After a forest fire is always also before a forest fire. The CDU’s André Varela is shirking his responsibility

It was in the wake of the major forest fire in September 2003 that I first launched an appeal in the newspaper I was running at the time to help the victims and initiate a reforestation project in Monchique. I visited the new owners of an area called Covão de Águia, who had bought those woodlands, spanning over 60 hectares and including houses and ruins on 5 September 2003 at the notary’s office, with no inkling that their land might burn just one week later. It was a miracle that the house itself hadn’t burnt down and nobody was injured. This is how I came to meet the new owners – two Buddhist monks – in their completely burnt-down forest to ask them whether I could help them clean it up. The first thing they did was to ask me inside for a cup of tea, all very friendly. We were kind of neighbours after all. So I took off my shoes and stepped into the living room in my stockinged feet and sat down in an armchair they’d courteously offered me. Then we proceeded to discuss the relief project.

Why am I writing this? Because Monchique is a place where everyone gets back what they give. I didn’t know at the time that the two monks were running the Dalai Lama foundation in Portugal. Their demeanour moved me. They must have suffered terribly over the past days and weeks. I wanted to show them that they are not alone. And that altruism can take a very practical shape. They accepted that with equanimity.

Actually, on the same day I was asked the same question twice: why was I doing this? What benefit was I getting out of starting a reforestation project after the disastrous forest fires? I was asked the question very bluntly. What’s in it for you? The monks asked me this, as did the lumberjacks out there. I told both that it was giving me pleasure and because I was able to do it. The two monks understood me immediately. One of the Monchique lumberjacks however probed a bit further: and who is paying you for that? I didn’t understand the question immediately and asked him What do you mean by payment? Well, he replied, there has to be some profit in it. It was then I suddenly understood which laws govern work in Monchique. In the broadest sense I was taking work away from them. Neighbours helping each other out seemed to be a thing of the past. You worked and were remunerated for it with money. End of story.

After a forest fire is always also before a forest fire

The CDU’s André Varela is shirking his responsibility

Following a forest fire nature at first is still in shock. Trees are lying all over the place, like after an accident. Birds and animals such as wild boar and sheep are strewn around, dead, partly charred. First, you have to clear a way to reach the disaster zone. The best approach is to hire one or several lumberjacks who’ll take their motor saws into the burnt forest, cutting a way in. Then they cut everything down to the bare minimum and cut out everything that’s still of use: branches of cork oak or medronheiro, trunks of umbrella pines and shrubbery from heather and gorse. When I appealed for help through my newspaper, 20 men turned up, plus two women I hadn’t met before, readers of our newspaper. We introduced ourselves to each other. Everyone had brought a motor saw, with the idea to stock up with firewood for the winter. That was how I’d phrased it in the appeal. There was so much dead wood here. Everyone was able to pile up free firewood for their home in exchange for clearing the terrain of burnt trees. After a few hours of work we looked at each other, laughing. We were as blackened as chimney-sweepers, but every one of us had secured a tree for themselves and chopped it into kindling. Some had brought their trailers and were already loading the wood onto them. The way it normally worked however was that woodland owners would hire one or more lumberjacks, paying them an hourly rate. These would do the work, using chainsaws to cut the burnt wood into logs for the fireplace for the forest owner. Now we were doing that as volunteers, and once the work was done, could simply pack up our logs for the fireplace and take them home. For free.

The two monks brought tea, served with broad smiles. They had enough logs for their fireplace and were only too happy to swap labour against firewood on a voluntary basis. That way they didn’t have to pay anything and we got free firewood. I’d explained to them exactly how later in winter we would replant the burnt-down forest with young native trees … We’d chosen tree species and had arrived at cork oaks and umbrella pines all the way to cedars and cypress trees. So it came to pass that we met on many a Saturday, usually in the morning, to work in the burnt Dalai Lama’s Garden of Eden in Monchique. Towards the end of the year we started laying water pipes from a tank to water the saplings.

Phase 2 had started. All of a sudden we were alone once more. The lumberjacks beat a discreet retreat and didn’t want to help anymore with the planting of the saplings. There was only five of us left. This was how I got my first lesson in neighbourly help in Monchique. Yet our attitude also caught on to some extent. Again and again we’d see two elderly ladies armed with shovels and hoes come in; they enjoyed meeting on a Saturday for a chat and to plant the new baby trees. We did that for a few hours, before taking a break in a nearby café to partake of a medronho with bica, while they would smoke cigarettes with filter tip. This was how we got chatting to each other. Once in a while the monks would drop by bearing cookies, and in that way we got to know each other better, in those breaks from work…

On the inability to mourn. That was something I noticed immediately. Everyone wanted to avoid to talk about mourning and the trauma of the forest fires. Yet the issue would plant itself, legs set wide apart, like a barrier blocking our way. And it kept saying the same thing: if you want to reach your goal you have to mourn the loss of nature. You have to talk to each other about what you’ve lost and what you are missing. Most people didn’t know what to do with that advice, carrying on as before. After a short while, when the chaos in the forest had been set to rights once more, everyone preferred to look ahead rather than dealing with „yesterday“. Too painful, was what some said. Mourning would have gone hand in hand with a head-on analysis of the reasons why the forest had burned. That would presumably have been even more painful. Thus, everything stayed how it was, and the fire returned in 2018. That was foreseeable; in fact, people seemed to be kind of waiting for it even… People harbour a yearning for oblivion. The wounds of those who’ve survived five or six forest fires bear thick scars; the next time they’ll protect themselves as best they can. Which however is not the same as the ability to mourn.

If we attempt a conclusion, look at the damage, noting down each detail as on an accounting sheet we’ll notice that there is something fundamentally rotten in Monchique. At a subconscious level everyone knows that, but no-one wants to say it out loud. And yet we have to utter that word and think about it together. Nature has a value that we cannot weigh up in money. No money in the world can replace our forests. We know that all too well. A house may be valued, but if we’re talking about a tree an argument starts up straightaway. The best way to avoid discussing litigation value, whether a tree still belongs to my land or already to your neighbour – is to buy the tree, saving it from the motor saw. But that’s only a sleight of hand really.

Let’s be honest here. A tree has immense immaterial value. It offers beauty, a commodity required by nature tourism. What is the price of its shade, its roots regulating the water supply? How much do you pay it for its fruit and for providing a barrier against the wind? No insurance pays out for a tree. You can only insure a house and its contents, or a garden hose, a parasol, but nature is priceless. Which is why the damage following a forest fire is so immense: part of the damage is of an immaterial kind. One example: let’s say you have lost 289 cork oaks. They were last stripped five years ago and would have been ready again for stripping in another five years’ time. Five years ago you earned 29,000 euros from that; now you will find yourself without income in five years’ time when harvest time comes around again cork. What however is the value of the tree independently from the income it guarantees you? Thirty years are needed before it’ll give you your first cork, after that it will be stripped every ten years in Monchique. Which is why the tree is even more valuable, as its cork has a higher value than in other places where the bark is peeled every nine years.

Forest fires bring the death of many old people in their wake. In Monchique I can see the diseases erupting after forest fires. My neighbour Carlos dies in the winter of 2018/2019 of cancer. Another neighbour takes his own life. The forest is dead and humans die with the forest. The lives of humanity and the forest go hand in hand and move in circles in tune with the seasons. Even if we deny that the forest touches us on an emotional level, it does touch us deeply and leaves its mark on us. We have to ask ourselves the question, approaching it in a roundabout way, on tiptoe, hesitantly and carefully. The question is: what does the forest mean to us? What significance does the forest have for humanity?

A burnt forest is black and I am filled with horror seeing all these dead fellow beings buried in this huge amount of cinders. For me a tree is first and foremost a green being, my faithful   companion during all those years. Running away is not an option for it. It stands where it stands and has always stood. Take this ancient 2,000-year old cork oak in Corte Grande, which nobody protected while everything was burning around it. Its value is truly incalculable. So if this is the case, why do we expose it to the laws of the market and monetary economy, the laws governing limited companies and financial economics? And why do we plant a eucalyptus forest 250 metres away from an iconic tree and sell a ton of eucalyptus for 16 euros and 75 cents? Let’s run a comparison: the owner of a piece of woodland receives as much as 17 euros for one arroba (15 kg) of carob.  Why do we measure the weight of a tree, turn it into wood, value it again, to allow it to be felled by a lumberjack with a motor saw every few years and sold? Only for it to regrow. Because Navigator turns it into paper or IKEA into chairs and tables? And why do we speculate with trees? With eucalyptus yes, but not with an olive tree. This inherent contradiction is not productive. We need to unravel it. In doing so we can’t help but shift from monoculture based on market constraints to biodiversity grounded in nature. There is nothing left for us but to deeply mourn the loss of a tree or a forest, and if we then understand what we have to do, the obvious solution is close to hand. Forest is Conservation pure and simple. We mustn’t turn it into money. Live trees should not be allowed to be felled, as they are our friends and shape the climate by turning CO2 into oxygen. You don’t plant trees just to chop them down again a few years later, one of the reasons being that a monoculture by default represents a danger for nature. The reason you don’t plant a eucalyptus tree on each square metre is that it will become a fire risk for all your neighbours. Eucalyptus burns well, and its oil content turns it into a liability. A fast-growing tree, after three  years it draws 60 litres of groundwater per day out of the soil. And because this is now common knowledge, companies such as Navigator are looking for pertinent arguments to promote it. Eucalyptus, they claim, is a good tool for combatting climate change, as it grows fast and quickly takes CO2 out of the air and transforms it. However, what they don’t mention is that during a forest fire, for each km² of woodland, 20,000 tons of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere…

And because we know that eucalyptus is only planted to satisfy the interests of a paper manufacturer, because we know it to be highly inflammable and a fire-starter, because we know eucalyptus to have a noxious effect on forest soil, drying it out, but because we can earn money with it without having to work hard, for that exact reason we take a risk „into account“. This inherent contradiction is one that the politicians face at the local elections. The question is a tricky one. Will it attract clear statements or continued lies?

ECO123 asks the politician André Varela (CDU) how in his opinion the forest fires might be stopped, and he doesn’t turn up for the interview. He refuses to be interviewed, unable to give an honest open answer to a straightforward question. The only way he will agree to reply is in writing. These issues being uncomfortable ones, an open chat is presumably too difficult to contemplate. The politician who wants to become mayor of Monchique passes up the historic chance these elections provide to obtain more than the meagre 4,07% or 140 votes his party, the CDU, gained in the last elections in 2017. ECO123 wants to ask him about the importance his party accords to the Monchique forests, and how forest fires might be stopped? This question is legitimate, and one that all citizens of Monchique want to hear politicians answer. André Varela however demands that ECO123, who are inviting him to an interview, sends in all questions in writing ahead of our meeting, otherwise he’ll be obliged to take his distance. This makes him the only candidate who is not prepared to face professional questioning and doesn’t turn up at the stipulated day and time. We were waiting for him on Saturday 28 August at 9am at the Rouxinol restaurant. Senhor Varela passed up the appointment and the opportunity to talk to the press. At 9.45am we returned to the office. In Monchique everyone gets back what they are prepared to give.

Uwe Heitkamp (60)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations : Dina Adão, Tim Coombs, João Medronho, Kathleen Becker
Fotos: Uwe Heitkamp, Stefanie Kreutzer, dpa







RTP Telejornal 30.11.2019 – Financiamento por Monchique

Sociedade Civil Episódio 174 de 03 Dez 2019 RTP Play R










Dear members of `Monchique Alerta´, friends and fellow citizens,

The moment has finally arrived to get answers and justice, so speak now and have a voice. Was the great forest fire, which started in Monchique on Friday the 3rd of August 2018, really triggered by an EDP power line (15 kV) in Perna da Negra? It raged for a week and destroyed 28,000 hectares of land.

If so, as the Criminal Investigation Department (Policia Judiciária), after completing its 18-month forensic investigation claims, the public prosecution (Ministério Público) in Portimão will accuse the EDP Distribuição SA for infringement of the law Decreto Regulamentar 1/92 DRE, Artigo 28, Secção 3 in a few days. The EDP Distribuição SA is obliged by this law to clear the land between 7.5 and 22.5 meters distance right and left to their high-voltage lines, so no trees can touch their power lines and thus cannot cause a forest fire.

The legal and economic consequences that this may have for Monchique and the possibilities arising for `Monchique Alerta´ will be discussed at an information event with all members. It will take place in the Cooperativa Agrícola do Concelho de Monchique, Pé da Cruz, (2nd floor) on Friday, 20th of March at 7 pm. We have invited the attorney Rui Amores from the law firm Mascarenhas, Amores & Ass. in Portimão to this meeting. Questions must be sent in writing until Wednesday, 18th of March, 6pm by email to ensure they will be included in this critical meeting.

Entry: 6.30 pm, Start: 7pm sharp, End: 9 pm

The Eucalyptus that touched the power line

The associationMonchique-Alerta, Serra Livre De Incêndios stated in his press release on February 20:

EDP Distribuição SA. is responsible (in Portugal) for the maintenance of its overhead lines, including those that run exclusively through forests and where electricity is transported over long distances. We are talking about a total of 28,600 km of high-voltage lines. By law, EDP is obliged to prune all trees to the right and left of its overhead power lines between 7.5 and 22.5 metres, depending on the type of line and voltage, to prevent contact, sparks and forest fires. (Decreto Regulamentar 1/92 DRE, Artigo 28, Secção 3)

Both the forest fire at Pedrogão Grande in 2017 and the forest fires at Monchique one year later were caused by wind from tree contacts with overhead power lines (15 kV). The Monchique 2018 wall fire broke out on Friday 3 August at 13h32 in Perna da Negra, 12 km north of Monchique. This is the result of one and a half years of forensic investigations and the interrogations of all those directly involved on site by the Polícia Judiciária Portimão. The independent technical expert opinion for the Parliament ( Assembleia da República) also comes to this conclusion. (Page 21 Final_Relatório_Monchique.pdf)

Professor Dr Domingos Xavier Viegas (69) of the University of Coimbra and his team of specialists have also analysed all major forest fires in Portugal over a period of more than 40 years, and found that two out of three forest fires in 2018 were caused by contact between eucalyptus and EDP overhead power lines. (publication Visão, 2-6-2019, Hugo Séneca)

The association Monchique-Alerta, Serra livre de Incêndios, which represents more than 100 Monchique residents and foreigners affected by the 2018 forest fire, today expresses its full confidence in the police investigators and the public prosecutor’s office in Portimão not to give in to the EDP’s attempts to deny its responsibility. The police and the judiciary are doing their job independently and conscientiously, questioning the responsible accused of the EDP and the forest fire that destroyed 27 000 hectares of forest and agricultural land and almost all the fauna and flora of the Monchique district, including 74 houses. The time will come for EDP to acknowledge its responsibility and to approach the victims with a view to possible claims for damages in the millions, so that Monchique can finally receive justice, pay for the material damage, replant forests with native tree species and compensate for the economic losses. The Monchique-Alerta association continues to fight for a Serra de Monchique and for a Portugal without forest fires.


A direcão, Monchique, 20 de fevereiro de 2020
Telefone +351 967 1959 30


Crowdfunding Campaign - Monchique with future

With water, the fire goes out.

Eight days after the first flames, the great fire of 2018 was put out in Monchique thanks to water from nearby dams. Firefighters and aerial resources were on hand to fight the fire. Few inhabitants were prepared for this type of combative task.
Several factors led to the combustion of 28,000 hectares of land, forest and 71 dwellings. A year after the fires, in-depth analysis following a long investigation yielded its fruit: a key reason for this fire was the lack of cisterns and water deposits in the region. Inhabitants who had kept their land clear and built rainwater cisterns proved that it was possible to protect their homes. With water, the fire goes out!
The crowdfunding project Monchique with a Future will help citizens to help themselves. The Monchique Alert – Mountains Free From Fire Association was founded by inhabitants affected by the fire. They intend to support four of the victims of this tragedy in constructing cisterns so that, in the future, they can better protect their forest, their farms and their home.
Each of these tanks will have a storage capacity of around 50,000 liters of water. (please see the design) They will be set up at the highest point of their land, so that water will be transported by gravity. Nuno Carvalho, William Abrantes, Ana Nunes and Carlos Abafa and Jelly Boomsma have all applied to the project and will be supported by through crowdfunding.
This is the beginning of a local solidarity movement in a region that will no doubt feel the impact of climate change. In the future, Monchique will have lower levels of rainfall at less regular intervals, as well as waves of extreme drought. Drought will shape the way of life in the south. The answer to this problem lies in water storage; water, an elixir of life for plants, animals, and human beings…

About the organizer

The Monchique Alert – Mountains Free From Fire Association was founded on March 28th, 2019, in view of the need to put together legal representation for parties affected by August 2018’s forest fires. This association aims to bring together everyone who has been affected by the fires in the Serra de Monchique region, either directly or indirectly. It seeks to facilitate and carry out a survey of the personal property destroyed, as well as documenting the cultural, forestry and community heritage affected (anything that represents an individual or collective loss), with a view to obtaining compensation for damages. Other objectives of the association include representing the affected parties with a view to obtaining compensation for damages sustained, individually or collectively, by all legal means possible (including prosecution) and acting to ensure that monitoring methods are in place, with the law being observed to prevent future disasters.

Key values of the organisation are the protection of the environment, land management – particularly in the areas affected by the fires – and the promotion of education, information and awareness among citizens who wish to be vigilant, alert and focused on the sustainability of the Serra de Monchique.

4 Stories in Fire

William Wroblewski Abrantes, 35, is a musician, married, and since October 2019, father of a daughter. Her name is Inês. William returned from France to the land of his ancestors. In 2018, he bought 5,000 m2 of land at Sítio do Cano, in Monchique, to set up as an organic farmer. He began to clear the land, which had been abandoned for 13 years. Ten days after the signing the notary contract, his land burned in the fire of August 5, 2018 – he lost all fruit trees, but also goods such as tools, the trailer, music recording material, hard disks and the creative works of his entire life….

William wrote to Monchique Alerta on September 26: “Due to the fire, we are in great financial trouble to continue the installation of our project in Monchique. We have access to two springs, which are on the highest spot on our land. The slight slope and other conditions allow us to water the soil thanks to gravity. We need to build a tank to reserve water, also in case there are future fires…”.

William W. Abrantes e familia

Nuno da Silva Carvalho, 42, osteopath, teacher, lives at Balsa Ameiro, Cabeça de Ferro, in Monchique-Alferce. He has lost his home, the native forest, two agricultural warehouses, tools, machines, a wooden house, irrigation systems and tanks, cork, … among others.

Nuno wrote to Monchique Alerta on 2 September: “We need financial help to build a water tank and a firefighting system with sprinklers…“.

Ana Rosário Nunes, 67 years old, and Carlos Alberto Abafa, 74 years old, retired teachers in the area of Plastic Arts, live in the village of Monchique. They have a seven-hectare forest with species of cork oak, strawberry tree and chestnut tree. It burned down. The affected property is located in the parish of Monchique, next to the village (north), on the hill known as Cerro do Toiro, Quinta do Bem Parece.

Ana wrote to Monchique Alerta on September 10: “We always feel like temporary caretakers of a space, in this case, of a small portion of forest that has been given to us by another generation and that we must take responsible care of it, so that we can move on to the next. Profit is not our goal, but we are concerned about the self-sustainability of the space we take care of, because we believe that this is the best defense of this small forest that we want to preserve. But, as in all agreements, in this case of post-fire, it is necessary to take care of the space, take care of the surviving trees, create space to stimulate natural regeneration and give opportunity for space and light so that the baby cork oaks that already appear on the ground can grow. Some new ones will even have to be planted and need irrigation.

Ana Nunes e Carlos Abafa
Jelly e Joop Boomsma

Jelly (58) and Joop Boomsma (68), a Dutch couple living in Portugal, bought in 1992 a ruin in the area of Arqueta, in the south of the Nave, Monchique. Each year, during several winters, they rebuilt a part of their house until they were able to open the new house. They were able to retire earlier due to a serious illness, which they were able to cure in the meantime. On the night of August 6, they were forced by GNR to leave their house and left the site. Although there was no combustible material around their house, the building burned down. They had cleaned everything, according to the law. This was one of the best examples that one should not simply evade all the owners. Eucalyptus leaves, burning and flying, set fire to the base of the roof of the house during his absence. In 2020 they will start again to rebuild a ruin, without support, and with a loan.

Jelly wrote to Monchique Alerta on June 11: “There were no firefighters and our house burned down completely. We could have put out the fire with water.


Each of the four closed tanks is four metres long, four metres wide and 3.20 metres high. It can store 51.2 m3 of water and has an inlet through a 60×60 cm cover. Its foundation is made of 60 cm thick reinforced concrete. Its walls are 30 cm thick and plastered with Weber-K-Dry. At the outer outlet has a strong 2 inch stainless steel lock valve.
Each cistern costs 4,800 euros and has a construction time of 14 working days. The marketing of the crowdfunding campaign during the 60 days is estimated at 5% of the value, ie with 960 euros plus the printing of 2,000 brochures. The subtotal amount is 20,339 euros + the commission of the platform ppl 7,5% + VAT is a total of 22,215 euros. The four tanks will be built between January and June 2020 with contractors from the region.


Planning design of a cistern can be downloaded here: Cistern plan

Crowdfunding Campaign Rewards

You can take part in this campaign with contributions from:

1. €10 = ECO123 online subscription for one year; 

2. €25 = Traditional Arts Workshop (3 hours long): “How to make a cup?” (tin workshop), “How to make goat cheese?” (dairy workshop) and “How to bake bread?” (bakery workshop) amongst other workshops that aim to revive key traditions of the Algarve; 

3. €50 = Dinner or lunch at the house of a partner of the association for two; or a themed outing for two people on December 27th or 28th or 29th; or participation in the monchique-mountain- on December 30th for one person; or a drawing by an urban sketcher from Monchique; or a day of eucalyptus tree extraction followed by a picnic in the wild; 

4. €100 = Weekend Surprise in Monchique: one night for two at a partner’s house with breakfast. This can also be arranged for a night during the week; 

5. €250 = Weekend Surprise in Monchique: two nights for two at a partner’s house with breakfast. This can also be arranged for two nights during the week; + a themed outing (mushrooms) for two people on December 27th or 28th or 29th;+ a traditional Arts Workshop; plus an ECO123 online subscription for one year; 

6. €500 = ECO training for companies or organisations in groups of up to ten people at the new Caldas de Monchique Botanical Garden (4 hours long), or a 1/2 page advertisement in the campaign supplement of ECO123 magazine, Spring 2020.

 The campaign starts on October 10th. We welcome your contributions until December 9th. Thank you.

Segue e participe na campanha Crowdfunding em:

A tree needs time to grow & Interview José Chaparro

A tree needs time to grow

by Uwe Heitkamp, Editor of ECO123 magazine

We should, all of us, try and bring ecology and economy together in a practical way, make peace. As awful as forest fires are, on a second glance, once the shock and trauma subside, they do provide a huge chance. Planting slow-growing mixed forests from scratch takes time, yet is eminently important. Many of the forests that fell victim to the heat and forest fires of the past few years had their roots in an era where the forest only served as a quick self-service for business. This is starting to change as we speak, whether the industry likes it or not. Here in Monchique the first eucalyptus plantations are being cleared and replaced by mixed forest. The first woodland owners are realising that the laws reigning in the forest are made by nature rather than by the market economy. Because what we are currently experiencing in many other southern European countries is the culmination of greed and ignorance. Our world is burning. Up to recently there was a high demand for wood, whether for construction, for fuel or for the transformation of wood to paper. Promising the fastest way to big yields, eucalyptus and pines were planted on a large scale. Over the past two generations, hardly anyone spared a thought for the mix and diversity of forest species, a balanced water supply, sustainability and resilience, much less for the consequences of the earth heating up.

The reforestation of our forests favouring more resistant species, towards biodiversity, will only become visible decades from now. However those with an interest in a robust and sustainable forest, those who want to stop the forest fires cannot ignore this transformation – away from large-scale monoculture plantations towards sustainably planted mixed forests. Not least in the interest of those who will want to inherit and continue to look after the forest – and yes, in contrast to the paper manufacturers who see the forest as a mere provider of cheap resources. After all, a forest may also simply be beautiful, right?

So, should the forest be completely reconfigured as it were to find the way back to nature? Yes. Having fewer groundwater-guzzling monocultures will bring back a natural balance to nature’s water supply system. The priority goal of minimising forest fires requires more deciduous forest and more diversity. These kind of demands are now becoming more vociferous. Woodlands planted as a mixed forest are shaped by humans. At the moment, the new EU “Green Deal” subsidies offer the one-off chance to turn the forest more resilient for the future – a forest that in southern Europe over the past centuries has long ceased to be a virgin forest.

There is a lot to be said for taking large parts of the Portuguese (Greek, Italian, Spanish) forests out of economic utilisation, giving them protected status as nature reserves. Every forest owner should think hard how best to replace eucalyptus monocultures: for instance by producing clean electricity, which is not only in high demand but also qualifies for subsidies. Why not use ten per cent of a burnt-down forest area for solar modules and produce electricity, supply it to the grid and make money? Why not reserve ten per cent for traditional olive groves producing high-quality olive oil, interspersing the trees with other species that need equally low amounts of water but yield valuable crops: carob, fig, almond, bay leaf or chestnut. However, a forest may also simply provide joy, as well as shade, and serve as a diverse habitat. And this brings us back to the cork oak and the medronheiro strawberry tree. At the end of the day this will always be about the coexistence of humankind, animals and the forest, about a sustainable, gentle use of nature rather than a relationship of dominance. For the ecosystem of the forest represents a gigantic natural capital of our country, a faithful and vital partner and true capital – if much threatened.

This is exactly why ECO123 is asking the candidates at the local elections how they will be stopping forest fires, or at least try everything in their power to avoid and minimise them, to transform and diversify a local economy catering to monocultures. Let’s take a peak at what these candidates have in mind? The challenge is to save humanity’s habitat. A forest fire destroys, making it the biggest climate enemy of our blue planet and its atmosphere. According to analyses carried out by the FAO, a single square kilometre of burnt forest emits 20,000 tons of CO2, as much as 4,000 residents of Portugal in a whole year of their lives (five tons per capita and year). In 2018, 280 km2 of forest burnt down in Monchique, responsible for 5.6 million tons of CO2. And the forest is burning not only in the south of Portugal. ECO123 is talking to all serious candidates to put the key question to them on what their political concept for avoiding forest fires looks like. The first candidate is José Chaparro. At 54, he is running for office on the PP/CDS ticket. Next week we’ll be introducing Bruno Estremores, representing the PSD. We’ll follow him up every week with a different candidate from a different party.

If you want to stay abreast of developments, why not follow the new podcast on this issue every Saturday? Together we have the opportunity to improve the world we live in; we do in fact still have this chance. And if you have concrete suggestions how we can stop forest fires and what could be the first step towards this do drop us an email with your ideas. We will publish them before the local elections here on this platform and discuss solutions. Why just remain part of the problem if you can turn yourself part of the solution?

Interview with José Chaparro

At 54 years of age, José Chaparro is the independent candidate to the mayoralty of Monchique City Hall for the CDS-PP. An engineer by profession, José is the Councillor responsible for Public Works. This interview was carried out in the former Rouxinol restaurant, destroyed by the last fires.

ECO123: What made you run for Mayor of Monchique?

José Chaparro: The most important factor behind putting myself forward for Mayor was the people of Monchique. Before taking the decision to throw my hat in the ring I was approached by people from various ideological and political sides (including some with no affiliation), who challenged me to take the decision. I am from Monchique and have experience both at professional level and at the level of local politics: I have held permanent office as an independent councillor for the PSD and spent four years in Lisbon City Hall.

Based on this experience of four years, and bearing in mind your manifesto, what are you hoping to achieve in case you are elected?

In this phase now I have my entire team working on the manifesto. We are running for office in Monchique and the parish councils of Alferce and Marmelete, and a good manifesto requires some time and ideas. However, I can reveal the general outline. In Territorial Planning, there will be a revision of the Municipal Master Plan (Plano Diretor Municipal, PDM), forest and urbanistic planning, urban regeneration, notably in the Rua Serpa Pinto, the gateway to our town …

Which changes are you proposing within the PDM? Do you have a proposal for the forest, one of the most important recourses of Monchique’s economy?

At the moment I can’t anticipate in any depth how the PDM will be, dispite as I was involved in drafting up others in the past. Monchique stands out, with a huge forest area, as well as an urban area. The team working on the PDM (a multi-disciplinary team of experts, from architects to engineers, biologists and farmers), will address the issues, and we’ll have the PDM we want. In fact, according to the law the PDM should have been executed over 12 years back. Feet have been dragging in terms of its revision, and this has meant a failure to create jobs in Monchique, as well as a Business Park … Certain industries were allowed to spring up all over the forest and today we see the resulting scars in the forest cover. Everything will have to be examined in great detail.

This aspect also holds a great danger: fires. This very place has over the past few years seen the fires raze much woodland and houses… Which measures are you planning to adopt to curb this problem?

This is a very deep question, which should be of concern not only to us Monchiquenses, but also to Portugal and, in short, the world, because it concerns the whole planet. My team includes specialists in this area and I can say already that measures will involve reenforcing the Cvil Protection team…

… the firefighters …

Not only. They are of course a key part, as they know the territory better than anyone. In addition, we have a Civil Protection Department within City Hall, which needs to be improved, to be able to respond more quickly and efficiently each time a fire flares up. It’s at the initial stage that great disasters are averted. We know what happened in 2018 and 2021. If you don’t fight back from the start you reach a point where you lose control of the situation.

What is your second major electoral goal?

This point is no less relevant than the first: we need to talk about birth rates and demographics. How do we keep the young people in Monchique, how do we create employment?

How are you planning to do this?

One measure involves the Business Park project which should have started ten years ago. This will allow to establish companies here, whether local or from outside because those headquartered outside Monchique will probably receive fiscal incentives to set up at this Parque Industrial.

Another measure involves the social support structure: promoting entrepreneurship, supporting the institutions of social solidarity, the support mechanisms for the elderly population and for those who suffered in the fires, as well as improving the department of Civil Protection Support.

And how about the health situation in Monchique… the hospital…?

The hospital is a fundamental part of our health in Monchique. It saddens me, I know of situations where people who no longer have a family doctor at our Health Centre were forced to use private entities which sometimes charge amounts that the elderly in particular have great difficulty in paying.

First of all we need to improve the Health Centre. The situation there is not dignified, it needs some paint, rehabilitation.

… and more doctors …

First we need to deal with the infrastructure, then call on the human resources who can respond to the needs of the population. And this will involve more doctors, more nurses, the whole body of people able to serve a population that has shrunk by approximately 500, but is impoverished and needs support.

Returning to the issue of local resources, which are the most important resources in your opinion?

Similarly to what’s happening in the private sphere, in a family or a local authority, the most valuable resource we have is human capital, and this involves providing the workers with good conditions, generating motivation and satisfaction amongst teams.

And what do you think about the balance between the elements of Earth and Water? Every year we have less water and a landscape invaded by monocultures. Any solutions?

Just looking at the municipality of Monchique, particularly its topographical relief and watercourses, we could build dams to contain the precipitation falling over our mountains. Monchique has a microclimate: the ocean winds go up the hills, hit the mountain and it rains. We have to retain this water and allow it to enter our subsoil, to create this balace. We have these orographic conditions, now we need to build the infrastructure to use the water well.

I arrived in Monchique when this was the green lung of the entire Algarve and Baixo Alentejo – a very diversified forest with only some 25 to 30% of eucalyptus monocultures. 31 years later nearly 80% is monocultures of eucalyptus and acacia; very few areas are reserved for chestnut, cork oak… Does this not worry you?

It is very worrying. Since I was little I used to go into the forest with my parents and grandparents, to play. I share your opinion. 30, 40 years ago our forest had a completely different biodiversity. That balance has been disturbed by the path of the fires, bringing invasive harmful species. And today we have situations such as in Caldas de Monchique where predictions give us ten years before we have a scrubland of acacia, difficult to resolve. These situations are veritable powder kegs.

Could you draw up a balance sheet for these four years as councillor? Why were you “asked to leave” by the current Mayoralty of Rui André?

You’re well informed! Three hours ago, when the City Hall meeting ended, I was confronted with this situation. It was ridiculous, because it is part of the democratic process – and regulations – that every time a Mayor takes proposals to the City Hall meeting, they have to notify all councillors, with due advance notice. Well, our Mayor did not inform them. With the session about to finish, he presented a proposal, unknown to the representatives – and relieved me of my functions.

After three mandates in Monchique, Rui André is now putting himself forward for the PSD for Portimão council. Maybe six weeks from now we’ll have a new Mayor, José Chaparro. Which issues are you planning to focus on?

Our manifesto includes the rehabilitation of the Monchique schools: Manuel Nascimento, Marmelete and Escola dos Casais. We are also planning to improve and increase their human resources, because the best thing we can have is human capital. 

And in terms of the health of the children attending local schools? All of them still have asbestos roofs. Are you taking this into consideration?

Fibre cement contains asbestos, a highly carcinogenic product. This is well known. As part of my functions and responsibilities, over the past four years I took the initiative to remove the fibre-cement covering from the buildings with the largest areas – the municipal warehouses. But City Hall should have taken the initiative to remove it from the remaining buildings years back. The Escola Manuel Nascimento school, for instance, and the one in Marmelete are completely covered with fibre cement.  

But shouldn’t the children not be in first place? They are our future. Why not start with the schools? If the population of Monchique should vote for José Chaparro, will the schools become asbestos-free over the coming four years?

This will form part of our programme. I was responsible for the rehabilitation and enlargement of the Escola Manuel Nascimento. In fact a contract was drawn up to remove the fibre cement from Block C. Strangely, the tender attracted no bidders – or there was a judicial problem – things outside my remit. Above me I have a Mayor called Rui André, as well as Councillor Arminda Andrés, who controls the financial portfolio. And I cannot do anything if this is not unblocked.

The same thing happens with the school at Marmelete. It’s a degrading situation endangering the health and safety of the children – deteriorated spans, the cold and rain entering the building, exposed armatures in the pillars, asbestos coverings – and during the 12 years of Rui André as Mayor nothing has been done.

Which place does this issue occupy in your programme, by order of importance?

It’s certainly at the top of the list. To give precedence to preserving the health and physical integrity of the people.

Would you like to point out some additional aspects?

Yes. On the infrastructure level, we have to quickly get the São Sebastião car park up and running. This will be have first priority.

… to earn our daily bread …

Correct. City Hall needs income. We can’t have over 30 illegal cars inside that car park. At the moment it’s sealed off, and nothing is happening.

The other point of great importance is the Serração sawmill, one of our iconic public works projects.

You are talking about the Casa do Povo de Monchique and culture in the municipality…

Exactly. The Casa do Povo will be restored and given back to the people. But we’d also like to take on the Serração – where the wood lot and the machine park used to be – and transform it into a multipurpose park for cultural and sports events, fairs… We’re also planning a museum, a pet project of mine.

To finish off I’d like to mention that we’re planning to finish the swimming pool in Marmelete, works that should already have gone ahead; proceed with the construction of the low-cost housing zone; improve the entire surrounding area; and to create a caravan park.

In Alferce parish we have the Castle which will continue to be explored archeologically. We’re talking about a project with a timespan of 15, 20 years. On the other hand we’d like to implement various walkways in Monchique. The passadiço of Barranco do Demo, in Alferce, will be one of the showpieces.

In the future will it be possible for a citizen of Monchique to enjoy cultural events in the municipality?

This is our intention. Also to increase the population of Monchique by between 30 and 60% within ten years. I am fully conscious of the value of this area, it’s a rough diamond. And it’s well probable that once we have created the assets, people from Portimão and other places will want to move to Monchique.

We’re at war again … & Interview Bruno Estremores

We’re at war again ...

by Uwe Heitkamp, Editor ECO123

when what we urgently need is peace. Last Sunday there was a fire not even a kilometre away from our Botanical Garden project in Caldas de Monchique. Someone had deliberately or negligently thrown something inflammable out of a car window. A cigarette, a glass bottle? Who knows? The helicopters are flying attacks on the fire just like in a real war. They are throwing water-filled bombs onto the flames, flying one sortie after the other. It’s like a film about Vietnam. They need two hours, aided by ground troops, to win the battle with the enemy. Just in time, because there is still no wind, with temperatures of between 41 and 43 degrees Celsius. If they manage to extinguish the fire before 5pm we’ll all win that particular war and achieve a fragile peace, as it’s meant to get cooler towards evening. The film ends just in time.

As for ourselves, we hadn’t snuggled down in front of the television set but rather laid out all the available hoses to start to comprehensively moisten the forest. With these temperatures, a lot of water is needed to moisten two to three hectares. This is the price we pay for the carelessness, negligence, ignorance, and wilfulness displayed by people in the cities of this world. Lots of people head out into the countryside for Sunday lunch, and really let rip. Damn, concrete doesn’t burn, somebody once wrote on to a motorway bridge in red paint.

We countryside-dwellers out here love our trees, our forests and their inhabitants big and small: butterflies, foxes, lynxes, mongooses and all the birds and insects, the wild animals, as well as our domesticated ones, the chickens, rabbits, cats and dogs. But last Sunday this feat of holding out in nature only started after 5pm. The winds had been announced, with wind speeds of 60 km/h. At night, the Monchique fire service has a system of guards in place, to save all our lives. Here in Esgravatadouro we take hoses into the forest and moisten the soil until the darkness makes it impossible to see anything anymore. Which is when we pack up and head inside, buffeted by the wind. Meanwhile we are placing all our lives into the hands of the “bombeiros”, who were putting out the last clusters of forest fires here and there with water and hoes, like a city dweller throws a light switch. All of us are delegating our lives to these Guardians of the Peace. I myself patrol our place several times a night. Sleep is difficult to come by; you have to always be ready to immediately turn on the water, and get the sprinklers working. Actually, we’re not completely protected yet; the money for the sprinklers still needs to be earned (

Life with climate change is a fragile affair. Sometimes you are lucky, just about, another time you’re truly unlucky. The bridge across a dry riverbed is a kind of plank that someone has taken a saw to and which might crack at any moment when we place a foot on it. In the here and now we’ve been living in a democracy for 47 years now (1974 to 2021) and that’s just as well. But the time of the dictatorship lasted for 48 years, from 1926 to 1974. Fascism in Portugal is far from being beaten. And it’s not enough to send a few helicopters with water to put out a fire. Democracy is weak, being threatened every day and in all city halls, including by illiterates who reckon that everything was better back in the olden days. Under Salazar we wouldn’t have had this kind of thing happening.

Really? Have we forgotten that the “Taliban of Portugal” the PIDE shipped dissidents off to the dungeon at Peniche? The key question here is: what can we do to actively defend our democracy from a neo-fascist party? I myself am from a country where fascism held its own for many years, and everyone took part in the Holocaust, actively or passively. Afterwards of course no-one had known anything about it. How phoney! We have all failed in banishing our own personal PIDE from inside of us and from our democracy, from many authorities, universities, our schools, our everyday life. For all those years we did not look after our democracy, electing instead corrupt politicians into well-paid posts. A third of all candidates for the 308 mayoralties have one foot in prison. If we vote intelligently this time, and take a better look at the candidates, if we show up incompetence for what it is and give our vote to the honest candidates, we are strengthening democracy too. ECO123 will support you in this task and submit every democratic candidate to a baptism by fire. This week, it was the turn of the candidate Bruno Estremores; here now is the interview for you to read.

“Eucalyptus was easy money, the green gold, now we need a good present”

ECO123: So tell us, who is Bruno Estremores?

Bruno Estremores: Born and bred in Monchique, I’m 47 years old and a physiotherapist by profession. At the moment I am clinical director at the Hospital Particular do Algarve (HPA) group, with responsibility for the Physical Rehabilitation department.

In July 2020 I was asked to throw my hat in the ring for the PSD’s political commission in Monchique, of which I’ve been an active member for 20 years, to prepare a new municipal project for the 2021 elections. I was honoured to accept the invitation, it’s an interesting challenge, considering I’m an entrepreneur. I set up a small medical clinic in Monchique which has since been integrated into the Hospitais Particulares do Algarve S.A. where I remain in charge of Rehabilitation.

Is it easy or difficult to be the “heir” of Rui André?

Neither. I don’t agree with everything to do with his management, but I understand and support it, especially as regards some measures. When he took on the role of Mayor, he also took on a debt of 13 million to the Bank and ten million to the public health system ADSE. Few people know this. The situation was pretty awful, as without this payment the employees would see themselves refused medical support every time they went to a health service point. Somebody who has to pay off a debt of 22 million over 12 years doesn’t have much left to invest. We can of course consider paying the debt over time and leave part of it to those coming after us…

One of the problems ravaging this territory are fires. As future municipal leader which measures do you have at your disposal to curb or end this problem?

Bringing people to Monchique is fundamental. With people living in the town and in the hills we will see the land cleaned up. It’s pointless having your own plot all clean and tidy if you’re surrounded by land in a state of abandon. We need a proper reorganisation of the forest and emphasise prevention, because spending millions to put out fires will never resolve anything, and cyclically, every five or ten years, nature will rise up again, bringing these fires.

How do you intend to repopulate Monchique?

By providing attractive conditions. By earmarking subsidies for the purchase and rehabilitation of abandoned houses in the town centre for example, saving them from real estate speculation. for the countryside, it will be along fairly similar lines. We have to safeguard against the unhappy situation resulting from the Plano Diretor Municipal (PDM) Municipal Master Plan…

– … which doesn’t exist.

Well, it’s 30 years old and should have been revised ten years ago. This will be our first project.

Rui André had 12 years to review the PDM. With you at the helm, will Monchique get a new PDM?

This will take six to seven years, with the public tender plus the determining factors of Monchique being a part of the Rede Natura 2000, Ecological Reserve and Agricultural Reserve. This means that sometimes, a small plot with a set of ruins on it can derail building works.

But this doesn’t stop the planting of more eucalyptus…

These are the contradictions of Portuguese law.

But the Rede Natura 2000 is European…

Still, those in ministerial offices don’t think of things the way those who are on the ground do, such as the mayors. Those should have a lot more powers (subject, of course, to supervision), most of all in forest reorganisation.

Portugal, Romania and Bulgaria are amongst the most corrupt countries, according to the European Union. How much who-you-know leverage is necessary to be elected?

Politics, religion, football are good things. The problem are the people who at some point in time represent them. We have good politicians and we have politicians who are the worst of society. And we are living in a system where a certain impunity reigns. But I believe it’s still possible to create good things, that we are capable to generate sustainable economic growth, involving a tourism geared towards nature, as part of a network.

On top of the embers?

Obviously not. The damage left over from 2018 has to be dealt with. There has been a great natural regeneration by the ecosystem itself. We have to create measures to deal with species such as acacias. Thirty years ago the idea came up to turn Monchique into a Bioparque, which would be extraordinary. Unfortunately, the idea never left the paper stage, maybe for generating little income. Monchique is a poor municipality, without much revenue outside state support.

Talking about revenue, what is your position on the Monchique Car Park?
At the moment, the Public Prosecutors Office does not authorise anyone interfering with the first floor where we had a fire. But now the origin of the fire has been identified, all that needs to be done is to release the funds. The Park has to be cleaned up and recuperated, because it generates income.

How do you view the threat of CHEGA in Monchique?

There is no threat. The lists of that party only includes four people from  Monchique. In contrast to citizens’ movements, parties don’t need signatures. If they achieve 2% of the votes in the Town Council they will receive state subsidies. That’s what they are interested in!

In Monchique people don’t want to know about parties, but about candidates.

What makes you want to become Mayor?

I am able to do a more comprehensive and better job than what’s been done over the past 30 years. Having experience in management and resources has given me the capacity to manage the municipality. Any public entity has to have public service as its mission, but with private management, with well-applied resources.

Do your plans include closing the Hospital, the Health Centre … and to open a private institution?

In Monchique we have elderly people with pensions of 300 euros; opening a private hospital would be a death sentence.

As regards the Health Centre – the building falls under the remit of the municipality, human resources, under the remit of the State – we can’t do much, as local government but exert pressure to have more doctors and nurses. Uu until six years ago, Monchique was one of the foremost health centres, with five doctors; right now, it has two. With the fight against COVID, in practice this boils down to one. At the moment some elderly people won’t go to the pharmacy for their medication because they cannot afford these costs without the prescription. Despite my job, I keep using the Centro de Saúde here in Monchique, where I have my family doctor. We need public services, the State has to fulfil a social function for those who most need it.    

Nearly all of use are victims, or aggrieved parties of the 2018 fire and have been waiting for three years for support. How will you deal with this “inheritance” from Rui André?

Sometimes, Rui André’s problem has been bad communication; his intention has always been for the best. The state wanted to make an example out of Monchique. In Pedrogão Grande the government gave the money to rebuild the houses directly to the municipalities.

What is the solution in Monchique?

Without talking to the Social Habitation Institute I can’t tell you. They wanted to hold on to the process and didn’t let the municipality do anything. We’ll have a second problem where local government may be decisive. Reconstruction of the houses is already being approved. Those who were left with nothing but the shirt on their backs don’t have money to commission architectural or engineering projects. If I was to be elected, the municipality will open a public bid, contract architects and engineers to guarantee those projects. There is also the issue of the annexes built beyond the original plans which are not being considered now.

In Caldas, we have a company that bought 37 hectares for seven million euros. They didn’t pay a cent in property transfer tax (IMT). The municipality lost over 500,000 euros in taxes. Was this Rui André’s decision?
No. This was the decision of Monchique town council.

On the suggestion of the Mayor. That money could start a fund to help the victims.

I’m against the exemption for the Caldas de Monchique; if I’d been there I’d have voted against it. Rui André received the company’s proposal to proceed with the exemption, suggested a vote at the Town Council seat, and the majority voted in favour. Who were the deputies voting in favour? Everybody from the Socialist Party (PS), except the President of Alferce parish; on the PSD side there were votes for and against. If you look at relations between the Fundação Oriente (the former owner of the Caldas) and the PS, you will see that the leaders of the PS are the same as those heading that foundation: there must have been some pressure within the party to vote in favour. The million dollar question remains: are you in favour or against?

By nature we should be against it because the other residents[U: ‘municípios’ – es geht doch hier um die Steuerzahler als Personen?] have to pay the tax. But if we’d foreseen that the company would, with this amount of money, restore the Caldas thermal baths, create over 100 jobs, restore the buildings and bring new potential …

But they didn’t… they laid people off.

Yes, it did the exact opposite. We needed a written contract with guarantees for compensation.  

We are in a rural area, in the middle of the forest. What are the most important elements in this environment?

In Monchique, the fundamental issue is water. This year it rained a lot, more than in previous years. What did we do to capture this water for use in periods of draught? Zilch. Also because in the winter we have lots of streams we should build small reservoirs – no ponds have been created in Monchique in nearly 25 years – which, beyond serving to water new medronheiro trees, may be used in the event of a fire. It’s completely different for a helicopter to have the pond nearby or having to fly ten kilometres to bring water to the hills.

And in relation to the land, subsistence agriculture?

The economic crisis the Troika brought us also brought us a good thing: many people from Portimão with family in Monchique returned to subsistence agriculture at the weekend. Beyond the economic gain it brought the benefit of keeping the plots of land clean.

It makes me sad to see these terraces – to me, one of the most beautiful things in Monchique – with eucalyptus in the middle. These terraces, built by hand, have to remain in agricultural use.

Do we need less eucalyptus in Monchique?

We need eucalyptus for our economy, but less of it. We also need reforestation.

Several families have started to rip out eucalyptus to reforest with local species. People have implemented solar energy as a source of income.

I’m in favour of reorganising existing species, to create fire contention zones around the town and built-up areas with more fire-resistant species, but in Monchique dozens of companies depend on eucalyptus.

Do we need a plan for a new economy?

Yes, in the sense of living off nature tourism, with new species. Try to reduce the eucalyptus, incentivising and raising people’s awareness to plant chestnut, oak, autochthonous species again. In the olden days, when we got married, a table and chair made of chestnut wood were brought into the marriage. Eucalyptus was easy money, the green gold, but it’s been a bad past, and we have to think of a good present, a good future.

What are we going to do with the asbestos in the schools?

Rui André received two sets of funds to remove the asbestos and to regenerate the schools. Some will be provided with a second floor. If we have little money, it’s a good idea to do those two jobs at the same time. The school at Monchique – whose project for the second floor has already been approved – continues under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, not of the municipality.

At the municipal Escola de Marmelete, works have been granted. The only reason they didn’t start on 12 July was a missing permit from the ACT authority regulating work conditions.

Monchique’s inland location turns it less attractive to building companies. Bringing in workers, setting up the site here increases costings by 20 to 30%. Marmelete local authority has two approved projects for nearly 500,000 euros (a caravan park and a picnic park) and is struggling to find contractors.

Should you be elected Mayor which priority will you give to the restoration of Marmelete school?

Total priority, because Marmelete has more children than a few years ago. This parish has been growing, mostly thanks to the foreign community. The school won’t be ready when lessons begin, only by October.

Bruno, you have two children yourself. Do they go to school in Monchique?
Yes. Given the state it was in, the Escola de Marmelete should not have opened last December. Monchique folks like to criticise, but they have to start being more proactive: go to the right place and state your demands. 

Those who take on political office have to be equipped to correspond to the majority of the citizens’ expectations; the authorities have to serve everyone, not just a few.

What does your manifesto say about cultural activities?

We have culture, arts, craftspeople. The problem of the Casa do Povo is that it doesn’t belong to the local authority, but to Social Security. There is a legal issue, similar to the carpark. Maybe the Mayor should leave his office, go to Faro and talk to the relevant people so we can have a small multidisciplinary space for events.

At the moment, the most striking example in Monchique is the Fire Services Headquarters. They’re well equipped in terms of machines and fire-fighting vehicles – in October a new one will be delivered, costing nearly 300,000 euros. But inside water is coming in, the bathrooms are obsolete. We need to provide these workers, as well as the volunteers representing half of the firefighting force, with better conditions. In 12 years the local authority has invested four and a half million euros in the Monchique Firefighters. Considering our revenue, not every municipality has invested that much.

How were these funds used?

On prevention teams, the vehicles… When the current commandant arrived, between broken-down vehicles with bald tyres and debts to suppliers, there was a lot to do. Last week, the anniversary of the association was the first time that Monchique Fire Service received individual protection equipment in 88 years. The last ones were Belgian, bought second-hand.

Nor do we have a Civil Protection Office to coordinate the firefighters, the militaries, the population in case of fire. The Fire Service is not the Civil Protection, they are part of it. Monchique Municipality needs to have a dredging machine[U: ist ein bulldozer gemeint?]. Our old one is not up to the job. We need two or three ever ready to start creating the firebreaks to contain the fire, in the summer; and to clean the paths and cut the fire containment lanes in winter, to contain any fires on the spot. 

Many thanks.


Men only, is it? & Interview João Duarte

Men Only, is it?

By Uwe Heitkamp


Not a single woman candidate in sight. Really, is it only men on these election posters? Over half of humanity isn’t standing in this election. This is just not on. I am observing the local elections with the eyes of a journalist, a foreigner from a EU country, not in Afghanistan, no, in Portugal. And what is being offered to me, dear Politics, in Monchique and many other communities across the country, is not the representative choice of female candidates I’d like to see.

On top of that we have that guy from our new neo-fascist party called Chega, another man of course. For that one I’d only spare a few words, it’s very simple: Fuck you! Enough already. This specimen would like to see tougher punishments for arsonists in Portugal. Tie ‘em to a tree and burn ‘em. I’m satisfied with the letter of the law, if the laws were applied properly for once on the part of the judiciary. If an arsonist is sentenced to twelve years in the nick, they should have to spend the whole of those twelve years in there please, rather than planting their feet under mum’s table back home after only two, or four, or six years. A state based on vindictiveness has no future. The only future a body politic has is built on justice and fairness.

For someone like me, who would like to see true equality between men and women that means the electorate has a choice when they go to the voting table. That’s what I call justice. The electoral system was made by men however and doesn’t give us a true choice. For over half of humanity, women, aren’t even up for election. Why is that the case? I’ve interviewed five of the male candidates in Monchique and it seems to me that none of these five men is really 100 % qualified for this job of mayor. Or am I wrong? One more, the others a little less. Am I even allowed to say, to write this? Am I not neutral? Neutral? No, I’m not neutral, I am independent. I don’t belong to any party, which is why I examine everyone very carefully. No one can persuade me to make them look better than the others. Unfortunately none of them has a master plan for solving the biggest problem facing humanity: the forest fires, climate change. No one really wants to grab hold of the hot potato and solve the problem. A woman might have a better approach there. She would be more independent in her decisions. Women in Portugal have better qualifications and a reputation for being courageous politicians. For this is not only about tough decisions, it’s also about communicating these decisions to the voting public.

Rural exodus

Should Monchique become climate-neutral and if so, how? How do the gentlemen intend to stop these catastrophic forest fires? I put this question to every candidate and the answers were – to put it in the smallest of nutshells – disappointing. One said he would like to solve the problem by, in my humble opinion, putting the cart in front of the „Monchique“ horse. These kind of animals are tricky to ride without a saddle, but it’s possible if you learn it. One has to learn to make do with what one has. Well, yes, the rural exodus …

First the candidates want to repopulate Monchique. What to do however if nobody wants to move to Monchique from where they are because people know that it always burns here? And while we’re at it, why does it always burn in Monchique? Are there qualified jobs in Monchique? Does Tesla have a factory in Monchique? Is solar or wind energy being produced and sold right here? Is IT a leading industry in Monchique? This is surely the main rub, the lack of attractive employment options, paying solid salaries. Let’s dig up the problem, dissect it and take a closer look at possible solutions. Why does it always burn in Monchique? Do we have to ban people from owning matches? Do we have to find solutions for the dissatisfied, those left behind, the arsonists and the careless, if we are dealing with politics? Yes, definitely. We have to become part of the solution. And we have to examine the reasons why Monchique burns every few years.

In 2018 the problem was a blend of negligence on the part of the EDP and incompetence on the part of the Civil Protection service and the firefighting services who didn’t keep an already extinguished forest fire under close observation. When the wind changed direction, the fire reignited. This is about demystifying fire and forest fires, to analyse exactly how a fire starts, why it was impossible to put out this particular one and what is needed to fight forest fires of this and other kinds more professionally in the future. And this is also about minimising risk, investing in prevention, in the know-how and capability of the population to be able to immediately extinguish a fire within the first 15 minutes – before it is spread by the wind. Naturally the eucalyptus monocultures are a decisive factor in the burnability of the forest in Monchique. Eucalyptus is a kind of tree that draws moisture out of the soil, that transforms water to oil which burns exceedingly well. What do we mean if we are talking about forestry? Mixed forests, managed in a sustainable and exemplary fashion? Or do we view the forest as a self-service store where we see trees as industrial wood, carving out for ourselves what IKEA or The Navigator Company need to feed their machines?

Evidently the cane still occupies an honourable position in Portuguese daily life. That too will have to change. You threaten children and adults, and animals too, with a cane and – solve nothing. Threats sow fear. It’s been burning in Portugal for many years. And the governments, regardless of their political colour, have never questioned their concept of threatening punishment. The order given –  keep your plot of land clean, cut down all trees within a radius of 50 metres around your house, clean the undergrowth, or you’ll be hit with a juicy fine – doesn’t impress anybody any more nor does it motivate anyone to cultivate their fallow land. Salazar is dead. António Costa too should know that by now. And people are moving from the countryside into the city. Why is that?

Because they are hoping for a better life there. I’ve been asking myself for a long time why we don’t breathe more life into our democracy? This also involves sharing power with women in places where men haven’t brought about solutions in many years. Indira Ghandi in India, Rute Silva in Vila do Bispo, Rosa Palma in Silves and Isilda Gomes in Portimão are living proof of the fact that solutions to human-made problems, from wars through a pandemic to climate change exist, if one wants to truly solve the problems.

Forest fires are solved with your head screwed on the right way, with intelligent and courageous investments in the system-relevant firefighting services – and with permanent checks by independent non-corrupt auditors. And a more female approach doesn’t punish negative environmental actions – but does reward good solution-focussed ones. Making the unimaginable imaginable. By now, forest fires are such a gigantic issue that they’ll have to be tackled with the ‘bazooka’ (Ursula von der Leyen) rather than with the shotgun of a local wild boar hunter. Let’s imagine the fire service in Monchique didn’t exist just in Monchique town, but also in Marmelete, 20 km away and in Alferce, eight kilometres away, as well as in some other far-flung hamlets such as Selão and Caldas, Tojeiro and Portela da Viuva, Perna da Negra and Fornalha. Take a proper amount of money, invest it in the improvement of the fire services, and decentralise them so they can get to the places where the forest fires start faster, and put them out. Also in order to show the importance we attach to the fire services in a democratic state. Four fire engines to fight forest fires across 400 km² will never be enough, but 40 vehicles and many well equipped and fairly remunerated teams you’ll have a solid foundation. These days, the profession of the female fire fighter is one of the most important ones there are. They protect the environment and humanity from climate change. When you and I go to bed at night they are protecting us by putting out fires and standing guard. 

For three years, the former mayor of Monchique, the PSD’s Rui André, has given the victims of the gigantic forest fire of 2018 the runaround. Having promised a lot of compensation he didn’t comply with any of it. Not a single one of the 61 destroyed houses owned by families with primary residence has been rebuilt, nor are the 50 houses of the affected parties with second residence that burned down being rebuilt, unless the self-help associations obtain compensation for them in court. The mayor did not even join the criminal case against the alleged arsonist, the way it would behove any responsible politician. Those who practise this kind of politics of promises mustn’t be surprised if disappointed citizens join the ranks of Chega. Rui André didn’t even bother to tot up the damages, and has dragged his feet on the PDM master plan for over 12 years. Now those who can’t be bothered to put together damage inventories aren’t much bothered about the settlements of claims. A fundamental solution would be to adopt a law in Parliament that houses have to be insured against fire, storms and earthquakes before receiving a licence for habitation. In today’s ECO123 interview it’s the turn of João Duarte to present the ideas of his independent Cidadãos para Monchique on the issues of forest fires and climate change, and what they are planning to do about them.

Interview mit João Duarte CPM

My name is João Duarte, I’m 48, born and bred in Monchique, where I still live. I’m married with two kids, and my background is in Mechanical Engineering.

ECO 123: Why did you decide to stand for mayor of Monchique?

João Duarte: For nearly 20 years now we’ve been witnessing the degradation of our municipality, while we are not seeing our politicians and citizens coming together. My vision is along more professional lines; I believe that we have to change the way we view our municipality. We have great potential in terms of our natural heritage which is not being appreciated properly. We need to put together a good team with good people to renovate our municipality, to make the necessary improvements happen.

This leads us to the Citizens’ Movement for Monchique (Movimento Cidadãos para Monchique). What does your manifesto look like?

Our movement was founded eight years ago, at a time when we stood for the first time against the now-outgoing mayor. We didn’t believe in his promises – and policies – for over 12 years he deceived nearly the whole population. Our promises, made four years ago, are completely up-to-date, but now we have do place more emphasis on the reconstruction of the road network, on housing and on creating sustainable jobs related to Nature.

In August 2018, a fire razed practically the entire countryside in Monchique, Alferce, Esgravatadouro, Caldas, up to the municipalities of Silves and Portimão. Which means does your Movement have at hand to stop the fires?

The fires of 2018 affected us all terribly. We have ideas related to the construction of housing that would be resilient against fires. We also have projects and ideas for the restructuring and reorganization of the forest habitat. For this we need to hear the opinion of everybody connected with the forest, to be able to build a credible project to guard against fires.

Nearly 20% of the municipality was affected. Over 750 farmers lost crops and woodlands, 61 primary residences, 50 secondary residences. Up to now no one has received any compensation, at all. Do you not consider it important to resolve this situation before starting to engage in politics?

If we had the opportunity to lead our municipality it’s a question of investigating what happened, working directly with the people affected because this is an untenable situation. The Council should be the first official body to provide support and unblock the situations so affected parties may receive the help to rebuild or restore their houses. Housing policy should be reviewed. These policies are thought up at national level, without taking into account the topography for instance, the type of land, the living conditions, people’s way of life. New projects should include sprinklers on top of houses, as well as different woodland species around the houses, amongst other things.

Can you imagine how people feel?

Of course I can. Now we have to try and gain leadership, get to the people and see what they really need.

This is a great inheritance left by Rui André.

A great inheritance in the negative sense; there is a lot of work to be done. For 12 years there was a lack of preventative and corrective maintenance, which is why our municipality is in the state it’s in. When something was broken, Rui André opted for removal, instead of repair. Here we are on the Esgravatadouro road and we know the state it’s in, completely dilapidated, through simple lack of maintenance. People may criticise Carlos Tuta for not leaving us pretty roads, but he did leave them asphalted.

It’s not always about the money even. The first step for those affected by the fires could lie in reconciliation. Because if we carry on making politics as if nothing had happened where does that leave the people?

This has been going on for three years… it’s a letdown.

Another party running for municipal office is Chega.

It’s normal that these parties will emerge. People are unhappy and the Government has been led by the PS and PSD who have practically done nothing to help the population. What we have seen within the town council is a party makes a proposal, the other party actually agrees but abstains or votes against because it’s a political veto, and this works against the population. The only way to unite people and to work as a collective is with independent movements. The more people join our movement the better the path we can take.

Eucalyptus, a species that burns well and that enjoys burning, occupies 80% of Monchique’s forest cover. What is the solution?

This is a species that has increased, through the option of land owners exposed to pressure from the companies involved in paper pulp production, such as Navigator, amongst others. If we have a plot of land and plant eucalyptus we will see a profit at the end of nine years, but if we plant medronheiros, at the end of maybe five years we’ll already start seeing some profit. Beyond rentability this about the creation of jobs, the processing… because what makes people money is transformation of raw materials. Maybe there is land in the municipality that isn’t suitable for anything else, but in others … eucalyptus should be the last resort.

The 2018 some of the fire passed next to forests managed by these large cellulose companies and didn’t burn. It’s a question of management. And we have to create transformation in Monchique. We may back the cultivation of lemons, turning them into liqueur, ice-cream…,  medronho, cork. It is the step from primary sector to secondary sector, processing, that will earn money and create economic potential.

What are the main concerns of the Movement?

We need to focus on the improvement of the roads. For someone like me who drives to Loulé every day, there’s others who drive to Portimão or Silves… We need to create conditions for Monchique to be a good place to live, surrounded by Nature. A place for a child in an ATL after-school activity centre in Monchique costs less than half of one in Portimão!

School is an important issue. But Monchique schools are full of asbestos.

Schools have to be sustainable, environmentally friendly, and also include vocational training. We need carpenters, mechanics, plumbers, shoemakers and other kinds of professions because technical staff and technical training provide an added-value for the municipality and allow the creation of new jobs. That way we’ll give an opportunity to people to be entrepreneurs and build their own employment, family and house here in Monchique.

The refurbishment of the school roofs could involve recourse to wind and photovoltaic power. We have great potential to do all this.

I know because at home I have a clean system of photovoltaic power.

I’ve worked successfully to reduce my ecologic footprint and the one of my family. We installed our three panels producing photovoltaic energy in 2008. When the first incentive was launched I embraced that decision straight away. And I have a jeep that is powered by vegetable oil. Up until the 2018 fire I recycled kitchen oils and used them in my own vehicle. If we read a bit around the history of Rudolf Diesel, we realise why he built a diesel motor. He did it so farmers could have a tool to work their land with an easily accessible fuel that could be harnessed from oleaginous plants. And an oleaginous plant when it’s growing and developing its own fruit it’s removing CO2 from the atmosphere, renewing it. In terms of a cyclical system, it represents zero.

… are you thinking of buying an electric car?

Later, when technology is a bit more evolved, yes. If I can manage to charge my batteries with energy from my panels that will be half the way there. But the fact 47% of our energy in this country is still coming from fossil sources, makes me hesitate. It also has to do with the exploration of the raw materials for the production of the batteries.

We could transform Monchique into a Zero Emissions municipality. Where to start?

With energy production and in public lighting. Half of the street lamps could be fed by photovoltaic power, substantially reducing the amount of money we pay the EDP. And we have the Moinho do Poucachinho, amongst other mills, which are part of the municipality’s heritage – and which should be opened to the public – but to which we could attach small hydro-energy units. This has to be a path built with speed and intelligence.

We have to change. But we shouldn’t do it out of necessity. We should do it through intelligence and for the ambition we have for our town. We have an idea for the optimisation, maintenance and regulation of the municipal infrastructures. We don’t actually consider the Serração sawmill, which is next to the cemetery, to be the ideal localisation for an events space.

Here in Monchique we don’t even have a space to enjoy cultural events …

I can suggest some ideas …

Would you like to make some promises?

No. Our goals are already outlined; what we promise is hard work and dedication. Within the  arena of the arts, culture and education, the idea that we have come to develop is the one we presented four years ago to the population. It involves moving the firefighters from the centre of town to the armazéns municipais where we currently park and effect the maintenance and refuelling of the council fleet. While the current building doesn’t have a proper point of entry and exit for vehicles, that space offers the possibility to create favourable conditions; access to Alferce, Marmelete and Portimão, Foia and the Estrada de Saboia road would also be possible without the congestion inside the town, and faster.

There are no plans to build a base in Marmelete, Casais or Alferce?

We need small units. Small reservoirs in strategic places will be equally useful, allowing access to helicopters. And if we changed the type of construction, considering a small water reserve and sprinklers on top of the roof, that would give the firefighters more time to get to a fire.

We would also like to remove the heliport from its current site. This was a provisional construction in Carlos Tuta’s time on a site that was reserved for events, fairs, in the heart of the town. The armazéns municipais I mentioned would move to the business park, to be built over time, outside the town. The ideal place would be the Nave hamlet. It’s on a plain, with two roads, good access, a stream; the Ribeira das Canas road, which needs to be improved, repaired, widened, to create a quick access road for Portimão, the A22, allowing us to remove heavy-duty vehicles transporting goods from our scenic road. That road would be used by tourism, cycling and other leisure activities. Over the first four years we can lay the foundations of these projects, listen to the people, get their opinion. Do they think that this is the path we should take together? It will be important to hear their priorities.

You will most certainly talk about the Health Centre.

We need to create conditions for all residents to have a family doctor. Council monies are available for the Universidade do Algarve to fund the training of doctors, and we need to be the first to demand that after their training these professionals complete their specialisations and placements in the municipalities facing the most difficulties.

The Centro de Saúde Centre has terrible conditions. We know it’s difficult to incentivise doctors to move to inland regions, but if we could offer a different kind of municipality, with better institutions and better access, they will come, also because they already enjoy coming here to lunch, to taste the medronho, to enjoy nature …

Someone who trained as a fighter pilot with the Air Force stays attached to the institution for a certain number of years. If the training costs are shouldered by all taxpayers, why not stay for a certain time period (equivalent to the costs of the training) attached to public service and in the municipalities who need them most? This law is one that needs to be reviewed.

Four years ago we didn’t have the financial means to get our message to the people. We are an independent movement and the resources for our campaign come from our team.

How many people make up the CPM?

There are thirty of us.

People from Monchique…

Also from other places. We tried to run for Marmelete and Alferce, but owing to the change in policies on the part of the PS and PSD to harm the candidatures of the independent movements, we were only able to form our group after the law was revoked, one month and two weeks ago. Four years ago, when we started, we commented in February: “we’re starting late”, this year we started in June, even later. But we’re not letting up. We won’t receive subsidies nor support from any political party, that way we’ll value more our money and the money of our population.

What could change in Monchique if the Movement was elected?

The first thing to change is the attitude. The basis for everything is for us to know how to listen to people, call on those who have constructive criticism to offer to help us. Critical people bring added-value. They criticise because they like to see things change, and change for the better. When a politician starts surrounding themselves with “yes men”, it’s the people that pay the price. Our municipality has not developed and remains stuck in a difficult situation in many ways. It’s enough to change the attitude towards the management of municipal government and use common sense to build a healthy, sustainable and environmentally-friendly municipality. An independent movement is able to create consensus, outline new ways and to get the work done much faster.

Thanks for talking to us.

Rural exodus & Interview Paulo Alves

Rural exodus

by Uwe Heitkamp, Editor ECO123

Modern life has caught up with Monchique too, a little while ago already actually. However, the old traditional life remains alive on the Monchique mountains, at an altitude of 500 metres above sea level. The novelties came creeping up the hills and mountains over the past decades, on their way from Portimão and Lisbon, but also with tourism from abroad. According to the tourism authority, the mountain summit of Foía, with an elevation of 902 metres, is the second-most visited spot in the Algarve.

The best example for Modern Life is fashion and its sometimes erratic side effects. Today, children already need a smartphone when they start going to school, even if they don’t really need to call each other, as they are close neighbours and live only a few hundred yards from each other. Now, if Monchique (following the 2018 forest fire) wasn’t so boring and had better public transport connections, or at least a club, a cinema, a theatre… If you are thinking of visiting Aljezur, that’s it, you need your own car. If you want to take the bus to the beach in Lagos, you have to change at least once. Everything about public transport is complicated and slow as hell, as well as expensive. Just to get to Portimão from Monchique involves a major expedition. A bus company, which has the monopoly, serves that route every two hours more or less regularly. That trip now costs over five euros each way. And we’re talking about a distance of 22 km here. Impossible for mere mortals. In terms of the arts Monchique is a right old mousetrap, and nearly every adolescent does feel trapped here, or at least torn between modernity and tradition. Which is why most of them at some point just want to leave. It’s been like this these past 30 years, and if nothing changes in the future, the rural exodus will continue over the coming 30 years also. There are no attractive jobs, as there is no concept for the local economy nor monetary support for such a concept. So let’s just get outta here? At least that is something politics is finally discussing now.

Rural exodus.

Will only a few hundred souls remain in a lively district that in 1990 still had 15,000 residents? This is what happened to Cachopo above Tavira and many other hinterland communities, whose young people moved into a big town or city. The shining exception in the Algarve is São Brás de Alportel. There, politicians chose to take a sensitive approach to extending the school and cultural offerings. This has made São Brás de Alportel grow in every respect. Today, Monchique has just under 5,000 residents left. At the last local elections in 2017, out of 5,165 eligible voters exactly 3,663 turned up at the urns. This represents an electoral turnout of 70.92 per cent. The biggest group are the over-60s. Not even 500 youths under 18 are left. Nor is there a high school. For that you have to go to Portimão, aboard this slowcoach bus that stops every five minutes…

Politics hasn’t found any solutions there, at least none that could be considered adequate. Nothing is truly cool. Many elderly folks live in Monchique, and with Covid-19 the fear came creeping up the mountains and people hunkered down. This has saved many from serious sickness. But the elderly have become lonely too. Infection numbers have stayed low to this day if you compare them to big towns like Quarteira or Armação de Pera. Because up here people still have the old-time country wisdom, which allows Monchiquenses to live their lives with self-confidence and autonomy. During a pandemic or an earthquake rural folks can fall back on ancient skills, which bears an advantage. Your own field, your own house, your own animals provide you with foodstuffs which taste better in any case than anything the food industry has to offer us through the supermarkets. And village life is a lot healthier than city life, even at ground level

Now if it wasn’t for our isolation and poor bad bus service down to the rest of humanity… Basically you always need you own wheels. Because what the Faro-based Frota Azul/EVA bus company offers in terms of connections and ticket costs bears no relation to punters’ earnings, apart from being slow and not exactly flexible. These large buses are often running empty, which isn’t exactly improving the CO2 statistics. You try getting to Aljezur from Monchique, or to Santa Clara/Saboia to connect with the train… The only way to Silves on public transport is via Portimão and/or Lagoa. It’s a different world, this rural scene. And when a politician is facing local elections, they’ll promise you heaven on earth in order to get elected. Or they’ll just stand there empty-handed. It is rare to see them presenting truly timely solutions. These would look different. So allow us to ask a question here.

Why are we living in a community, why are we living in a European Union? This is the question people are asking themselves in other places just as we are here. Because a problem that assails people in Monchique has maybe already been solved elsewhere. Maybe the inventions still lacking in Monchique are already available somewhere in the Netherlands or in Denmark, in Austria or in Ireland. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented every time. Feats already possible in Australia should be feasible in Portugal too, shouldn’t they? Public transport on demand is an idea to enable people to move around in a simple, cheap, timely and uncomplicated way. This doesn’t necessarily require a smartphone nor a sluggish bus company, only a local or regional ride-sharing hub connecting users with each other by phone or Internet.

Public transport: modern, efficient – and sexy?

Any candidate for mayoral office could investigate a demand-led transport system with a handful of scientists, using a simulation study. The on-demand system uses mini buses but also private cars which have neither fixed routes nor pre-determined stops. The vehicles are steered online or by telephone, in order to fulfil users’ requests in a dynamic way. And in order to design a system that’s as environmentally as possible it should be restricted to electric cars. We’ll use another edition to write about Monchique as a solar village. In order to use the on-demand mobility service, users share the pick-up point and destination of their intended ride shortly before they are ready to go. If the estimated arrival time at the destination falls within the margins of the user’s expectations they pick that vehicle. In these simulations scientists make users walk, use the on-call service, a bus or a private car. They look at a large number of scenarios, to evaluate the potential costs and benefits of introducing a ride-share service. They will also analyse the scalability and the reactivity of the service. First results in the Netherlands and rural areas of Australia indicate that most users prefer a transport system based on a ride-share concept on demand over private cars and the bus. This again would mean a more efficient and environmentally-friendly transport system.

And this is exactly where a fair number of citizens want to be in five years’ time. To be living a climate-neutral life and to achieve better, faster and easier mobility. How backward are our politics? The future of Portugal, the future of Monchique is CO2-neutral. We don’t want to blow any more emissions into the atmosphere, neither through forest fires nor through mobility or our own energy consumption. In our interviews, only one mayoral candidate out of six has serious thoughts on future-proofing Monchique. Next week we’ll take stock of our interviews so far. Today we are featuring Paulo Alves, the PS candidate in Monchique. Next Saturday we’ll introduce you to the last candidate, André Varela of the Communist party (PCP, PEV), which at the last elections in 2017 were able to garner 4.07 % of the electorate, 142 votes to be exact. The winner at the time was the PSD under Rui André, who had stepped into the ring with the incumbency bonus: 1,517 votes of the 3,663 votes cast, which secured him 43.5%. In 2017, second place went to Paulo Alves (PS) with 1,306 votes or 37.45 per cent. It’s him who will reply to our questions here today.

Interview with Paulo Alves PS

ECO 123: So who is Paulo Alves?

Paulo Alves: My name is Paulo Alves, I am one of the candidates running for mayor of the Câmara Municipal de Monchique in the next elections of 26 de September, for the PS Socialist Party. I am myself from Monchique, was born here 51 years ago, in a rural area, where I lived up to 16, without tarmacked roads, electricity, television or telephone. I lived well. I’m a happy person, I love my mountains and the town. I am married to the nurse Suzel Gamito, with whom I have two children, one is 22 (and has already finished his university degree), the other is 17, and I want to continue here, doing the best I can for the municipality and the people living in it.

António Costa being Prime Minister is helpful for you to win these elections? 

He’s our prime minister and head of the PS. Naturally that helps. While he’s not come down to  Monchique, when we presented our candidacy last Saturday, on the Largo dos Chorões, the Minister for Infrastructure and Housing, Pedro Nuno Santos, was present, and we have the entire support of the Government in these elections.

In the last elections you lost against Rui André. What are the reasons that made you try again?

I don’t consider having lost, really. I was running against a mayor in power for eight years, and even so, myself and my team we managed to be the only political force in 2017 to recover votes compared to the previous elections, in a difficult context of reduced voter turnout, remaining 200 votes behind.

Why vote PS in these elections?

While in mayoral elections, the proximity factor means the focus is more on the team, and the people making it up, the political parties too are important. People join a party because they identify with its ideology. The PS is different from the PSD because the latter is not even a social-democratic party at the moment, it has a different ideology… but the PS is a party of the centre-left that looks after people, that has the capacity to put itself in the place of the other person. This is something I can identify with, that is our foremost concern: the people. And it is towards this that we want to work: solidarity, responsibility, respect, that no one is left behind. This is also one of the great pillars of the Socialist Party.

Monchique is already finding itself impoverished by the great fire of 2018. As candidate, how do you propose stopping future fires?

There is no magic bullet. The responsibility of each of us is very important. The world starts in our street, in our parish, our municipality. We have to start somewhere. With the issue of the fires solutions include reorganising the landscape, substituting species… and prevention has to be fundamental. A resident has many responsibilities in questions of management and fire breaks, the primary firebreaks (responsibility of the ICNF, but where the municipality may also act); in the secondary management lanes next to the information panels, which by law have to be cleared to a depth of ten metres each side. The creation of measures for those owners who don’t follow the clearing regulations around their residences, which are of great importance (we saw the innumerable houses that burned in 2018, many of which, as unbelievable as that may sound, three years down the line, have still not been rebuilt…). We should be thinking of a possible solution for those houses that serve as secondary residence. All this is important. As are the water supply points. It would be important to create a network of fixed or mobile water supply point, involving the villagers.

It’s important to extend the “Aldeia segura – pessoas seguras” (Safe Village – Safe People) programme, with local Civil Protection units, the way it has worked in Alferce (where it was already in place) and how it’s already functioning in Marmelete, to other villages. Mobilizing people to actively participate in the process of civil protection, because we are all Civil Protection, that’s my motto.

The issue of forest fires also has a lot to do with education. Promoting education with our younger people, manage behaviours…

I don’t have a fundamentalist view on the monocultures. Because I consider that we have space for the crop forest, space for the forest of autochtone species, space for the working forest, but everything has to be duly organised and managed.

There’s another aspect that is fundamental in this question of the fires: the rural exodus. Without having people actually living there it’s impossible to manage these spaces. The people who made a living off our forest territory, and who kept those spaces well managed, organised, and cleared, left for the urban centres and wanted to maintain the same level of revenue off the land they had before; they engaged in planting and reforestation, but without proper organisation. It’s the local authorities’ job to promote this education and this organisation.

Why has Monchique been losing residents, over the past 12 years, while São Brás de Alportel has doubled their number?

These are two different situations. And Monchique has not only been losing inhabitants over the past 12 years, but over the past 20, 30 years already.

Brás de Alportel has benefited from its proximity with Faro and Faro’s development. The town is much closer to Faro than Monchique is to Portimão…

But what conditions can Monchique offer? Schools with asbestos in the roof, with the rain coming in; there is no Casa do Povo; nor a cinema or cultural initiatives…

There are basic things people are looking for, such as access to housing, jobs, health, security, plus leisure. All this is important to keep or settle people here. As incredible as it may appear, Monchique has no local housing strategy. A study needs to be carried out allowing us to know which areas we should intervene in, what the needs of the municipality are: if the rehabilitation of the urban centres, the construction of new homes or other situations. This local housing strategy is essential, so residents may put themselves forward for external funding for example.

But there are other situations. In the health sector, for instance, we are having enormous difficulty to make professionals stay in the area, doctors in particular. We need to do something, even if it involves finding solutions so a medic who wants to settle in Monchique has a place to stay at their disposal. And as a society we have to, within the municipal budget, agree that this is important and has the potential to keep us living here.

For the creation of jobs and to make the young people want to stay, it’s also important to include recent graduates in structural projects within local government. The major part of the youths that leave have other horizons that Monchique is not providing them with.

But leisure is also important. We have an extremely important ongoing programme: “365 Algarve”, where, in Monchique, we had the experience of the spectacles offered by “Lavrar o Mar”, which has already taken firm root in our community. Now, what we need is infrastructures. We also need a new school, which should already have been built. In 2015 a protocol was signed between the municipality and the Minister of Education which provided for the construction of a new school, or the reconstruction of the existing one. The deadline for this plan expired in 2017, with nothing having been done, even though it would have been 50% co-financed. A secondary school in Monchique is essential, as is the one in Marmelete,  where work has begun now to remove the asbestos, and to upgrade it.

What may we expect from Paulo Alves, in case you are elected mayor?

I’m not looking to focus on my role as an individual; I value a collective approach. The main  protagonist has to be Monchique. You can expect from me a person that is open, communicative and hard-working…

Will we receive more eucalyptus or more diversified forests?

In the past we have exaggerated a little in cultivating eucalyptus, and there are areas in our territory where it will have to be taken out. In others, organized well, it can stay because it creates jobs, develops the economy where it carries significant weight. The Rezoning Plan for the mountainous areas of Monchique and Silves provides for the valorisation of the terraces and the remuneration of the ecosystems – and it would be good if we could put this in practice – which is compensating the people, especially the small landowners who want to replace their areas of eucalyptus that are already abandoned, and no longer profitable… with a different type of crop, such as the cork oak, the chestnut… This book, “Contributions to the monograph of Monchique”, by José António Guerreiro Gascon, written in 1940, shows that there were chestnuts, oaks, cork oaks, medronheiro and olive trees in Monchique, and even… vines. Afterwards, for various reasons, those species gradually disappeared and were replaced.

You are a banker by profession. Let’s imagine I have 25,000 euros to invest. What would the best way be to invest them in the municipality?

I’ve been a banker for 27 years and a bank manager for maybe 18 of them. We have to take a path that makes us stand out, that differentiates us as a municipality: the sausages, the honey, the medronho… If I invest that money in cork trees or oaks it will only be my grand-children who will see the return …

Investors are either looking for an immediate return (which, in Monchique, would be difficult), or decide to take a different perspective and invest in the future. Organic neighbourhood farming, aromatic and medicinal herbs…

So, get our hands dirty…

Yes, I really enjoy getting my fingers, hands, feet, legs dirty… investments connected to the soil…

Does it always have to involve perspiration?

Yes, with blood, sweat and tears (laughs). My grandfather used to say: “Paulo, never let go of this little patch of soil because it will be useful to you at any moment in life.” Investing also means investing in our happiness, not only investments at a monetary level. We have to also invest in a better world than the one we found, for us, for our children, for our grand-children…

So I’ll take these 25,000 euros. I’ll buy two pieces of equipment with 40 solar panels, capable of producing green electricity and which provides me with energetic self-sufficiency. What do you think of turning Monchique into a town, a municipality of zero emissions?

Zero-emissions may be utopian. This is part of our individual responsibility we discussed earlier. Renewable and alternative energies are important, and one of our projects, if we reach mayoral office, involves the promotion of energetic efficiency in the municipal buildings. This is lacking in Monchique. There’s a difference between domestic production of electricity with solar panels and the large outfits, which at the end of the day are based in profit. It’s not that profit isn’t important because everybody is looking to generate income. But we have to evaluate the environmental impact of those options because they too have them.

There is also wind energy. A little while ago we talked about the forest; we could also have discussed biomass. There is much talk of a biomass facility, which could use up debris from the forest, maintaining it clear

This is a project that has been talked about since the time when Carlos Tuta was mayor, and nothing happened… What to expect from the PS over the following four years on a planet with finite recourses?

Our presentation, to be launched on the 14th – and which will be divulged shortly – already includes some ideas along those lines. We want to intervene in housing, in the school infrastructure, promote respect for the environment… the effects of climate change are already here, it’s an inevitable reality.

We have to find strategies within the council that will protect us. One of our ideas involves the launch of a Municipal Emergency Fund, which could immediately help people in times of disaster, or a Municipal Reserve, which could provide materials (personal protective equipment, or others)… Our policy takes the people and their well-being as its starting point…

But, after the 2018 fire, the situation is deplorable.

The situation is indeed difficult, it’s easy to despair. The economic situation for those who lived off the forest – farmers, foresters, beekeepers – got worse. Probably, it will only be next year  (so four years after), that the medronho producers will be able to once more harvest fruit to a significant level. There was support funding – there were over 300 requests for funds in the agricultural sector (and there the Government did intervene); there could have been a different solution to cover small-scale losses, with less bureaucracy. Even so, there were many applications that received a payout.

What is missing in Monchique is a dedicated council office to support the companies and institutions in accessing public funds and programmes – and this is a council responsibility. This office might be composed by council functionaries, or external ones, which could involve recent university graduates who could do their work experience here, and who would directly support the municipality’s economy, to allow it to grow. One of the failings of the council is the incapacity it showed in sourcing external funds, because the municipal revenue is not available for investment. And obviously we have to promote the sectors producing honey, medronho, aromatic and medicinal herbs, nature tourism. Development for Monchique has to be sustainable and respect the environment.

What is behind the word sustainability? Two years ago we lost the IMT tax of nearly 500,000 euros in the sale of the Caldas de Monchique. The PS voted in favour of that measure at the council meeting. What is your position?

When the project was debated in the council, the PS councillors voted against. We had some doubts about the proposal. The company meanwhile improved the proposal, put it to the council, and it was approved, and not only with the votes of the PS, there were favourable votes from the other political forces as well, from the CDU to the PSD. We have to demystify this idea that we wrote off that money. There was never any tax levied on the citizens from this project, because before that it was a foundation. And we also have to support those who want to invest in Monchique.

But it didn’t create jobs …

Because there is one thing missing, a regulation of support for investments, so that those who invest know what they can count on, that provides support, so investors have safeguards.

And in relation to the investment made in the Caldas de Monchique… the company invested in  2017, when they bought the complex; in 2018 they had the fire, now they had to deal with a pandemic, all this to say that they have been confronted with situations that maybe could have stopped them from taking their business plan further the way they had it mapped out.

Yet the municipality lost a lot of money in IMT taxes.

It didn’t receive them because there is this prerogative that the town council may concede a pardon, and the company committed itself to move its headquarters here to Monchique, to pay its taxes here, and committed itself in terms of job creation, but there are always imponderables.

Also, we have to think beyond that. How were the Caldas before that purchase? They were lying abandoned. And we have a similar example with the touristic complex of the Caldas bottling facility, which has been a tremendous success, and which has members who belong to both companies. Probably if, a few years from now, the Caldas de Monchique grow and rejuvenate, creating a proper touristic-thermal complex, we’ll be able to see that this IMT exemption was well applied.

The citizens will decide with their vote on the 26th of September.

It’s always the citizen who decides. But he or she also has to have the notion that as much as those elected bear responsibility those who elected them also bear their own.

Thank you.