Wednesday January 20th is a key date in the unfolding history of the Ria Formosa islanders as protestors deliver a petition to Parliament signed by over 4,000 supporters.
The petition is in support of the historical, cultural, social and environmental life in the Ria Formosa islands which is threatened by the mass demolition by the State of properties lived in and used by the islanders.
"This petition is intended primarily to show the value of all the assets of the Ria Formosa zone, the human heritage, the environmental resources that are in the lagoon and the traditions," said Ana Leal of the ‘SOS Ria Formosa - Je Suis Ilhéu’ pressure group.
The islanders have a hearing scheduled with the Vice President of the Portuguese Parliament, José de Matos Correia, on Wednesday at 12:30 and have requested meetings with parliamentary groups to explain the reasons for their struggle.
The pressure group was boosted on the eve of their visit to Lisbon by the welcome news that their petition has been accepted by the European Parliament's Petitions Committee. This put the islanders' struggle for justice and common sense on a higher plain and one that the Portuguese government will find hard to ignore should the European Parliament decide the islanders have every right to live on their islands without further thereat of eviction.
Many of the properties on the Ria Formosa islands remain at risk of demolition by the government agency Polis Ria Formosa which has a remit to destroy all possible properties it legally can identify in its bizarre ‘renaturalisation’ programme.
Hundreds of houses already have been torn down and many more are on hold only due to court injunctions, but this is not a lasting solution.
Ana Leal said that since the demolition processes started, left wing political parties have always spoken out against the demolitions and for the refurbishment of properties, so the islanders hope that now there is a Socialist government their pleas will at last be heard.
The Polis company should have finished all of its work in the Ria Formosa zone by the end of 2014.
Its management, led by Sebastião Teixeira, failed to carry out its plans and, pushed for time, went full out to demolish as many properties as possible, claiming that it was only knocking down second homes, a position harshly criticised by the islanders who say that many first homes have been flattened and their occupants made homeless.
In December 2015, the shareholders of Polis, majority owned by the government, decided to allow Polis to carry on for another year with Olhão mayor António Pina saying after the meeting that demolitions were 'low down on the list of things to do.'
This demolition programme is not just for clearing away a few untidy shacks, there are 800 houses on the demolition list, with more to go if the last Minister for the Environment is to be believed when he stated that “this was just the beginning.”
Whether the new government and left wing parties will listen to these islanders, desperate as they are to save their homes and way of life, remains to be seen.
A late posting on SOS Ria Formosa brings hope of a sensible conclusion, or at least the chance of a lengthy delay -
"Friends, we have more excellent news.
We've just been informed that the petition that we are to hand-deliver tomorrow to the Assembly of the Portuguese Republic, also has just been accepted by the European Parliament.
For those who remember, this also was one of our objectives.
We were delighted to receive news that the European Parliament's Commissions Committee analysed our petition and declared it admissible because its subject is in within the scope of the regulations of the European Parliament and the activities of the European Union.
The Petitions Committee has asked the European Commission for a preliminary investigation on the different aspects of the problem of the barrier islands and the activities relating to the Ria Formosa, on the basis of the information provided by us.
We will keep everyone informed of future developments related to this subject.
Once again thank you all for the support and cooperation in this fight. Let's go forward in defence of our rights.
At sea and on land, the struggle continues!"