This too will end, but not just yet

Our legal battle with someone trying to take a piece of our ranch began in June 2018, and it’s been working its way through the innards of the Mexican judicial system since, slowly and methodically, but not definitively. It’s a fight not only over ownership of a piece of land but, more crucially, to preserve our right to freely go in and out of our property.

Last week we received news from our lawyer that the judge, after several months of cogitation, had in effect rendered a split decision. She’d mandated the creation of a roughly 100-square-meter public easement, or a servidumbre de paso, in front of our entrance gate, to guarantee free access to our land, but also had ruled that the other guys could keep the rest of the disputed land, which measures approximately 3,300 square meters.

The battlefield. 

Not a perfect solution, but at least this hassle would be over. We weren’t happy with the verdict, but under the often-used WTF!? clause in the Mexican Civil Code, had decided to accept the guarantee of access to our property as a settlement and move on. Or so we thought.

In legal battles with Mexicans, particularly over land or other property, foreigners frequently invoke the WTF!? clause, and sometimes even walk away, when they realize they are fighting a war of attrition whose ground rules they don’t even understand.

Such informal rules in Mexico frequently involve under-the-table deals and payoffs. While litigating our case, the other side pulled, from a dark hole, a fraudulent escritura, or land deed, claiming ownership of the disputed property.

Feel free to ask: How can the other side obtain an escritura on a parcel that has been, and still is, in my name, and on which I’ve paid property taxes for 11 years, most recently three weeks ago?

Such are the mysteries of some land transactions here, which our lawyer explains with one-word: corruption

Many friends, particularly Mexicans, have been astonished by our persistence, or pig-headedness, to continue to navigate through this legal morass, filled as it is with impenetrable verbiage in Spanish, legal booby-traps, paperwork and delays on top of delays. 

Plus, in our case, threats, intimidation and harassment, including an early-morning raid when a construction crew built a one-meter-high stone wall across our front gate, which forced us to enter and exit our ranch by going through a neighbor’s property.

Apparently that was too much for the local authorities to swallow, and the obstruction disappeared four days later, as mysteriously as it had appeared.

However, during a meeting yesterday, our lawyer said that the court had not granted the land to the other party, as we thought, but instead just ordered the creation of the easement cutting through the disputed land.

And that was it. The judge in fact had kicked the can down the road, leaving unresolved the issues of valid escrituras, land surveys, boundaries and so on. For us, that means more lawsuits and litigation.

Or the other side could walk away, now that the judge had effectively dissected the disputed land by a servidumbre de paso, and drastically diminished its usefulness or value. If that’s what happens, we’ll get our land back by default, since I’m still the legal owner. Maybe.

This legal pingpong so far has cost us approximately $10,000 dollars. After that much expense, we’re not disposed to give up. We’re going to keep fighting to get our land back. 

That will force me to keep my one dress shirt and tie handy for future court appearances, depositions and such. It may be time to buy a new tie. 

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