Chaotic scenes were playing out on Culatra island this morning, when government agency Polis Litoral moved forwards with the compulsory seizure of 35 properties on Farol nucleus, all earmarked for demolition.
Islanders refused point blank to hand over keys to homes as tense throngs chanted under the glare of TV cameras.
The worst of the morning was the suffocating police presence which island spokesman Feliciano Júlio said the embattled community had “never expected”.
With Polis agents flanked by maritme police as they moved slowly from property to property, daubing blue numbers on walls destined to be bulldozed, the islanders’ campaigning Facebook page alluded to the Nazi daubing of the homes of Jews in the run up to the Second World War.
One thing is certain: Wednesday’s compulsory seizure flew in the face of various court bids submitted by islanders the evening before, and could still be overturned.
This is what Feliciano Júlio, leader of Farol’s residents’ association is hoping.
He told reporters caught up in the jostling crowd and blaring klaxons, “we will fight this to the very last minute”.
Talking for one furious elderly man who said he wouldn’t move a stick of furniture out of his house, or hand over the keys, Júlio reiterated the government’s mistake in trying to wrestle properties from people who have nowhere else to go.
“We are still waiting for a renegotiation with the minister (of the environment)”, he stressed, as noise levels and rising emotions left reporters struggling to hear his words.
In fact, Júlio’s hope is that the tortuous ‘tomada de posse’ (compulsory seizure) which is expected to take two days, will be called off as a result of all the inconsistencies.
In parliament, MPs including Left Bloc firebrand Catarina Martins, and PCP leader Jerónimo de Sousa, are adamant that the so-called “renaturalisation process of Ria Formosa” – pushed through by Sociedade Polis in spite of protests – has been designed to promote private interests.
Visiting the island three days before Wednesday’s confusion, Catarina Martins said: “The data the government has supporting this plan cannot be trusted”, adding that the criteria put forward by Polis is also “far from reliable”.
Elsewhere, Algarve MPs Paulo Sá (PCP) and João Vasconcelos (BE) have been vociferous in their support for fishing folk forced out of their comfort-zone to try and take on an all-powerful government.
As campaigners always say, “hope is the last thing to die”.
This has been an exhausting struggle – and as Catarina Martins pointed out starkly on Sunday: “Once a house has been demolished, there is nothing to recover the loss.
““Some of these houses are the only home of families who have no other alternative”, she said. “Nobody has spoken to these people, and no one here knows the criteria that determines these houses have to be demolished”, as official reasons have notoriously flip-flapped to suit the central agenda.