As we head for the Christmas holidays, when the Mexican government practically goes into hibernation until the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6, we paid a visit to our lawyer to discuss the status of the litigation over the piece of land someone is trying to steal from us.
It was mostly good news, but… We’re pretty much assured of winning the dispute but it’s going to take four or five months of additional legal back-and-forth, unless the parties on the other side opt to throw in the towel. For those readers curious and patient enough, a summary of the case follows.
We have filed complaints and lawsuits at three different venues: At the Ministry of Urban Development, which handles building permits; at the State Attorney’s Office, which deals with criminal complaints; and at the local court that decides civil disputes.
|Move faster, goddamn it.|
Urban Development early on issued an “Obra Suspendida,” the equivalent of a cease-and-desist order, banning any work on the land by the interlopers. To overturn that, they would have to present a deed to the land—the all-important escritura—which is under my name. Hah.
The rancher, who illegally tried to execute the sale of the land to the developer without an escritura, last week filed a petition to subdivide it, essentially to sever it from the rest of my ranch.
No luck there either. Our lawyer heard about this Hail Mary stunt from a friend at Urban Development, and promptly filed a complaint, to the effect that the land was in my name and could not be partitioned without my approval.
One pointer if you find yourself in a legal tangle in San Miguel: Get yourself a quick-thinking lawyer with connections. Through some friends at Urban Development, ours expedited the cease-and-desist order, and presumably the same friends alerted him about the rancher’s latest stunt.
Though we haven’t specifically discussed any propinas, or “gratuities” to grease things along, I have the impression our lawyer would not be averse to using them.
At the State Attorney’s office, we filed lawsuits against the rancher, for attempting the sell a piece of land he’d already sold to us, and the developer for invading a property that didn’t belong to him.
The Mexican legal system prescribes mediation between the parties before cases proceed to trial.
During the one and only mediation meeting, the developer’s lawyer said they would give up if we could demonstrate that the land in question was in my escritura.
Enter a surveyor from the State Attorney’s office who came out and emitted the pretty lame conclusion that both parties were fighting over the same piece of land. Duh.
So our lawyer deposed the surveyor and posed the simple question. Is that piece of land covered in my escritura? Yes or no? The answer came back “yes”. Though the other side claimed to have a buy-sell agreement signed by the rancher, the escritura trumps that, so we won that round.
But for the time being, the State’s Attorney has deferred a decision until the civil suit is settled. That suit was over financial damages to our property caused by the developer’s invasion of it and other maneuvers.
The developer, in turn, sued me, I’m not clear on what basis, but the suit states that he wants our land to establish a servidumbre, or “right-of-way”, and offers to grant us permanent access to our ranch, presumably through the existing gate and access road, if we would stand down.
Two problems with that. By accepting such offer from the developer we would, ipso facto, be admitting that the piece of land belongs to him. No way, said our clever lawyer.
With regard to the right-of-way, there is already a ten-meter-wide public access road abutting the disputed land. There’s no reason to carve out another servidumbre.
We will be filing a response to the developer’s suit by January 7, and from there on, wait to see what happens. If this goes to trial, our lawyer warned us, it could take until June to get a verdict, which he assures us will be in our favor for two reasons. We have the escritura, and we’ve held the land for over ten years.
|“We shall not be moved”|
Unless, of course, the other side decides this dispute is not worth pursuing, this matter is bound to drag on. The zigzags in their claims would seem to indicate that, for the rancher and the developer, this may have become a manhood issue, similar to what Rep. Nancy Pelosi attributed to President Trump regarding his insistence on a $5 billion appropriation to build a piece of his wall along the Mexican border—even if he has to shut down the U.S. government to get his way.
Back in June of last year, the developer offered to exchange part of the land he had illegally taken for a fifteen-meter-wide strip along the western side of my ranch, so he could build an access road to parcels behind us. The whole thing was a land invasion compounded with an attempt at extortion. Some deal.
Despite all the upsets, I consider myself lucky. First, I have had Stew by my side all along, providing needed hugs and emotional support. Second, we got ourselves a good lawyer, quick on his feet. Finally, and very important, I can speak Spanish, which has enabled me to follow the oral and written twists-and-turns of this case. I can’t imagine where we’d be if this were taking place, say, in Japan or Poland and I couldn’t understand either the system or the language.
Words of encouragement from friends and neighbors also have been key. Our good friend Ron Anderson gave us perhaps the best advice, seconded by our lawyer: Just stay calm and wait for the legal process to play out. Yea, easier said than done.
Meanwhile, we’re having the inside of the house painted in preparation for a nice dinner with friends on Christmas Day.
Merry Christmas everyone!