If President Marcelo thought his post-fire walkabout in Monchique yesterday would be triumphant, he soon realised the depth of fury simmering on the blackened mountain.
Collared on camera by 79-year-old José Marcos dos Santos, Portugal’s head of state endured seemingly endless minutes of the absolute worst kind of television airtime anyone in his position could have wanted.
Time and again, dos Santos railed against what he called “Civil disProtection”, saying the authority that ‘managed’ the seven-day blaze “had no idea how to tackle fires”.
In the background an extremely uncomfortable minister for Interior Administration inspected his shoes. ‘How long would this tirade be allowed to continue’, the unspoken question behind his expression
It lasted 8.13 minutes (and even then footage was ‘cut short’).
Dos Santos words and fury were instantly uploaded onto social media where commentators hailed his message as that of a “great man”.
The elderly resident of Alferce likened the government to “the greatest criminal in Europe during peacetime” – suggesting the overriding wish not to have any fatalities had left people’s homes and properties to burn.
For anyone who can understand Portuguese well enough, here is the unedited clip of dos Santos in action (https://www.facebook.com/jornalbarlavento/videos/10160694458555150/)
When it came to news bulletins, his message was condensed without losing the essence: local firefighters should have been given organisation control. They know the terrain, they know the people, they know exactly what to protect and how to reach it.
As it was, said dos Santos, control was in the hands of people who in his mind didn’t have a clue – aided by planes and helicopters leased from private companies: a complete nonsense, in other words.
And as to the “victory”, Eduardo Cabrita tried to declare due to the fact that no-one died (click here), the president of Alferce parish council has since told reporters that people will die “either today, next week, next month” because the sheer level of destruction to livelihoods and ways of life means that many will simply give up.
It was about as dismal a PR walkabout as Marcelo has probably ever managed.
Even last year, when so many people died in fires in the country’s interior, survivors’ reception was warmer – apparently much more appreciative.
And from Monchique, Marcelo’s agony was to perpetuate. Later in the day he met with leading anti-oil groups in Almancil who kept him for two intense hours, explaining chapter and verse why they believe the government’s decision to forge ahead with drilling for gas and oil off the pristine Costa Vicentina coast next month is madness.
Anti-oil platform PALP has since issued a press release in which it outlines the salient points put to a president who must have been yearning for the chance of anyone rushing up to request a selfie.
PALP was clearly in no mood for the frivolities of social media however. The group’s press release talks about a State defending private interests “in detriment to those of the public”.
It highlights the State’s dismissal of objections “presented in public consultations, by councils and experts”.
It stresses the dangers of drilling in an area of heightened seismic activity; an area that should be protected by environmental laws – and of “risks” being sanctioned “that could never be compensated”.
After Monchique (referring to the fire), said the group, how can citizens put their trust in this government’s ability to manage the environment?
Marcelo’s escape to the relative delights of Silves Medieval Fair could not have come sooner.
He left activists promising to consider everything they told him, as well as “all the other information” (presumably from the government and concessionaries GALP and ENI).
“I collected a lot of data of all sorts and now, naturally, I will confront other data, ponder everything and take this material into consideration”, he told journalists, saying he was presented with “legal, economic, financial and environmental arguments in the short, medium and long-term, as well as political (arguments)”.
It was a ‘huge achievement’ for the two groups. Whether it will change the country’s apparent course to become a fossil fuel producer, no-one can tell.
Said PALP’s Rosália Cruz, the meeting served to call the president’s attention to citizens’ “concerns over democracy in this country” where a government can ignore not only 42,000 objections and studies that call for pre-drilling environmental impact assessment but the resounding vetoes lodged by the region’s municipal councils as well as the negative opinions of business groups and tourist organisations.
Cruz added that hopes now are that the groups can maintain contact with Marcelo as the president ‘ponders’ the sense in Portugal drilling for oil at a time when the world is being cataclysmically warned of the toxic consequences.