Activists “shocked and dismayed” by way they are received in parliament

With three busloads of Algarvians on their way today to accompany parliamentary debates that will define their future, yesterday saw activists from all over Portugal – and many from the Algarve – shocked and dismayed by their experience of Portugal’s “Assembleia da República” – the so-called house of national democracy.

Wednesday was the day for debates on oil and gas exploration. Anti-oil group PALP’s 7.400-strong petition was personified by “tens of people from Tavira, Faro, Lagos, Portimão, Loulé and Aljezur”, all of them, according to sociologist Vítor Faustino, in “good spirits” when they arrived from an early morning start and over three hours on the road.

But what happened next was “the beginning of the inferno”, the former researcher with Gulbenkian’s Institute of Science writes over social media.

Admission was afforded “in drips (‘three at a time, please’). It took two and a half hours for the group to pass through the first ‘gate-keepers’ “all of them uniformed. All PSP. Guns in their holsters. Nothing was allowed through, not even a cellphone – just a few sheets of paper and a pen, and even then they were threatened by the police: “You are not going to write anything and show it from the public galleries, are you?

“So much force. Tshirts with slogans? ‘Take them off, undress’. People were obliged to read an Orwellian text in which they saw that if they said anything, they could go to prison for three years.

“The text was in English, too, for foreign citizens who were also there to see Portuguese democracy in action”, he continues. “Escorted throughout. There was a policeman in every public convenience.

“People were herded like cattle (or potential criminals) into the galleries. Watched and remonstrated over in every conversation, in every whisper.

“We were not even allowed to talk in the corridors without a policeman coming up and threatening us with expulsion.

“This was not a house of democracy”, the man who admits he used to bring pupils here, “to show them that politicians are not thugs, and the system truly works”.

“I was wrong”, writes Faustino. The Assembleia yesterday was “a house of intimidation, the death of democracy. Inside, MPs spout rhetoric and at the end we got 14 minutes of attention before they all went off to dinner.

Portugal’s parliament “is a police circus, a negation of democracy”, concluded Faustino’s account of what he called a “very sad day”.

As for the Algarvian ‘troops’ representing anti-oil groups from all over the region, they returned exhausted, disillusioned but determined to keep fighting.

November 12 – coincidentally the opening of the COP22 climate conference in Morocco – is the next date on national agendas.

Protests are planned in Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve as efforts will be on persuading government to definitively abandon all thoughts of fossil fuel exploration.

Ricardo Valente of the Peniche Livre de Petróleo movement told Lusa yesterday: “We know that we have to push for an energetic transition in the country. International agreements, climate difficulties – they all go against the scenario of oil and gas production in Portugal”.

MALP, the recently resuscitated movement for an Algarve free of petrol, summed up yesterday’s uninspiring trip to the seat of power. Of the various projects presented, “what is fundamentally interesting to know is how parties voted for the projects put forward by PAN (People, Animals Nature party) and Os Verdes (the Greens), as these are the only “ones that want to end contracts for oil and gas exploration in the Algarve once and for all”.

The rest of the proposals were “party-political circus acts”, said the group, designed to “deceive the ingenuous”.

As it was, Bloco de Esquerda published on its Facebook page that it had “proposed the end of prospection and extraction of oil and natural gas in Portugal”.

Looking at the party’s proposal more closely, MALP reports that it was (another) example of news “clearly fabricated to deceive public opinion”.

What the BE had in fact proposed was “legislation to force environmental impact studies”, but this is “not the same as suspending contracts”, said MALP, because if the studies are positive, “exploration goes ahead”.

Laurinda Seabra, CEO of one of the Algarve’s most vociferous groups ASMAA said afterwards: “The short version of the day was that people waited hours, the ‘debate’ took 10 minutes, there were no definite answers coming out of it and the government, aside from being vague, said one thing at the outset and finished with the opposite. It’s a real mess”.

Today, Thursday, it is the turn of islanders from Ria Formosa to see how democracy in Portugal works.

As we write, they are steaming up the motorway for debates later today on three projects for resolution to determine the future: two call for a complete end to the demolitions programme that has been tying homeowners nerves in knots for years, but a resolution produced at the 11th hour by PS MPs continues the status quo, albeit in a gentler fashion.

There will be no prizes for people who try and guess the outcome.

[email protected]