To join in the celebrations after last Friday’s court victory in Loulé, part of a desperate campaign to save their homes, the islanders of Farol were joined by a full ferry-load of supporters from the mainland and from the other threatened Ria Formosa islands.
Saturday was a double celebration – the anniversary of the April 25th revolution that saw an end to oppression and dictatorship, and the islanders’ ‘just in time’ court victory that ensured many threatened demolitions were suspeneded.
Loulé court granted a stop order and Polis, the organisation in charge of demolishing 800 island homes with the full encouragement of the Environment Ministry, now has the tricky task of persuading the judges that its destruction of 137 homes and the eviction of their occupants, is ‘in the public interest.’
The island celebrations reflected this huge legal step forward in a campaign that has cost each homeowner around €1,500 in legal and court costs so far, money that most did not have and have had to borrow in desperation at the thought of eviction and an uncertain future.
Media reported that 500 protestors were present but an impartial headcount taken on the jetty leading to the lighthouse at the entrance to the Ria Formosa lagoon reported that 1,024 islanders and their supporters formed a human, carnation waving chain, stretching one kilometre in one of the largest demonstrations the Algarve has seen for years.
The full ferry-load from Olhão (see picture, left) was greeted with cheers, singing and delight by the Farol islanders whose campaign has seen them join neighbouring islanders on two trips to Lisbon to attend parliament, the second of which led to the clearing of the public gallery.
Discussions on daytime TV programmes have helped explain the islanders' plight and the injustice they see being dealt out from a government body that has no respect for their unique way of life, their economic contribution, treasured self-sufficiency, long history, and rights as citizens whose forebears were encouraged to populate the islands.
António Pina, the Mayor of Olhão, who last week mounted a separate legal challenge to the demolition programme with the support of his council, joined the islanders at a public meeting at the sports ground where chants of ‘Pina, Pina!’ were preceded by speeches from those who had coordinated the islanders’ defence outlining campaign progress to date, thanking those who has spearheaded the campaign, and reminding all that ‘this battle may have been had been won but the war was not over.’
The timing could not have been better as the 137 property owners on Faro had been served eviction notices by Polis Litoral Ria Formosa with a closing date of the 24th April.
The demolition equipment and men were due to arrive on Monday April 27th to start their work and still may as intimidation and congenital deafness are part and parcel of the Polis modus operandi.
The destruction of private property now is on hold while Polis decides how and whether to argue in court that the forced removal of these people and the destruction of their homes is ‘in the public interest.’ The Polis lawyers have ten days to respond.
An increasingly remote and baffled Minister for the Environment has stated that ‘the islands should be for all to enjoy, not just 800 homeowners’ and has used health and safety, environmental protection and maritime domain legislation to justify these acts of what widely have been referred to as ‘social vandalism’ that have seen islanders evicted, those living under sheeting and corrugated iron shoved aside with no re-housing provision made available and the sight of people in C21st Portugal sleeping rough in the docks.
Olhão’s mayor António Pina added that he was totally in support of the islanders and made the point that there was one set of rules for one set of people when it came to buildings located and still being built in the sacred maritime domain zone, and another for islanders.
Pina added that other island dwellings had been through a legalisation process to reflect their occupants' unique status in the life and ecological health of the Ria Formosa, so why not re-run this process, “it is only fair and just.”
The business of the day over, the crowds, most wearing black or red ‘Je suis Ilhéu’ T-shirts, started to filter through the narrow lanes of Farol to the kilometre-long breakwater, picking up carnations at the entrance and forming a human chain, dramatically silhouetted against the horizon.
The organisers made sure that there were no gaps in the chain and when all were in settled, a signal went up and a long, snaking Mexican Wave of raised hands holding carnations flowed up and down the line amid cheers, chanting and signing.
The islanders’ victory celebration and the April 25th celebration rolled into one, both deeply emotive issues, reduced many to tears of thanks and optimism but the backdrop is still one of fear and threat as if the state machine continues to make an example of this feisty, no nonsense community a way of life will indeed be lost.
The relief felt as a result of the Loulé court’s order to suspend demolitions and the anger felt that after 41 years of freedom instruments of the state still behave in what the islanders see as a ruthless, uncaring and un-constitutional manner, created a heady mixture of emotions.
The many island children present will be unaware that they have taken part in an event that now is fundamental piece of island history whatever the eventual outcome.
Older generations expressed sadness that this demonstration was necessary in what they had hoped would be a more inclusive, caring and democratic society post-1974.
One demonstrator whose grandparents were from Farol and who had travelled from Lisbon to help out said that she was not alive in 1974, the year of Portugal’s revolution, so this day “is certainly the best day of my life.”