Thursday February 23 may be remembered as “the day things changed”. A rainbow parade of activists from the Algarve and Alentejo descended on the capital today for an afternoon of no-nonsense protest in front of the steps of Assembleia da República.
As a possé went inside to address MPs and represent the 42,500 people who signed their names to a petition rejecting oil and gas exploration in Portugal, at least 400 remained in front of the steep steps leading up to the parliamentary building chanting “Não ao furo, sim ao futuro” (No to drilling, yes to the future), and waiting for for ‘news’ on how campaigners' research into the “blatant illegalities, illicit addenda and clear indications of fiscal fraud” in contracts signing away concessions up and down the coast had ‘gone down’.
The truth is that it “went very well”.
Tireless campaigner Laurinda Seabra of Algarve civic association ASMAA - the Algarve Surf and Marine Activities Association - told us as she came out of the meeting: “I feel positive. We are on a good road. We have forced the government to come to the table”. And how. PAN MP André Silva actually thanked Seabra and fellow campaigners for doing the work the government should have done before it ceded drilling rights in what the committee of MPs heard would destroy traditional sectors of fishing and tourism.
“People have once again substituted the State in doing what should have been done by the State”, said Silva - as the committee’s chairman Hugo Costa agreed that the “situation is long from being closed”.
Despite the fact that as matters stand today, joint concession holders Galp/ ENI could start drilling deep-offshore 46 kms from the coast of Aljezur with just 10 days notice, the truth is that MPs of all parties are far from convinced that they should.
PS deputies Pedro do Carmo (Ourique), Sofia de Araújo (Sines), as well as António de Eusébio (president of PS Algarve) all showed themselves to “completely understand” points of view put forward by ASMAA, legal representative Petra Pinto, Aljezur mayor José Amarelinho, Alentejo activist Eugénia Santa Barbara and environmental engineer João Camargo.
As Hugo Costa explained, any one or all of the campaigners who talked today may be recalled to give further information as a result of the parliamentary debate that is now set to follow.
The bottom line, as Seabra and fellow speakers enunciated with perfect clarity, is that oil and water do not mix. A government policy to sanction drilling for fossil fuels will kill local economies while bringing zero benefits to the country.
The contracts are “unconstitutional”, explained Petra Pinto in a 14-page dissertation that showed MPs that not only is the government “playing with the Portuguese people”, activists are on to them.
With activists' legal bid to stop Galp/ ENI’s drilling already presented to the office of the Attorney General (click here), the parliamentary committee almost did not need to hear well-known contributor for Público João Camargo tell them that the people’s voice, up until now, had been “Olympically ignored by the government” while the “reality of physics and science” has exposed the folly of continuing down the path of use of fossil fuels.
The “wave” of dissent over exploration of gas and oil in Portugal may have begun in the Algarve, but it is now spreading, Camargo said, to every other part of the country.
Not one MP listening attempted to disagree with him.
Once outside, the president of Climaximo gave another stirring speech after a dance troop from the alternative Tamera community performed an anti-oil dance that would have easily got into the heats of any talent show.
Thursday February 23 is when the anti-oil wave broke over parliament, and it shows no signs of receding.
Happily, as the event took place in the capital, every major media source was there to beam activists' message all over the evening news.