Yesterday’s marathon to Lisbon and back seems to have been worth all the effort. Ria Formosa islanders threatened with the demolition of their only homes returned to parliament for a second round in their hard-fought campaign, to find this time people were prepared to listen.
Delivering their latest petition, the little group that had got up before dawn to take to the road found vice-president of the republican assembly José de Matos Correia telling them he “could understand this was an issue that affected them profoundly” as their eyes “shone in a different way” whenever they tried to explain what being an islander means to them.
It was an altogether different response than that received last April, when islanders were physically removed from the parliamentary public galleries for refusing to accept the centre-right government’s contention that their homes were damaging the environment, and therefore needed to go by the end of the year.
Campaigners told Matos Correia that islanders will never accept the environmental reason for demolishing homes, “because the environment is more than just the flowers and butterflies”. “It is the relationship that people have with everything around them, and the inhabitants of Ria Formosa cannot be discarded from the ecosystem as if they had never had any part in it”.
It was the kind of poetry that fell on stony ground last year, but which parliament’s new leaders seem to have taken on board.
Writing up her report after the day that saw campaigners arriving home long after midnight, the Joan of Arc in this struggle, Vanessa Morgado, said islanders have been told the new 4,300-strong petition will now be referred to a parliamentary commission, and that their cause “will be discussed” once again in parliament.
All the various political groups that campaigners approached this time “were receptive”, said Morgado, and supportive of the plan for a “new analysis of the situation”.
It could be a huge victory, it could be just another step on the road, but islanders have got this far in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. They are confident they can go the distance.
“We mentioned many times that we are not against Sociedade Polis” – the government-backed agency pressing for demolitions. “We are against the society’s priorities because everyone who lives in Ria Formosa knows that pollution from sewers that discharge directly into the lagoon, and sewage treatment plants that don’t function properly, are to blame for the calamity in this natural reserve,” Morgado added.
“It will still be a complicated road, but new political will should create a new reality – and it was this promise that we returned home with.”