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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The strange crime of Vilaflor

Casa de los Soler in Vilaflor

At sunset on August 17, 1840, when he was heading down the road from Granadilla to Vilaflor, near the small hamlet of Cruz de Juan Bello, just over a kilometre from the town, Don Alonso Chirino del Hoyo-Solórzano, VII Marquis de la Fuente de Las Palmas, was assassinated by twelve masked men. Nobody admitted it and the case is unsolved.

Subsequent investigations failed to find anything out about that case and the file was dismissed. A thick veil of silence was spread over the entire region and not a single word came out of the mouths of the local people. You only heard them comment: "They say they killed the Marquis?" And the invariable answer was: "So they say."

We know the face of this noble from a portrait made of him by the Puerto de la Cruz painter Luis de la Cruz in 1815. In it he appears when he had just turned twenty-three years old. He wears a black frock coat, white vest, shirt and collar. The dark and deep eyes, the straight nose and the thick lips stand out in his face, distilling the image of him as aristocratic arrogance. When he died he was 48 years old.

To understand the causes of his death, we must go back to the 15th century. 

The region of Chasna belonged in pre-Hispanic times to the Menceyato de Abona (Menceyato was the name given to Guanche kingdoms) and when the island was conquered, the lands and the use of the waters became the property of Pedro Soler, a Catalan from Tarragona, who created a sugar mill and founded the town of Vilaflor or Chasna. In 1601, a grandson of his managed to be allowed to establish a mayorazgo (a privilege allowing an individual to entail his estate so that his property, real or personal, could be passed on intact to a successor) that comprised a large part of the lands of what today are the municipalities of Arona, San Miguel and Vilaflor.

In the Plaza de San Pedro, in front of the church, stands the manor house of said mayorazgo, in which its gallery on stone columns stands out. Further down in the ravine, a water mill also owned by the Solers survives, although not in use. The president of the Cabildo de Tenerife, Ricardo Mechior, expressed during a visit to the municipality held in 2004 his desire for this institution to buy and restore the Casa de los Soler.

From the beginning, the relations between this family and the locals were not good. The abusive model of leasing in kind without a contract allowed landlords to evict tenants, who found themselves in times of drought, condemned to starvation and emigration.

The attitude of the owners of the mayorazgo provoked countless lawsuits and even popular uprisings against the family. In fact, the people of Chasna spent almost two hundred years without paying the fee for the usufruct - the right to enjoy the use and advantages - of the land and water.

Over time, the mayorazgo passed into the hands of the Chirino Soler family and in 1825, when Alonso Chirino inherited the marquisate from his father, he wanted to recover it by claiming the rights to the lands that had been cultivated by the peasants since time immemorial. A judgment of 1833 found in his favour and when it was ratified in 1840, the murder took place.

There were no reports and it was not known who the perpetrators were. This species of Tenerife social conflict between a feudal lord and his vassals has traditionally been considered as an example of the free and proud character of the people of Chasna in the fight for their rights, but for the historian Nelson Díaz Frías, author of the Historia de Vilaflor de Chasna, the murderers were the representatives of the rural Chasna oligarchy or mafia, which was clearly the most affected by the restoration of the mayorazgo

Even today, if you talk to the older people of Vilaflor and the issue of the murder of the Marquis de la Fuente de Las Palmas comes up, don't be surprised if they say: "They say they killed the Marquis." Nor are they surprised if you answer: "That's what they say." 

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