Xenophobia

From now on, every time we – black women – look at the steps of the Parliament, we will not see each other with buckets and mops to clean – we are inside and have a voice ’  (Romualda Fernandes, MP)

A hundred protesters marched on Saturday the 27th of June through downtown Lisbon shouting ‘Portugal is not racist’. The demonstration was organized by Andre Ventura, the leader of the Far Right-party Chega (Enough).

Last October, Ventura won the first far right’s seat in Parliament, where he will face strong opposition of three newly elected black deputies with a Guinean background, Joacine Katar, Beatriz Gomes Dias and Romualda Fernandes. Never before in history was the composition of the Assembly of the Republic that diverse.

The march was held three weeks after thousands gathered in the capital in protest against racism and police brutality and took place at a time when the authorities are worried about a new wave of coronavirus cases in the outskirts of Greater Lisbon, where new lockdown measures have been installed in 19 parishes of Sintra, Loures, Odivelas, Amadora and Santa Clara.

The European Social Survey (ESS) recently showed that nearly two-thirds of the Portuguese people have prejudices on racism; either biological (‘Are there ethnic or racial groups, by nature, more intelligent?’) or cultural (‘Are there cultures, by nature, more civilized than others?’). One in three Portuguese manifest racist opinions on both biological and cultural racism. Only 11% of the population disagrees with all racist beliefs. 

The older the Portuguese are, the greater the number of people who manifest racism.
Although the majority of young people disagree that there are more intelligent ethnic or racial groups, 70% believes that certain cultures are more civilized than others.
Higher levels of education or income do not completely erase racism even though less racism is noted among these citizens.

The good news in the survey is that in recent years the position of the Portuguese against immigrants from different ethnic backgrounds has improved.
Five years ago Portugal belonged to the three EU countries that were most opposed to receiving immigrants from poor countries but it evolved towards greater openness and has become one where this objection dropped significantly.

 ‘However it remains to be seen how these immigrants are integrated’, underlines Alice Ramos, a sociologist at the Social Science Institute of the University of Lisbon. ‘You would have to know why people think that immigrants should enter, what jobs they should do and what they think about nationality and family reunification?
The results do not contradict the results of racist beliefs. It is one thing to give an opinion, the other is an attitude of discrimination against someone with a different ethnic background.’

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável             (pic Público/Sapo)











Homeless

The street is not a choice – we want houses’

Once upon a pre-Covid time, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa promised that he would personally see to it, that all 400 homeless in the capital got off the street in 2023. Since the new virus hijacked the country’s economy very little has changed. In fact, there are a lot more new faces on the street.

On the 15th of June tens of homeless people gathered before Parliament to express their displeasure. Sara – one of the protesters – has no job and feels discriminated against by the government. ‘I am not a number, I am a person. We have a right to housing!’

Many homeless people, don’t believe in shelters as they lump too many problematic individuals together under one roof.
The best solution would be to discuss with the homeless the needs of each and every one.

‘The government give us a minimum income of 189 euros per month but that is not nearly enough to rent a room.
When the landlords know we are homeless, they ask a six months deposit for a room.
There are a lot of abandoned houses in Lisbon. Why can’t they be used to rehouse the homeless?’

Manuel Grilo – Lisbon’s councillor for Education and Social Rights – declared that since the beginning of the pandemic 500 homeless people have been attended in four emergency centres created by the municipality.

47 of them have been referred to the Housing First program, a project financed by the City Council in which people are integrated into individual housing and supported by professionals. The municipality hopes that by the end of the year a total of 380 people will be accommodated through this program.

According to Guerreiro – another homeless protester in front of Parliament – the councillor of the Left Bloc lives out of reality. ‘Until today, there is not one municipal house attributed to a homeless person!’

In order to judge the evolution of homeless cases ‘on the ground’, the President recently paid a visit to the Avenida AlmiranteReis, Cais do Sodré and Santa Apolonia in Lisbon.

‘It is sad to see that the new crisis means an increase in homelessness, especially among young people. Now saying that the 2023 goal will be met, would be a lie with over 100.000 unemployed in Portugal due to Covid’.

Stay healthy                 Fique saudável             (pic PtRes/Público/JEcon)






Recovery

Before the pandemic, the Portuguese economy grew at a faster pace than the eurozone and the country ranked 28 on the list of wealthiest nations, despite its low rates in advanced education (50% of the population has only primary education; the highest percentage in Europe!) and average income (807 euro/month).

When the Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Portugal 18 months ago, the country willingly signed a multitude of cooperation agreements. At that time the socialist minority administration felt positive about the so-called ‘new Silk Route’.

In the meantime, its ‘golden visa program’ had opened the floodgates to Chinese buying up all sorts of property, banks, hotels and insurance companies.

But the tide has turned. The current public health crisis will drive a contraction in real GDP, and the long-lasting impact of the coronavirus on tourism will prevent a quick recovery in 2021.

An important economic lesson learnt, is to reduce dependence on imports from China. ‘This is the moment for Portugal to return to producing much of what we have been habitually importing’, Prime Minister António Costa declared.

To support the economy and prevent a debt crisis, Portugal can get 26.361 billion euros – 15.526 billion in grants and 10.835 billion in loans – from the European Economic Recovery Fund.

In order to access these funds, the country has to commit to the implementation of a reform plan program approved by the European Commission and the majority of the EU Council.


The government intends to use these assets to decarbonize the economy and reduce the imports of natural gas by developing an industry around hydrogen.
A European hub of ‘green energy’ (so-called because it is produced from renewable energy) close to Sines, one of the country’s major ports.

Sines is the perfect choice with its coal and oil-fired plants being disabled, and the network of existing gas pipelines 70% ready to distribute hydrogen. ‘Green hydrogen will be very cheap to produce and boost qualified employment’, says João Pedro MatosFernandes, the Minister for the Environment and Energetic transition  

Another strategy to overcome the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, is to transform the country into ‘a cluster of industrialisation’, explains Minister of Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva. ‘Portugal wants to be at Europe’s reindustrialisation forefront. We are talking here about textiles, clothing, shoes but also engineering, pharmaceuticals and agrifoods’.

He stressed that the country has important assets it can use like, qualified human resources, low wages, technology, quality of services and dominance in renewable energies.

Stay healthy        Fique saudavel            (pic Público/Sapo)














Release

‘As long as there is Covid , there will be no normal life’  (António Costa)

Portugal’s State of Emergency has changed into a State of Calamity as from the beginning of May and with approximately 100 deaths per million inhabitants.

This implicates that ‘the future depends on the efforts of every single citizen to make a success of the country’s return into the world of business’, according to prime minister António Costa.
In other words, social distancing and hand hygiene should remain in place.

Contrary to other European countries, Portugal rejects contact tracing. Both the president and the prime minister consider the measure to start putting citizens under permanent increased surveillance ‘unconstitutional’.

The release began on the 4th of May with the reopening of small local commerce (including opticians and dentists), bookshops, libraries, driving schools, hairdressers, beauty salons, public services and transport. All required special measures, in particular the use of masks. Not wearing one in public transport may be fined with 350 euros.

Without a spike in the number of infections, it was decided on May 18 to reopen restaurants, cafés and pastelarias (all running at 50% capacity), terraces, museums, art galleries, shops of up to 400 sq m, schools for 11th and 12th-year pupils taking national exams (with pupils and teachers wearing masks) and creches (as yet on a voluntary basis).

Other details of the State of Calamity involve a restriction on gatherings to a maximum of 10 people, funerals involving family members only (without restrictions on the number) and teleworking to be continued until June 1. The end of restrictions on ‘religious gatherings’ and resumption of the Premier Football League (without public) are scheduled for the final weekend of May.

The official beach season will start on June 6 although the country is set for a spring heatwave at the end of May. A ‘traffic-light system’ is being rolled out as a way of avoiding ‘militarised order’ on the more popular beaches Costa da Caparica, Cascais, Oeiras, Carcavelos and in the Algarve . The idea is that beachgoers adhere to the traffic lights or lose access to the beach altogether.

Sunshades (for max five persons and to be rented for half a day) have to be placed three metres from each other, the general 1.5 meter distance rule has to be respected at all times and masks are mandatory when entering beach restaurants and bars. Moreover, a new mobile phone app will carry information on supervised beaches, allowing beachgoers to plan ahead.


Stay healthy                          Fique saudável             (pic Público/Sapo)



Language

‘We can say anything, language has no limits’ – Georg Steiner.

Saudade is a unique word in Portuguese that has no direct translation in English. It means something like a melancholic or nostalgic desire for a person, place or event far away, either in space or time.
Esperto is another example. On the ball, brainy, smart, canny, with-it and intuitive, all help to approximate its meaning. In Brazil, the word can also mean someone who traps or fools others into trouble.

The Portuguese language exists more than 800 years and is spoken by over 260 million people (3,7% of the world population). It is – after Mandarin/Chinese, English Spanish, Hindustani and Arabic  – the sixth most used language in the world.

Official vernacular in the nine CPLP (Portuguese Language Speaking Community) countries – Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome & Principe and East Timor, in use on virtually every continent and predicted to be spoken by over 380 million people in 2050.

Its expansion is closely linked to the history of the Portuguese Discoveries in the 15th century and still today echoes of Portuguese can be heard in the streets of Goa (India), Malacca (Malaysia) and Macau (China).
Although it was Portugal that expanded the language in the past, nowadays Portuguese-speaking countries like Brazil, Angola and Mozambique are mostly responsible for the growing interest in the Portuguese language.

Originating from Latin – from which it evolved into Galician-Portuguese – the language that would become Portuguese, began to be spoken in the Northeast of the Iberian Peninsula around the 6th century. It was expanded to the South with the Christian reconquest, at the same time influenced by Arabic from which many words derive, such as azeitona (olive), almofada (pillow), aldeia (village), alface (lettuce), alfândaga (customs) and açafrão (saffron).

The testament of King Afonso II – dated June 17, 1214 – is considered as one of the oldest written documents in Portuguese. It marks the beginning of the period of ancient Portuguese that would last until the publication in 1572 of the first book in modern Portuguese, The Lusiads, Portugal’s national epic by Luis Camões

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared in November last year the 5th of May as ‘World Portuguese Language Day’.
Unfortunately, the opening celebration could only take place online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável            (pic Público/Sapo)





Praise

‘Bury the dead and feed the survivors’  (Marques de Pombal, 1755)

Le Figaro:                        ‘The Portuguese mystery’
Int Busin Times:             ‘Portugal stands tall in the midst of the chaos’
The Guardian:                 ‘Swift action kept Portugal’s coronavirus crisis in check’
Der Spiegel:                     ‘The Portuguese miracle’                                            
El País:                             ‘Portugal, the southern Swedes’ 
Euronews:                       ‘Why has Portugal not been as badly hit as Spain?’       
Politico:                            ‘How Portugal became Europe’s coronavirus exception’

Portugal’s successful battle against Covid-19 has come under international media spotlight and regarded by many as exemplary. With a quarter of the population of big brother Spain, Portugal has around one-tenth of the number of cases and a three times lower mortality rate.

There are a number of different theories for why the virus has caused so much less suffering than in neighbouring Spain.
The hardest to disprove of is: ‘Portugal has its pilgrimage site of Fátima.

With just 4.2 critical care beds per 100.000 people  – the lowest in the EU – and an underfunded public health service, the Portuguese people understood very clearly – after witnessing the horror in Madrid and Milan – that if they wanted to survive, they had to do more than others in pushing forward the number of new cases. Citizens started self-isolation and kept their children from school at the end of February, anticipating the government’s decision to a shutdown in March.

Self-discipline, more preparation time, swift implementation of measures, a geographical location at the edge of Europe, political stability and a bit of luck are probably the main reasons for the relatively mild outbreak in Portugal thus far.

Lisbon’s streets are left to joggers and cats, its glorious beaches cordoned off, the economy asphyxiated, border crossings to Spain sealed, schools and universities closed and more than half of the population leaving home only once a week or less for food, medication and exercise.

Nevertheless, the government prepares to gradually reopen services, businesses and commercial establishments with ‘masks on’, as the economy simply cannot afford to wait under lockdown until the coast is clear.
Schools might restart in early May on a trial basis and even go back into operation on May 13, the anniversary of the appearance of the Virgin Mary in Fátima. Se Deus quiser (Inshallah)!

Fique em casa                       Stay at home                (pic Observ, Público, Sapo)

 

 

Measures

We have to stop moving because this virus can’t move on its own.

All migrants, including asylum seekers with pending applications at immigration (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras), will be treated as permanent residents until at least July 1, granting them full access to the National Health Service, welfare benefits, bank accounts, work, and rental contracts during the corona outbreak.

The Council of Ministers explained that the decision was taken ‘to reduce the risks for public health’ when maintaining the current scheduling of appointments at the immigration office, both for the border agents and the migrants and asylum seekers.

The European Commissioner for Home Affairs praised the humane approach of the left-wing government and encouraged other European countries to follow Portugal’s example.
Last year 135,000 immigrants obtained residency. Brazilians and Ukrainians make up the majority, followed by west Africans, British and French.

Portugal declared the State of Emergency on March 19 and recently extended it to April 17 with tough penalties for anyone breaking quarantine.
Suspension of non-essential services happened when only 6 had died from the virus. In Italy, this did not happen before over 1,000 people had died.

Schools in Portugal even closed before any deaths were registered.
In Spain, this happened after 84 people had died. In Italy, it took 366 and in the UK 233 deaths before schools closed.

Portugal is doing comparatively well so far. But the authorities’ advice to stay at home and keep distance has to be maintained to prevent further suffering. Researchers at the Imperial College in London suggested that without these measures deaths in Portugal could reach 70,000.

With the peak of the virus predicted in May, it is becoming increasingly clear that quarantine measures in Portugal probably have to stay in force till the end of June.
All efforts will be wasted if social distancing measures are ended too rapidly.

To finish off with a quote of the famous Dutch footballer Johan Cruijff  ‘ every disadvantage has its advantage.’
The confinement of people at home and the consequent reduction in traffic circulation and economic activities has resulted in 80% less air pollution in Lisbon, a finding also registered in other major European cities.

Stay healthy                   Fique saudável                        (pic Reuters/Público)

 

 

Covid19

When the number of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed the 1,000 mark – with six reported deaths – the Portuguese Government announced the State of Emergency on March 19.

Non-essential business and schools closed. People urged to leave their houses only for food, medicines and walking the dog. Remote working from home became the rule. Restaurants locked but allowed to sell take-aways or effect home deliveries. Cultural and leisure institutions shut down. Public services reduced to the ‘essential’. Public transports at reduced capacity. Anyone entering the country from abroad to be quarantined for 14 days.

Social distancing’ and ‘protecting the elderly’ have become keywords in the fight against the new virus – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Other countries around the globe have taken similar preventive measures.

In view of the pandemic and to curb fake news, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has given the following advice:
– the new coronavirus can be transmitted in all kind of climates.
– neither cold or hot weather can kill the virus.
– all ages can be infected but the elderly are more vulnerable to severe illness.
– the virus cannot be transmitted through mosquitos.
– hand dryers, a hot bath, UV light, rinsing the nose with saline, eating garlic or taking antibiotics are not effective in killing or preventing infection.
– the best way to protect yourself is by social distancing and washing hands frequently.
– there is no medicine or vaccine available (yet).

The intention of prime minister Antonio Costa is not to close the country down – like in France – even though he has the constitutional support with this State of Emergency to do so. The government, however, will – given the developments in Spain and Italy where the death tolls are the worst in Europe – implement further restrictions if necessary.

Mantenha-se saudável          Stay healthy                (pic Lusa,Público,Reuters)

 

Airportgrief

For decades a suitable location for a second runway has been studied to take the pressure off Lisbon’s congested inner-city airport.
Ota, Alcochete, Alverca and Beja have been considered over the years and subsequently rejected.

The Socialist Government of Antonio Costa is convinced that upgrading Montijo Air Force Base 6 on the south bank of Lisbon’s Tagus estuary, is the best option.
Much against the advice of engineers, climate scientists, conservationists and civic groups.

Left-wing parties – generally supporting the government – are also against it. ‘Choosing Montijo mainly satisfies the French company VINCI which purchased Portugal’s airport at a bargain price and now wants to make as much money as possible’, stated Left Bloc coordinator Catarina Martins.

In addition, the national airline TAP refuses to fly there. ‘Montijo is for companies that fly from A to B’, in other words ‘ low-cost operators’, according to TAP, that focuses on transcontinental passengers using Lisbon as a hub.
Ryanair and EasyJet are equally uninspired as they mainly carry ‘short stay’ passengers, for whom a trip into the capital from an outlying airport is ‘a waste of time.’
A further complication is, that other major companies like British Airways, Lufthansa and Emirates can’t use Montijo because the runway is 600 metres too short, increasing the probability of an accident

Moreover, at least 30.000 citizens in the Netherlands have signed a petition objecting to the ‘ecologically disastrous plan.’ It concerns the survival of Netherlands national bird – the black-tailed godwit – that returning from its winter migration from Africa to the Netherlands feeds and rests in the wetland area beside the airport site. It is estimated that between January and February around 50.000 godwits use the area.

Researchers also say birds are at risk of colliding with aircraft and will be driven away by the noise. The reaction of Secretary of State Alberto Souto de Miranda was stunning ‘people should not worry because birds are not stupid and will probably adept.’

The latest obstacle in starting construction on a 1.3 billion euro project are two Communist-led councils (Moita and Seixal) in the vicinity, which – by law – have the power to veto the plan. Even if it is supported by the government and given green light by licensing authorities. Attempts of the PS Government to persuade the largest opposition party – the centre-right PSD – to change the law accordingly, proved to be in vain.

A recent court’s ruling in the UK against the expansion of Heathrow airport – because of the British government not adequately taking into account the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement – might jeopardize prime minister Costa’s plans at a global level, since with the new airport CO2 emissions will increase 700.000 tons per year.


Enjoy your day               Aproveite o dia                   
(pic Público, PtRes, Sapo)

Return

Since March 2015, Jews living abroad have the right to obtain the Portuguese nationality if they can prove to be descendants from the Sephardic Jews –  Marranos – who were persecuted and banned from Portugal more than 500 years ago. At that time an estimated 200.000 were imposed to escape the Iberian peninsula and fled to the Ottoman Empire – present-day Turkey – North Africa and a smaller number to France, England and the Netherlands.

In the last four years over 37.000 Jews have applied for a passport. Around 20% succeeded in getting one, allowing them to travel visa-free in the EU. The requests mainly came from Israel and Turkey, but also from Brazil, Argentina, the US and more recently the UK due to Brexit.

The overwhelming majority of applicants from Israel are between 20 and 45 years old. ‘Many ask for it in view of their children – so that these can study in Europe – others for emotional reasons as if looking for a certain justice to be done’, declares Ruth Calvão, president of the Jewish Study Centre.
‘In the case of Turkey, the country’s political instability is important. People there no longer feel safe as Jews. If there is an opportunity to obtain a European passport, they go for it.’

Descendants to Muslims expelled from Portugal in 1496 now also want to be included in the amnesty, that has seen thousands of Sephardic Jews from all over the world reclaim their Portuguese nationality.

‘If there is a community of Muslims who have documents that prove they descend from Portuguese expelled, they should have the same right’, says David Munir, leader of the Lisbon mosque. ‘Indeed, it’s a question of equity and justice’, declares historian Filomena Barros from the Évora University in the newspaper Expresso.

Many of the expelled Jews have maintained the Portuguese language (or Ladino, a merger of Castilian and Portuguese), the religious and food rites of Jewish worship in Portugal and preserved family surnames, records, objects kept for generations and documents proving their Portuguese origin.

Muslims haven’t. They have instead been assimilated into North African populations at which it is difficult to prove whose family came from Portugal and whose not.

Aproveite a semana                    Enjoy the week                    (pic Público)