- Written by Bruno Filipe Pires, Algarve 123
MALP – the Movement for an oil-free Algarve – is the most recent citizens’ group set up to fight government-backed plans for the region. Apolitical, it’s also pitting itself against one of the most powerful industries in the world. But despite the disproportionate odds, university professor and the group’s founder João Martins, 41, says MALP’s action is vital, as “the future is at risk”.
According to Martins, the hydrocarbon prospection deal playing out now along the coast was pushed through by politicians in backroom deals - depriving the man-in-the-street of having his say. MALP’s plan is to gather 4000 signatures so that the issue can be properly debated in Parliament (the Republican Assembly, in Lisbon). MALP’s next “signature collection” event takes place on Saturday morning (21st April) outside Olhão market.
Is this movement connected to any political party?
João Martins: No. It came about because a group of people in civilian society were very concerned by the news of oil and gas prospection along our coastline. The movement is pluralist - open to anyone who wants to take part, independent of their political ideologies. They simply have to identify with the cause.
What’s behind your concern?
We are concerned that there was no public debate! There were no environmental impact studies undertaken, nor were there any studies into the economic or social implications of this kind of exploration. We think that before deciding on exploration – which our movement is totally against – there should have been strong debate within the scientific community, as well as the local community; a debate with the people that live here and who will ultimately suffer the consequences of the impact of this type of industry.
You’ve had your first “signature collection” event for the petition you hope to take all the way to Parliament. How did it go?
Well, we were hoping the Easter weekend would bring a lot of people to the Algarve. That didn’t happen. We were able to collect around 60 signatures – which we consider to be a good start.
How did contact with the “man-in-the-street” go?
We got the impression that most people are not sufficiently aware of what is really going on. Equally, there is a great deal of ignorance – as oil is associated with wealth, and developed countries. Against the backdrop of extreme economic crisis, oil is seen by some of the population as a way of saving us all from total disaster. Also, people seem to think that the Portuguese State and the region as a whole stand to gain a lot from this deal. They don’t understand that it is the oil companies that will be keeping the largest slice of the “cake”. And meantime, what it really means is that we’re associating ourselves to a deal that basically expropriates the future ecology of the region…
So you’re saying that the majority of people think oil and gas could be good for the Algarve... Considering contracts have already been signed, does this movement make any sense, then?
We think the issue is way too important NOT to contest. What’s at risk here is leaving future generations bound to a potentially catastrophic deal. We’ve all seen what happened recently in the Gulf of Mexico. There is a real risk on oil rigs these days as the search for fuel is relentless and this pressure means it is basically running out.
So what’s happening in the Algarve? We’re looking at a deal centered on a finite resource; a deal that could provoke serious immediate problems for the region. And once this resource has run dry, future generations will be held to ransom by what remains of an obsolete industry. Another of the biggest problems faced by mankind as a whole today is that of climate change. Many countries are concentrating on renewable energies and a reduction of CO2 emissions. But we’re on the opposite track! What we’re pushing for at MALP is a politics of the future, not the mistaken politics of the past.
Are you talking about policies, or politicians?
That’s really one of the problems we’re facing at the moment. I think the people that brought us to this point are not the ones equipped to save us. In other words, a change in policies will only be possible with a change in people. The world doesn’t change from one day to the next. It changes progressively, everyday – and so this change will take place, probably painfully.
Do you think, considering the majority of Portuguese are facing hardship, that there’s a risk of rioting/ social upset?
I do. We’re living through the sickness of austerity. I think there’s a blind logic in these measures that produces what I would call a recessive vicious cycle – one that could take us to total impasse. You see, if these austerity measures neither contribute to economic growth, nor improve the lives of the population in general, there’s the risk that people will simply stop supporting them.
So you think this is the time for society to start fighting back?
Yes. I think society has to get moving. It has been much too passive in recent years - explained very possibly by a series of factors, and also due to our cultural/ historical traditions. There has been little watch over instituted powers – which has certainly contributed to the many wrongs that have brought us to our current predicament. I think citizens have to fight back now – start putting pressure on institutions to work properly.
Do you think local politicians have been lax at defending the Algarve’s interests?
Definitely. Look at the way they dealt with the issue of tolls on the Via do Infante! We’re once against witnessing a political inertia in which the principal players appear more concerned with their own careers than with the real interests of the region! I hope this isn’t what is happening, but it’s certainly the perception that I have…
But in the case of the A22, there was quite a bit of social backlash. Would you follow that kind of example?
Not necessarily. But I think that in terms of social dynamics, the Commission for Users of the Via do Infante is one of the most important initiatives that has risen up in the Algarve in recent years. It’s a section of civilian society that mobilized itself to fight for something it considered a lot more correct for the region.We’ve heard of the possibility of oil rigs sited only eight kilometres from the coast.Honestly it doesn’t matter if these platforms are eight or 100 kilometres from our coastline. The danger they’ll pose will always be there. The closer they come to the coast, the greater the visual impact. Put it another way: the Algarve is currently a world-class tourist destination, offering sun, beach and sea, at relatively low prices – what do you think will happen? Do you think people will want to come for holidays in plain sight of oil rigs?
What are the next events planned by MALP?
We’ll be collaborating with the “Primaveira Global” movement on 12th May (Global Spring - www.may12.net/), which is an attempt to mobilize people all over the world to go out into the streets and demand alternative policies/ politics: for a truly sustainable future. We’re also planning an open letter to the President of the Republic, in a bid to alert him to this whole situation.
If you agree, please sign the petition here.