May 26, 2024

Balkan Travellers

Comprehensive up-to-date news coverage, aggregated from sources all over the world

The debate in Portugal about reparations for colonialism and slavery has resurfaced

The debate in Portugal about reparations for colonialism and slavery has resurfaced

  • Written by Alison Roberts
  • BBC News, Lisbon

Comment on the photo, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (left) said that Portugal must bear “full responsibility” for its past.

The Portuguese government has said it has no plans to pay reparations for the country's role in transatlantic slavery and colonialism.

The previously dormant debate about the country's role in the slave trade and other colonial-era abuses came back to life last week after its president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, suggested the country should turn away from such “crimes.”

But the centre-right government – dominated by a party de Sousa once led – has rejected the idea, while the far-right Chiga party is seeking a vote in parliament condemning the president and his comments, which he said “without a doubt” represent a betrayal of the Portuguese people and their history.

In a wide-ranging conversation with foreign correspondents, the president was asked whether reparations were due for the slave trade, during which Portuguese ships took millions of people from Africa, especially to Brazil, where they were forced to work on plantations.

He did not mention slavery in his response, but said Portugal must bear “full responsibility” for its past, citing massacres and plunder as abuses that could “pay for itself.”

Brazil's Minister of Racial Equality, Aniel Franco, called for “concrete measures” to match these words.

Comment on the photo, The far-right Chiga party, led by Andre Ventura, condemned the president's statements

Meanwhile, the government only issued its statement on Saturday, after the president expanded on his previous statements by saying that development aid and debt relief could help repair the colonial past.

He said Portugal had an “obligation” to “lead” on this matter, warning it to avoid the fate of “other countries that have lost the ability to dialogue and understanding with their former colonies.”

In a brief statement, the government said it was “following the same line” as its predecessors regarding compensation: “There has been, and is not, a process or program of specific measures for this purpose.”

The truth is that the Minister of Culture in the previous socialist government was looking into returning the looted antiquities. The current minister, whose previous positions include director of the National Museum whose collection includes items from former colonies, has supported the idea in the past.

Anti-racism groups and far-left parties, which have long campaigned on these issues, have returned to the fray in recent days. But it is the conservative Portuguese president who is running in the elections.

As foreign correspondents reported last week, under the dictatorship, his father was Mozambique's governor and then last colonial minister, so Mr. de Souza is well placed to discredit right-wing voices who say colonialism wasn't so bad, after all. .