October 27 – the day many people feared authorities would take possession of their homes – developed into a day of victory on two counts for the island communities of Farol and Hangares in Ria Formosa.
Not only did they hear that the man under whose authority their houses faced demolition has resigned (click here), but they bore witness to the fact that Portugal’s PS government is ready to recognise their cultural heritage.
“It is an enormous victory”, explains SOS Ria Formosa in their latest post on Facebook. “We now exist on the map of Portugal. The way ahead is open to us. From now on, we are all equal”.
Equality has always been at the root of this fight to recognise the legitimacy of island dwellers homes. Whereas the community of Culatra, on the same island, has long been ‘recognised’, neighbouring nuclei of Farol and Hangares have up till now laboured under the stigma of ‘illegality’, their homes constantly referred to as “barracas” (a disparaging term, meaning shack, when almost all look like typical Portuguese village homes).
Thus now, the longed-for chance of dialogue with authorities.
The next few weeks will be pivotal. Say campaigners: “There will still be battles ahead, but this has been an extraordinary day.
“We hope, of course, that the next representative of Sociedade Polis learns from the mistakes of the last, but we believe this will be the case. The environment ministry would not have gone this far to helping us, without being totally ready for a new approach”.
OUTGOING “DEMOLITION MAN” VENTS WRATH OVER NATIONAL MEDIA
In another indication of ‘lone wolf’ posturing for which he became locally notorious, Polis’ outgoing president has taken to national media to vent his wrath.
Leaking the contents of his resignation letter to Environment Minister Matos Fernandes, Sebastião Teixeira has suggested the ‘victory for the islanders’ could cost the government dearly.
“It signifies the paralysis or even invalidates the naturalisation process legally committed to this Society on Public Maritime domain”, said the text revealed by Expresso and Público.
Joined in resignation by fellow Polis director João Alves, Teixeira said: “We cannot stress the serious losses to public accounts caused by this decision”.
Expresso claims both men “accused environment minister João Pedro Matos of violating Polis’ autonomy, and deauthorising work that has been developed since 2008”, while Público adds that the financial consequences “could be future indemnities to public contractors, the loss or return of community funding and the waste of millions of euros already invested”.
This latter point is a curious one as it lends weight to the islanders’ understanding that the demolition of their homes “at the 11th hour of Polis’ mandate” was very possibly connected to the fact that this was the cheapest way to justify money “that has already been spent”.
Sources explain that the company that dredged sand from the island’s shore for 30 years – using it for construction projects – is the same business which would have been contracted to carry out demolitions.
But today is not so much for recriminations as felicitations. Thanks to all the political figures who contributed to this ‘turn of the tables at the last minute’ has been resounding – particularly for Olhão mayor António Pina who campaigners say has “moved mountains”.
“Most people have no idea of the enormity of his contribution. We owe a lot to many people”, says the SOS Ria Formosa campaign, “but we will never forget what you have done Pina, and what you continue to do for all islanders”.
Special thanks too have gone to MPs João Vasconcelos (BE), Paulo Sá (PCP) and Luís Graca (PS) – who has been equally chuffed to see his own party change its stance.
PHOTO: Taken during islanders’ struggles, a photo of Olhão mayor António Pina, who campaigners say has “moved mountains” in this fight for equality and good sense