A beacon of hope for the preservation of coral reefs

An amazing piece of tapestry by Algarve textile artist Vanessa Barragão has been donated by the Portuguese government to the United Nations, which will display it permanently on the wall of the Delegates Lounge at its headquarters in New York.

The four-by-two meters artwork, entitled Coral Vivo (Living Coral), aims to be a beacon of hope for the preservation of corals. It took two months to create, using only recycled materials such as wool and lyocell.

Despite her 31 years of age, Vanessa Barragão has already exhibited her art around the world, from the USA to Shanghai and from Australia to Japan. She admitted that being invited by the government to donate this piece to the UN stands out as one of her most impressive achievements.

It’s no surprise that the oceans – and corals specifically – are such a strong inspiration for her. She was born in Albufeira, where she spent her childhood at the beaches of the Algarve and used to travel with her parents to coral reefs in the Caribes. When she turned 18, she left home to study Fashion Design at the University of Lisbon. During that time she became more conscious about consumption and sustainability.

After her study she moved up north, where she worked as a textile designer at an artisanal carpet factory in Póvoa de Varzim. It was during this period that she became aware of the amount of waste generated by mass production and the extreme pollution in the textile industry.

In 2020 she decided to move back to the Algarve where she opened her own studio and combined her ecological awareness with techniques based on ancestral textile practices like crochet, weaving, embroidery and macrame. All the materials used come from waste and leftovers from Portuguese factories.

‘Just as the delicate yet resisting threads in this tapestry, all life on the planet is intermeshed in an intricate and co-dependent network. Coral reefs are among the most stunning habitats with the greatest biodiversity on our planet but are extremely threatened,’ Secretary-General António Guterres stated, when the tapestry was officially donated to the UN on the 18th of March in New York.   

Coral reefs are not only stunning, they also matter. Although covering less than 1% of the ocean about 25% of all marine species are found around them. Due to the global heating crisis, ocean record temperatures have caused corals to bleach in the three tropical basins of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean.  

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the planet’s biggest coral reef covering an area a little larger than the size of Italy – is experiencing its most widespread bleaching on record. ‘It is a graveyard out there’ according to professor Terry Hughes, a renowned veteran coral scientist.  

Enjoy your week          Aproveite a sua semana                (pic Ptres/Sapo)

‘We leave peace behind and face noise with fear’

After 50 years of delay, the Government has finally decided on the location of Lisbon’s new airport and considered the former Alcochete Shooting Ground (Campo the Tiro Alcochete) the best place to build the new Aeroporto Luis de Camões. An infrastructure which – according to the local tabloids – had ‘almost transformed into a national trauma.’

The decision came after an extensive study made by the Independent Technical Commission (CTI), that evaluated numerous sites, including Santarem, Montijo, Vendas Novas, Pegões, Rio Frio and Beja, amongst others.

Alcochete, in the Setúbal district, proved to be the best option as it is located on public land – some 3400 hectares – and relatively close (45 km) to the capital. The first runway will be constructed by 2030 and the airport should be concluded in ten years.

In the meantime, the capacity of Lisbon’s overcrowded Aeroporto Humberto Delgado will be increased to 45 departures and arrivals per hour by investing around 300 million euros in terminals and accessibility, to ensure the current airport can cope with the increasing number of passengers until the new Luis de Camões airport is built. 

At the same time, the government decided to build a third bridge for trains and cars. This Third Tagus Crossing – Terceira Travessa do Tejo (TTT ) – which connects Chelas (Lisbon) with Barreiro (Setúbal), will ease traffic from the two other Lisbon bridges (25 de Abril and Vasco da Gama) and shorten trips to or from the southern Algarve province.

Finally, a high-speed railway connection between Lisbon and Madrid – a requisite of the Iberian / Moroccan deal to organize the 2030 Football World Cup – will have to be linked to the new airport. All this has very strict timelines, not least the Lisbon-Madrid high-speed rail, which has to be completed in time six years from now.

The objective is to construct an airport with a capacity to accommodate up to 100 million passengers per year after 2050, with ample space for two further runways. The costs of the airport don’t include the third bridge over the Tejo and the railway links. These are to be paid separately and supervised by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Housing.

The investment for the construction of the new airport has been calculated at over 6,1 billion euros, involving 2 runways to start with, the first to be concluded in 2030 (costs at least 3.3 billion) and the second (costs 2.8 billion) to be ready by 2031.

In Santo Estêvão (St Stephen) – a village of approximately 2100 inhabitants and closest to the future airport – the opinions are divided. There are those who expect ‘more employment and improvement of the infrastructure’, but also those who ‘fear the noise and increase in the cost of living.’   

Have a great week         Tenha uma ótima semana      (pic Público/Sapo)

Poet, essayist, writer, novelist and academic

On the 17th of March Nuno Júdice, one of Portugal’s most famous contemporary poets died in Lisbon at the age of 74.

Nuno Judice was born in Mexilhoeira Grande (Algarve). Poet, essayist, writer, novelist, and – until 2015 – professor at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences at the New University of Lisbon, where he graduated in Romance Philology and received his doctorate in 1989 with a thesis on Medieval Literature.

Júdice held the position of director of the literary magazine Tobacconist (Tabacaria), served as cultural adviser of the Embassy of Portugal and was director of the Camões Institute in Paris. He organized the European Poetry Week within the framework of Lisbon ’94 – European Capital of Culture.

Besides poetry, he published an overwhelming number of prose, essays, anthologies and critical editions of literary studies. His literary debut was in 1972 with ‘The Concept of Poem.

Throughout his literary career, he was distinguished with numerous awards such as the Pablo Neruda Prize, Spain’s Queen Sofia Ibero-American Poetry Prize, the Pen Club Prize and the D. Denis Prize.
He received the Grand Prize of Poetry from the Portuguese Association of Writers for ‘Meditation on Ruins’, a finalist for the European Prize for Literature.

Júdice was a member of the editorial board of Time magazine and curator for the Jose Saramago Foundation. His works were translated into Greek, Chinese, Arab Spanish, Italian, French and English. After his retirement, he continued to work for theatre and translated authors such as Molière, Emily Dickson and Shakespeare. His most recent work is called ‘A Harvest of Silences’ (2023).

Lisbon light

The light crosses my room between
the two windows, and it’s always the same light, although
on one side – where the sun is now – is the west and on the other
– where the sun was before – is the east. In my room
west and east come together, and it’s this
light that is misleading to the eye, that does not know when
the first light is coming. Then, I look at the line
running through the space between the two windows,
that seems to have neither beginning nor end; and
then I pull that line towards me
into the room, and roll it up, as if I could
tie both ends of the day
to midday, so that time would stand
still between two windows, on the west
and on the east, until the thread again
unrolls, and everything
starts all over.

(from The Matter of Poem, 2008)

Have a great week         Tenha uma ótima semana      (pic Lusa)


Retornados were not always received with open arms

The Portuguese decolonization proposed by the Armed Forces Movement (MFA) was one of the main points of political divergence on the very day of the military coup 50 years ago.

‘Our intention was good but the change of the Program on the 25th of April, 1974 in the Command Post of the MFA in Pontinha – from which the reference to the right of peoples to self-determination and independence was removed by general António de Spinola – complicated things, explains captain Vasco Lourenço present at the time.

Spinola, former governor of Guinea and first (unelected) President of the Republic after the almost bloodless military coup was opposed to an ‘immediate’ granting of independence to the colonies and first wanted to hold popular consultations in the colonies. Nevertheless, on the 19th of July, the Council of State approved a constitutional law (Law 6/74), that ‘recognized the right of peoples to self-determination with all its consequences, including the right to independence.’

The declarations of independence of the former colonial territories in Africa, however, provoked a prompt and chaotic return of nearly half a million people to Portugal and outbreaks of long-lasting civil wars between the different liberation movements in Angola and Mozambique. Many did not actually return, because they were born in Africa and didn’t know Portugal.

The term ‘returned’ (retornado) was legally defined to determine who was entitled to State support.

Tens of thousands of returnees had to be housed in over 1500 hotels and pensions, that had to adept facilities to accommodate a much larger than usual number of guests, who brought sleep, hunger and trauma to their luggage. Large families, who had to fit in a single room, meant more cleaning and a lot more meals to serve. It costed the Portuguese State around 2.7 million euros per day.

But the retornados were not always received with open arms in a country where an anti-colonial atmosphere prevailed after the Carnation Revolution.

Ana Simões, 67 – whose family decided to leave when they learned that there was an order to kill all the whites in the area where they lived in Angola – was 17 when she arrived in Portugal, where she found people shouting ‘that I should go back to my land, that I had stolen from the blacks in Africa and that I was stealing worker’s jobs here. I felt like they didn’t see me as Portuguese and that made me angry and sad at the same time.’

Maria de Oliveira, 65 – also has difficulty forgetting what she experienced after the 25th of Abril, first in Mozambique and later in Portugal. She and her family went through a shooting and at the age of 15 had a shotgun against her head. ‘Days later I was on my way to Lisbon without anything, not even a penny. When I see images of Gaza or Ukraine, I understand very well what these people are going through.’

Enjoy the 25th of April           Boas Festas no dia 25         (pic Público)

Raising awareness of dating violence at an early age is crucial

Violence in dating relationships is defined as the use of behaviours that intend to assume power in the relationship and hurt or control the partner. It may take the form of physical violence (beating, pushing), psychological violence  (insulting, humiliating), sexual violence (kissing against the will of the other, forcing sexual practices) or stalking (chasing, watching contacts).

Myths and beliefs associated with dating relationships are numerous. ‘Jealousy is a proof of love – It is better to have a violent boyfriend than no boyfriend at all – When you like someone, you should do everything he/she likes – Having sex is a proof of love – A slap or insult is not violence and does no harm to anyone.’

Complaints of dating violence have increased in the past five years. Two-thirds of 15-year-old adolescents who date or have dated suffered a form of violence by their current or former partner. Control and psychological violence are the most reported behaviours identified in the UMAR National Survey on Dating Violence, which was presented in Porto on Valentine’s Day.

Half of the Portuguese teenagers don’t think that controlling their partner – the most frequent being the prohibition of talking to a peer or friend – is a form of violence. A third believe it is legitimate to pick up the mobile phone or enter social media without authorization. Boys have higher levels of legitimacy for all forms of violence. Pressing to give a kiss in front of schoolmates, for example, is justifiable for 40% of boys and 20% of girls.

Psychological violence – the most frequent being insulted during a discussion – marked the first dating in 45% of the teenagers. Almost 20% of them declared to have been victims of sexual abuse in an intimate relationship; an increase of 5% compared to last year.

Margarida Pacheco, one of the authors of the study, believes that trivialization and naturalization of violence in dating is taking place. ‘We should start the primary prevention of violence in kindergarten and continue it for many years in school. Both at the level of self-esteem and respect and acceptance that no means no. Many young boys and girls never received systematic information on these issues.’

To produce a working tool on the problem of violence in dating, the municipality of Cascais developed  – together with students and teachers of basic and secondary schools – the pedagogical kit Prevention of Violence in Juvenile Intimacy. The active involvement of the students in the design and implementation of the kit has undoubtedly contributed to its success in schools.

Have a great week         Tenha uma ótima semana                (pic IAC/APAV)

‘Where 2 dogs fight for a bone, the 3rd runs away with it home’ – Dutch saying

A 50-year-old political system dominated by two main parties – the centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Socialist Party (PS) – has come to an end as the far-right party Chega (Enough) picked up nearly one-fifth of the votes on anti-corruption, immigration and euroscepticism.

The Democratic Alliance (AD) – a centre-right coalition of the PSD and the Christian Democrats led by Luis Montenegro – technically won the elections with 29% of the votes. The margin, however, was only 1% with their main opponent, the centre-left PS. It is very unlikely that the two main parties will cut a deal, leaving the centre-right facing an unstable minority government.

The elections brought an end to the nine-year government of the Socialist Party of António Costa, who had to resign last November as a result of alleged illegalities in his government’s handling of large green investment projects. His Partido Socialista only took 28% of the votes, a dramatic fall since the comfortable victory in 2022 with 47% of the votes. After losing the election the current party leader Pedro Nuo Santos declared that the PS would lead the opposition

The far-left also fared badly with an increasingly weak Communist party (PCP) securing just four MPs and the anti-capitalist Left Bloc (BE), clasping to the five seats it has since 2022. The pro-EU party Livre was more lucky, going from one to four MPs.

The biggest win, however, went to the populist Chega party, led by former football commentator Andre Ventura. It became the 3rd political party in the country with 18% of the votes after obtaining a mere 7% of the votes in 2022.

Corruption ranks high among voters’ concerns and was a key focus of the far-right campaign. Besides the investigation into Costa’s administration that triggered this election, another former Socialist prime minister – José Sócrates – is going to stand trial again over allegations that he pocketed about 34m euros during his time in power from fraud and money laundering. But also the PSD is facing corruption allegations, with two prominent party politicians recently forced to resign amid a fraud investigation in Madeira.  

It is unclear what role the far-right party will play in the new government since AD’s party leader Montenegro has repeatedly declared that he refuses to cut a deal with the ‘racist, xenophobic and demagogic’ Chega leader Ventura. The question is now how much strength is left in that cordon sanitaire.

Chega’s success is the result of letting the social discontent grow on deteriorating living and working conditions. Costa’s majority government proved to be unable to meet the economic aftermath of Covid. Minimum wage increases unable to meet inflation, rent controls out of the question, and faltering performance in public education and the National Health Service (SNS).

In the westernmost nation of mainland Europe where incomes are the sixth lowest in the EU, over 10% of the population are living in food poverty and ‘non-habitual residents’ (i.e. expats) enjoy considerable tax exemptions, people are easy prey to an ultra-nationalist party that promises higher wages and public spending but lower taxes at the same time.

Have a nice week         Tenha uma semana boa         (pic Público/Sapo)

‘Those who care about their grandchildren plant cork oak trees – Portuguese saying

Cork has been around for thousands of years in the western Mediterranean. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used it for fishing gear, sandals, and sealing of jugs, jars, and barrels. As glass bottles gained popularity in the 18th century, cork became the preferred wine stopper because it is durable, waterproof, and pliable.

Nowadays cork is experiencing a revival as more industries are looking for sustainable alternatives to plastic and other materials derived from fossil fuels. The bark is used for flooring, furniture, clothes, footwear, bags, and hats and as an effective thermal and acoustic insulation in buildings and electric car batteries. It is resistant to water and oil and very durable, remaining virtually unchanged for many years.

The slow-growing cork oak tree – scientifically known as Quercus suber – is the source of this eco-friendly material. Portugal has one of the largest cork oak forests in the world, covering vast areas in the poor soil of the dry Alentejo province. The country is the world’s largest producer and cork its most exported product, reaching over 1 billion euros and being sold in over 130 countries.

But cork is more than a sustainable and fashionable material. In addition to providing employment, the forests absorb CO2. Unlike most trees, evergreen cork oaks are never cut down as they are protected by law. This means that their carbon storage capacity continues through the 200 years or more they live.

The bark can only be harvested between May and August by experienced workers who carefully strip the outer layer without damaging the trunk. The cork oak is unique in regenerating its bark. Once it is removed, the last number of that year is applied with white paint on the exposed trunk – a 4 means bark was harvested in 2014 – after which the tree will be ready for another harvest nine years later.

Although cork forests can help mitigate global warming and the thick bark protects the tree from fire, they are increasingly at risk as wildfires become more frequent and more intense. Especially in the first two years after the cork is extracted, the trees are vulnerable to wildfires as the trunk is without protection.

Recycled cork can also be used to make other products. More than 300.000 corks were needed to make a mosaic of Nobel laureate José Saramago, which was credited to the Guinness Book of Records in 2014. Meanwhile Green Cork – a recycling program started by the environmental organization Quercus – has recycled more than 100 million cork stoppers since 2009.

Enjoy the week                     Aproveite a semana               (pic WashPost)

Immigrant agricultural workers afraid of eviction and having nowhere to live

The Public Prosecutor’s Office estimates that a criminal network accused of human trafficking earned more than 3 million euros in five years. Last November charges were made against 41 defendants in Beja – the city that has become the epicenter of the circulation of immigrants – who were exploiting 55 foreign workers from various countries such as Timor Leste, Moldavia, and Ukraine.

According to the accusation, companies created by the network  – with fancy names such as Apogeu de promessas (Heyday of promises) or Primavera sedutora (Seductive spring) – promised ‘vulnerable’ immigrants in the Alentejo work in agriculture for a much higher price than they will ever be paid while offering ‘degrading’ living conditions. Workers were threatened and even assaulted in some cases.

Mattresses on the floor, soaked in urine. Lack of cleaning a and nauseating smell. Cockroaches and fleas everywhere. Five bathrooms for 100 people. No kitchen. Small storage rooms packed with people, obliged to share a bed. Identification documents often withheld and salaries not paid. Some workers earning between 5 and 10 euros a week were even forced to beg in order to survive.

Among the 41 defendants, there are seven Portuguese. In the accounts of two of them – who allowed the use of their names for registration of vehicles and insurance, fixing bank loans, or providing accommodation for the exploited workers – respectively 210,000 and 285,000 euros were found.

In the account of a solicitor – accused of opening fictitious companies for the defendants, advising them to pay the minimum of taxes and the minimum to workers – the police identified a profit of more than 273,000 euros.  

This is not the first time semi-slavery conditions have been encountered by immigrant agricultural workers in the Alentejan province. In November 2022 the Judiciary Police detained 35 people suspected of belonging to a criminal network – again made up of foreigners and Portuguese – dedicated to the exploitation of the work of immigrant citizens, enticed in their countries of origin such as Moldavia, Romania, India, Pakistan and Senegal.

Prosecutor Felismina Carvalho Franco calls in the newspaper Público for the reparation of the victims in case they do not apply for civil compensation. ‘The crime of human trafficking highlights the possibility of putting a price on a human being as if it were a machine, serving only to produce and make a profit. We are faced with victims, who have no other choice but to submit to abuse.’  

Enjoy the week            Aproveite a semana                        (pic Público)

Portuguese ceramic tiles encapsulate centuries of history and artistic evolution

Azulejo – derived from the Arab word Az-zulayi (‘polished stone’) – is a form of Portuguese and Spanish painted tin-glazed ceramic work found on the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, houses, restaurants, and even railway or subway stations. Although an ornamental art form, these tiles also serve a functional purpose by preventing humidity.

The earliest azulejos in the 13th century were panels of tile-mosaic known as alicatados – derived from the Arabic qata’a (‘to cut’) – introduced by the Moors to the Iberian Peninsula. Tiles were glazed in a single colour, cut into geometric shapes, and assembled to form geometric patterns (so-called Islamic or Mudejár design). Beautiful examples can be admired in the Alhambra of Granada and the Alcázar in Seville, Spain, and to the present day in Morocco.

Towards the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Seville became an important centre for the mass production of a type of tyle known as cuenca (‘hollow’) or arista (‘ridge’). In this techniques, motifs were formed by pressing a metal or wooden mould over the unbaked tile, leaving a motif delineated by thin ridges of clay that prevented the different colours from merging into each other during baking.

The same techniques were introduced into Portugal by King Manuel I – after a visit to Seville in 1503 – who subsequently decorated his residence palace in Sintra with azulejos. The Portuguese adopted the Moorish tradition of horror vacui (‘fear of empty spaces’) and covered both the walls and floors with tiles.

During the Era of Discovery and trade with the East, Europeans became fascinated by the elegance of Chinese porcelain and the Dutch began making tiles in similar blue and white tones in an attempt to imitate this technique.

In the second half of the 17th century, these blue-and-white tiles from Delft were introduced into Portugal. Craft shops in the Netherlands created large tile panels with historical scenes for rich Portuguese clients. However, at the end of the century, King Peter II stopped all Dutch imports and homemade blue-and-white figurative tiles became the dominant fashion, superseding the former taste for repeated patterns and abstract decoration.  

The late 17th and 18th centuries became the ‘Golden Age of the Azulejo’. Mass production not just started because of greater internal demand, but also because of large orders coming from the Portuguese colonies i.e. Brazil. Churches, monasteries, palaces, and even ordinary houses were covered inside and outside with azulejos, many with exuberant Baroque elements. Scenes of daily life, landscapes, and biblical stories graced the ceramic canvasses.

At the start of the 20th century Art Nouveau-azulejos started to appear. Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro founded a ceramics factory – nowadays a museum – in Caldas da Rainha, where he created pottery designs and decorative plates. Art Deco-azulejos made their appearance in the 1930s. The monumental decorations in the São Bento railway station in Porto – consisting of 20,000 azulejos – show historical themes of a romantic lifestyle.

The oldest, still functioning tile factory – called Sant’Anna – is situated in the capital since 1741. Today, 90% of its production is exported abroad.
The Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum) in Lisbon is worth a visit as it houses the largest collection of Portuguese tiles in the world.

Boa semana                                                       Enjoy the week

Portuguese fishing communities swallowed by giant Dutch family company

The North Atlantic waters are valuable for their cod, redfish, and halibut species. With fish prices increasing, the fish right is big business. National governments and the EU no longer control fishing rights but a few giant fish companies do, like the Dutch Parlevliet & Van Der Plas, one of Europe’s most powerful fishing conglomerates with at least 50 vessels sailing under 10 flags.

In 2015, the family company expanded its business in Portugal by acquiring fishing rights in lucrative international waters between Greenland and Canada, according to Follow the Money, an international platform for investigative journalism.

The rampant expansion of Parlevliet & Van Der Plas is possible thanks to the EU’s fisheries policy that allows for quotas to be transferred between companies and ships, whereby the access is privatized and goes to the highest bidder.

The Portuguese deal in 2015, however, was a special one. By buying three rusty cod trawlers from the Portuguese company Verdemar – that collected fishing boats from family-owned businesses in Aveiro, a coastal town some 250 km north of Lisbonthe company got wider access to the lucrative Norwegian and Atlantic international waters.

Their big ships engage in an intense hunt for overfished species in the North Atlantic, contributing to the decline of fish stock in the area. Dragging the nets near the ocean’s bottom not only needs more fossil fuel but also has broader environmental implications like bycatch and destruction of marine habitats. The enormous size of the company makes it nearly impossible for Portuguese fishermen to compete.

In most EU countries – including Portugal – fishing rights are linked to a ship, so once a company buys the vessel it obtains its fishing rights. Big companies like Parlevliet & Van Der Plas – whose revenue almost doubled from 800 million in 2016 to 1.5 billion euros in 2021 – are not so much interested in the vessel itself but more in the right to fish a particular species in a particular area. They need quota, and cod quota is precious.

Catching cod in large-scale fishing also has wide-reaching social consequences. In Portugal, bacalhau (cod) is the country’s national dish and each Portuguese citizen eats – on average – around 15 kg of cod per year, especially during the Christmas season. But owing to overfishing and rising ocean temperatures the fish has become increasingly scarce and expensive.

The cod industry in Portugal was already struggling at the end of the 1960s after cod stocks declined in Newfoundland and dictator Salazar’s protective fishing laws were changed. Even so, the country was able to negotiate cod quotas in the Northern Atlantic until 1986 when the country joined the EU and conceded control of fisheries to Brussels.
Today, only 4% of the cod is caught by Portuguese vessels. The rest is imported.

Boa semana               Enjoy the week          (pic Público/Sapo)