Dear reader - Happy Christmas!
Despite being Christmas Day, I am aware that many readers rather enjoy their Sunday morning newsletter, so here are my:
"News and views from a week in the Algarve..."
Pope Francis is to give Portugal’s ‘religious tourism’ sector a one-man boost this coming May when he visits Fátima to mark the centenary of the first of several sightings of the Virgin Mary by three children.
These children were treated to three predictions by the apparition. One of the witnesses, Lúcia Marto, died at the ripe old age of 97 but not before the Vatican revealed her ‘third secret’ in 2000, five years after the prediction safely had come and gone.
As for Fátima, the town became a city and the locals mostly are engaged in selling religious souvenirs and providing accommodation - with the occasional papal visit boosting local trade.
The Fátima phenomenon may draw pilgrims and tourists from across the world but there remain questions over the third secret revelation.
Algarve-based journalist and author Len Port explains that many Catholics believe that this final secret predicted a satanic takeover of the Catholic faith and that each pope since the Second Vatican Council has in fact been the Antichrist.
Len Port’s book, ‘The Fátima Phenomenon - Divine Grace, Delusion or Pious Fraud?’ is an in-depth analysis of the myths and politics surrounding the visions. The author “relates astounding facts, claims, counterclaims and opinions from a broad spectrum of relevant people, and invites readers to make up their own minds where the truth lies.”
This book is good Christmas reading available on Kindle and no, I am not on a sales commission.
Back down to earth and the realities of secular life as Portimão council finally has decided to renovate the lovely dockside building near the old road bridge into town.
One reader recalls this area when the three open air restaurants vied for business, grilling sardines from the boats that used to moor at the quayside to unload their catches using the old ‘spinning basket’ technique.
Now that Portimão council is not spending so much on interest payments, having extended its loan repayment period and agreed a sensible interest rate, this sort of redevelopment project has become affordable.
The renovation of the Lota de Portimão building will cost less than €35,000 and, when completed and the building re-opened, will represent another step forward for the city which needs to get its house in order before the dock expansion brings cruise ship passengers in their thousands.
Another of Portimão’s historic building that has been allowed slowly to disintegrate is the fort at Praia da Rocha which overlooks the estuary. The Fortaleza de Santa Catarina was built in the 1600s and over the years has been used by the military, the police and as a tourist information point.
This fort is owned by the State but its management by the ‘Ports of Sines and the Algarve’ cannot be said to have been effective, even though the ports authority has commissioned an engineering study to look at ways of saving the fort’s outer walls.
With the Algarve’s port management soon to revert to the region’s mayors, an opening has appeared to end years of decay and to make the fort into something viable.
One local Dutch entrepreneur has offered to fund the fort’s internal redevelopment and to open up the building for tourism with a cafe and museum but while the building’s management is in a state of flux, nothing is likely to be signed in the short-term.
As covered in a previous newsletter, Portimão’s mayor, Isilda Gomes, is trying to make some headway with the ruined Convento de São Francisco that lies between Praia da Rocha and the city but the private owners are still holding out for what the council has condemned as an unrealistic price. The old convent needs urgent repair. The council should buy it and stop the decay.
So, positive things are happening in Portimão now that the crippling debts left by former mayor Manual da Luz have a manageable repayment programme thanks to a massive loan from the government.
Councils across the land, faced with derelict and unoccupied buildings in their town centres, are applying to raise the rates bills for such properties. Now that councils can gain access to private data contained in utility bills, they can collaborate with Finanças in raising annual IMI by 300% to encourage absentee property owners to sell, or fix up their properties if they are deemed to be unoccupied.
The hundreds of Banco Espírito Santo customers who were duped into switching their safely deposited money into high-risk investments in shaky Group companies have been offered a deal, of sorts.
They will not get all of their money back but have been offered between 50% and 75% depending on how much they invested in the first place.
This was a blatant a case of mis-selling by a devious and desperate BES management that pushed these products through the branch network. BES was being regulated by the Bank of Portugal and the Portuguese Securities Market Commission, neither of which spotted anything amiss, or if they did, neither thought to say anything.
By signing the compensation deal, BES customers will be signing away their rights to take their chances in court.
Many depositors will sign the deal as they cannot afford to go to court which is expensive and inevitably will take years. Meanwhile, the disgraced Grupo Espírito Santo boss, Ricardo Salgado continues his millionaire lifestyle.
Many say that these BES customers simply were greedy, chasing higher interest rates but if your account manager ‘suggests’ switching to a higher rate investment that remains covered by the Bank of Portugal’s deposit guarantee fund, what would you have done?
Novo Banco, set up as a result of Banco Espírito Santo collapsing in 2014, is for sale and the bids are in. The Bank of Portugal’s advisors have chosen a Chinese bank, Minsheng, as Novo Banco’s new owner.
Minsheng has one big problem: it cannot get the necessary ‘proof of funds’ together because of China’s current exchange controls designed to stop Chinese currency leaving the country.
Choosing a bank that is unable to complete the purchase is par for the course at the Bank of Portugal whose governor, Carlos Costa, remains a figure of ridicule in these columns.
To the former Portuguese possession of Angola where corruption is way of life. We rightly complain when a public servant in Portugal is caught out but when a whole country seems to be on the take, what hope is left?
A report by Nicholas Kristof for the New York Times covers corruption in the Angolan health service, corruption that leads to the death of thousands of children a year.
Portugal continues to treat oil-rich Angola as a treasured trading partner. Sanctions would be more in order than expanding exports into country that has been run for decades like a private money tree by the president, José dos Santos.
His daughter Isabel often is referred to as the ‘youngest billionaire in Africa’ and the ‘richest woman in Africa,’ and with good reason - she is.
Isabel dos Santos also is a chunky investor in Portuguese companies such as ZON, BIC, BPI and Galp. These investments ensure Lisbon turns a blind eye to the reality of life and early death, in Angola, where many claim the funds originated.
A Forbes magazine article has described how Isabel dos Santos acquired originally her wealth by taking stakes in companies that want to do business in Angola, suggesting that her money comes almost entirely from her family's power and connections.
Isabel dos Santo’s business skills could surely be put to good use in her homeland? Her father has hinted that he soon will retire but Isabel dos Santos has always said that politics is not for her, so she is set to continue her high-flying career while her country continues as one of the most corrupt in the word despite, or maybe because of, its abundant mineral wealth.
The short video at the end of the article, liked below, shows how corruption in Angola leaves its health service without the basics and lacking in trained staff.
It may not be such a happy Christmas for those inbound to Portugal’s airports during this holiday break with ground-staff taking full advantage of the seasonal rise in traffic to go on strike.
These sorts of labour disputes are as much the fault of management as disgruntled airport staff.
There have been fewer strikes in Portugal during the first year of the new Socialist government that during the preceding twelve months but any industrial action that affects the smooth flow of tourists into and out of the country is especially regrettable.
Good news for animals in Portugal. They now have a legal status somewhere between a ‘thing’ and a human.
This will enable animal protection laws to become more effective but working animals and livestock still are not covered, a situation blamed by the People Animals Nature party on a powerful farming lobby.
Hunting dogs seem still to be classed as ‘working animals’ and their often appalling treatment will continue for as long as MPs are happy that their abuse carries on.
As the Ria Formosa islanders’ campaign rumbled on against a government intent on seeing island homes demolished for no better reason than to create more areas of sand, the Maritime Police were instructed to clear the safe haven of Culatra cove of all boats.
Many boat owners move their vessels to a mid-channel point where tides and any poor weather guarantee increased danger. A barrier was erected to ensure boats could not return to Culatra cove, even in an emergency.
The direct result has been the death of one old sailor, Robert Campion: “suicide” neighbours say.
There also is an increased risk to another, in her 70s, whose daily trips from her boat to shore now are notably more perilous.
As one boat-dweller commented, “we all felt our little problems with the Maritime Police were nothing compared to the houses being pulled down on the island but Bob's death has altered my mind and made me see we should have protested more.”
ZERO, Portugal’s ecological collective, has taken the trouble to list positive things achieved in Portugal over the past year.
In addition to the ‘beginning of the end’ of the oil and gas exploration concession contracts, ZERO lists the Paris Agreement, renewable energy production and the appointment of António Guterres as the Secretary General of the United Nations, as being on the positive side of the ecological equation.
...and finally I wish you a Happy Christmas as the year nears its close, a year during which Portugal has made more steps forwards than few backwards along the path to becoming the country we all know that it can be.
Safety and a pleasant environment are not enough to support the country and it is everyone’s hope that the economy continues to improve throughout 2017 and that plenty more corrupt officials and corporate crooks are brought to book, ‘pour encourager les autres...”
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