Encouraging signs suggest Ria Formosa home demolitions may not blight 2016

As the residents of Culatra island (Olhão) make ready for their New Year celebrations this evening, chinks of light have appeared in the hard-fought campaign to save hundreds of homes from government bulldozers.

Sociedade Polis – the state-backed agency that has been insisting on demolitions throughout 2015 – has had its mandate extended for a further year, but it looks like its almost universally vilified programme of demolitions is being firmly pushed down the agenda.

According to news coming out of yesterday’s meeting which saw Polis ‘life’ extended for another year, there has been “a change in attitude” from central government now that the Socialists are in power.

Olhão mayor António Pina went as far as to say, “it looks like good sense will prevail”, and that priorities for 2016 will be work that the area really needs: the dredging of treacherous underwater sandbanks (that have already caused multiple accidents at sea) and the shoring up of sand dunes, instead of the systematic destruction of scores of families’ only homes.

As one of the firebrands of the campaign to stop Polis’ demolition programme José Lezinho told Sulinformação news reporters, islanders are only too pleased to see the agency continue if it is finally going to do good work.

“We are not against Polis”, he stressed. “And we hope that politically the promises made before the elections are honoured”.

Lezinho was referring to Socialist pledges to “stop the demolitions”, protect the three communities on the island (Culatra, Hangares and Farol) and “defend the fishing rights of artisanal fishermen”, of which Lezinho is one.

Local parish councillor Feliciano Júlio added: “What we want is for this question to be settled once and for all” – and not simply ‘delayed’.

The young single mother who has become the Joan of Arc of the fight to save islanders homes was perhaps the least enthusiastic over yesterday’s news.

“To be honest, I don’t believe a word any politician, left or right wing, says anymore”, Vanessa Morgado told us. “I have screenshots on my computer from before the elections showing the PS Algarve Socialist group vowing to stop the demolitions the minute they came to power, and what has happened?

“Until we get absolute confirmation in black and white that no more homes will be demolished, we won’t be satisfied”, she said.

Sulinformação’s report also carried the less than positive attitude of Faro mayor Rogério Bacalhau who said he “couldn’t see” from the government’s so-called message that anything had changed.

The future should become clearer “within a few weeks”, concludes Sulinformação, when the mayors involved in Polis get together once again and 2016’s programme is set out.

According to Pina, a date for the meeting has not been set, but should take place “during the first two weeks of 2016”.

Even so, the very fact that islanders have homes in which to celebrate this year speaks volumes. If Polis had had its way – and had not been thwarted by judicial embargoes and a tireless campaign by determined islanders – there would be very few homes left standing by now, and many more families thrown out of the only life they knew to face an extremely uncertain future.

For background on this story, see: http://portugalresident.com/%E2%80%9Cbarefaced-lies%E2%80%9D-the-truth-behind-environmental-plans-to-cleanse-ria-formosa-of-its-resident

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com