As Portugal changes political direction this afternoon, government agency Polis Litoral Ria Formosa is meeting behind closed doors in what we understand is a bid to continue with the controversial programme that seeks to demolish the island homes of hundreds of local people.
The Resident has tried without success to get any kind of confirmation or statement out of Polis, whose programme is due to become extinct on December 31 this year – having been extended by a year in 2014.
According to information received by our offices this week, the new plan is to further extend Polis’ mandate by another three years, in order to get on with a programme that now envisages the flattening of even more homes than before.
Anyone ‘new to this story’ may be unaware that hundreds of homes on Culatra island have been deemed illegal – despite the fact that many have been inhabited for generations and their owners benefit from mains water and electricity as well as pay rates.
Earlier this year, the now outgoing environment minister Jorge Moreira da Silva let slip that it would actually be unfair to those whose homes were demolished to see other homes remain. Thus the message that none of Ria Formosa’s island homes could be considered safe began gaining traction.
This month the threat became a reality as homes on nearby Armona Island started receiving letters advising them their properties were due for demolition.
The letters purported to come from Olhão council, a source told us. But the council had no knowledge of them.
“They were from Polis,” said the source. “And they show that no homes on any of the islands now are safe.”
Islanders were due to protest outside Polis’ headquarters today, but as the source told us: “They are keeping all their plans quiet, so no-one knows about them.”
The Resident has been asking Polis for information since the beginning of the week. We were told that the man islanders call “demolition man”, Sebastião Teixeira – Polis’ coordinator and chief advocate of demolitions in the name of the environment – was too busy to talk to us.
Meantime, the only home of Faro islander David Fernandes is due to be seized by Polis next week.
As far as we understand, Faro council has asked for a stay of execution, to allow the new government to take over. (All parties in parliament other than the outgoing PSD/CDS-PP coalition have pronounced themselves against the idea of islanders being thrown out of their only homes, and Loulé’s administrative court has issued dozens of embargoes, protecting properties this far from the bulldozers).
This morning (Thursday), Left Bloc MP for the Algarve João Vasconcelos confirmed that Polis appears to be working “behind people’s backs in a bid to push through its demolition programme”.
He told us he would be doing everything in his power to halt the demolitions, but time is clearly running thin.
Just as we were completing this story, a curt answer to questions sent to Polis on Monday arrived. It raises more questions than it answers as it sheds no light on this afternoon’s meeting.
The mail sent by Sebastião Teixeira simply confirms that Polis is (at this moment in time) “in force” until the end of December 2015; that the demolition of Fernandes’ only home will be going ahead “according to the law” and that the homes on Armona Island will be dealt with “in the same way as the other islands”.
We will be pressing for further details and updating this story.
The fear, expressed by both left wing politicians and islanders, has always been that Polis’ mandate – designed with ‘quality sustainable tourism’ in mind – is simply a ruse to cleanse the islands of their traditional populations so that VIP resorts can take over.
Jubiliant islanders contacted our offices this afternoon to report that their demo outside Polis’ headaquarters’ at Chalet João Lúcio in Pinheiros de Marim succeeded in blocking the “secret meeting” altogether.
“If we hadn’t been there, it would have gone ahead”, the campaign’s indefatigable Vanessa Morgado told us. “The meeting was clearly illegal, as the government that sanctioned the demolitions has fallen, and Sebastião Teixeira is still trying to follow orders of a man called Jorge Moreira da Silva who is no longer a minister”.
A new meeting of Polis’ general assembly has now been scheduled for December 16, “under the umbrella of the new government”, she added in an email that began in large letters: “WE DID IT!”