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Minister confronted by protesting Ria Formosa islanders

riaformosaNearly a hundred protesters against the demolition of their houses on the Ria Formosa islands today confronted Minister for the Sea, Ana Paula Vitorino, who phoned the environment minister for guidance.

Vitorino was able to assure the protesters that a balanced solution will be found for everyone and that "after meeting with several authorities' the minister for the environment will present his solution and then will "talk to people."

“I have just talked on the phone with the environment minister who assured me that he is addressing this issue with his full attention and I am absolutely sure that a balanced solution will be found for everyone," said Ana Paula Vitorino in a short conversation with the protesters.

The SOS Ria Formosa movement not surprisingly is vehemently opposed to the demolition of their homes on the Ria Formosa islands and want clarification from the Socialist government which before the election said that the demolitions would be suspended.

With demolition notices posted this week by Polis, the State controlled company which sees its mission in life to destroy as many island homes a possible, the Socialist government is at odds with reality and has been accused of duplicity, prevarication and cynicism.

"They promised in the last election that they would definitely stop the demolitions, we are waiting to have it in writing now that they are in government," said Vanessa Morgado, one of the leaders of the Je Suis Ilhéu-SOS Ria Formosa protesters.

For Morgado, "it is not the houses that cause pollution in the estuary," one of the string of excuses used by various ministers to justify the demolitions, there other problems to be resolved such as the dumping of sewage from the mainland and the silting up of the Ria.

Several communities on the islands have properties targeted for demolition, ordered by the ministry of the environment under a ‘renaturation’ project in the nature reserve area.

‘Renaturation’ in this context means removing all properties and leaving the islands clear for up market tourism development.

Olhão mayor, socialist António Pina said of the threatened islanders, "Their concerns are mine," adding that he believed that "the prime minister will show common sense."

The ministry announced on Wednesday that it will reclassify the settlement on Culatra to clarify the legal situation of more than 300 existing buildings used as first homes and the storage of fishing equipment.

Leaving Culatra off the demolition list will "contribute to improving the quality of life of its residents and at the same time we can clarify the legal position of more than 300 occupied buildings," according to the ministry which, despite its late moves still runs Polis and hence is fully aware that demolition remain top of the company’s agenda.  

The Minister for the Sea has been in the Algarve for two days visiting a number of companies and projects as part of her remit to boost the ‘sea economy’ in the Algarve but she has failed to engage with those traditional shellfishermen trying to make a living from the Ria Formosa lagoon area which is polluted with untreated sewage entering the natural area with the full knowledge of the environmental and water authorities.

Vitorino visited the University of the Algarve to discuss ideas for an Atlantic Observatory and met the mayors group AMAL to discuss investment in the regions ports and marinas.
Earlier this month, the minister announced a legislative package to stimulate the maritime economy including the launch of the MAR2020 program, related to the EU funds in support of the economy of the sea, and the creation a Blue Fund to help finance relevant investors and businesses.

For the islanders, the minister's involvement in high-flying development funds and initiatives is of no relevance. They want a clean and sewage-free Ria Formosa and to be left in peace to continue their unique way of life in settlements which, until tourism came along, nobody was interested in. 

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