Aljezur is fast becoming the spiritual home of the Algarve’s anti-oil movement with hundreds of protestors descending on the city hall on Saturday to form a human chain around the building with others staging an anti-oil 'dig in' (see picture).
Campaigning organisation ASMAA already has organised an online public petition to force a debate in parliament.
With just a few signatures to go before the planned start of drilling on July 1st by Galp/ENI the debate needs to happen before this start date or an injunction will be used to halt drilling until the whole matter has been debated.
The mood of the Algarve now is one of militancy with mayors and business organisations joining an increasingly concerned public in petitions, demonstrations and media interviews to express dismay at the government’s plans to turn the region into an oil production zone on and off-shore.
Already, grass roots action has halted suspicious drilling near Aljezur by onshore concession holder Portfuel and the granting of this concession in the first place had been subject to a parliamentary committee.
The mayor of Aljezur, José Amarelinho was the first to arrive on Saturda, giving his full support to the day's events. Later in the day, the mayor held a private meeting at which he personally thanked all the organisers and representatives of the environmental and protest groups involved in protecting the Algarve.
He told the meeting that he is 100% behind the actions and initiatives, that the groups can count on his support and that there are two injunctions planned to be lodged before the 1 July drilling start date.
Both injunctions are from the mayors group AMAL, with ASMAA and PALP assisting the lawyers with essential background detail and technical input.
The first injunction covers the Portfuel onshore contracts and the other questions the licensing of Galp/ENI and Partex/Repsol to carry out exploration and extraction work in the western and southern offshore exploration areas of the Algarve.
The government’s stated objective is to allow the concession holders to explore for oil and gas ‘just so that we know what’s out there.’
This limp compromise statement by the Prime Minister António Costa soon after he took office fooled only the few as the oil companies involved have licenses not only to explore but to produce, subject to interim environmental impact assessment stages which will be rubber stamped by a government keen to profit from the oil trade.
But profit it won’t as the deals signed with the various oil companies provide for such a low royalty rate payable only after all costs are recovered that this argument persuades no one of the economic benefit to the country and serves only to raise suspicion that those authorising these behind the scenes deals have in some ways gained financially while holding public office, or will be ‘well looked after’ on their leaving public life.
The hundreds of signatures collected in Aljezur yesterday under a baking sun are further testament that this is not just a case of niby-ism, it is a case of refusal to accept that the government is acting in the public interest but promoting on soft terms the use of the Algarve region and its adjoining seas for an industry that has reached its peak and worldwide now is in decline.
The Algarve still is known for calm, seclusion, beaches, air quality and a relaxed way of life. It has been treated like an idiot child by Lisbon for decades and the resentment runs deep that when the Algarve has something that the State wants, the State simply grabs without regard for the environmental, economic and social consequences.
Much has been said about ‘investment in the Algarve’ but always has failed to appreciate the reasons the Algarve is a successful un-industrialised region.
Deep down, Lisbon resents the Algarve and does not want it to succeed. Its spite can be felt at many levels despite the cries of politicians that they are “here to listen.”
The lack of promised dredging in Portimão harbour (which Lisbon of course does not want as it may damage its own thriving cruise ship business) and the appalling social engineering seen with the Ria Formosa Islands fishing families to make way for ‘high class tourism’ are two current examples of Lisbon’s political deceit - there are countless more.
The events in Aljezur yesterday served as another marker in the region’s journey to Lisbon.
Voters are entitled to say ‘no’ and the government that denies public opinion full expression and fails to act in the public good may not only be discredited, but also short-lived.