Outrage as Environment minister tells packed meeting in Faro “Ria Formosa demolitions must continue”

Environment minister Jorge Moreira da Silva has been labelled “Public Enemy No 1” after telling a heated meeting in Faro last night that no matter how many people or local mayors are against government plans to demolish 800 homes on Ria Formosa islands, the demolitions “must continue”.

His justifications left almost everyone in the room “stupified” as he let slip that once Culatra island’s Farol and Hangares communities have been cleansed of an initial quota of homes, it will be time to target the rest.

The meeting that began early afternoon and was scheduled to end by 5.30pm extended past 8pm and saw regional politicians walk out in disgust as police too were called to quell any chance of unrest.

Now, the only chance of saving not only hundreds of homes but scores of families’ way of life lies with Loulé’s administrative court which recently upheld 137 embargoes but still has to pronounce on the legality of the government’s ‘cleansing’ plan.

As we have explained in previous stories, the demolitions are being pushed through by “anonymous society” Polis Litoral – the majority share of which is held by the government. Minor shareholders are the local councils of Vila Real de Santo António, Tavira, Olhão, Faro and Loulé – and as Moreira da Silva heard last night “all these are against the demolitions”.

Reporting on the minister’s “total intransigence”, the SOS Ria Formosa Facebook page said the message was loud and clear: if Loulé court does not rule in islanders’ favour “demolitions will go ahead immediately”.

Even worse, Polis Litoral’s “end-game” has been revealed. After his justification that demolitions had to go forwards so as not to “create an enormous injustice to those who had already lost their homes” in earlier cleansing operations on Faro island and the Ria’s “ilhotes” (little islands), Moreira da Silva affirmed that once Polis has demolished houses on the eastern corner of Farol, this will “create injustice relating to the western end of the island”, which means all these homes “will also have to be demolished”.

This came as a bombshell to homeowners on the western tip of Farol, all of whom had been assured until now that their homes were deemed “legal”.

Thus, after weeks of campaigning, the “Je Suis Ilhéu” movement is once more in crisis.

It has petitioned parliament, appealed to politicians, appeared on national TV, mounted multiple protests – and even last week managed a half-hour audience with prime minister Passos Coelho (see: https://www.portugalresident.com/ria-formosa-islanders-shocked-to-hear-%E2%80%9Chow-little%E2%80%9D-passos-coelho-knew-of-their-plight), but still everything appears stacked against them.

Another “body blow” came this week in the shape of a magazine article in Visão praising the government’s environmental plans for the islands.

Campaigning website Olhão Livre called the story a “package ordered by the government to prepare public opinion for the acts of terrorism and dirty games being prepared in Ria Formosa”.

The islanders were more direct: “We were left understanding, once again, the power of the interests that lie behind these demolitions”.

“The government has thrown away the last opportunity to stop this process”, affirmed the communities’ Facebook page, stressing: “the men in government still do not understand how far we are prepared to go. Let’s hope the Portuguese people do not give them this chance, but we will be ready for anything, now, in six months’ time, FOREVER (sic). WE WILL NEVER FORGET THOSE WHO SEEK TO DESTROY US!”

Thus this desperate struggle lurches towards another “make or break” week.
Loulé judges are expected to deliver their verdicts on Polis’ plan within the next few days.

In conversation with Polis president Sebastião Teixeira recently, the Resident asked him how he felt, in his heart of hearts, evicting families with years of history from their only homes.

He told us: “In my heart I feel Ria Formosa should belong to everyone, not just a few”.

It’s another “justification” for this demolition masterplan: that the islands are Public Maritime Land and therefore should not be “enjoyed” by “only a few”.

“How would you feel if a family suddenly arrived to live in your garden?” Teixeira asked us.

But the tragedy of this situation is that many of the island families have lived in their communities for generations – and when they initially colonised the barrier islands, no-one on the mainland could have been less interested in the land they made their own.

As Communist MP Paulo Sá suggested in January, “the truth is there are powerful economic interests at work”.

The government mantra that multiple demolitions are “environmentally necessary” is “all part of the conspiracy”, Sá told us.

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