Communities throughout country come together to say “NO!”

Communities throughout country come together to say “NO!”

The Socialist government knew the next four years were going to be tough – but they may have misjudged just how tough. This week has seen quiet rural communities rise up noisily and say ‘no!’

Whether it’s over the expropriation of properties – at well below market value – to make way for a hydroelectric dam; the arbitrary decision to sell-off vast tracts of countryside for open-pit lithium mining or the dredging of a river rich in plant and wildlife to make way for large tourist boats, people are coming together to fight in a way they have never before.

The furious ‘multitude’ that surrounded the car of secretary of state for energy João Galamba on Monday was a perfect example.

The Montalegre municipality of Boticas is extolled for being ‘far from the hustle and bustle of the big cities’. Its beauty is hailed on tourist websites; its population small.

One can almost hear politicians agreeing round a table that it would indeed be the perfect spot to sign away lucrative mining rights to ‘big boy prospectors’?
Who’s to get in the way, after all? There’s practically no one living there…

João Galamba discovered on Monday that no matter how small a population, it has a voice – and boy did people use it in Boticas.

Television footage showed elderly women screeching and waving their fists, old men pushing rubbish bins to block the way, and even those slapping the politician’s sleek car.

Inside, the secretary of state – already in hot water for less than transparent dealing over another lithium project – appeared to suck on a vaping device.
He went on to abort his schedule, returning a while later with GNR police in tow.

But the fury of the people, and their determination to get what they believe to be valid points across, got its moment in the spotlight.

“We were never heard!” a local woman railed at reporters. “No one asked us if we wanted a mine, they just started looking and there we suddenly were with our land turned upside down!”

UK-based Savannah Resources purchased rights to a concession covering 542 hectares of land, much of it in a valley boasting UNESCO agricultural heritage.

By December last year, Savannah had already sunk 250 holes, some larger than others, some in the middle of the valley, others close to houses.

One of the pits is 150 metres deep, 550 metres long and 650 metres wide.

Locals aren’t just upset, they are seething. Said Nélson Gomes of local heritage association “Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso” (United for the Defence of Covas do Barroso), people are “ready for anything” to fight the project.

Against a background of angry chants, repeating slogans “the people rule here, not you Galamba” and “No to the Mine, Yes to Life”, Gomes stressed: “We want respect. We want Mr Galamba to know there are people here, albeit not many of them” – and those people are outraged that their opinions were never even solicited.

Said one, government leaders “negotiated and left the people with rubbish”.

What the future holds for Boticas remains to be seen, but within hours of the showdown, João Galamba was telling reporters that the government “was obliged to grant the concession” in order to comply with decisions made by the previous PSD government.

It was an explanation that cut no ice on social media – but it did herald a chink in the government’s resolve: “If the environmental impact study gives the project a negative, or if the compensatory measures are such that Savannah cannot apply them, then there won’t be a mine,” Galamba said on Tuesday.

Supported as it is by left-wing parties PAN and Bloco de Esquerda, it may be that popular revolt could win this fight.

That outcome looks unlikely however for the (again) few citizens of Ribeira de Pena who have been ordered to quit the homes they love in the new year to make way for one of the dams in the Alto Tâmega river hydropower complex.

Iberdrola, the company that won this €1.5 billion concession, claims it has acted “within the terms of the law” and agreed amicable deals with 75% of the people whose properties are affected.

Media reports say otherwise: only six families have accepted Iberdrola’s terms, 19 are fighting the decision in court and another 24 are “at an impasse”, says RTP news.

A number of those 24 are refusing point-blank to budge. “Where am I going to plant my onions, my potatoes, cabbages and beans? Where can I raise my chickens,” one middle-aged woman quizzed reporters, highlighting the ‘misery’ behind expropriation ‘deals’.

To make matters worse, Iberdrola has offered to rehouse people temporarily in containers if they aren’t prepared to accept what they feel are derisory financial offers which could never allow them to replace what they are losing.

Again, the voices rising up say: “We want respect.”

Said Ribeira da Pena mayor João Noronha: “These people are not being treated with the care that they deserve.”

Noronha plans to turn the thumb screws on Iberdrola, government bosses and agencies next week and get a “dignified deal” for his constituents.

If not, he vows to make Iberdrola’s work “impossible” by refusing trucks access to the dam site.

“We can create difficulties,” he told reporters. Iberdrola may have the permissions it needs, but the municipality “still rules here when it comes to traffic regulations” and the ability to thoroughly foul things up.

And thousands of residents of Setúbal are hoping they too will be able to thoroughly foul things up and save the Sado estuary from “catastrophic dredging” that even APA (the state environment agency) agrees will have “irreversible effects” on the area’s biodiversity.

It’s all happening: bit by bit even elderly populations, better known for tacit acceptance, are fighting back.

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