Forty Maritime Police officers oversaw one of the most shameful, unnecessary and vindictive State-sponsored actions in recent years, as possession orders were served on the first 12 of 34 properties in the Ria Formosa village of Farol this morning, leaving many angry, distressed residents in tears.
The property possessions, the first of many scheduled for the villages of Farol and Hangares, saw members of Polis Litoral Ria Formosa fix notices to exterior walls and spray painting a number in blue on each house due for demolition under the ever-changing rules and regulations employed by the Ministry of the Environment.
Not a single islander handed over their keys and each now risks being charged by the State for having their own property destroyed if they refuse to move.
The now thoroughly discredited minister, João Matos Fernandes, pledged last October to assess each property on a one-by-one basis but there has been no further contact, simply possession notices sent through the post and today, members of Polis turning up to serve possession orders surrounded by an angry and desperately upset group of islanders, overseen by unsmiling Maritime Police officers.
This demolition policy few agree with, certainly the Algarve MPs Paulo Sá and João Vasconcelos who, with the leader of the Left Bloc, Catarina Martins, and of the Communist Party, Jerónimo de Sousa, have at least visited the islanders and subsequently have tried to get the government to explain what is behind these demolitions and to have them halted, without success.
The latest in a long list of increasingly facile reasons used by the Ministry of the Environment is that the properties are too close to the sea and are in the Public Maritime Domain but the islanders say that when the properties were built, the sea was further away and that over the years the seashore sand has been removed by a company for use as a building material.
The islanders’ second observation is that why is it only them that are being targeted as there are properties along the mainland within the Ria Formosa natural park area that clearly have been built illegally within the 40 metre mark.
The third is that by removing seafront properties, the subsequent row will suffer increased erosion, and so on until all the houses have been knocked down, on 'environmental' grounds.
Last minute legal moves by some of the property owners, yesterday saw court injunctions lodged but these have been ignored by Polis, the Maritime Police and the Ministry of the Environment.
Surrounded by the Maritime Police, whose spokesman Pedro Palma felt that the deployment of 40 officers was a suitable response to “guarantee the safety of people and employees of Pólis," Feliciano Júlio of the Association of Residents of Ilha do Farol, said
"We are humble people, people who do not want problems with anyone,"
"In many of these cases, this is the primary residence. We will continue to try to help these people," said Júlio, adding that six precautionary measures were filed today, but the three already delivered to the civil court were not recognized by the Polis team. The other three remain at the Administrative and Fiscal Court of Loulé.
Vanessa Morgado, from the SOS Ria Formosa Association, said, "We were surprised to have so many police here. They started arriving last night. We always demonstrate in a peaceful way, it is natural that there is some tumult because it’s peoples’ houses that are at risk.”
Polis will be back at Farol tomorrow to possess further properties and on March 2nd its staff will move on to Hangares, also on Culatra island, to possess a further 22. The process seems unstoppable, especially with the presence of the Maritime Police ensuring there is no untoward behaviour.
The new head of Polis, José Pacheco, clearly is fully behind the old strategy of zero communication at which his sacked predecessor Sebastião Teixeira excelled.
With the Minister’s October 2016 lies now laid bare, substituting ‘case-by-case’ for ‘bulk evictions,’ today’s shameful and distressing events rightly will be thrown at the socialist government whose care for the poorest in society is non-existent and whose definition of socialism has drifted so far to the right that it now is indistinguishable from the previous right-of-centre regime under Pedro Passos Coelho.
By lack of engagement with those affected, the minister has forced those that can afford it, to go to court to lodge an injunction. This is seen by the island communities as a betrayal of the slick assurances last October when minister João Matos Fernandes promised "consultation on a case-by-case basis" and those that not longer can afford the lawyer and court fees are well and truly stuffed.
"Holocaust in the 21st Century in Portugal," reads the SOS Ria Formosa Facebook page, adding that, "Islanders with a 100 years’ presence in the barrier islands of the Ria Formosa are persecuted, stripped of their property and marked to die. This is how Portugal treats its people, a shame,” noting that properties in Tróia, Vale do Lobo, Quinta do Lago, Fuzeta and so on," are not threatened despite being within the 40 metre limit.
“If you don't have the power of Espírito Santo with houses in the dunes at Comporta, or the power of the Sonaes and Pestanas of this world with mass construction on the peninsula of Tróia, or hotels on the beach at Monte Gordo, for them the laws are different and everything is permitted but the poor people who are here for so much longer are not entitled to anything and are treated as murderers. Today we feel huge shame for this country,” reads the Facebook posting.
During the loud protest this morning, villagers found time to sing the national anthem while wondering, no doubt, why the Republic of Portugal was sponsoring their eviction.
Householder, Elisabete Correia, commented, "Hope is the last to die and so we are fighting every day against this," pointing out that her house was built with the full permission of the Port of Olhão and of the Fiscal Police 38-years ago.
State vs The People
Polis Ria Formosa suit going about his work
The motive behind the evictions is not environmental. It is money. The 1% don't care about poor people or the environment. This is ethnic cleansing to pave the way for profit.
The European Court of Human Rights can only be accessed after all legal remedies have been sought in the person's home country. This means going right through the local court process and taking expensive appeals through local, regional and the Supreme court in Porugal.
Islanders haven't time on their side, let alone the ability to fund the astronomical cost.
I'd like to think the emotional component of the Islander's eviction isn't clouding yours or Mr. Chip's perspective. Given Ria Formosa's park status, the fragility of the ecosystem along with the unregulated inhabitation of the barrier islands where some of the dwellers 'rent' out their premises for summer cash, the only long term safeguard for the area is to control boat traffic and help the Islanders move to Terra firma. There are some of us who have more respect and protectionism towards undeveloped areas for future generations.
I would have thought that an island with buildings on it would provide far more protection than sand only.
And it's all very well saying what the government would do well to transmigrate the islanders - but they are not doing it!
Pity you are not as concerned with people's welfare as your fictional namesake, Jack.
Why not just build all over Rio Formosa then, if that is your argument. Step back a little and see how badily planned and developed the whole of the Algarve is. At the end of the day the Islanders have built on barrier islands made of sand, that are there to protect the whole inland ecosystem. The Government would do well to transmigrate the dwellers to more suited locations (maybe near IKEA) and declare the area a natural park.
If the minister says he will go through the properties one by one, as Ed says, why then is he now doing exactly the opposite...
Ria Formosa should be declared once and for all an area of outstanding beauty with carefully planned ecotourism. No building or any kind of development should be permitted. I don't have much sympathy for the island dwellers and their dubious land grab, just so they can have a nice beachside property in the summer months.