|Login or register so that you can make a comment.||No comments. Be the first to make a comment.|
«Swimming with the sharks»
What exactly dumbfounded you?
Laurinda Seabra: So many things! I had a picture of Portugal, from coming here since 1974 for holidays, etc. I thought it was a 1st world country – part of Europe. But when you start living here, you realise there are so many problems! For one, there is no independent representation for small and medium-sized businesses - yet these are the backbone of Portuguese society!
Then, there’s the problem of “lack of retention” – by that I mean, money here doesn’t stay in the community: it invariably goes to big business/ banks/ in Spain, Germany, France, etc. There’s a real lack of capital circulating in Lagos. There are also no mechanisms in place to encourage people to leave their money here – and then, to cap the various problems, there’s fear!
I have never seen so much fear as I have seen in this town – and I come from Africa! I’ve been through the townships. I’ve learnt that you have to keep asking questions. Pushing for answers. People here -they’re not used to that: you see small businesses paying IVA on “facturas” that they’re still waiting to be paid for – by the borough council!
If they don’t pay the IVA, they get fined by the Government (when the whole reason they haven’t paid their tax is because local government owes them money!) It’s totally crazy. I want to go up to Lisbon and change the laws that are killing small businesses…
So what’s your plan?
To create a network of networks. To go from community to community within the Algarve, so that people can work together and grow together - and so that in the end we’ll have the region surviving as a whole. Lagos is the pilot project.
We started the “I Support Lagos” campaign 18 months ago; we’ve already got 1,800 supporters – and things are happening! We’re challenging the prescriptive nature of government: one of the most recent examples is the re-opening of António’s Restaurant in Porto do Mós (closed in the summer by the borough council due to a long-running legal wrangle with foreign developers.
Courts in Lagos and Loulé later ruled that the closure was illegal). We’re focusing on promoting Lagos as a destination of choice - attracting new blood and promoting local infrastructure. By the beginning of 2012, we’ll have in place our “VIP Welcome Programme” – involving teams of volunteers taking people round Lagos, showing what this place has to offer - and at the end of the month, we’ll be holding our first workshop to help empower small businesses to “take back control” – show them how to fight back, and win!
Have you got any support from the authorities?
None! But to be honest, for us to succeed and develop, we have to remain totally independent.
How do you feel about the future of the Algarve?
It’s under attack, that’s for sure – but we still have room to manoeuvre. The last 10 years I’ve been working to establish links with civic society – links that will allow us to ask the inconvenient questions; fight back by using the system to beat the system. Time is of the essence.
We have the Government handing out licences for gas and oil exploration off the Algarve coast, and poised to give the go-ahead to mining in Monchique – how will these activities implicate on tourism, and our businesses and daily lives? We have to join together and safeguard our rights and personal liberties – before it’s too late.