Ria Formosa islanders “in final countdown”

As the clock ticks towards this Saturday – the day government-backed bulldozers are due to start destroying dozens of homes – determined Ria Formosa islanders are playing every one of their trump cards.

A last-ditch appeal to Faro mayor Rogério Bacalhau has prompted a meeting between Bacalhau and the environment ministry, planned to take place as we go to press on Wednesday.

Bacalhau – caught very much between a rock and a hard place – is now totally sympathetic to the islanders’ cause, warning yet again of a hidden agenda to prepare the islands for upmarket tourism.

Talking last week at a council meeting in Faro, he said: “I cannot guarantee that after the demolitions, if someone alters the legislation, something won’t be built there.”

It was a curious double-negative but it shows the distrust now in full-throttle over the €17 million ‘demolition programme’ being waged by ‘environment agency’ Polis Litoral.

Despite calls to halt the programme from every opposition party in government, the PSD-CDS coalition has doggedly refused to budge.

But as public support for the cause increases, legal bids – aimed at stopping the bulldozers through the courts – have now been filed, and are expected to be decided upon by a judge

“within the next few days”.

In the meantime, key players in the campaign that is increasingly being presented as a heroic Daniel versus Goliath struggle are due to be interviewed “by an international news agency”.

One of the many tireless campaigners heading up the 11th hour initiatives is young mother-of-one Vanessa Morgado who told us on Monday that the fight has been buoyed up by news that recent legal bids by islanders on Faro Island have just been decided upon in the islanders’ favour.

“Things have to change,” she told us. “We are doing everything we can to save our homes.”

It was Vanessa who read the prepared text to mayor Bacalhau last week that now sees the mayor making renewed appeals to the environment ministry.

As already covered by the Resident, the thrust of the islanders’ argument against demolitions is that their homes are not prejudicing the environment in any way – in fact they could be said to be preserving it.

Demolitions that have gone ahead on Ilhote das Ratas have since seen the sea invade the island totally at high tide – to the extent that it is completely submerged.

The government’s continued assertions that islanders are “illegal” is also challenged, as almost all the families living permanently on the long island were encouraged to go there by previous governments.

Calling the insistence on demolitions “the extermination and genocide of a community”, the islanders have stressed that “if nothing is done, there will be a disgrace because we will not stand aside and let our homes be destroyed”.

As the families of Farol, Hangares and Culatra communities remain united in the struggle, a special “human chain” protest has been called for midday on Saturday, April 25 – the national holiday that should signify “Liberty” in memory of the April 25 Revolution, but which Polis Litoral has chosen for the day homes are due to be destroyed.

Islanders are hoping for crowds of supporters, and their appeal is “bring all your friends!”

For more information, see the Facebook page set up for the event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1704922946401238/

A new petition, this time destined for the European Parliament, has been started and can be signed here: http://peticaopublica.com/pview.aspx?pi=PT76810

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]