Category Archives: Portugal

Mediterranean Sea: The Largest Graveyard in Modern History

In June 2018 alone, more than 500 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Their boats were refused access to land in either Malta or Italy. They were force-driven back by gun-boats to the North African shores they came from, mostly Libya, but many boats capsized and countless refugees didn’t make it.

These are de facto murders, high crimes against humanity, committed by the very European Union. The same “leaders” (criminals, rather), whose forebears are known to have raped, exploited, tortured, ravaged peoples and their lands of Asia, Africa, Latin America over the past 1000 years of abject colonization. Europeans have it in their genes to be inhuman. This can possibly be extended to the ‘superior’ greedy white race in general. At least to those who make it to political or corporate high office in the formidable EU or exceptional US, or to those who appoint themselves into the European Commission. We should call them “The Heartless Bunch”.

This is the so-called West, now led by the United States of America, basically the British empire transplanted across the Atlantic, where they felt safer between two shining seas, than as a rickety island in the Atlantic, just in front of the enormous, contiguous land mass called Eurasia. The Old Continent, alias Europe, was given by the new trans-Atlantic empire, the new masters of the universe, a subservient role. And that was in the making for at least the last 100 years, when the new empire started weakening Europe, with two World Wars.

Today’s European (EU) leaders are puppets put in place by the Atlantist elites, to make sure that the rather educated Europeans do not go on the barricades, that they are debilitated regularly by free market corporatism creating unemployment, taking their hard worked-for social safety nets away, saturating them with fake news, gradually oppressing them with growing police states, with a massive militarization, and finally using the articulately planned flood of refugees from the very US-EU-NATO destroyed countries – destroyed economically and by wars as a further destabilizing weapon. Greece should serve as a vivid example of what’s really going on and is planned, starting with “inferior” southern EU states, those bordering on the strategic and economically important sea way, the Mediterranean Sea.

You think I’m crazy? Start thinking again and connect the dots.

The refugee death toll in the Med-Sea in 2017 was about 3,200, 40% down from 2016, and more than 600 up to end of April 2018, and another more than 500 in June. This figure is bound to increase drastically, given the European closed-border policy, and more. The EU is contracting among others, the Libyan Coast Guard with gun boats to chase refugee vessels back to the Libyan shores, many sink, and saving those thrown into the sea is ‘forbidden’. They are simply left to die. That’s the rule. Malta, a little island-appendix to Brussels, but important as a refugee transit, has issued strict bans on private fishing boats and NGOs trying to rescue refugees.

As a consequence, the by now well-known German NGO “Lifeline” boat with 234 rescued refugees and migrants on board from Africa and the Middle East, miserably poor, sick, desperate people struggling for sheer survival, many with small kids, who wanted nothing more than their children to have a better life was rejected by Malta, turned back into the sea under guidance of NATO and EU hired military-type private contractor gun-boats. Eventually Portugal offered her safe shores for the refugees. Malta has a Partnership for Peace (PfP) Agreement with NATO; i.e. obeys NATO orders. NATO, a killer organization, has, of course, not a shred of humanity in its structure, nor in the blood of the people at its helm anywhere in the world.

Imagine in this context, an EU summit took place at the end of June 2018 to “arrange” and agree on how to handle the refugee crisis in the future, in other swords, how to keep them out of Europe. None of the countries, other than Germany, were even considering accepting some of these poor souls out of sheer humanitarian reasons, to give them shelter, food and medication. The discussion even considered where to build a wall – yes, fences were discussed to keep them out – Europe a xenophobic free-port for the rich, acting in questions of migration as a carbon copy of Trump. They deserve each other, Trump and Brussels, trade wars not withstanding – let them shred each other to pieces.

Well, this almost happened during, before and after the now-called “mini-summit”, with Madame Merkel almost losing her Chancellor’s job, as she, against all odds, represented the most humanitarian view of all the 28 neolibs. This did not go down well with her partner party, the ultra-conservative Bavarian CSU. Calls for her resignation abounded. The German Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, was about to resign over Merkel’s alleged refugee ‘generosity’, in which case the highly fragile right-left coalition would have collapsed, and who knows how Germany may have continued to govern. Perhaps new elections would have had to be called, and then only god knows what might have happened. The empire could not allow this uncertainty to prevail, because Washington needs Germany as the chief-slave driver to lead Europe into total disarray and serfdom. It worked. Germany is alive and saved – and ticking.

Instead, the European refugee/migrant policy is in shambles. The EU are literally out to kill refugees, as a means of dissuasion? Mass-murder as a means of discouraging the desperate to seek shelter in those very countries that were instrumental in destroying their livelihoods, their families, their towns, their infrastructure, their education and health facilities, their youth? Generations of young Middle Eastern and African people are gone, destroyed.

Did these high-ranking EU officials in Brussels mention their own huge responsibility for the refugee floods with one single word? – No, of course not. Not with one breath. Has the conscience in one single head of these fake, neolibs-neonazis, as it were, self-serving EU heads of state been awakened by this very fact of guilt for what they are to confront? Has it caused sleepless nights? I doubt it. They are far from this level of human compassion; they are monsters.

Then, there was and is Italy, with her strange new coalition, a coalition of convenience. The leftish 5-Star Movement in alliance with the right-wing Lega Norte, selling their human conscience to be able to reign, giving away their responsibility for migration to the xenophobic, narcissistic, and yes, close to fascist Lega Norte which is adamant not to receive migrants. They would boycott any result that would force Italy to take in refugees, or even build border transit camps. In the end, they reached a toothless agreement; a non-agreement, rather; an accord that obliged none of the parties to do anything. Everything is voluntary. Period. And Macron said that this was the best refugee summit the EU ever had. So much for dismal brainlessness.

All was voluntary. The only agreement they could book for themselves is to build refugee camps in North African countries for the shipped-back survivors. Fortunately, every North African country, from Egypt to Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco said no. Having seen what happened in such literal slave camps in Libya, they had at least the compassion for these desperate human beings to prevent this from reoccurring. Compassion, a term, a feeling or sensation, the Europeans are devoid of.

However, no Israeli- Trump- Brussels-type wall or barbed-wire fence will keep the desperate in their economically, or by war, or western terrorism destroyed countries. The west, and only the west, is responsible for the endless destructive chaos, torture and lawlessness in these nations that the west wants to dominate, for myriad reasons – to steal their energy, minerals; for their strategic location, and finally on the way to total full spectrum world hegemony. This, the west will not achieve. That’s for sure. Evil will not prevail in the long run. Darkness will eventually cede to light. That’s the way nature works. But on its way to collapse, Evil will maim and kill millions of lives. Countless children will have no future, no parents, no education, no health services, no drinking water. They will be made to slaves as a means for their survival, to be raped and exploited or eventually killed. The European crime is of infinite dimension and nobody sees it, let alone stops it.

Austerity Is Economically Illiterate And Morally Bankrupt

Following the economic crash of 2008, Tory governments have put cutting the budget deficit (the difference between what the government receives in taxes and what it spends) and reducing the national debt at the centre of their economic policy. Austerity, principally, was their method of doing that. That is cutting government spending on our vital services and additionally freezing public sector pay. Austerity has caused untold misery to millions of our citizens; meanwhile Britain’s national debt now stands at 86% of GDP, an increase from 40% just before the economic crash.

Cutting government spending as a way of reducing the deficit comes from the fallacy of treating the government budget as if it were a household budget. The argument that as a family: “you would want to pay your debts and live within your means” is a very appealing proposition. However, there is a fundamental difference between running a household budget and a government budget.

In a previous article in Dissident Voice I explained the difference as follows:

In science if you want to study the behaviour of a system under different conditions, you put a boundary around it and examine its interaction with its surroundings. For a household, let us put a boundary around the house (the system). Money flows through the boundary into the house by what the family earns and out of the house by what the family spends. It is obviously desirable to have these balanced. Most families, however, will still be in debt, primarily in terms of a mortgage to buy their house. No one would suggest that a family should wait until they saved the whole value of the house before they bought it. Student members of the family would also incur debts to finance their higher education. So having debts to invest in the future of the family is necessary and desirable. If we look at the government budget, our system is now the whole country, and the government is within it. Government money comes from other parts of the system in the form of taxes. The amount it gets depends on the economic activities within the country.

Thus eliminating the deficit by cutting government spending would dampen economic activities within the system (the country) to the extent that government revenues drop by more than the money saved through cutting spending. Government debt consequently increases rather than decreases. This is in addition to the hardship caused to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Portugal has now demonstrated that austerity as a response to economic depression is economically illiterate. Their economy is now thriving, thanks to the socialist government that took over in 2015. It abandoned the austerity pursued by the previous government and increased wages thus boosting demand for goods and services. Consequently this has substantially reduced the deficit as a percentage of GDP

Money is what sustains economic activity within the country. Following the economic crash of 2008, money dried up as the banks stopped lending. The correct response would be to pump money into the economy, through properly funding our vital services, with adequate pay for our public sector employees. And building energy efficient affordable housing the country so desperately needs. Austerity takes money out of the economy leading to a downward spiral, totally the wrong response as Portugal has clearly demonstrated.

Britain’s chancellor, Philip Hammond, however, is still wedded to austerity, albeit with minor loosening of the purse strings. When, oh when will this morally and economically bankrupt policy end? The evidence is clear, chancellor, put the welfare of people at the heart of your economic policy, and the budget deficit together with the national debt will take care of themselves.

Shakespeare said it best

Much ado about nothing.

That’s the “Russian interference” in the 2016 American election.

A group of Russians operating from a building in St. Petersburg, we are told in a February 16 US government indictment, sent out tweets, Facebook and YouTube postings, etc. to gain support for Trump and hurt Clinton even though most of these messages did not even mention Trump or Clinton; and many were sent out before Trump was even a candidate.

The Russian-interference indictment is predicated, apparently, on the idea that the United States is a backward, Third-World, Banana Republic, easily manipulated.

If the Democrats think it’s so easy and so effective to sway voters in the United States why didn’t the party do better?

At times the indictment tells us that the online advertising campaign, led by the shadowy Internet Research Agency of Russia, was meant to divide the American people, not influence the 2016 election. The Russians supposedly wished to cause “divisiveness” in the American people, particularly around controversial issues such as immigration, politics, energy policy, climate change, and race. “The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry. “We must not allow them to succeed.”1

Imagine that – the American people, whom we all know are living in blissful harmony and fraternity without any noticeable anger or hatred, would become divided! Damn those Russkis!

After the election of Trump as president in November 2016, the defendants “used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

The indictment also states that defendants in New York organized a demonstration designed to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump” held on or about November 12, 2016. At the same time, defendants and their co-conspirators, organized another rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President”.

Much of the indictment and the news reports of the past year are replete with such contradictions, lending credence to the suggestion that what actually lay behind the events was a “click-bait” scheme wherein certain individuals earned money based on the number of times a particular website is accessed. The mastermind behind this scheme is reported to be a Russian named Yevgeny Prigozhin of the above-named Internet Research Agency, which is named in the indictment.2

The Russian operation began four years ago, well before Trump entered the presidential race, a fact that he quickly seized on in his defense. “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” he wrote on Twitter. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

Point 95 of the Indictment summarizes the “click-bait” scheme as follows:

Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.

Although there’s no doubt that the Kremlin favored Trump over Clinton, the whole “Russian influence” storm may be based on a misunderstanding of commercial activities of a Russian marketing company in US social networks.

Here’s some Real interference in election campaigns

[Slightly abridged version of chapter 18 in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower; see it for notes]

Philippines, 1950s:

Flagrant manipulation by the CIA of the nation’s political life, featuring stage-managed elections with extensive disinformation campaigns, heavy financing of candidates, writing their speeches, drugging the drinks of one of the opponents of the CIA-supported candidate so he would appear incoherent; plotting the assassination of another candidate. The oblivious New York Times declared that “It is not without reason that the Philippines has been called “democracy’s showcase in Asia”.

Italy, 1948-1970s:

Multifarious campaigns to repeatedly sabotage the electoral chances of the Communist Party and ensure the election of the Christian Democrats, long-favored by Washington.

Lebanon, 1950s:

The CIA provided funds to support the campaigns of President Camille Chamoun and selected parliamentary candidates; other funds were targeted against candidates who had shown less than total enchantment with US interference in Lebanese politics.

Indonesia, 1955:

A million dollars were dispensed by the CIA to a centrist coalition’s electoral campaign in a bid to cut into the support for President Sukarno’s party and the Indonesian Communist Party.

Vietnam, 1955:

The US was instrumental in South Vietnam canceling the elections scheduled to unify North and South because of the certainty that the North Vietnamese communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, would easily win.

British Guiana/Guyana, 1953-64:

For 11 years, two of the oldest democracies in the world, Great Britain and the United States, went to great lengths to prevent Cheddi Jagan – three times the democratically elected leader – from occupying his office. Using a wide variety of tactics – from general strikes and disinformation to terrorism and British legalisms – the US and Britain forced Jagan out of office twice during this period.

Japan, 1958-1970s:

The CIA emptied the US treasury of millions to finance the conservative Liberal Democratic Party in parliamentary elections, “on a seat-by-seat basis”, while doing what it could to weaken and undermine its opposition, the Japanese Socialist Party. The 1961-63 edition of the State Department’s annual Foreign Relations of the United States, published in 1996, includes an unprecedented disclaimer that, because of material left out, a committee of distinguished historians thinks “this published compilation does not constitute a ‘thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of major United States foreign policy decisions’” as required by law. The deleted material involved US actions from 1958-1960 in Japan, according to the State Department’s historian.

Nepal, 1959:

By the CIA’s own admission, it carried out an unspecified “covert action” on behalf of B.P. Koirala to help his Nepali Congress Party win the national parliamentary election. It was Nepal’s first national election ever, and the CIA was there to initiate them into the wonderful workings of democracy.

Laos, 1960:

CIA agents stuffed ballot boxes to help a hand-picked strongman, Phoumi Nosavan, set up a pro-American government.

Brazil, 1962:

The CIA and the Agency for International Development expended millions of dollars in federal and state elections in support of candidates opposed to leftist President João Goulart, who won anyway.

Dominican Republic, 1962:

In October 1962, two months before election day, US Ambassador John Bartlow Martin got together with the candidates of the two major parties and handed them a written notice, in Spanish and English, which he had prepared. It read in part: “The loser in the forthcoming election will, as soon as the election result is known, publicly congratulate the winner, publicly recognize him as the President of all the Dominican people, and publicly call upon his own supporters to so recognize him. … Before taking office, the winner will offer Cabinet seats to members of the loser’s party. (They may decline).”

As matters turned out, the winner, Juan Bosch, was ousted in a military coup seven months later, a slap in the face of democracy which neither Martin nor any other American official did anything about.

Guatemala, 1963:

The US overthrew the regime of General Miguel Ydigoras because he was planning to step down in 1964, leaving the door open to an election; an election that Washington feared would be won by the former president, liberal reformer and critic of US foreign policy, Juan José Arévalo. Ydigoras’s replacement made no mention of elections.

Bolivia, 1966:

The CIA bestowed $600,000 upon President René Barrientos and lesser sums to several right-wing parties in a successful effort to influence the outcome of national elections. Gulf Oil contributed two hundred thousand more to Barrientos.

Chile, 1964-70:

Major US interventions into national elections in 1964 and 1970, and congressional elections in the intervening years. Socialist Salvador Allende fell victim in 1964, but won in 1970 despite a multimillion-dollar CIA operation against him. The Agency then orchestrated his downfall in a 1973 military coup.

Portugal, 1974-5:

In the years following the coup in 1974 by military officers who talked like socialists, the CIA revved up its propaganda machine while funneling many millions of dollars to support “moderate” candidates, in particular Mario Soares and his (so-called) Socialist Party. At the same time, the Agency enlisted social-democratic parties of Western Europe to provide further funds and support to Soares. It worked. The Socialist Party became the dominant power.

Australia, 1974-75:

Despite providing considerable support for the opposition, the United States failed to defeat the Labor Party, which was strongly against the US war in Vietnam and CIA meddling in Australia. The CIA then used “legal” methods to unseat the man who won the election, Edward Gough Whitlam.

Jamaica, 1976:

A CIA campaign to defeat social democrat Michael Manley’s bid for reelection, featuring disinformation, arms shipments, labor unrest, economic destabilization, financial support for the opposition, and attempts upon Manley’s life. Despite it all, he was victorious.

Panama, 1984, 1989:

In 1984, the CIA helped finance a highly questionable presidential electoral victory for one of Manuel Noriega’s men. The opposition cried “fraud”, but the new president was welcomed at the White House. By 1989, Noriega was no longer a Washington favorite, so the CIA provided more than $10 million dollars to his electoral opponents.

Nicaragua, 1984, 1990:

In 1984, the United States, trying to discredit the legitimacy of the Sandinista government’s scheduled election, covertly persuaded the leading opposition coalition to not take part. A few days before election day, some other rightist parties on the ballot revealed that US diplomats had been pressing them to drop out of the race as well. The CIA also tried to split the Sandinista leadership by placing phoney full-page ads in neighboring countries. But the Sandinistas won handily in a very fair election monitored by hundreds of international observers.

Six years later, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington’s specially created stand-in for the CIA, poured in millions of dollars to defeat Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in the February elections. NED helped organize the Nicaraguan opposition, UNO, building up the parties and organizations that formed and supported this coalition.

Perhaps most telling of all, the Nicaraguan people were made painfully aware that a victory by the Sandinistas would mean a continuation of the relentlessly devastating war being waged against them by Washington through their proxy army, the Contras.

Haiti, 1987-1988:

After the Duvalier dictatorship came to an end in 1986, the country prepared for its first free elections ever. However, Haiti’s main trade union leader declared that Washington was working to undermine the left. US aid organizations, he said, were encouraging people in the countryside to identify and reject the entire left as “communist”. Meanwhile, the CIA was involved in a range of support for selected candidates until the US Senate Intelligence Committee ordered the Agency to cease its covert electoral action.

Bulgaria, 1990-1991 and Albania, 1991-1992:

With no regard for the fragility of these nascent democracies, the US interfered broadly in their elections and orchestrated the ousting of their elected socialist governments.

Russia, 1996:

For four months (March-June), a group of veteran American political consultants worked secretly in Moscow in support of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. Boris Yeltsin was being counted on to run with the globalized-free market ball and it was imperative that he cross the goal line. The Americans emphasized sophisticated methods of message development, polling, focus groups, crowd staging, direct-mailing, etc., and advised against public debates with the Communists. Most of all they encouraged the Yeltsin campaign to “go negative” against the Communists, painting frightening pictures of what the Communists would do if they took power, including much civic upheaval and violence, and, of course, a return to the worst of Stalinism. Before the Americans came on board, Yeltsin was favored by only six percent of the electorate. In the first round of voting, he edged the Communists 35 percent to 32, and was victorious in the second round 54 to 40 percent.

Mongolia, 1996:

The National Endowment for Democracy worked for several years with the opposition to the governing Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRR, the former Communists) who had won the 1992 election to achieve a very surprising electoral victory. In the six-year period leading up to the 1996 elections, NED spent close to a million dollars in a country with a population of some 2.5 million, the most significant result of which was to unite the opposition into a new coalition, the National Democratic Union. Borrowing from Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, the NED drafted a “Contract With the Mongolian Voter”, which called for private property rights, a free press and the encouragement of foreign investment. The MPRR had already instituted Western-style economic reforms, which had led to widespread poverty and wiped out much of the communist social safety net. But the new government promised to accelerate the reforms, including the privatization of housing. By 1998 it was reported that the US National Security Agency had set up electronic listening posts in Outer Mongolia to intercept Chinese army communications, and the Mongolian intelligence service was using nomads to gather intelligence in China itself.

Bosnia, 1998:

Effectively an American protectorate, with Carlos Westendorp – the Spanish diplomat appointed to enforce Washington’s offspring: the 1995 Dayton peace accords – as the colonial Governor-General. Before the September elections for a host of offices, Westendorp removed 14 Croatian candidates from the ballot because of alleged biased coverage aired in Bosnia by neighboring Croatia’s state television and politicking by ethnic Croat army soldiers. After the election, Westendorp fired the elected president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, accusing him of creating instability. In this scenario those who appeared to support what the US and other Western powers wished were called “moderates”, and allowed to run for and remain in office. Those who had other thoughts were labeled “hard-liners”, and ran the risk of a different fate. When Westendorp was chosen to assume this position of “high representative” in Bosnia in May 1997, The Guardian of London wrote that “The US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, praised the choice. But some critics already fear that Mr. Westendorp will prove too lightweight and end up as a cipher in American hands.”

Nicaragua, 2001

Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was once again a marked man. US State Department officials tried their best to publicly associate him with terrorism, including just after September 11 had taken place, and to shamelessly accuse Sandinista leaders of all manner of violations of human rights, civil rights, and democracy. The US ambassador literally campaigned for Ortega’s opponent, Enrique Bolaños. A senior analyst in Nicaragua for Gallup, the international pollsters, was moved to declare: “Never in my whole life have I seen a sitting ambassador get publicly involved in a sovereign country’s electoral process, nor have I ever heard of it.”

At the close of the campaign, Bolaños announced: “If Ortega comes to power, that would provoke a closing of aid and investment, difficulties with exports, visas and family remittances. I’m not just saying this. The United States says this, too. We cannot close our eyes and risk our well-being and work. Say yes to Nicaragua, say no to terrorism.”

In the end, the Sandinistas lost the election by about ten percentage points after steadily leading in the polls during much of the campaign.

Bolivia, 2002

The American bête noire here was Evo Morales, Amerindian, former member of Congress, socialist, running on an anti-neoliberal, anti-big business, and anti-coca eradication campaign. The US Ambassador declared: “The Bolivian electorate must consider the consequences of choosing leaders somehow connected with drug trafficking and terrorism.” Following September 11, painting Officially Designated Enemies with the terrorist brush was de rigueur US foreign policy rhetoric.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs warned that American aid to the country would be in danger if Mr. Morales was chosen. Then the ambassador and other US officials met with key figures from Bolivia’s main political parties in an effort to shore up support for Morales’s opponent, Sanchez de Lozada. Morales lost the vote.

Slovakia, 2002

To defeat Vladimir Meciar, former prime minister, a man who did not share Washington’s weltanschauung about globalization, the US ambassador explicitly warned the Slovakian people that electing him would hurt their chances of entry into the European Union and NATO. The US ambassador to NATO then arrived and issued his own warning. The National Endowment for Democracy was also on hand to influence the election. Meciar lost.

El Salvador, 2004

Washington’s target in this election was Schafik Handal, candidate of the FMLN, the leftist former guerrilla group. He said he would withdraw El Salvador’s 380 troops from Iraq as well as reviewing other pro-US policies; he would also take another look at the privatizations of Salvadoran industries, and would reinstate diplomatic relations with Cuba. His opponent was Tony Saca of the incumbent Arena Party, a pro-US, pro-free market organization of the extreme right, which in the bloody civil war days had featured death squads and the infamous assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

During a February visit to the country, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, met with all the presidential candidates except Handal. He warned of possible repercussions in US-Salvadoran relations if Handal were elected. Three Republican congressmen threatened to block the renewal of annual work visas for some 300,000 Salvadorans in the United States if El Salvador opted for the FMLN. And Congressman Thomas Tancredo of Colorado stated that if the FMLN won, “it could mean a radical change” in US policy on remittances to El Salvador.

Washington’s attitude was exploited by Arena and the generally conservative Salvadoran press, who mounted a scare campaign, and it became widely believed that a Handal victory could result in mass deportations of Salvadorans from the United States and a drop in remittances. Arena won the election with about 57 percent of the vote to some 36 percent for the FMLN.

After the election, the US ambassador declared that Washington’s policies concerning immigration and remittances had nothing to do with any election in El Salvador. There appears to be no record of such a statement being made in public before the election when it might have had a profound positive effect for the FMLN.

Afghanistan, 2004

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, went around putting great pressure on one candidate after another to withdraw from the presidential race so as to insure the victory for Washington’s man, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai in the October election. There was nothing particularly subtle about it. Khalilzad told each one what he wanted and then asked them what they needed. Karzai, a long-time resident in the United States, was described by the Washington Post as “a known and respected figure at the State Department and National Security Council and on Capitol Hill.”

“Our hearts have been broken because we thought we could have beaten Mr. Karzai if this had been a true election,” said Sayed Mustafa Sadat Ophyani, campaign manager for Younis Qanooni, Karzai’s leading rival. “But it is not. Mr. Khalilzad is putting a lot of pressure on us and does not allow us to fight a good election campaign.”.

None of the major candidates actually withdrew from the election, which Karzai won with about 56 percent of the votes.

The Cold War Forever

On March 7 British police said that a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, a city southwest of London. The police said that Skripal had been “targeted specifically” with a nerve agent. Skripal was jailed in Russia in 2006 for passing state secrets to Britain. He was released in 2010 as part of a spy swap.

Because nerve agents are complex to make, they are typically not made by individuals, but rather by states. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that the Skripal case had “echoes” of what happened to Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB Operative who British officials believe was poisoned in London by Russian agents in 2006, becoming the first victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome. Before he died, he spoke about the misdeeds of the Russian secret service and delivered public deathbed accusations that Russian president Vladimir Putin was behind his unusual malady.

Because of this the Skripal poisoning looks like an open-and-shut case.

But hold on. Skripal was sent to Britain by the Russian government eight years ago in an exchange of spies. Why would they want to kill him now, and with Putin’s election coming up? And with the quadrennial football (soccer) World Cup coming up soon to be played in Russia. Moscow is very proud of this, publicizing it every day on their international television stations (RT in the US). A murder like this could surely put a serious damper on the Moscow festivities. Boris Johnson has already dropped a threat: “Thinking ahead to the World Cup this July, this summer, I think it would be very difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way and we would certainly have to consider that.”3 It was totally predictable.

Because political opposition is weak, and no obvious threat to the ruling United Russia Party, what would the government gain by an assassination of an opposition figure?

So if Russia is not responsible for Skripal’s poisoning, who is? Well, I have an idea. I can’t give you the full name of the guilty party, but its initials are CIA. US-Russian Cold Wars produce unmitigated animosity. As but one example, the United States boycotted the Olympics that were held in the Soviet Union in 1980, because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union then boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Ideology and Evolution

New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet recently declared: “I think we are pro-capitalism. The New York Times is in favor of capitalism because it has been the greatest engine of, it’s been the greatest anti-poverty program and engine of progress that we’ve seen.”4 The man is correct as far as he goes. But there are two historical factors that enter into this discussion that he fails to consider:

    1. Socialism may well have surpassed capitalism as an anti-poverty program and engine of progress if the United States and other capitalist powers had not subverted, destabilized, invaded, and/or overthrown every halfway serious attempt at socialism in the world. Not one socialist-oriented government, from Cuba and Vietnam in the 1960s, to Nicaragua and Chile in the 1970s, to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to Haiti and Venezuela in the 2000s has been allowed to rise or fall based on its own merits or lack of same, or allowed to relax its guard against the ever-threatening capital imperialists.
    2. Evolution: Social and economic systems have evolved along with human beings. Humankind has roughly gone from slavery to feudalism to capitalism. There’s no reason to assume that this evolution has come to a grinding halt, particularly given the deep-seated needs of the world in the face of one overwhelming problem after another, most caused by putting profit before people.
  1. New York Times, February 16, 2018.
  2. Mueller Indictment – The “Russian Influence” Is A Commercial Marketing Scheme,” Moon of Alabama, February 17, 2018.
  3. The Independent (London), March 6, 2018.
  4. Huffington Post, February 27, 2018.

Portugal, the EU and the Euro: Interview with João Ferreira

Mural at the Communist Party headquarters in Lisbon

The European Union is in turmoil. Years of crisis and brutal austerity have had terrible social consequences, especially in peripheral countries. In Portugal a change of government after the 2015 legislative elections brought an end to the previous troika-imposed austerity and even a reversal of some policies. But structural problems persist due to the nature of the EU and its mechanisms, particularly the single currency. To discuss the political situation in Portugal, the consequences of entering the single market and the Euro, and solutions to these problems, as well as other issues such as the rise of the far-right in Europe, we have interviewed João Ferreira from the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP). He is a member of the PCP Central Committee, a city councilman in Lisbon and a two-time member of the European Parliament.

*****

Ricardo Vaz:  Turning now to the Euro, the PCP is not alone today. There is a widespread opinion that the single currency is not working. Why was the Euro destined to fail and what were its consequences?

João Ferreira:  In our view the Euro did not fail. There were goals that were proclaimed to the peoples, but the question is whether those were the true goals of the project. Our view is that they were not. The Euro was from the start a political project of European big capital. A project that had two main objectives: reducing the unit labour costs, which amounts to transferring wealth from labour to capital, and on the other hand, under the cover of fulfilling requirements of the single currency, attacking public services and privatising strategic economic sectors. It was with the pretext of the Euro and fulfilling its requirements that real wages were reduced (the so-called “wage moderation”), countless public companies were privatised, in some cases even entire strategic sectors, the social functions of the state were targeted, resulting in reduced spending in healthcare, education, social security, and so on. So the Euro fulfilled its goals.

For example, a decade after the creation of the single currency, profits across the eurozone had increased by 30% whereas unit labour costs had decreased by 1%. This happened, to a higher or lower degree, in many countries. It happened in Portugal and it happened in Germany. In Germany, for example, profits grew 80 times faster than salaries. Therefore the Euro delivered its political goals, which is why we reaffirm that the Euro is a political project of European big capital. Of course, the people were promised that the Euro would reduce unemployment, deliver growth rates around 3% per year, elevate salaries, making them converge towards salaries on other eurozone countries. Looking back, what happened in Portugal was the following:

  • unemployment was not reduced, it has more than doubled and has consistently been above 10%,
  • the accumulated growth after one and a half decades in the eurozone is zero, meaning these were 15 wasted years,
  • salaries not only failed to converge with respect to those in other countries but actually diverged further,
  • the deficit in our trade balance worsened and debt exploded,
  • agricultural and industrial output went several years backwards, and this also holds for other countries in the periphery,

All of this was a result of the Euro. The opposite of what was promised is what actually came to pass. Now, what we cannot say is that the publicly stated goals were the actual purposes of the project. They were just promises made to get people to join the project. But the actual objectives of the Euro, those were certainly accomplished.

Unemployment numbers in Portugal since joining the Euro (data from the Portuguese National Institute of Statistics)

Beyond that, the Euro worked to deepen the European capitalist integration, through a policy of faits-accomplis. Today we are told that the Euro went wrong because it was incomplete. And that is the pretext to go even further in the integration process. At the time it was widely known that the Euro structure was not complete, that it was not a well designed monetary union, but nobody seemed to care all that much.

RV: In the latest statement of the PCP Central Committee, a campaign on freeing the country from the submission to the Euro was announced. What do you hope to accomplish?

JF: With this campaign we aim to broaden throughout Portuguese society the understanding of what is all too evident today: the Euro has brought impoverishment, backwardness, debt and foreign dependency. And there is no prospect of reversing course without breaking with the submission to the Euro for all the reasons we have already discussed. In fact, this is very clear when we look at all the policies that have been imposed on the country under the pretence of remaining in the single currency. Therefore the country must free itself, it must regain an important instrument which is its monetary sovereignty. And with that comes also a strengthened sovereignty on budgetary and foreign exchange matters, and in some ways also on fiscal matters.

This is an essential instrument, because in its absence the adjustment factors in times of economic crisis are just salaries and employment. This is what we have seen in recent times, salaries being lowered and unemployment increasing. We need an increased sovereignty so that in the monetary sphere, but also in the economic sphere in general, we have a currency that is suited to the productive structure of the country, which is significantly different from the productive structure of a country like Germany. The submission to the same currency will necessarily result in economic divergences as we have seen, which is why the country must be free of this. And this liberation is not only needed, but also possible and viable.

RV: If I may play devil’s advocate, exiting the Euro also carries its own risks, specially in the short term. Is the PCP taking those into account?

JF: Exiting the eurozone is not a politically neutral process. We advocate leaving the Euro in the context of a patriotic and left-wing policy (“política patriótica e de esquerda“). That is, process of exiting from the Euro that will defend incomes, living conditions and savings of the people. One that will ensure that those who have benefited the most from the presence in the Euro are the ones who shoulder the biggest burden of this exit. An exit from the Euro conducted by a right-wing government can have very negative consequences. This is why we say it is not a politically neutral project.

The Communist Party held its XX Congress in December 2016

And when we defend leaving the Euro from the left, this requires coordinating it with other measures, two of which are of major importance. The first one is renegotiating the debt in its amounts, terms and interest rates, so as to significantly reduce debt service, and even expunging it of a component which we deem illegitimate. The second one is asserting public control over the banking sector. So these are three measures that from the Communist Party’s point of view are profoundly connected. We have tabled a proposal in Parliament, which took aim precisely at freeing the country from these three constraints, Euro, debt and private banking sector, and in turn offer integrated solutions for each of them.

RV: They are inseparable problems…

JF: Yes, no doubt, and thus any response must also be built in an integrated fashion. Some of the main vectors of the alternative, patriotic and left-wing, policy which we defend and should be articulated with leaving the Euro include: the defence and promotion of national production, the recovery of strategic sectors of the economy, increasing workers’ incomes, strengthening public services, etc. We defend this necessity of releasing ourselves from the Euro not in isolation, but in the context of this patriotic and left-wing policy. What reality has demonstrated, and the Greek experiment provides us with a lesson that cannot be ignored, is that it is not possible to implement a left-wing policy within the framework of the Euro and the constraints associated to the economic and monetary union.

RV: Many people say, even in the center-left, that one country cannot make it on its own and that there needs to be a coordinated effort with other countries in similar circumstances…

JF: We find it very important to coordinate efforts with other countries, and with other communist and progressive parties. But we do not believe a country should stand still until there is a change in the supranational structures. Even more so because these supranational structures have demonstrated time and again whom it is they serve. Therefore changing the situation in Europe requires reverting the correlation of forces in each country, it requires changes in each country. And changes in one country can in turn lend support for the similar changes to occur in other countries. Even on this question of abandoning the single currency we have defended the need to join forces on an European level, starting, of course, with countries in similar scenarios. Yet we do not hinge what we deem as necessary on a national level on any preceding shifts at an European level. Any changes that we may push on a national level may themselves lead to shifts on the European level. Once more, the Greek story is instructive in this regard. It takes a great deal of courage, a great deal of determination, and a readiness to break with the blackmail and pressures coming from the European Union. The solution is not to submit to those.

João Ferreira speaking in the European Parliament

RV: And with all this in mind, does the PCP advocate a unilateral exit from the EU?

JF: We do not ignore the nature of the capitalist integration process, and thus we have no illusions on what it could bring. It has been demonstrated that the EU is not reformable. This does not mean that we do not advocate a different cooperation/integration process among free, sovereign and equal states in Europe, but it is a process that in its main characteristics will be diametrically opposed to what the EU stands for. And I am not talking about “what the EU stands for today”, I am talking about what it has always stood for. The primacy of free circulation of capital in the single market over social and labour rights, for example, is engraved in the treaties from the very beginning. That is why this process is not reformable from our point of view. What we ought to do is build, on top of the ruins of this process which is manifestly exhausted, a new cooperation project among European states. And we embrace this struggle, which necessarily involves confronting the impositions from the European Union, safeguarding the national interests in face of these impositions, and this, of course, will lead to ruptures. In the short term, a rupture with the single currency, but other ruptures in the longer term with other instruments and mechanisms of the European Union. As for the concrete characteristics of these ruptures, the struggle itself will determine it. It would be very easy for us to proclaim that “we leave the EU today, and tomorrow all our problems will be solved”, but that’s not how things work.

RV: Should we also take from this a response to those who try to conflate “Europe” and the European Union?

JF: Exactly, this is a very important point. The EU is not “Europe”, and this confusion is deliberate, it is not innocent. It is not Europe and it would not be even if it included all the countries in Europe. Even more so because the EU today affronts fundamental aspects of a whole legacy of values of achievements of the European peoples. The EU is an integration process of European states, it is not the first and it certainly will not be the last.

RV: Moving on to a different subject, we have been witnessing a rise of the far right. What is causing this?

JF: This emergence of the far right in inseparable from the policies of the European Union through the years. We are talking about policies which exacerbate social inequalities inside each country, that exacerbate divergence between countries, policies that have been evolving towards what we today consider to be relations of a neo-colonial nature. We have witnessed outright oppression processes directed by the European Union against individual states. These anti-social policies which generate inequality, poverty, social exclusion, on top of this national oppression processes, which always have a very clear dimension of class oppression, create the conditions for the emergence of far right forces. This is specially true in countries where revolutionary, patriotic left-wing forces have been weakened.

The far right forces are very opportunistic and always try to take advantage in these contexts. At the end of the day they do not wish to call into question the capitalist system, but to present a new possibility for its survival. The system is faced with a fundamental crisis and there needs to be different options to safeguard its survival. The far right and fascism are a resource that may be used just like it was used in the past, to ensure the survival of a system that is profoundly unjust and unfair. Now, in the European context the EU has clearly paved the way for this kind of policies. An emblematic example has been the EU response vis-a-vis the so-called refugee crisis, and the policies with a clear xenophobic character that the EU itself has adopted, which only end up feeding these far right forces.

RV: And does the social democracy also deserve a share of the blame?

JF: Social-democracy is one of the two heads of the system. In essence there are these two heads, right-wing and social-democracy, that share the responsibilities for how things have developed over time, and for the point we have reached in Europe. The “betrayal” of social-democracy with respect to the interests of the working classes and the peoples, when it fully stood for and implemented neoliberal policies, specially since the 1980s, played a major role in getting us where we are today.

RV: The Communist Party still defines itself as a Marxist-Leninist party. Does Marxism-Leninism remain current these days?

JF: In our opinion it does. Marxism-Leninism is a tool, a very valuable instrument to analyse reality, an instrument that is itself averse to dogmatic positions and to schematic and static views of reality. It is an instrument that guides us in analysing and understanding the world but which also shows the way when it comes to transforming it. It has an unquestionable legacy, in which Marx, Engels and Lenin had decisive contributions, but is also enriched by all the experiments that took place all over the world. Therefore it is an instrument to analyse and transform reality which gets enriched and with all the struggles that take place in various countries.

Jerónimo de Sousa, secretary-general of the PCP, speaking in the opening event of the commemorations of the centenary of the October Revolution

RV: This year marks the centenary of the October Revolution. What is the significance of this event?

JF: The October Revolution was a major event in human history. For the first time in history, those at the bottom, who for centuries, millennia, were the target of exploitation and oppression, showed that they could take power and take their destiny in their own hands. And build a workers’ state. There had been previous attempts, but this was the first time in history in which, “storming the heavens1, those who had eternally lived under exploitation and oppression decided to take power and build their own state.

There are major accomplishments that are part of our lives, even in western capitalist countries, that are inseparable from this experiment and the October Revolution. Issues ranging from gender equality, wide-reaching social and labour rights, maternity leave, rights for families, sick leave, the right to have holidays, everything that is broadly grouped in the so-called “welfare state”, which is generally associated to post-war Europe, is, in fact, a result of the October Revolution and the achievements that followed. In many countries capitalists needed to offer concessions in order to contain the advances of the labour movement, which had major achievements inspired in the achievements of the October Revolution.

It is not a coincidence that the end of the USSR coincided with an offensive against all these achievements throughout Europe.

RV:  What should communists take from the October Revolution and the experience of the Soviet Union that followed?

JF: The October Revolution is an essential event and a major source of inspiration in our struggle for a better life and a better world. It is not a matter of copying a given recipe or model, which is something that the PCP was always very clear on. It is about drawing inspiration and lessons for a process that each people will undertake with its own means, according to its own will and to the specific material conditions in which the struggle takes place. We usually say that all peoples will reach socialism, but each will get there though its own path.

This experiment – which marked the beginning of a new historical era – needs to be analysed and taken on in its entirety by communists, with its enormous achievements, its wealth of successes, but also in its shortcomings, its failures and its mistakes, some of them profound, which also occurred. But the truth is that we cannot say that the world is better since the disappearance of the Soviet Union. Quite the contrary, it is much more dangerous, and in many countries there were significant setbacks in terms of rights and living conditions for the majority of the population.

In summary, I would say that in celebrating this 100 year anniversary, we should highlight the universal reach of the October Revolution, appreciate the conquests and achievements of the Soviet Union and its decisive role in the revolutionary advances of the 20th century, while stressing that the demise of a model that moved away from the communist ideal and project does not call into question the course of history and the need for socialism. Rather, it gives more strength to our struggle to build a society without exploiters or exploited, free of oppression, the struggle for socialism and communism.

• Read Part One here

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. This expression was used by Marx in reference to the Paris Commune.

Portugal, the EU and the Euro: Interview with João Ferreira

The European Union is in turmoil. Years of crisis and brutal austerity have had terrible social consequences, especially in peripheral countries. In Portugal a change of government after the 2015 legislative elections brought an end to the previous troika-imposed austerity and even a reversal of some policies. But structural problems persist due to the nature of the EU and its mechanisms, particularly the single currency. To discuss the political situation in Portugal, the consequences of entering the single market and the Euro, and solutions to these problems, as well as other issues such as the rise of the far-right in Europe, I have interviewed João Ferreira from the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP). He is a member of the PCP Central Committee, a city councilman in Lisbon and a two-time member of the European Parliament.

*****

Ricardo Vaz: How would you describe the current Portuguese government? Is it a government of the left?

João Ferreira: It is a government of the Socialist Party (PS). It is neither a government of the left nor a coalition of left-wing forces, as we sometimes hear. It is a government of the Socialist Party that carries with it the Socialist Party’s positions vis-a-vis the core issues of right-wing policy and its vision for the country, which are fundamentally different from those of the PCP. But it is a minority government, which with the current balance of power in Parliament means that the PCP plays an important role in the process of restoration of rights and raising incomes of the people that the government pledged to implement before taking power.

In fact, the developments since this government took office underline this. There has been a process of restoration of rights and increase of incomes in which the PCP and the mass struggles of recent years played a decisive role. However, there are still fundamental, structural problems that persist, whose solution require comprehensive policies in order to go beyond the recovery of rights and incomes and ultimately develop the country. This is precisely connected to the fact that this is a government of the Socialist Party which has inherited all the historical contradictions that the Socialist Party has not managed to resolve and which are in turn connected to the right-wing policies of the past 40 years. And this is why it is not a government of the left.

RV: Let’s analyse these issues separately. What positive measures were agreed upon and implemented, and why was there such a nervous response or even outright opposition from Brussels?

JF: The actions of the previous government, a right-wing coalition of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Christian Democrats (CDS), had as a starting point the intervention program of the troika, composed of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Union (EU). This program was subscribed by PSD, PS and CDS, while the PCP rightly labelled it as a “pact of aggression” towards the country and the people.

And so this PSD-CDS government implemented policies which are essentially in line with the recent directives of the IMF and the EU: an onslaught against labour and social rights, privatisation of state companies and strategic sectors of the economy, destruction and dismantling of public services, in permanent conflict with the Portuguese Constitution. It was a government that diligently put in place all the orientations and impositions coming from the European Union. When this government was defeated in the 2015 legislative elections and conditions arose for a new government to take office, a minority PS government that had agreed to revert some of the measures implemented in the previous four years, the European Commission reacted immediately. The European authorities, the major European powers, big European capital and their political representatives, such as the European Commission, they all reacted immediately as they saw the path they had been advocating and imposing in jeopardy.

Communist Party demonstration against “pact of aggression”

What has been done specifically? Even if they have a limited scope, some measures we consider to be important have been implemented. For example:

  • a reversal of the privatisation processes that were in course in the transportation sector,
  • the restoration of four public holidays that had been taken away by the previous government,
  • the restoration of the 35-hour week for the public sector,
  • the elimination of public sector salary cuts and of income tax surcharge, which means an increase in working class incomes,
  • an increase of the pension incomes, when the troika was recommending further cuts, this time with a permanent character, on top of the cuts put in place by the previous government,
  • an increase of the minimum wage, even though it is still way below the values we deem fair,
  • the restoration of collective bargaining for state enterprises,
  • an increase in family and child benefits, both in its amounts and the number of people covered,
  • the introduction of free schoolbooks for primary schools.

These are all measures that contradict the troika’s impositions. The troika, the EU and the big Portuguese capital saw this as a threat to the general policies they had pushed and reacted in a violent manner, with threats and pressure. This highlights how far the European Union has come. Even limited measures with a social character, of raising incomes, improving living standards, are enough to confront the EU, its power structure and the policies they (sic) have been imposed on the peoples. We are not talking of fundamental, structural measures, but ones with a very limited scope, but even these are enough to unleash the brutal reaction we witnessed.

RV: You also mentioned the Socialist Party’s shortcomings, which stand in the way of a more comprehensive response to the country’s problems. Can you elaborate on them?

JF: On one hand we have its submission to all policies and impositions from the European Union. While it is true that concrete measures that the EU recommended have been called into question, the main impositions that result from the Stability Pact, the Economic Governance packages, the European Semester, the Fiscal Compact, are all embraced and accepted by the Socialist Party. And we are talking about policies that have an inherent right-wing, neoliberal character. Similarly it also accepts the submission to the single currency, which we can get into in more detail later, with all that this has meant for the country in terms of the destruction of productive sectors and an overall increase in inequality.

But on the national sphere the Socialist Party has also historically been unavailable when it comes to confronting the dominant classes. For example, it cannot be counted on to reform the fiscal system in order to demand a greater contribution from big capital. Along the years a system has been put in place that is extremely favourable towards big capital, providing it with an extremely low tax burden, at the expense of the workers and small and medium-size enterprises. Now that we need wholesale changes to revert this situation the Socialist Party cannot be counted upon. Another example has to do with labour legislation and the fact that the Socialist Party has not done anything regarding the measures that are most punishing for workers. This shows that there are structural aspects of the right-wing policy that remain entrenched in the Socialist Party.

RV: Staying with big capital, it seems like the banking sector remains front and centre, with constant fears and instability. What measures, according to the PCP, ought to be implemented in regard to the banking sector?

JF: The PCP has identified three major constraints that the country is faced with:

  1. the submission to the Euro
  2. the colossal debt and debt service
  3. the dominance of private banking over the financial sector

The first two we will get to in a moment. In what concerns the third, we should recall that the banking sector was nationalised after the Revolution of 1974, and then there was a process of privatisation and reconstitution of the private banks. And the result of this process is what we have been watching in recent times. We have a banking sector that is not at the service of the country but which serves only a few economic and financial groups, some Portuguese, others foreign. These groups have along the years accumulated fabulous profits at the expense of families, small and medium-size enterprises, and the country in general. All this resorting to fraudulent and corruption schemes, unfettered speculation, conceding loans to friends and family, etc. From the PCP’s point of view this demonstrates the need of bringing back the banking sector under public control, reorienting it back to what should be its social function: holding savings and putting them at the service of productive investment, invigorating the economy and the country’s development, rather than putting these resources to use in the assortment of practices we listed before.

RV: In Portugal I have heard a lot about the CGD and the Novo Banco1

JF: The Novo Banco is a striking example of a bank that serves only the interests of a handful of capitalists, but it is hardly unique. It is an example that has a parallel in other banks which have been the origin of significant problems. In fact, the workers have been called more than once to cover the losses of private banks. What we argue is that, given the point we have reached, the state has to assume public control over the Novo Banco as a starting point towards a more generalised control over the banking sector.

Concerning the Caixa Geral de Depósitos, it has a fundamental problem. Even though it is the public bank, due to the choices of recent governments, it has been managed as if it were a private bank. So the same schemes of speculation, questionable loan practices, etc, have been practised, not to mention that it has also been called upon to plug holes in the private banks. Therefore the demand is not only to keep Caixa Geral de Depósitos in the public sphere but to have a management that effectively works to support the development of the country.

RV: Let us now turn to the debt, which was, of course, the reason for the troika’s intervention. How did Portugal’s debt swell to these levels?

JF: There are two types of causes: structural, fundamental causes, and others we can call more circumstantial. The first ones have to do with the process of destruction and progressive dismantling of the productive apparatus, of productive sectors such as agriculture, fishing, industry, and what this implied in terms of a bigger dependence upon foreign goods and services. Not only that, there was also a process of privatisations in the strategic sectors of the economy, which allowed capital, both national and foreign, to buy stakes in these sectors. This necessarily meant a drain of funds, since profits and dividends, instead of staying in the realm of the state, went to the pockets of shareholders.

Both aspects are inseparable from Portugal’s entry to the EEC, the single market, to compete without any protection against much stronger economies with much higher productivity levels. And the European structural funds, which were meant to alleviate the impacts of this unequal competition, never managed to do so, although some blame should lie with the governments in power at the time. But a large share of the structural funds came and left under the form of acquisition of goods and services, in some sense returning to their place of origin. Actually, the amounts transferred by the EU to Portugal are now surpassed by the amounts that leave the country as profits, dividends and interest towards other EU countries. That is, in a broad sense, Portugal is a net contributor in the European Union.

Evolution of Portuguese public debt in percentage of GDP (data from the Portuguese National Institute of Statistics)

The more circumstantial causes have to do with the speculative attack that the sovereign debts of the so-called peripheral countries withstood around 2009-11. An onslaught that is inseparable from the very rules that guide European institutions and the European Central Bank in particular. It is important to keep in mind that the ECB does not lend money to states, but it does so to private banks, and during a significant period we witnessed a situation in which the ECB granted loans to private banks, the so-called financial markets, with interest rates of 1%, and these banks turned around to charge interest rates from states that in the case of Portugal got to be as high as 7%. Until the start of the process of debt purchasing from the ECB, and this was postponed as much as possible, Portugal and other countries faced this speculative onslaught, with very significant differentials in interest rates that were responsible for a big increase in the public debt. And, of course, the troika’s program made matters even worse.

RV:  Rewinding a little, in the 1980s the PCP was opposed to Portugal entering the single market. What were the reasons behind this position and what turned out to happen?

JF: The Communist Party was essentially the only party in Portugal that conducted a thorough study of the consequences of a possible entry into the single market. We started even before the Revolution, when this possibility of entering the single market started being floated. We did it again in the 1980s when it was time to decide and the country did enter the EEC, and we did it once more 20, 30 years after said entry. And in general the warnings we sounded came to pass. The PCP was proven right. At the time we were an isolated voice, today there are multiple political and opinion sectors that recognise what we have been saying all along.

The EEC, today the EU, is a capitalist integration process. Integration processes are not neutral. Depending on their nature, they can work to benefit peoples, or to serve capital and multinational corporations. The EU/EEC, being a capitalist integration process, is by design meant to favour capital accumulation. In lieu of promoting convergence, we have social and economic divergence, and this is evident in the situation faced today by the peripheral countries, again in line with what the PCP predicted.

Demonstration in support of the nationalisation of the banking sector in 1975

There is another important point to highlight in the concrete case of Portugal. The big monopolist groups suffered major setbacks after the April Revolution and the achievements that followed. Just to recall some of them: nationalisation of the strategic sectors of the economy, agrarian reform, a Constitution that guarantees wide-ranging economic, social and cultural rights, among others. The accession into the EEC was seen by these groups as an opportunity to recoup lost power. Because the very criteria of accession into the EEC implied that the state was subjected to the so-called market economy, and so in Portugal this ended up boosting the process of capitalist recovery and the reconstitution of the monopolies that existed during the fascist dictatorship, which had been dismantled after the Revolution. The understanding of the instrumental character of entering the single market in terms of the return to power of the formerly dominant classes was also part of our analysis and a motivation for our opposition. And also here we were proven right.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. The Banco Espírito Santo (BES) was the crown jewel of the business empire of the powerful Espírito Santo family. In 2014 it required a multi-billion Euro bailout after it went bankrupt after years of dubious practices and complicity from regulators. A new bank, called “Novo Banco” was created, free of BES’s toxic assets. The PCP has argued that, given the tremendous cost it has had, the bank should not just be handed back into private hands.

    The Caixa Geral de Depósitos (CGD) is Portugal’s largest and only public bank. The right-wing has had a long-standing dream of privatising it. The Caixa Geral de Depósitos (CGD) is Portugal’s largest and only public bank. The right-wing has had a long-standing dream of privatising it.