President Marcelo and PM António Costa

Protests and dissatisfaction mark “Implantation of the Republic Day”

Sines sees 18 movements demonstrate against destruction of Alentejo coastline

Protests and dissatisfaction marked yesterday’s ‘Implantation of the Republic” Bank Holiday – another moment in which the focus of Portugal’s powermakers appeared to be on a very ‘different plane’ to that of everyday citizens.

In Carcavelos, citizens desperate to save the ‘green lung’ known as Quinta dos Ingleses from urbanisation were out in force once again, to protest against further ‘development’ of dwindling nature – and this time a new twist came to the fore: Quinta dos Ingleses has become an unofficial campsite for multiple nationalities, including Portuguese, who cannot afford a roof over their heads. There are dozens of tents/ camper vans and ‘makeshift homes’, accommodating people who leave them generally spick and span each day to walk into town and start a day’s work. These people have told reporters, their reasons for not wanting the place turned into a building site have little to do with preserving the environment, and more to basic survival.

And in Sines, dozens turned out in force to “demand that the Republic halt the destruction of the Alentejo coastline and respect the future of this territory”, writes Lusa.

The action was organised by 18 groups and associations from the region who are fighting for “social and environmental justice” for the coastline, which they claim is being sacrificed for economic interests.

These movements “took to the streets to demand that the Republic, on 5 October (the 113th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic in Portugal), immediately halt the destruction of the Alentejo coastline with serious consequences for the environment and the lives of those who live and work here,” Bruno Candeias, one of the members of the organisation, told the State news agency.

After an early morning gathering in Jardim das Descobertas and an assembly of movements where some of the arguments of each collective and association were presented, the participants joined in a march under the banner “Hands off the Alentejo Coast”.

With this action, “we demand that full respect be guaranteed for the will of the people for the future of their territories, which have been constantly crushed,” Candeias emphasised, giving the example not only of the closure of the Sines thermoelectric power station, which “threw around 300 workers out of work”, but issues related to “property speculation that is generated by luxury tourism, and other investments that are being speculated for Sines and are driving up house prices.

“Equally, we have mega energy production projects that are going to destroy huge areas of productive soil, such as the felling of 1,800 cork oaks”, he went on (referring to an issue that has already seen various protests). 

“We believe that renewable energies are compatible with nature, as long as the right places are determined for their installation,” he said. The right places being areas with unproductive soil (which is sadly now plentiful throughout the country).

Carrying placards that read “Save the climate, clean up energy“, “Genocide zone“, “Extreme drought” and chanting slogans demanding environmental and social justice, demonstrators travelled through various streets in Sines.

For local resident Kaya Schwemmlein, a member of Juntos pelo Cercal – formed to fight the installation of mega solar farm in Santiago do Cacém – citizens want to “have a say in sustainable development”.

She stressed that, right now, the ‘climate transition’ is simply profiting those “who brought about climate change”.

Bruno Candeias agreed, stressing that local people feel they “are not being listened to” (…) their will is constantly being crushed, to the detriment of purely economic interests“.

This is a very relevant point – and one that will be taken much further in the coming months by citizens groups mindful of European legislation. (The Aarhus Convention, for example, insists on citizens’ opinions being properly taken into account. A group that only recently ‘won’ a long, tough battle to stop a mega solar farm being installed on a crucial water catchment area highlighted in its arguments how little their opinions had been taken onboard…

And while the Sines’ protestors ‘manifesto to the Republic’ is demanding, among many other things, a study on the cumulative effects of all projects planned for the Alentejo, other aspects of yesterday’s ‘celebrations’ are sticking in people’s craws.

Lusa explains that citizens who turned up in Lisbon to ‘enjoy’ the official Implantation of the Republic ceremony were corralled behind security barriers, around 150 metres from what was going on.

“Now it’s a private ceremony?! They’ve cornered us here! I come here every year, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said one of those present, who asked to be identified as “a Portuguese citizen disgusted by all this”.

Disappointment was also clearly visible on the face of Ana Lourenço, writes Lusa, who thought she would be able to see and hear the speeches, but ended up standing there in a “funnel”.

“We’re unhappy. It feels like we’re in a prison because you can’t see anything. After all, this is freedom, and it’s not freedom,” she said.

Another citizen remarked that he had “been in charge of the town hall for 10 years” and had “never seen anything like this”.

One of those in the relatively small crowd suggested that politicians “were trying to avoid the protests that have been happening with teachers “in terms of housing, in terms of (climate) change” and “those loudmouths who want to take advantage of the presence of invited people, people of a certain respect, to tell them everything”…

Meantime, on the podium, Lisbon’s mayor Carlos Moedas could (possibly not be) heard saying “today it is up to politicians not to close themselves off in an unreal world, but to open themselves up to reality”…

At a certain point two teachers did appear, holding up unattractive placards with caricatures of António Costa and the Minister of Education. Slogans such as “It’s a disgrace”, and “The Republic is not a private party” were shouted, and all in all, no one will have been satisfied with the ‘feeling in the air’.

Even President Marcelo’s speech had a ring of dejá vu. He spoke about the importance of keeping hold of democracy (something he did on the last ‘Dia da República’) – and for this he was criticised by minority parties who stressed democracy is not the most pressing subject on nationals’ minds these days: they are much more worried about getting health care when they need it (see top story to come); their children getting a rounded education, with classes that actually take place, and keeping a roof over their heads.

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