Islanders’ “Joan of Arc” appeals to President Marcelo ahead of planned demolitions

Ria Formosa heroine Vanessa Morgado has appealed to people’s president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa as the furore of the past week on Culatra island still resounds across the media.

With heartbreaking video clips uploaded onto Youtube and Facebook – and endless commentary on the iniquities of a process purportedly mired by lies – the determined single mother who has become one of the mainstays of this struggle is hoping the man who brought “a wave of hope” to Portugal will be able to help change the fortunes of Ria Formosa islanders battling to save their homes and way of life.

In an open letter which she has sent to media outlets in the name of SOS Ria Formosa, Morgado outlines what she claims has been a conspiracy to cleanse the islands of their communities on the basis that it is all for the good of Nature and the people themselves.

She explains that over the years the strategy may have changed – with reasons flip-flapping from those of environmental risks, to allegations that properties are illegal, or on public maritime land, or are so-called ‘second homes’ – but the bottom line intention has always been that “sooner or later, everyone has to leave”.

Without wishing to go into the realms of speculation, Morgado says she hopes the president can step in to stop the “Troiaization” of her beloved island – referring to the transformation of the Alentejan island of Troia into a luxury resort “once the undesirables” had been removed.

Appealing to Marcelo’s “moral structure”, the battling 33-year-old who has spent sleepless nights coordinating the SOS campaign to the point that it is recognised almost throughout the country, asks “is it really worth destroying yet another slice of socio-cultural heritage in the name of any outside interest that presents itself?”

“These houses have history, these islands have history. All these people have histories in these islands, and a life that cannot be dissociated from Ria Formosa and the Sea”.

With the strength of emotions that have characterised this Herculean struggle of a people forever battered by successive governments, Morgado makes her stand on the day national tabloid Correio da Manhã claims demolition of the 40 properties served eviction orders last week will be going ahead “before the summer”.

It’s a matter of “extreme urgency”, she explains – stressing that over the last 40 years, the State has received “tens of thousands of euros in taxes” from island properties “even though it continues to classify (islanders) as illegals” and “when in the past it was the State itself that encouraged people to populate the islands”.

President Marcelo is invited to see the situation for himself, and “honour” islanders with a visit, or extend them an audience in which the inhabitants of Farol and Hangares communities can explain their position, “and show the reams of documentation” that they have on the whole process.

With the backing of all the government’s left-wing allies, SOS Ria Formosa’s latest tactic may be the turning point in this struggle that islanders’ are praying for.

Certainly, that’s the idea.

(For the full text of Vanessa Morgado’s open letter to President Marcelo, see SOS Ria Formosa’s facebook page).

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