Luís Dias returned to the hunger strike. Prime minister available to receive farmer

Luís Dias is not well acquainted with the São Bento area of ​​Lisbon. He walked around the block to find a place that seemed safe to him. “Here I think it’s the least bad thing”, he tells the Expresso, sitting on a park bench next to the Parliament. At his side he has an unmounted tent and an unrolled sleeping bag. It’s still mid-afternoon and the sun has stopped reaching there, it is covered by tall buildings. “It’s getting cold here”, says the farmer who this Friday went on hunger strike again, a protest to save Quinta das Amoras.

“I have no other option. Let’s see what happens. It’s been eight years in which everything drags on and this is not life. If it were just Maria José [co-proprietária da quinta] in this fight, she had already given up but as I have nothing else to do, I will insist, because their objective is to make us give up”, he continues.

Half of the farm was destroyed in 2017 by a storm and, to repair the damage caused, Luís applied for European funds – the reconstruction was valued at 120 thousand euros (40 thousand in own investment and 80 thousand in European funds). The farmer made the request to the Center’s Regional Directorate of Agriculture and Fisheries, but the institution refused. The couple appealed the decision and even took the case to the Ombudsman, who agreed with them. The report of the General Inspection of Agriculture, Sea, Environment and Spatial Planning points out responsibilities to the State, considering that the Regional Directorate should not have denied the funds. However, the money was never delivered.

A second storm completely destroyed the greenhouses. “The bill soared to 240 thousand euros, 100 thousand ours and 140 from European funds”, says Luís. Since then, “the plants have died, everything has deteriorated”. Production stopped.

Luís Dias preparing the tent next to the prime minister’s official residence PHOTO: Nuno Botelho

The afternoon is drawing to a close and Luís has to prepare the shelter where he will spend the night. He goes to the police officers who are at the entrance to the Parliament and asks them for permission to erect the tent in that garden. After all, it couldn’t be, and they took him to the front of the Parliament and indicated that the only solution would be to stay across the street, in front of the stairs, a place that is already occupied by another protest. “In this garden I can’t because the protests and demonstrations have to take place 100 meters from the building. The solution they gave me was to go among the antivaccines that are on the other side. But I’m not going there. It was what I needed now in the middle of all this, to catch covid”, he says.

The only solution – and Luís Dias does not know “if it will be possible” – is to go up to the door of the official residence and see if the park that is located there meets the minimum distance required. Luís puts his backpack on his back and takes the two bags. The path is not long but it is uphill. The farmer turns to the police who guard the entrance to the São Bento Palace. The ‘no’ is not immediate. Beyond the lamp, Luís can protest. “I even get better here because my car is already close by and if I can’t stand the cold I can go there.”

“We are the victims here, but we are treated like the villains of the story. There are reports that prove us right. I just haven’t been homeless yet because of the covid”, he says, referring to the measure he prevented evictions during the pandemic. “They’re going to pawn Maria José’s house, the cars, the farm, we have the bank accounts frozen. What do we do? All this because of an error by the Ministry of Agriculture. And they know we’re right, they even apologize to us but they don’t solve it”, he criticizes.

“I thought I was finally going to have peace and that everything was resolved but no”

Luís Dias

According to Luís Dias, one of the reports even points to an official from the Regional Directorate of Agriculture and Fisheries at the Center as responsible for the procedural failure. “We are told that we caught a person who had had problems with blackberries for many years,” he says. The person in question, he adds, continues to function in that body.

Faced with the protest, Expresso contacted the prime minister’s office, who assured that he was following up on the case. Hours later, an official source added that the situation was already being analyzed and that he planned to call a meeting with Luís Dias and Maria José Santos at the beginning of next week. However, Luís Dias guaranteed that he had been called to a meeting this Saturday, with a representative of the prime minister’s office.

Last year, Luís was in front of the Belém Palace and, when he ended the hunger strike on the 28th day, he had warned that he would return to the protest if nothing was resolved. At the time, he was assured that the situation was going to be investigated and in November the report of that same investigation arrived. Once again, the owners of Quinta das Amoras were right. “I thought I was finally going to have peace and that everything was resolved but no.”

This week, the couple was called to a meeting with the Secretary of State for Agriculture. “They called us to propose reducing the size of our farm and thus making it easier for us to invest in reconstruction. We? Do we have to find ways to rebuild what state officials have destroyed? It was the most surreal, crazy and sickening thing I’ve ever seen”, told Luís to the Expresso shortly after leaving the meeting. The proposal presented is to rebuild “only one hectare” (a quarter of the land), being allocated “a quarter of the funds”.

In response to Lusa, the Executive confirmed the meeting and said that funding of 140 thousand euros will be available “until the beneficiary decides on its use”. Even so, the amount made available now by the Government is not enough. Without having the capacity to rebuild and produce, the farmer estimates that the damages have significantly exceeded 240 thousand euros. “They expect us to pay. Like? I have no idea.”

PHOTOS: Nuno Botelho