Portugal’s MPs have recommended to the Government that unregistered settlements on the Algarve’s Ria Formosa islands formally should be recognised.
Published yesterday in the Diário da República, this recommendation is a monumental shift in the previous official attitude to the islands' inhabitants and their property rights, or lack of.
Until the current Minister for the Environment sacked the head of Polis Litoral Ria Formosa, Sebastião Teixeira, and aborted the plan for the wholesale destruction of 900 islander properties, the islanders faced further marginalisation and legal exclusion from the property and civil rights that the rest of Portugal’s population enjoy.
The nation’s MPs recommending the government recognise these islanders is close to the final step in the long-running, often bitter, journey by the island population to be left alone and to live in peace.
The 13-point plan signed by the President of the Assembly of the Republic, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, finally accepts the islanders’ demands built up over the years, perhaps the most important being their legal recognition as inhabitants rather than squatters.
The list includes "opening of a dialogue with local communities" something that has been sadly missing during a demolition programme that involved Sebastião Teixeira sending letters to seemingly random addresses informing the owner that they have to move out before their property is demolished, or pay for the demolition.
Teixeira’s actions throughout this nasty dispute has been reminiscent of the dark days of Portugal’s pre-'74 autocracy, but challenged by a doughty opposition backed up by skilled use of social, local, national and international media.
There will be further demolitions, Teixeira managed to oversee around 300 before he was stopped, but these will be chosen in collaboration with the islanders in Culatra, Hanagres and Farol who know which properties are used and unused and by whom.
An 'integrated plan' has been put in place for the communities, including 'pollution control, adequate dredging of natural barriers and shipping channels' and the promise that 'no first dwelling of a fisherman, nurseryman or shellfisherman, working or retired, will be demolished without being guaranteed re-housing after a case-by-case analysis.'
This settlement is as close to what the islanders wanted as makes no odds and an example of the current socialist government stopping to listen to people, but perhaps only when the political cost of continuing with a stated course of action was too much.