Yesterday I was stopped in the street by a sympathizer who said if only we had appeared on the scene ten years ago, things might have been different, we might have been able to open peoples' minds and change things for the better. People wouldn't have paid us any attention, I said.
Curiously, it has been ten years since I returned to Madeira and got involved. December 2002. In 2003 My sister and I protested the expropriation of the Hinton factory. My sister lay on the ground in front of the bulldozer. People were shocked, it was not the done thing!
When I returned my family were being treated as real social pariahs. Childhood friends would shy away and pretend not to see me, we were an embarrassment. We had been singled out by Jardim as enemies of the Madeirans who must be hated, ostracized, expropriated and expelled. We were an example of how he could use state power to persecute and destroy people. The Government proposed to pay a pittance in compensation and Jardim began a real hate campaign in state occasions and in the press, even accusing us of using slave labour. The message was not lost on anyone; they feared receiving the same treatment if they were associated with us.
We persisted. The following year, 2004, when the site was inaugurated during the election campaign, we lay on the ground in protest. On Jardim's orders, were hauled away by police in front of the national TV stations, which also broadcast Jardim's hate filled public speech against us. People began to timidly show their support.
Actually, the first protest had already attracted some support. It lead to me meeting the journalist Gil Canha (fired from the Diário for his 'delenda cartago: to unload a ship in Madeira costs six times more than in the Azores, Thank President Jardim').
In January 2004 we launched the first issue of the satirical newspaper 'Garajau'. We denounced what the other papers were afraid to touch, naming names. We expected not to last six months, but it was a success with the public. From the second issue on, the Government began to instal criminal proceedings against our cartoons, humor, opinion pieces, and much later for our investigations.
Humour, protest and making the justice system work were our three lines of action. We began to denounce the negligence and complicity in the Public Prosecutor's Office and in the Justice system. Naming judges and prosecutors who received favors. We started targeting entities to take a stand on the abuses here: Public Prosecutor's Office, National Commission of Elections, Press Entity, President of the Republic, European Commission.
We also launched court proceedings to, among other things, stop illegally approved buildings - something which was already being done by environmental associations and the then socialist, Filipe Sousa, from Gaula. In 2007, I launched a case against the Funchal Centrum, the biggest building in the centre of Funchal - approved on the basis of an absurd appreciation that since it occupied a whole block it needn't comply with the city plan. Nobody had dared take on Jardim's right hand man, Jaime Ramos before. When the building was embargoed, Jardim had a fit, accusing us of being Ayatollahs and saboteurs and promising retaliation. The embargo was another shake to the system.
In 2007 we entered politics through the Partido da Nova Democracia. Our objective was to use humor, protest and the law to challenge the 30 year old regime. We (Gil, Baltasar, Coelho and myself) protested against Jardim's use of inaugurations for party political campaign. Jardim incited his supporters against us, we were heckled and physically harassed at every step.
Our political TV advert, in which we used the character Bexiga to make fun of the regime however, was a huge success. When we took him to a huge inauguration where a crowd of thousands had gathered and Bexiga began to meet and greet the people, just twenty or so meters behind Jardim, Jardim really blew his top and the situation nearly got out of hand.
We elected one Member of Parliament in 2007. The Public Prosecutor's Office allowed our case against Jardim's election crimes to prescribe.
We have not stopped since. In January 2011, we embarked on a mammoth task of challenging the Jardim's Party and exposing the regime's abuses in Madeira by launching José Manuel Coelho as Presidential candidate. In a society where people were afraid to criticize the regime, we managed to gather more than the 7500 necessary signatures. Coelho won 39% of the votes in Madeira, 5% behind the candidate of the PSD and CDS, Cavaco. A current of change had begun - the regime was shown to be vulnerable - alas, ten years too late!