Homage

God created the black and white man; the Portuguese the mulatto (Anonymous)

It is often said that Portugal is not a racist country, despite enormous structural inequalities and decades of documented discrimination. All over the country, you can find monuments and statues dedicated to navigators – glorifying the epic 15th to 17th-century discoveries; crusading missionaries – converting indigenous people to Catholicism, and soldiers – fighting colonial wars in the 20th century against African independence.

But until now there has never been a memorial to Portugal’s pioneering role in the transatlantic slave trade nor any acknowledgment of the close to 6 million lives stolen until the 1960s when the country was still using de-facto slave labor in its colonies.

The forthcoming Memorial-Homage to the Victims of Slavery in Lisbon by Angola’s most successful contemporary artist – Kiluanji Kia Henda – will be the first of its kind. The installation – due to be unveiled at the Campo das Cebolas this spring – features 540 three-meter-high aluminum sugar canes, set five feet apart and painted in black. The artwork refers to the cold economic rationale that drove the lucrative slave trade.

Most of the Black population in Portugal today are immigrants and their descendants from the former Portuguese African colonies – Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé Principe – holding in their memories and histories a very different version of Portugal’s famous past.

‘Our history is full of blanks on how Africans have been portrayed, declares Christina Roldão, a sociologist researching the histories of Black women in Portugal since the 16th century. ‘It is important to know how Black people lived, not only for the Black population today but for everyone else in Portugal’.

It is of note that the memorial is not an initiative of the Portuguese government, but of the Djass Afro-descendent Association, an NGO founded by the Portuguese MP Beatriz Gomes Dias.

Interesting as well is the fact that the memorial’s artist comes from Angola, the country that suffered the most catastrophic loss of lives during the Portuguese slave trade. By the 19th century, Angola had become the largest source of enslaved people taken to the Americas, in particular to the sugar plantations in Brazil.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights – recently stressed that Portugal should do more to confront its colonial past and role in the transatlantic slave trade in order to help fight the increasing racial discrimination and xenophobia in the country.

The Council also expressed concern at the rise in racist rhetoric in political discourse, singling out the far-right Chega (‘Enough’) party, whose sole MP Andre Ventura keeps making derogatory remarks against ethnic minorities.

Initiated by Black Portuguese and conceptualised by an African artist, ‘the slavery memorial will finally bring a visual counter-narrative against the supposed absence of racism and lack of racial prejudice in the Portuguese’, concludes Marcos Cardão, a historian of Portuguese culture and identity.

Stay healthy                          Fique saudável             (pic Público/EsqNet)














Marquês

‘No one does wrong willingly or knowingly’ (Socrates*- Greek philosopher)

On Friday the 9th of April, the Portuguese judge Ivo Rosa ordered ex-Prime Minister José Sócrates (2005-2011) to stand trial for money laundering and falsifying documents, dropping more serious charges of corruption against the former leader of the Socialist Party (PS).

The decision – being the latest twist in a nationwide soap called ‘Operation Marquês’ (marquis) – is gripping the country since the police arrested the ex-PM at Lisbon airport on the 21st of November 2014. Sócrates almost spent a year in preventive pretrial detention before his conditional release in late 2015.

Sócrates quit the party in 2018, accusing leading figures of backing accusations against him. The current center-left PM and socialist party leader António Costa – who served as a minister under Sócrates – has so far succeeded in distancing himself from the case.

Among the 31 charges brought against Sócrates, judge Rosa decided to move to trial on just three accounts of money laundering and three of document fraud, for which Socrates still risks ten years in prison.

Sócrates himself has always denied the allegations. ‘All the great lies of the Public Prosecution have fallen’, he told journalists after de court’s decision.
‘I feel the tranquility of the innocent and want compensation for everything.’

The Public Ministry immediately demanded the annulment of the controversial decision and nearly 200.000 Portuguese signed a petition, calling for the removal of judge Rosa from the magistrature because of ‘his partiality and judicial errors.’

The outcome raises serious questions about the judicial system, which sent a former PM to jail, but fails to collect sufficient proof – despite nearly seven years of investigation – on the most serious charges, involving 11 volumes (over 6000 pages) of arguments.

Operation Marquês– named after the PM’s former residence at the Marquês de Pombal square in Lisbon – also incriminates Ricardo Salgado, ex-CEO’s from the biggest bank at that time – the Espirito Santo bank (BES) – who was accused of 21 crimes.

Judge Rosa, however, ordered the ex-banker to stand trial on only 3 cases of breach of trust, dropping more serious allegations that Salgado had bribed Sócrates to lucrative deals involving the state-owned company Portugal Telecom. Both BES and Telecom collapsed in the wake of the eurozone crisis, leaving the Portuguese taxpayers with a multi-billion-euro debt.  

Current president Marcelo de Sousa said he hoped Operation Marquês will reach a ‘visible end in due time’ but even if Marquês goes forward as the Public Ministry intends and even if the 63-year-old José Socrates is found guilty – with all the appeals that could follow – he would very unlikely see the inside of a jail before he is 80 and Ricardo Salgado (now in its 70s) before he is in his 90s. 

Socrates* (469-399 BC) was a philosopher from Athens best known for his dialectic method of inquiry. He was put on trial for not believing in ‘the gods of the state’, found guilty, and forced to commit suicide by taking poison.


Stay healthy                          Fique saudável            
(ref Público/Político)