Portugal's embattled Minister for the Environment, João Pedro Fernandes, was back in the Algarve today to release two eagles at the Sagres Bird Festival while simultaneously smiling for the cameras, (see picture below).
No doubt wishing to put the events of last week behind him, as the recriminiations resulting from his ill-timed 'Ria Formosa demolitions' statement to parliament echo across the Algarve, Fernandes was tracked down by a doughty group of 150 Ria Formosa islanders and presented with their well-considered and viable 'plan for the future' to preserve the islands and the islanders' way of life while modernising and supporting areas that have been ignored for so long.
As a result of this impromptu meeting, the Environment Minister stated that the demolition process for property on the Ria Formosa islands "is being examined and will be adjusted" in order to safeguard primary residences" - one of the concessions the islanders have been pushing for.
"The process of rehabilitation and renaturation is underway, and the houses that are first houses are safeguarded," stated Fernandes to members of the pressure group who managed to get an audience with Fernandes at the Fortaleza do Beliche in Sagres before starting his visit to the Birdwatching Festival.
Vanessa Morgado from the Farol Residents Association said the meeting had represented an "evolution in the dialogue" in relation to the residents' claims - a first in this long-running and dirty battle between government forces and the islanders.
The president of the Hangars Residents Association, José Levezinho, said he was "partly satisfied with the minister's response," noting that there are still demolition orders outstanding for 81 properties, two of which most certainly are first homes.
Whether this hapless minister will do as he promises remains to be seen. He reported to a parliamentary commission that demolitions would be dealt with on a "case by case basis" just one day before eviction notices were delivered in bulk, signed by the head of the Polis Ria Formosa company, 'Demolition Man' Sebastiao Teixeira. This caused last week's row, with calls for Teixeira's head for acting against the expressed wishes of the minister - Teixeira's boss.
The islanders seem to be ever-present and have an uncanny knack of appearing just as a Minister or Prime Minister tries to make a media-friendly appearance in the Algarve.
The protestors' early morning convoy across the region was supported by a police escort for the last stage, maybe to ensure the group's message and plan were delivered safely.
The islanders' representatives have thanked the minister for his kindless in seeing them but it remains to be seen how Fernandes performs in parmliament when the issue is revisited.
Fernandes now has to face the expert testimony of Joao Vasconcelos, the Algarve Left Bloc MP who spent six hours on Culatra island last Saturday talking to locals and assessing the demolition plans that he concluded had been based on deliberately flawed criteria, lies and deceit promulgated by Teixeira at Polis.
No mention today was made of the masterplan to build a marina and tourist resort at Farol on the south side of Culatra. This secret project must be raised by Vasconcelos to establish who knows what and whether the scale and viciousness of the demolitions to date indeed are due to a raw desire to rid the islands of people and property to make way for yachts, well-off tourists and profit.
A major opportunity lost ... which raises in my mind the question - is PALP just a front to placate the masses?