Fairy tale

It’s like Lenin said: look for the persons who benefit and you will know.

Once upon a time, there was a friendly country, in the South of Europe bordering the Atlantic Ocean, that used to export cork, tinned sardines and cheap labor.

But back in 2008 things changed as a worldwide economic recession forced the country on its knees. No longer able to pay its government debt, it had to beg friends for help and borrowed a total of 76 billion from the IMF and the European Community.

These friends – that now had become creditors – demanded strict measures, that were enthusiastically implemented by the country’s then conservative government. It started raining austerities for many years and the people suffered.
There were massive cuts in education, health services, and social spending. Salaries plummeted, poverty increased and unemployment skyrocketed to a record 17% in 2013.

But at the end of 2015, the sun broke through the dark clouds and a brand-new socialist government – with the support of more radical parties like the Left Bloc and the Communist Party – came to power. Never before had a coalition of the Democratic Left-ruled the country. Not even in 1975, when the Carnation Revolution re-established democracy.

The message of the new government was crystal clear. Stop austerity measures and increase demand. ‘By refunding income to the people in a moderate way, people get confidence and investment returns’, explains economy minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral.
The new leaders promised to raise the minimum wage, pensions, and social security and a wealth tax was introduced on property valued over 600.000 euro.

And it worked. Two years after taking power the government is showing an economic growth of 2.5% – the strongest since the beginning of the recession – and a reduction of the deficit by half, lower than ever. Meanwhile, foreign investment jumped 13%, unemployment dropped below 10% and 17 billion (65%) of the loan from the IMF is repaid.

In one year 155.000 new jobs were created – a record in twenty years. Tourism and industry – in particular footwear– are booming and export increases more than import.

In two years’ time, Portugal has not only won the European Football Championship and the Eurovision Song festival for the very first time, it also increased public investment, reduced the deficit, beheaded unemployment and sustained economic growth.
It looks like fairy tales do exist.

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Bias

When I was stopped by the police and asked them ‘why’, the officer said ‘a black man is always suspicious’ – José Fernandes, legal advisor.

In Portugal, prisons are painted black! Of every 10 prisoners, 9 (90%) are Africans. If you are from Cape Verde, the situation becomes even worse, as 15 times more Cape Verdeans than Portuguese stay in jail. Compared with these figures Afro-Americans are relatively better off. In the US black people are ‘only’ 5 times more likely to be imprisoned than their fellow Americans.

‘These numbers are shocking’, says Alípio Ribeiro, an attorney from the Criminal Investigation Department and confirm what he already thought: ‘there is a legal system for whites and a legal system for blacks’.
‘You can’t just derive from these data, that black people are more criminal. It is much more likely that black people are locked up easier. Apparently little is needed to put them in prison.’

Approximately 1% of the population – 100.000 people – originates from the former Portuguese colonies in Africa, most of them from Cape Verde. The majority lives around the capital, in deprived neighborhoods, like Amadora and Sintra. Their exact number is unknown as collecting ethnic data is prohibited by Portuguese law.

Already in 2014, the Immigration Observatory indicated that sentences are tougher when committed by black Africans. Information from the General Directorate of the Department of Justice (DGPJ) and recently disclosed by the Portuguese newspaper Público, shows that black Africans indeed get the maximum sentence twice as often for offenses like robbery and domestic assault.

Celso Manata, head of DGPJ, however, rejects the idea that the legal system is discriminatory. He admits that there is an over-representation of blacks in Portuguese prisons, but believes that ‘this is caused by the poor socio-economic circumstances of black people, who therefore are more likely to commit a crime’.

‘In a society aimed at keeping an eye on certain communities, it is not surprising that the number of prisoners from these communities will be greater’, declares José Semedo, a lawyer at the National Immigrant Support Centre.
’Both our legal and prison system are much more aggressive to black people’.This is also reflected in the fact, that black people often have to serve their time and hardly get remission. ‘These findings clearly demonstrate that black prisoners are not getting the best defense and therefore stay unnecessary long behind bars.’

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Portugalidades

‘My grandparents had five children, three boys, and two girls. They all looked different,’ says Ermelinda – my 64 years old neighbor – when I ask her what actually makes the Portuguese Portuguese.

‘João was the smallest with his 166 cm. Both his hair and eyes were dark brown. Manuel was just about 190 cm. He had black hair and very dark eyes. Ana was also tall, 180 cm but she was blond and had greenish eyes. Cecilia just looked like a Swedish girl, with her blazing blond hair and crystal blue eyes. António had beautiful hazel eyes, his hair was brown too. Now, would you please tell me, who looks the most Portuguese ?’

The ‘typical’ Portuguese doesn’t exist in a country that has been occupied by a great number of civilizations – Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Celts, Swabians, and Arabs.
On top of that, 400 years of slave trade has added black African genes to the population, something the white community here doesn’t like to be reminded off.

According to Manuel Sobrinho Simões – Head of the Pathology and Immunology Department of the University of Porto – Portuguese indeed have a remarkable mixture of genes. ‘If there is something typical of the Portuguese genome pole, then it’s the enormous diversity.’

The country is about twice as big as the Netherlands but has – with 10.3 million – much fewer inhabitants. In the last couple of years, urbanization has increased at the expense of the countryside and the coastal region has become more densely populated, younger and richer.
The two largest cities – Lisbon at the river Tagus and Porto at the river Douro – cover together only 5% of the territory, while 60% of the population and 50% of the industrial companies are located there.

The national territory can – according to the Ministry of Environment – roughly be divided into:

40% forest (pine trees, eucalyptus, cork oak)
30% farmland (agriculture and livestock)
20% urban area (towns, villages, railways, roads)
10% inland water (rivers, lakes, dams)

Over the past 22 years, farmland has decreased with 2000 km² while urbanization increased with 1000 km². During the same period, forestation increased with 2000 km² – an equivalent to about 250.000 football fields!

The bad news is, that this year already three-quarter of the increase has been destroyed by wildfires, including the tragic one in Pedrógão Grande, killing 64 people. And the nightmare hasn’t stopped yet!

(photos Público & Observador)                                                   Bom fim de semana

Drought

Quando oiei a terra ardendo                        When I saw the burned land
Qua fogueira de São João                              Like the ‘bonfire of Saint John’
Eu perguntei a Deus do céu, uai                   I asked the Lord in heaven, ai
Por que tamanha judiação?                          Do I deserve this suffering?

Que braseiro, que fornaia                              What a heat, what a furnace
Nem um pê de prantação                               Not even a single plant survives
Por farta d’água, perdi meu gado               For lack of water, I lost my cattle
moreu de sede meu alazão                            My best horse died of thirst

https://youtu.be/DNBCw7r0mwU                 [ Asa Branca, Luiz Gonzaga, 1947 ]

July turned out to be one of the driest months in the past 17 years. Water levels in dams and basins have dropped substantially.

Last week the Meteorological Institute classified 99% of the land as dry – 80% even as very or extremely dry – especially the Southern and Eastern part of the country.

So far government’s response has been limited with the creation of an ‘Interdepartmental Committee on Drought Monitoring.
Experts, like João Deniz from the National Confederation of Agriculture, are concerned. ‘The situation is becoming worse every day. The government is far too optimistic. They are no farmers and should be more worried.’
He remembers the severe drought in 2005, when – South of the river Tagus – more than 120 cattle died every day due to lack of rain. Cereal production fell by 60%, wine with 30% and the production of honey was almost eliminated.

The drought of 2005 hasn’t learned us a lesson’, says Nelson Geada, president of the Portuguese Association of Water Distribution and Drainage. ‘Things tend to get worse due to climate change. One-third of the country already faces degradation and aridity of soils, especially the interior of the Algarve and the Alentejo. It is the time that the country starts preparing itself for the future, instead of praying for rain, like people used to do.’

Quercus, an environmental NGO is also critical on government policy. ‘Drought not only compromises agriculture and livestock but lack of vegetation also leads to an increase of CO₂ and further global warming, wildfires, poverty, and emigration.

Although water is scarce, wine is not!
Portugal has the highest wine consumption in the world with a mean intake of 54 liters per person per year ( followed closely by France with 52 liters ).

Wine and not water has to keep Portugal going this summer. Not dry wine of course.

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                                                                                                                                 (photos Público/SAPO)

Refugees

Nearly 1 in every 100 world citizens is on the run  –  UNHCR

‘I am very sad and angry. For more than a year in Portugal and still no permit. Why’s that?’, Mustafa asks. ‘They keep saying I have to be patient.’

When ISIS claimed one of his younger brothers for the Jihad at the end of 2015, Mustafa al-Sabee – a 30-year-old, successful tailor from Mosul – decided to flee Iraq with his family. He pays 3700 euros to reach Syria and another 5000 to enter Turkey, where he leaves his sick parents, his two younger brothers and a sister behind. He crosses the Aegean Sea by rubber boat and reaches Greece in February 2016. Six weeks later, he flies together with a selected group of – mainly Syrian – refugees to Portugal, convinced to get asylum there.

Mustafa belongs to one of the more than 1200 refugees, allocated to Portugal by the European Commission, within the framework of resettlement of refugees from Italy and Greece.

He himself would rather have gone to Belgium – where he knows a cousin – or to Germany, where distant relatives live.

In the meantime, he has been staying in Portugal for over a year, and despite the fact that pre-selection took place in Greece, he’s still waiting for his residence permit.
Without that, he can’t work officially and his family is not allowed to join him.

Resettlement of refugees is slow. To date, only 20% of the promised number of relocations of refugees from Greece and Italy, has been realized by all European member states together. Although Portugal accepted over 40% of its assigned refugees, it does not succeed in retaining them, as almost half have already left the country!

Refugees arriving in Portugal want to leave. Not at least because they prefer Northern European countries – like Germany, France or Switzerland – and feel utterly “lost” in Portugal.

Moreover, they do not find the conditions they hoped for and are distributed across the countryside, while most of them have an urban background. In addition, asylum procedures are very slow, there are problems with the recognition of diplomas and there is a lack of Arabic-speaking interpreters.

In the last 18 months, only 64 (5%) of the asylum seekers were granted a residence permit.
Is it surprising that many are heading for greener pastures up north?


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