2 years jail for denouncing Lisbon’s airport expansion

The Portuguese government and VINCI corp plan to expand Lisbon airport and build a second one on a natural reserve. In response, the ATERRA campaign took off, calling for ‘Less aviation, more imagination!’ The activist who interrupted Portugal’s Prime Minister is now threatened with 2 years jail time and a mass civil disobedience action is planned for May 22 at the Lisbon airport. Which one is the real crime? Defending the present or destroying the future?

It’s the evening of April 23rd 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal. To finish off a week of international rebellion for life, called for by Extinction Rebellion, there’s a surprise for the anniversary of the Socialist Party. The Prime Minister takes the stage. All cameras are on. Suddenly, paper planes fly through the hall. From the stage a banner reads “More planes? You gotta be kidding! We need a plan B, there’s no planet B.” Kiko tries to take the lead and says “the Tagus river, our city and future generations have nothing to celebrate…” until he gets violently kicked out by the Prime Minister’s security.

The action made that week’s headlines. For the first time, the Portuguese media echoed the resistance to one of the biggest crimes planned in the country against life and the future: The government and the insidious VINCI corp plan to expand the Portela airport, right at the center of Lisbon, and to build a second airport in Montijo, right in the Tagus estuary natural reserve.

On Thursday, April 8, Kiko got contacted by the Public Prosecutor’s office. Oddly, it was not to thank him for denouncing the ecocide, but to accuse him of a crime called ‘qualified disobedience.’ If convicted they could lock him up for 2 years. Why? Because of “disturbing public order and tranquility,” since he “had not communicated the demonstration to the municipality.”

“The municipality never communicated to me it was going to double the planes passing over my head, ruining Lisbon population’s life and undermining future generations. VINCI, a sort of multinational mafia, was not accused of disturbing public order and tranquility for wanting to destroy one of Europe’s main estuaries and to push us all into climate chaos,” Kiko says.

Kiko is one of the activists in ATERRA. The campaign gathers the Portuguese Stay Grounded members, who stand for the degrowth of aviation and a just transition to a climate-just mobility.  They have been denouncing the airport expansion plan through several creative actions like crashing a giant paper plane into the Ministry of Finance and wearing surf boards and goggles at the airport after climate change drowned the runways. They have broken into the main aviation event dressed up as airplane stewards, to tell everyone: “Welcome to the planet Earth. This is a one way flight. There are no emergency exits. Only the reduction of flights can change our course.”

This spring, the Portguese activists are calling for a mass civil disobedience action at Lisbon airport on May 22.

ATERRA activists delivering a giant paper plane to the Portuguese Ministry of Finance. Photo from Climáximo.

Over the past decade, Lisbon became a trendy destination for mass tourism. The air traffic in the city has doubled. Now, the expansion aims to nearly double it again; from 38 to 72 flights per hour.

Airplanes are by far the most polluting means of transportation: their contribution to climate change is three times higher than what the industry has previously admitted. They are by far the most elitist: Around 90% of the world’s population don’t fly and 1% of super rich flyers account for half of all the world’s aviation emissions! Funnily, they are by far the most tax free.

With their actions, ATERRA activists unmask the greenwashing of the political and economical elite who sign agreements and intone speeches about decarbonizing the economy, while deciding to raise the country’s aviation emissions by 50%. The current pandemic has not changed these pharaonic plans for planes.

Moreover, COVID-19 served as a lame excuse for yet another mind-blowing governmental measure: Since March of last year, they shut down the historic night trains to Madrid and to the French border. A noble way to celebrate the Portuguese presidency of the EU on the European Year of Rail 2021; to have the country cut off from Europe’s railway system for the first time in one and a half centuries! A Portuguese minister claimed there is no need for a train to Madrid, since there already is a plane. The Portuguese Prime Minister claimed there was a “national consensus” on the airport expansion, which had never been the case. The scientific consensus we know is that, on the verge of the ecological crisis and the sixth mass extinction, we must drastically reduce aviation to keep conjugating verbs in the future tense.

ATERRA protesting outside Lisbon airport. Photo from ATERRA.

Since that evening in the spring of 2019, thousands of Portuguese students marched in climate strikes, denouncing Montijo airport’s ecocide. Environmental associations took the government to the courts. The scientific community exposed the project as a disaster. 40,000 people in the Netherlands signed a petition against it. The Portuguese Environment Agency (ANA) and the Nature Conservation Institute (ICNF) are under criminal investigation related to their approval of the project. The municipality of Lisbon was pushed to address the health impacts of the current airport.

“For as long as politicians’ speeches echo the interests of the elite, disobedience will remain a weapon of the people. Those who aim to intimidate us don’t understand the world we live in. They don’t understand we act from our gut and heart. We are not worried about years in prison. We are worried about Life,” Kiko says. “It is the disobedience to laws of nature that is threatening us all.”

His trial is set for January 13th 2022 in Lisbon, the “European Green Capital” last year.

The date for reopening the international night trains, for cancelling the Montijo airport project, and stopping Portela’s airport expansion has not been set – yet!

Share your support with ATERRA by making a donation to GAIA association, with the description “ATERRA” (IBAN: PT50 0035 0298 00003412030 50, BIC SWIFT: CGDIPTPL) or writing to aterra (at) riseup.net. Follow the campaign on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Support the Stay Grounded network, find and join your local members.

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