Portugal’s Environment Minister, Moreira da Silva, said today that the demolitions in the Ria Formosa are to continue until 800 homes have been flattened.
The minister assured colleagues that all families whose properties are their first homes are being relocated, thus giving the clearest signal yet that either he has not been paying attention to the actual situation, or that lying comes naturally.
"There has not been a demolition that has not been preceded by relocation, in the case of first homes. In case we have any questions whether it is a first or second home there is a process of re-evaluation," explained Moreira da Silva to members of the Committee on the Environment, Spatial Planning and Local Government.
In the face of criticism from upstart MPs from opposition parties who accused the Government of acting with "destructive fury," Moreira da Silva argued that the actions were only to "restore compliance," since the houses being demolished "are illegal."
Moreia da Silva thus managed to mislead the committee as it is by no means certain that the properties which he refers to are illegal. Many had council permission to be built, owners have been paying rates, water and electricity changes for decades, and signage and services have been installed to ensure the communities are not disadvantaged when compared to mainland counterparts.
Three days before this topic again is debated in parliament, Moreira da Silva continued,
"It makes no sense that, from north to south, citizens are asked to make sacrifices to protect the coast and then these illegal constructions are accepted. Noone undertakes demolitions lightly."
Jorge Moreira da Silva even accused many families of trying to hide the fact that they had other places to live, but gave no examples.
"In most cases we are talking about holiday homes and not first homes. By June we will have finished all of the planned demolitions with the exception of those houses which are first homes. The relocation of inhabitants is the responsibility of municipalities and not that of the government," pointed out Moreira da Silva who, like ever agency involved in this cruel fiasco has absolved themselves of any responsibility for the welfare of Portuguese citizens, which used to be the first consideration for government policy.
The opposition parties, including the Communist Party and the Left Bloc, accuse the government of wanting to expel the local communities for the future benefit of private tourist developments, a charge which the government has not been swift to dispel, saying only that no new houses will be built.
In response to criticism of the island clearance to make way for sand and possible luxury tourism facilities, Jorge Moreira da Silva said that his intention is that the islands start to be "enjoyed by the whole population" and not just a few.
This level of facile argument leaves many to recognise that Moreira da Silva, in addition to now being the most reviled politician by the Algarve’s population, has little legal, environmental or social arguments left to offer in the defence of the forced evictions of some of Portugal’s poorest inhabitants to fulfill his vision of clear beaches and wind-tossed sand dunes.
The minister’s comment that the 200 boat demonstration on the Ria Formosa on Saturday, “was only possible because people were there on holiday” has done little endear him to the Algarve’s increasingly angry fishing community.
Re-launching another initiative which locals have been waiting for for 20 years, Moreira da Silva said that the government plans to start the dredging project for various of the Ria Formosa channels this June at a cost of ‘about €5 million.’
The raw sewage being pumped into the Ria Formosa lagoon also is low on Moreira’s list of important things to do while he still has a job. The urgent and long overdue wastewater treatment plant for Faro and Olhão will begin this year with a build time of a year and a half taking us safely into 2017. This plant alone will not solve the problem of the 31 sewage outlets many of which will remain whether the wastewater plant is finished or not.
In closing remarks, the Environment Minister said that all 800 demolitions were being done in coordination with the community and with the councils and that no more houses will be built on the islands of the Ria Formosa.
Moreia da Silva by now probably believes his own misinformation and twisting of reality. The hope is that the islanders, whose eviction after several generations have worked the fragile shellfish beds for over 200 years, will succeed in parliament on Friday and secure a halt to the wanton destruction of their properties.
The minister’s arrogant and supercilious assurances are little short of disgraceful. His assurance to colleagues that everyone evicted from their only home has been ‘resettled’ is nonsense should he bothered to have inquired, or looked at those sleeping rough down at the docks or squeezed in with tolerant relatives.