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New ‘home-seizure notices’ rock Ria Formosa islanders

Today (Wednesday) saw the battle against mass demolitions in Ria Formosa move to new ground.

Determined islanders who staked out the visit to Portimão yesterday of prime minister António Costa were buoyed by assurances that their case was finally going to get ‘the treatment it deserved’.

But within hours of their meeting with PM’s assistant assessor Rui Roque near the Algarve international autodrome, the government agency pushing for demolitions was issuing new seizure notices for homes on Farol nucleus.

It was as if the destruction of islanders’ futures were a ‘fait-accompli’.

“We cannot believe it”, campaigner Vanessa Morgado told us. “Here we are the day after we have been assured that our case will at last be considered fairly, and Polis Litoral (the so-called environmental agency led by Portuguese environment agency boss Sebastião Teixeira) is sending out letters telling us to get out of our homes. It is absolutely crazy! We have been assured that the position of borough council, residents’ associations and homeowners will be properly considered.

“We are due to present our case tomorrow in Lisbon, to the parliamentary inquiry set up to consider the petition we hand-delivered to parliament in January – and Rui Roque has promised that he will convey the situation as we see it to the prime minister.

“Yet still, Polis Litoral appears to think it is some kind of all-powerful body that can destroy our entire way of life. It is almost too much to believe…”

The date on the letters arriving in homes on Farol is October 27 – thus hopes are that time is on islanders’ sides.

Rui Roque meantime has assured the 200-strong group that waited for Costa as he sped to inaugurate a 5-star hotel that it “appears” their position has not been “properly communicated to the Ministry of the Environment”.

Information “seems to have been lost along the way”, he said – adding that no one in power had actually had time to go the islands themselves, so were reliant on information passed to them.

As Vanessa Morgado told us, islanders quickly explained that they felt “someone at the ministry of the environment has their own personal agenda” here.

The name on everyone’s lips was that of Sebastião Teixeira, long since dubbed “demolition man” for his zeal to cleanse the islands of their inhabitants (click here).

Indeed, Rui Roque was told of an instant in which Teixeira was described as ‘reserving a restaurant’ to celebrate with work colleagues the fact that court orders protecting homes from being bulldozed had fallen.

“Rui Roque was incredibly kind”, Vanessa Morgado told us. “He said he would visit the islands when all this has been resolved. We came away from the conversation with the feeling that things would turn out well”.

But within hours much had changed. Even when TV journalists invited campaigners up to the hotel being inaugurated by Costa, there were ugly moments as plainclothes police tried to wrestle them away.

The reason, it transpired, was the islanders’ signature black “Je Suis Ilhéu” tshirts.

As Morgado said afterwards, she thought she was going to be arrested.

But, to anyone who cares to know, she said she has a campaign tshirt “for every day of the week and “will wear them all with pride until this battle is won”.

Thus it is a case of watch and wait.

Possession notices require householders to sign before they can be handed over. Advice sweeping the islands this morning is “sign nothing. The struggle continues”.