The Socialist Party today ensured the failure of a proposal to allow the Ria Formosa islanders to live their lives without the continuing threat of having their homes knocked down by the State agency Polis Litoral Ria Formosa.
The Socialists sided with the former PSD and CDS coalition parties, now in opposition, and the motion to protect the islanders was rejected while its own proposal was voted in to "adopt a firm stance to restore compliance and combat proven unauthorised construction in the public maritime domain, primarily intervening in higher risk areas, ensuring the right of first housing and the relocation of fishermen…"
The left wing proposal was simple enough, "to recognise the social, economic and cultural value of the urban areas of the barrier islands of the Ria Formosa and to end of the demolition of housing in these islands."
The Left Bloc simply wants equality for the islanders who were persecuted for a range of shifting reasons by the previous government and were almost certain of getting a positive response in parliament this time around under the new António Costa administration.
This was not to be as Costa, put simply, has shafted the islanders while offering weakly to 'legalise' the community of Culatra as demolitions continue. One part of today’s recommendation passed by parliament could offer a ray of hope to the islanders as a long-standing demand is for the registration and legalisation of their homes, which seems to be agreed for the village of Culatra, and by implication, the other settlements but not the properties outside these areas where demolitions can continue apace.
The Algarve Left Bloc, championed by the charismatic João Vasconcelos, is incensed at the cynical betrayal. The repercussions for Costa’s fragile grasp on power could be damaging if the Left Bloc nationally withdraws its support.
The Communist Party, on which the PM also is forced to rely, complains of the ever-changing policies of the Socialists while the Socialist Party MPs in the Algarve are having trouble explaining why demolitions are still on the agenda and why they abstained in the crucial vote, allowing this to happen.
The Communist Party issued a press release to distance itself from today’s decision and shovels blame onto Antónia Costa,
"The abstention of the Socialist Party, together with ‘no’ votes from the PSD and the CDS, prevented the approval of the Communist Party draft resolution and keeps alive the threat of house demolitions on the barrier islands of Ria Formosa.”
The Communists want to see the island villages upgraded, nature and the coastline protected and some support for the economic activities of the Ria Formosa and is well aware of the reason for the trashing of the draft resolution, saying the goal is "to demolish the homes on the barrier islands and expel the local communities to deliver the area to large private interests."
This theory has long been held by locals who would not mind tourist development on the islands as long as it doesn’t mean the demolition of their homes - there really is plenty of room for everyone.
For those hoping the new Socialist government would bring a blast of fresh air through the fetid corridors of power in Lisbon, this is early proof that the Socialist Party is as devious and uncaring as the Passos Coelho regime proved to be on this issue.
Portuguese politics is a dirty game but the collateral damage in this instance is to a group of Portuguese citizens who live in island communities that were established as nobody with resources wanted to live there.
As support grows for the islanders, their petition to the European Parliament's Petitions Committee may provide the breakthrough needed finally to ensure they are left in peace.