principale, across from the street dedicated to the Marquis. The photograph of the monument and its history speak for themselves.
The statue of the Marquis of Larios in Malaga

At the feet of the statue of the Marquis, several metres high, a woman is holding a child towards him, perched at the top of the monument’s pedestal. At his feet is also an allegorical representation of a “Worker.” In 1931 when the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed, struggling workers threw the statue of the Marquis into the sea and placed the statue of the Worker on the pedestal in his place.

Photo 1931. Author unknown. The statue of the worker replaced the statue of the Marquis that was thrown into the sea by the workers in struggle in 1931.

When Málaga was taken by the fascist troops and the war had ended, orders were given to rescue the Marquis from the bottom of the sea, and in 1951 he was returned to his original place, and the Worker was again placed at his feet.

Evolution of the monument to the Marquis of Larios between 1899 and today

The Larios family is one of the major capitalist families in the region. The holdings of the family business are estimated at 700 million euros, mainly in properties.

When I visited the agricultural land the Larios family wants to turn into a golf-course, in speaking with the people I met there the Marquis constantly entered the conversation. The Marquis and his representatives are still very much a presence in the minds of the farm families.
The capitalist enterprise owned by the Larios family is called Sociedad Azucarera Larios S.A. (SALSA). The name SALSA was recently changed to SALSL.

The family are very influential in the region, and the traditional political class endeavour to maintain good relations with them.

 History of the tenant farmers in the Maro and Nerja area

Historical conflicts involving tenant farmer families working the land around Maro and Nerja pre-date the purchase by the Larios family, in 1930, of the “Mercedes and Maro agricultural colony,” whose previous owner was the Marquis of Tous.

“Like all economies based on monoculture Monoculture When one crop alone is cultivated. Many countries of the South have been induced to specialize in the production of a commodity for export (cotton, coffee, cocoa, groundnuts, tobacco, etc.) to procure hard currency for debt repayments. , in this case sugar cane, when a crisis arises the consequences are devastating. And that is what happened to Andalusian cane sugar in the early years of the 20th century [...] During the 1901 harvest, manufacturers lowered the price they were willing to pay to the growers for the cane they delivered to the mills for processing, which sparked major riots in Motril leading to the burning of the Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza plant, which was owned by the Larios family, by angry farmers in the early hours of 30 March.” (Nuevo Mundo/, 24 avril 1901, p. 11)

That event began a wave of protests and agitation by workers and farmers along the coast; in Nerja, the situation worsened in 1901, in 1902 and the subsequent years due to frost, locust infestations, and repeated droughts, which reduced sugar-cane yields [...] Nerja was one of the centres of conflict, and out of the prevailing context of the sugar crisis, bossism, social inequality and poverty, two associations emerged that are part of the history of the workers’ movement in the locality – (The Light of Science (La Luz de la Ciencia) and Revenge (La Revancha), even though they are not the first, since in October 1873 the local Federation of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) or First International (founded in London in 1864 by Marx and Bakunin, among others) had been created in Nerja. As the newspaper La Federación said in its 22 November 1873 issue, “collectivist and anarchist ideas are developing among the workers of this city.”

“Throughout its long presence in the region and still today, Larios influences and conditions the political and economic life of Nerja and Maro, and all of Axarquía, in significant ways, to the point of appointing and removing mayors and fielding its own candidates in elections; it accumulates properties and agricultural land belonging to indebted small local farmers and increases their indebtedness; it is the cause of many social conflicts caused by reductions in the price paid for harvests and the precarious working conditions it forces on the workers in its plants. The latest and best known of these conflicts took place in late 1996 following the adoption of Law 1/1992 of 10 February regarding historical leases, which imposed an expiration date on historical contracts and which triggered massive demonstrations and a lengthy occupation of the Cave of Nerja by farm workers who hoped someday to own land.”

Gathering of settlers in the enclosure of the cave of Nerja on December 13, 1996, before the enclosure. Photo: Eduardo Bombarelli

This next-to-last conflict between Larios and its subjects in 1996 was resolved in part by litigation – once again with a favourable outcome for Larios. The landowner agreed to recognise farmers’ ownership of land only under impossible conditions – such as proving that they had been tenants since before 1942, when almost no one was literate at the time or was in possession of a legal document, since the Larios family made a point of not providing them to its tenants. That, as well as the successful strategy of negotiating compensations individually, ended the unity of the Assembly, and the subsequent abrogation of Law 1/1992 of 10 February 1992 on historical leases gave the Marquis yet another victory in his long history of influence over political life in Andalusia.

On completion of this new scenario, Larios had free rein to develop their plans for “development.” All land owned by them was now leased to new tenants and to the historical ones through precarious nine-month renewable contracts. They are forbidden from making improvements or investments on their parcels, and Larios continue to wait for the added value generated by the capitalisation of their lands due to the change in legal status to accrue. It is conceivable that once this is acquired they will sell off the properties and never concretize his urban development plans; but the Marquis will have socialized an illegitimate debt among all the local population with the aid of the Nerja People’s Party.


For more information about the conflict: graphical and audiovisual material :

To learn more about “La Desbandá”:

To learn more about farmers’ struggle against Larios:

To learn more about the “Plan Larios,” its situation and its evolution:

More about the situation of the archaeological and natural heritage of the region threatened with disappearance:

The author would like to thank Dori Castillo Delgado, Eduardo García Rodríguez, Rogelio López Cuenca, Jorge Alaminos Fernández and Beatriz Ortiz for their collaboration in writing this article, and Rémi Vilain and Yvette Krolikowsky for posting it online.
This article was written in Nerja between January and April 2021

Translated by Snake Arbusto and Vicki Briault

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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