The Supreme Court Decision
Sad to say, the Supreme Court of Lisboa ruled in favour of the rich guys (surprise!). Now guardianship of the little piece of land I love so much, is irrevocably in the hands of Floresta do Lago, shell company of John Hunt, billionaire property developer.
After 3 long years of fighting for our right to buy the neighboring land, it is ruled we have no right. 3 years, 3 courts. The first ruling from a judge who openly scoffed at the mention of essential oils then ruled: “Harvesting native plants is not agriculture”. Our lawyer, outraged, convinced us to challenge, and the decision was overturned in the Evora Court of Appeals, unanimously. 3 judges agreed. Then Mr Hunt took it to the Supreme Court, at the last possible moment. After an agonising wait, here we are.
Apparently, despite the hard work we put in caring for the land every day, it’s just a big backyard for us. They claim we are not using the land for agricultural purposes, because we are only harvesting that which grows naturally.
It’s not a good decision for Portugal, or anyone who doesn’t want to use industrial farming methods in order to make a living. But that’s how it goes, The System protects its own. Industrial olive groves and almond orchards grow like a blot across Portugal, illegally. The system encourages it. A project like ours is spat on.
Did we ever really have a chance? I don’t know. Erin Brokovitch won, so I guess it happens. But small town lawyer versus Lisbon’s fanciest law firm was always a long shot. Still, I don’t think the system is consciously corrupt, –although I don’t rule it out– it’s just that we are unconsciously conditioned to serve the Big Man.
In this case, let’s postulate that actual money didn’t change hands, that influence was not peddled over a game of golf, no promises were whispered. Let’s just imagine you are a well-fed judge, comfortable and respectable, a pillar of society. With whom are you more aligned? A company whose professed aim is “Real estate and Forestry”, or a group of people who wants to harvest “weeds” to make essential oils (“Really? Aromatherapy? You can’t be serious?” This city judge has no idea of the medicinal or financial value of the crop and thinks aromatic shrubs are a blight). When the judge interprets the law – and all law is interpretation – whose side is he on?
That’s the world we live in people, where 1% own and control everything. The pressure to conform is immense if you want any scraps from their table. The judges are in their pockets consciously or unconsciously. As George Carlin said, “It’s a great big club, and we ain’t in it”.
Ecological And Economic Repercussions
Hunt and Floresta do Lago have already bought up over 3,000 hectares in our neighbourhood (10,000 acres and counting). Mostly around the Santa Clara lake, but drifting slowly our direction. Maybe it’s true that he is just buying it because he likes trees, as his people have told me. But his henchmen were willing to lie, cheat, manipulate, deceive, and threaten in order to get this small piece that neighbours our land. Why? Perhaps that’s just how he works? At least that’s the reputation he has. Although that’s a long time ago now, maybe he’s changed? Shall we give him the benefit of the doubt?
He also has a reputation for spotting real estate markets just before prices rise, so maybe we’re in for a ‘boom’ here in rural Alentejo. The truth is, we don’t really know what his ultimate intention is here, or why he is gobbling up all the land he can. Maybe it’s just a big game of Monopoly to him.
I don’t want to think his intentions are bad, perhaps he wants to do something like his project in Suffolk? If so it would be lovely, but he is currently poorly advised, following the traditional practices that have brought this area into ecological disaster and desertification. His management of the land so far is to plough under everything that grows, destroying topsoil, biodiversity and wildlife habitat as he goes. Not to mention how ploughing contributes to global warming (see Kiss the Ground documentary.) and kills the cork oaks. Oh, and mostly it’s illegal, under Portuguese law, Decreto Lei 169/2001.
Also, his purchase of the land means he has made sure the population of the area will continue to decline, which means less cash in the local economy, less taxes for road repair and health services etc etc.
At the End of the Play
We never know where this life will take us, I certainly never imagined spending 3 years in a legal battle with a billionaire property developer. It’s been an amazing field of learning for me. I have grown in many ways through the experience and will continue to live through my heart and passion, no matter what. Maybe now we can sit down with Mr Hunt and talk like grown ups, perhaps he wants to help us create a wild paradise here. You see, despite everything, my optimism is still intact. I have screamed out my rage at the injustice, cried out my heartbreak, and will continue to feel the pain, but I can’t help looking on the bright side. And that’s important.
We ordinary people, with simple lives, those of us who wish for a fair and beautiful world, where all life is respected and seen as interconnected, all we dreamers, visionaries, and poets, lovers and laughers, embracers of life, we may never win the Supreme Court decisions, or see justice done, but still, we should never doubt the importance of our role in this human drama. So keep loving and laughing against all odds. Life is short, play your part well.