VICTORY! GOVERNMENT DELAYS COMPULSORY SEIZURE AS ISLANDERS HAVE 90 DAYS TO NEGOTIATE NEW SOLUTION…
At almost the final hour the government has acknowledged massive ongoing pressure and issued notice that the compulsory seizure of 81 homes is not only being delayed, the number of properties is being slashed.
Islanders are just one step further in their battle to be treated “equally”, fairly and humanely.
For the full details of this exceptional coup see our Top Story coming later this evening.
There will still be “many battles” to come, say campaigners, but this win is a pivotal one.
And it means the Resident can now leave the island and wring out wet socks knowing finally that dry ones are to hand!
Thank you to everyone who has followed this stuggle: the interest and shares over social media have helped keep-up pressure at a crucial time.
QUESTION TIME: ARE THESE DEMOLITIONS THE CHEAPEST WAY OF DEALING WITH MONEY ALREADY SPENT?
Two days to go, and activity behind the scenes is in a fervour. The original number of 81 homes is being rapidly whittled down as campaigners manage to prove these homes ARE all connected to the Ria’s fishing industry, or are primary residences that for reasons unknown Polis Litoral has refused to accept.
But as these little victories mount up, the questions amplify. Would a government really court so much negative publicity for just a handful of humble houses?
Last year, 800 were in the line of fire. This year it is 81, and at least 30 of these (if not more) are likely to win exemption.
So what is this demolitions programme all about?
“It looks like being the cheapest way to ‘spend’ money that has already disappeared into other people’s back pockets”, say islanders.
“The problems of the Ria have never been our houses. The first thing authorities should do is replace the sand that was removed 24 hours a day for 30 years and then deal with sewage problems.
“They’ve had the community funding for years. This programme is just being pushed now in order to justify money that has gone elsewhere”.
NINE HOURS FROM ALCOBAÇA…
University graduate Rita Costa is about the same age as the core group of SOS Ria Formosa campaigners who all grew up on the island and are determined to stand up for residents of every generation – particularly those unable to tackle the minutiae of bureaucracy.
Now living in Alcobaça, the 38-year-old who studied environmental planning and land management made the nine hour journey by various buses to get the island last night – “afraid ferry links might be cut off” in the run up to Thursday’s ‘tomada de posse’ (compulsory seizure).
“I couldn’t stay in Alcobaça and think of all this going on. I had to come down and help”, she told us.
With a knapsack and a little bag of food, Costa told us “today has been a very sad day for me. Just the thought of what they are trying to do with this island. My own training – which this far has proved very unhelpful in finding a job – would see me working for a council, if I got the opportunity. And if I did, this situation is a clear case of requiring ‘requalification’ for the island. People are part of the environment here. Their houses, their ways of life, they all protect the island. This whole mania for demolitions is so misconstrued, so illogically designed. It’s just another attack on people in Portugal”.
Happily, Costa’s point of view is being widely pumped by local political voices from all parties.
Campaigning Bloco de Esquerda MP João Vasconcelos will be presenting a new “Project for Resolution” in parliament on Thursday, along with the Green Party (Os Verdes).
PCP’s MP Paulo Sá has long defended the cause of the islanders.
With driving rain, thunder and lightening now keeping everyone in the homes they mean to defend, the countdown is on ‘maximum alert’, say campaigners.
Articles supporting the cause are being published in all quarters while SOS Ria Formosa has called for “Operation Enchente” – everyone with a reason to support them to brave the elements and travel to Farol nucleus by Wednesday evening.
ALL ABOARD FOR THE WEEKEND’S LAST FERRY
As the island thins a little until Wednesday’s return pre ‘compulsory seizure D-day’, campaigners have been busy sharing a dramatic post on social media by Bruno Alexandre, the eloquent PSD secretary of Olhão municipal assembly, in which he likens Polis’ president Sebastião Teixeira and the environment minister Matos Fernandes to “Adolf Hitler and General Tojo Hideki (the Japanese prime minister who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbour)”.
Alexandre has a undeniable flair for rhetoric. Anyone present at the extraordinary meeting of the general assembly last Friday will have been moved by his rabble-rousing exhortation-to-arms in which he recalled countless times through history that the Portuguese have “united, organised and won”.
It was the kind of ‘feel-good’ moment that people who have been listening to speeches for three hours needed, and this post now cheering souls is every bit as inspiring.
Entitled “Alert in Capital letters”, Alexandre rails against what he calls the betrayal by a State, after “ignominious” months “vehemently dedicated to the complete assassination of a region”.
Mentioning everything that Algarvians could list by way of lack of considerations from Lisbon – taking care to recall that we are the ONLY (his emphasis) region not to benefit from central government ‘extraordinary mechanism of support’ for fire damage (“as if the fires in Monchique were a hologram”) – Alexandre said that the greatest betrayal of them all has been the one “that will push the fragile economy of our city, which was just beginning to rise, into a new cycle of negativity and distrust. Something that will increase feelings of revolt and insecurity. It is something that can only be compared to the worst behaviour of 20th century tyrants”.
He was referring to the day last month that environment minister Matos Fernandes declared “nothing had been decided” regarding Ria Formosa’s demolitions, while at almost that precise moment Sebastião Teixeira was sending out 81 letters to homes to advise them that they would be compulsorily seized four weeks later.
“The Minister for the environment and the President of Polis imitated to perfection the behaviour of two 20th century tyrants. I affirm and accuse the Minister of the Environment and Sr Teixeira to be authentic imitations of the behaviour of Adolf Hitler and General Tojo Hideki, who were still establishing negotiations – one with Czechoslovakia, the other with the United States, at the same time as one was advancing tanks on Prague and the other airplanes over Pearl Harbour”, said Alexandre.
Accusing both men of “an act of war against a population of this town and the islands”, Alexandre also set his sights on “this government” which, by its very actions against this district is showing war-like behaviour”.
Whether it is the betrayal over the barrier islands – which remember PS MPs promised that an incoming PS government would spare from demolitions; whether it is the EN125 renovations “which started and then stopped once again, who knows when to be taken up”; whether it is a sunshine tax, a new IMI rates levy, or the “few miserable cents” off tolls which were only given when Lisbon holidaymakers ventured south for their holidays, Alexandre suggests “this is the hour for unity, beyond political parties, beyong clubs and other barriers”.
“This is the time (for the people of the Algarve) to join together and affirm the cause that defines who we are and want to be, so that when we look back – independent of the result – we can say yes, that was our hour of glory; that was the moment the Algarve rediscovered what it is: the only natural region of Portugal, the kingdom that was and which, even in dropping the title, will never cease to be”.
Getting resounding thumbs-up from battling islanders, this text will explain to anyone who still fails to understand this fight just what is at stake for hundreds of local people.
SUNDAY MORNING, FOUR DAYS TO COMPULSORY SEIZURE
Raimundo Santos Rocha, 51, cannot contain his tears as he describes the memories of a lifetime in the house his grandfather built.
“I still have a tiny bit of hope”, he told us this morning, removing his glasses to wipe back welling eyes.
“Last year, the house was saved at the last minute, by the court actions we all put in.
“This time, well, I am not packing a thing. I won’t give up until I am made to hand over that front door key…”
His face contorts: “It’s going to be incredibly difficult handing over that key. I just don’t want to think about it…”
The worst of the situation is that Raimundo’s 72-year-old father ‘Rochinha’ lives at the back of the property.
In knocking down his son’s house, ‘Rochinha’s’ is almost sure to be damaged. For the time being however, Rochinha is “safe”. His part of the property has been deemed a “primary residence” as he has never lived on the mainland, and he has no intention of ever doing so.
The destruction of his son’s living space will nonetheless mean that Rochinha is suddenly ‘alone’ on the island, without relatives to rely on if he gets ill.
As Raimundo explained, the only reason other family members have taken to spending weeks on the mainland is that ferry services to Farol do not fit in with everyday working schedules.
“Home is the island”, he affirmed. “It always has been. This is where I grew up, where I raised my children, the place to which we all come back whenever we can”.
Just as the situation of Avelinho and Doria (below), Raimundo remembers the time when the site for the house was paced out by ports authorities, a good 50 metres from the shoreline.
“The company that worked for 30 years removing sand from in front of us day and night is the same company that we’re told will carry out the demolitions on Hangares”, he shrugged.
“This is all so wrong, and it appears to be being done out of spite.
“In the time of Salazar, our places here on the island were respected. Now, when we are meant to be in a democracy, we’re being treated like people with no rights. It is as if our lives, our pasts, count for nothing”.
Raimundo takes the ferry back to Olhão today, to start his job as a metal worker at 8am on Monday morning in Olhão.
He will be back on the ferry on Wednesday, with brothers, uncles, children and other family members to stand-up the next morning for the small piece of land that they all call “casa”.
How things will go, no one knows. Last time they were in this position, islanders succeeded in heading off Polis Litoral and winning court embargoes to halt the compulsory seizure.
This time, they’re ‘on their own’. After an estimated half million euros spent on hiring top-class lawyers, these people are ‘wiped out’.
“We could have tried further legal action”, SOS Ria Formosa stalwart Fernando Morgado explains, “but the lawyers wanted another €2000 from each household involved, and we just couldn’t get the money together. Some of us have had to take out loans to pay for the legal bills. We got to the point where we just can’t pay out any more”.
SATURDAY NIGHT, OCTOBER 22
Avelinho Condinho, 63, remembers the day the captain of Olhão ports authority paced out the square meterage of the family’s Ria-side home ahead of building work.
“They say these houses are illegal”, he said. “But we were all given permission to build them by the authorities. We were given strict specifications. In my father’s case, I remember the ports captain pacing out the distance from the shore. In those days – before they took the sand away – we were 52 metres from the water! Now, look, we’re right on it. That has nothing to do with climate change. It was the Portuguese State which authorised the removal of the sand which went to build apartments, roads and goodness knows what”.
Avelinho’s wife Doria remembers the time when diggers were working “24 hours a day, removing sand in front of us”.
“Now, thanks to what they did, we are suddenly ‘at risk’ (even though there is no tide on this side of the island) and illegal with it”, she raises her hands in frustration.
The couple are sitting on two battered leather-look armchairs with a view to Olhão in the distance.
As we talk, the lights of the advancing evening start twinkling, friends pass, Doria plies each one of them with wine, Avelinho recalls lost days of the past.
“We were given this spot because of my sister’s polio. She has a withered leg, and the ports captain told my father that here she could get to the water to swim without too much trouble.
“In those days, there was a book at the Capitania (ports authority), in which all the spaces given to people to build their houses was written down. “Now, well you can guess, the book cannot be found anywhere…”
At this point there is a group gathered on Avelinho and Doria’s terrace. We’re told about ‘papers’ that one young man found among his grandfather’s effects which clearly show the house the family have in Hangares is ‘legal’: registered at the finanças, with all the specifications of rooms that have never been altered.Yet, today, that house has been deemed illegal and the family has no right to it.
“The problem”, all agree, “is that if houses near the shoreline are pulled down, the sea will advance into the island and in three years time, when the government say they will reevaluate the situation, other properties will suddenly be deemed at risk”.
“And when they have finally got rid of all of us, you know what they will do, don’t you. They’ll replace the sand! Finally… and then the islands will be ready for ‘sustainable, high-quality tourism’.
“This is what is all behind these demolitions. It’s greed and envy. They just want to get rid of us and make money. That is why the criteria change all the time. Yesterday it was because we were ‘enjoying something that should be the property of everyone else’, today it is because we are less than 40 metres from the shore, tomorrow it will be something else…”
The couple have actually been told that if their homes is seized on Thursday, they can use another property lying empty further inside the island. But Doria says she is not sure she could bear it.
“I don’t know if I could stay, knowing others have lost their homes – with the threat of demolitions always in the background. “The pain, just the thought of it, is just too much”.
Both are just holding onto hope, they told us. In that traditional Portuguese expression, hope is the last thing to die.
But as Avelinho stresses, the tragedy of all this is that there is no equality between citizens. “On Faro island, houses are allowed 20 metres from the sea, in Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago, people have properties practically on the sea. Why does this island have to be treated so differently?”
SATURDAY AFTERNOON, in “parliament”
The lady at the Santa Mar da Maria café says we will find people we need to talk in the “parlamento” (parliament). “Just as in Lisbon, we have one. It is a place where people talk a lot and achieve absolutely nothing”.
Seventy-seven-year-old Sizinando Andrais Santos is past worrying about achievements. A working fisherman since the age of 13, he has lived on the island since he was a young teenage groom, bringing his new wife into their joint life on the sea.
Before they retired, Sizinando and Custoida fished together in their 6-metre boat for almost 60 years.
Custoida was the island’s first registered ‘fisherwoman’. She died just four-months ago, and Sizinando is still coming to terms with the huge hole in his life.
This was the context in which he received a letter telling him his home was going to be demolished.
“It is 42 metres from the sea, so all that talk about properties less than 40 metres being ‘at risk’, it was just talk. This place is well outside the 40-metre limit, and still they want to knock it down”.
“I don’t want to go”, he told us. “I don’t feel good anywhere else, you see. This is where we lived together. This is the place where they took her to hospital, and where she never returned. I don’t want to leave…” His voice trails off with memories: his daughter Angelica took her first steps on the island, and is still living here – but in a part so far free from the threat of bulldozers. Everything he knows is on the island. He travels less than once a week to the mainland, and “doesn’t feel at home there” when he arrives.
“When I first arrived on the island, there were nothing like this number of houses”, he gestures around us. “Now, here they stand, and people write to me to say my house must go…”
Sizinando can only read “a little”. Without the support he is getting from campaigners, he wouldn’t stand a chance. Even now he says: “It’s bad. We don’t know what is going to happen…”
SATURDAY MORNING, OCTOBER 22
The Resident first arrived on the western tip of Culatra in April 2015. At the time, the communities of Farol (lighthouse) and Hangares (named after the airforce hangar used there during the 2nd World War) were facing mass extinction, due to ‘environmental policies’ powered by government agency Polis Litoral.
Since then, massive mobilisation of a people whose spirits have been fashioned by the elements has succeeded in delaying the horrors of the wrecking ball.
Victories too have been won along the way.
Instead of 800 properties at risk of demolition, there are now only 81 – and even some of those are likely to be spared.
But the islanders’ belief is that no-one needs to lose their home.
All told, they agree, there are around 25-30 properties that stand empty, unused and which should be demolished.
But there are others which are the only roof over ‘old heads’ who know no other kind of life.
And then there’s the government’s message that “the situation will be reviewed every three years”.
In other words, the threat of demolitions will never truly go away – unless islanders work a miracle.
They are working on it as we write.
In fact, the SOS Ria Formosa campaigners have been working every spare moment they have – including late into practically every night of the week, until cellphone batteries give out and exhaustion kicks in.
Thus the Resident is back “on the island”, to accompany this latest ‘crunch moment’ in the struggle.
Polis Litoral is due in five days time to take possession of homes that were sent registered letters on September 27.
The ports authority has emitted a public notice to warn people that a 200-ton naval vessel will be docking at Farol ahead of the ‘tomada de posse’ (seizure), and that any boats in the way will be confiscated by the State.
Say campaigners, this is “the Portuguese State, on the mandate of a dictator, preparing to declare the extermination of islanders and the people of Ria Formosa”.
“We suspect there will be navigation restrictions” in the run-up to Thursday ‘tomada de posse’, which SOS Ria Formosa has described as a “scandal” on a scale unknown for Portugal in the 21st century.
With this weekend as the last “before the onslaught”, the Resident hopes to talk to people who sincerely don’t know whether they will have a roof over their heads this time next week.
PHOTO: taken from SOS Ria Formosa Facebook page, in which the group writes: “We are waiting for the government’s position on demolitions. Word given is word honoured” (a phrase favoured by prime minister Costa, and referring to the PS pledge BEFORE the elections to do away with demolitions) “the island has just 11% occupied by people. Please let us stay where we have always been. Let us get on with our lives in peace. We know how to look after the environment. It is something we care about”.