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SOS Ria Formosa prepares for new face-off with MPs in Lisbon

SOS Ria Formosa – the battle to save hundreds of fishermen’s homes on barrier islands outside Faro and Olhão – is back in fight-mode following the red-flag of two national news stories published over the weekend.

On the face of it, the first story in Correio da Manhã sounded positive. Headlined “1.5 million euros to be invested in Culatra”, it centred on “requalification works” and “regularisation of the constructions used as homes of primary residence” on the island.

But as the inhabitants of Culatra’s Hangares and Farol nuclei (communities) could see “only too well”, the ‘positivity’ did not once mention the island as a whole.

The term ‘Culatra’ did not refer to the name of the island in this instance, but to the nucleus of Culatra – thus leaving its neighbours on the very same landmass once again out in the cold.

“We were promised back in February that the government was approving a project based on the equality and recognition of all the historic nuclei on the barrier islands”, Vanessa Morgado, one of SOS Ria Formosa’s leading campaigners told us.

“Since then, not one person has come to visit us on either Hangares or Farol.

“Now here comes Correio da Manhã inferring once again that the government means to safeguard the habitational nucleus of Culatra only – forgetting Hangares and Farol. It’s the same campaign of ‘divide and rule’. It’s a really bad sign”.

Hours later online came a story in Expresso, talking about how “less than half the money” promised for Portugal’s coastal defence between 2007-2015 had actually been spent.

Hidden down in the smallprint in a section centring on works still to be done in the south came the sentence: “As to the continuation or not of the demolitions, the minister (of the environment) says ‘there will be news this week’”.

Bizarrely, these stories appeared days before a delegation from the islands is due to appear before the parliamentary inquiry set up ostensibly to consider the SOS Ria Formosa petition, hand-delivered by campaigners in January (click here).

Vanessa Morgado reacted to the double-whammy, saying, “this is just as we feared. ‘This week there will be news on the demolitions, confirms the minister of the environment in Expresso’. Yet councils, associations and the islanders themselves are meant to have taken part in this decision-making, and that hasn’t happened”.

Before the Expresso story appeared, Vanessa explained that when campaigners get to Lisbon on Thursday (September 29) they plan “to remind the government that all the nuclei on Culatra island are historic, not just one of them”.

“Every family affected by the threat of demolitions in the communities of Hangares and Farol are descendents of people sent there to construct essential infrastructures.

“Other families are descended from people sent to the islands because they had leprosy, and the islands were considered a place where the risk of contagion could be contained.

“It seems like the government has conveniently forgotten all this”, she said, and is instead focusing on the argument that constructions are “illegal” (click here).

Thus all eyes are on Thursday.

“We will get a chance to talk to MP’s from all parties that are involved in the inquiry”, said Vanessa.

“But the fact that we amassed well over 4000 signatures means that, by rights, the issue has to be discussed in parliament”.

Following this weekend’s developments, it does not come as a surprise to hear that few on the islands believe ‘rights’ are very high on the current agenda.

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PHOTO: SOS Ria Formosa campaigners, united in the struggle to save their families’ homes