Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bid to conserve south coastal sites

Hopes are being expressed that the most spectacular stretch of coastal habitat left unspoilt along Portugal’s southernmost shore can be turned into a nature reserve rather than being blighted by two more resort urbanisations.
The area lends itself perfectly to ecotourism through conservation, but local homeowners who advocate this are concerned it may be too late.
The coastal stretch in question lies between the fishing hamlet of Benagil and the iconic headland of Nossa Senhora da Rocha, all within the municipality of Lagoa in the Algarve.
It encompasses Praia da Marinha, considered by the Michelin Guide and other travel organisations to be one of the top ten beaches in Europe and among the most beautiful coastal settings in the world.
Scholars and naturalists have long recognised the area to be of special geological and archaeological importance as well as of significance in terms of flora and fauna.
But the planning approval for the two adjoining projects code-named UP11 and UP12 would mean the destruction of large tracts of natural habitat rich in biodiversity. This would be to within a few hundred metres of the shoreline, considerably less in parts than the normally legislated 500 metres, it seems.
The plans envisage hotels, luxury villas, apartments and a golf course. Despite being the biggest private development programme ever proposed in the Lagoa municipality’s history, little has been divulged publicly since the projects were first approved more than eight years ago.
A small group of residents in one of the most directly affected communities has recently learned that it could be years, perhaps decades, before sufficient funds are available to allow detailed infrastructure planning and construction to proceed.
Officially, however, it is thought to be only a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ construction goes ahead. The promoters are thought to be seeking investors overseas, most likely in China and the United States.
One of the project-aproved sites, comprising 230 hectares, is currently being offered for sale at €115 million.
Despite previous claims to the contrary, it seems that no environmental impact studies have ever been carried out in the area - or perhaps were even required - not that environmental impact studies are ever entirely independent and impartial anyway.
Concerned local residents say that in an area of such unique geological importance, with biodiversity which can no longer be found elsewhere along the now heavily urbanised Algarve coast, it should be of the utmost importance that a proper impartial environmental assessment be sought by the government before irreparable damage is done.
The projects were accepted by the relevant authorities in Lisbon and Faro as well as Lagoa in the belief that they would create jobs and be of considerable economic benefit. Although it has never been explicitly explained who would benefit, the projects could be expected to generate profits for investors, national or international construction companies and resort operators, as well as taxes for the local municipality.
An unsightly backdrop to this, however, is that Lagoa and other Algarve municipalities feature half-built, multi-storey blocks long abandoned and derelict. They have been eye-sores for years and look like remaining so for years to come due to the lack of sustainable guarantees for the planning and approval of project funding.
The group of homeowners suggesting that the area be turned into a nature reserve point to the ever-growing, sustainable profitability of ecotourism. It has proved so in many parts of the world in recent decades.
Ecotourism has the advantage of attracting increasing numbers of visitors all year round by appealing to other than just the sun and sand holiday crowds or winter golfers. It is more adept at providing incomes for local communities than foreign investors and would represent an overall more sustainable long-term investment for the area, allowing the natural beauty, historic heritage and eco-diversity of this unique area to be fully conserved.
Those contemplating such a nature reserve in Lagoa have no illusions it will be easy to establish. They realise too it may be a race against the time.
Our research so far, however, indicates that the area may qualify for backing from the UNESCO World Heritage organisation, hence we are seeking help from experts in the field and supporters alike,” said a spokesperson for the group.





Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fatima ‘third secret’ still in dispute

Allegations persist that the Vatican is continuing to cover up the truth about the ‘third secret’ said to have been disclosed by the Virgin Mary exclusively to three Portuguese children on 13th July 1917.
Ongoing reports of papal obfuscation and lies did not deterred big numbers of pilgrims gathering at the Shrine of Fatima near Leiria for the 99th anniversary of the secret visions. The pilgrims have come from many countries, including such places as China, Indonesia and Costa Rica, as well as Italy, Ireland, the UK and the US.
Recently, however, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI felt moved to issue a formal denial of any wrong-doing over the third secret controversy.
The generally accepted belief is that apparitions of the Virgin Mary, popularly know as Our Lady of Fatima, were witnessed on the 13th of each month between May and October 1917.
The Vatican has described the apparitions as “undoubtedly the most prophetic of modern times”.
The main visionary, 10-year-old Lúcia Santos, became a cloistered nun and in 1941 wrote accounts of the secrets. The first two emphasised the horrors of hell, the threat of more world war, and the danger to humanity of Russia replacing Christianity with communist totalitarianism.
Sister Lúcia delayed writing about the third secret until ordered to do so by her local bishop. Her one-page letter dated January 1944 was kept by the bishop of Leiria in a sealed envelope until it was conveyed to the Vatican in 1957 for safe keeping in the Secret Archives of the Holy Office.
Critics claim that successive popes “suppressed” the information until the year 2000 when John Paul II deemed that its publication was appropriate. His secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, declared that the third secret was the Virgin Mary’s prophesy of the attempted assassination of John Paul on 13th May 1981.
The announcement was received by many Catholics with incredulity. An “interpretation” by another of John Paul’s top officials, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, only added to the international outcry. Traditionalist Catholics denounced it as part of the “heresy” that had infiltrated the papacy since the modernising Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Many Catholics have long believed that the third secret predicted a satanic takeover of the Catholic faith and that each pope since the Second Vatican Council has been the Antichrist.
Ratzinger succeeded John Paul as Benedict XVI but resigned, the first pope to do so in almost 600 years, in the midst of scandals over alleged corruption within the Vatican and widespread sex abuse perpetrated by priests.
The third secret cover-up allegations resurfaced as this year’s celebrations were getting underway at Fatima in mid-May.
A former German priest and professor of theology, Ingo Dollinger, was quoted as saying that his long-time friend Cardinal Ratzinger had confided that what the Vatican had published about the third secret was not complete.
According to Dollinger, Ratzinger told him that the published part of the third secret was authentic, but that the unpublished part referred to “a bad council and a bad Mass that was to come in the near future.”
Dollinger had said much the same thing about Ratzinger before. He was quoted nine years ago as saying his conversation with Ratzinger had been “burning in his mind.”
This all tallies with apocalyptic “crisis of faith” warnings that have been rife among traditionalist Catholics for decades.
As pope emeritus in the shadow of the present Pope Francis, Benedict has remained largely silent on all matters, but he obviously felt he must speak out about the latest Dollinger allegation.
A statement from the press office of the Holy See read: “Several articles have appeared recently, including declarations attributed to Professor Ingo Dollinger according to which Cardinal Ratzinger, after the publication of the third secret of Fatima (which took place in June 2000), had confided to him that the publication was not complete.
In this regard, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declares ‘never to have spoken with Professor Dollinger about Fatima’, clearly affirming that the remarks attributed to Professor Dollinger on the matter ‘are pure inventions, absolutely untrue’, and he confirms decisively that ‘the publication of the third secret of Fatima is complete’.”
The only thing that is really clear about this issue is that someone is not telling the truth.
Of course, exposing the truth can get people into trouble. A Vatican court last week convicted a priest and a public relations executive for their involvement in leaking secret documents to two journalists. The priest has been jailed.
The leaked documents allowed journalists to expose the workings of a Vatican commission set up in 2013 to advise Pope Francis on reforming the deeply flawed Roman Curia, the Vatican’s civil service that Francis once called “the leprosy of the papacy.”
Unfortunately, the leaks did not shed any further light on the third secret of Fatima.




Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Can the silly season get any sillier?

Britain’s oldest ally has been trying to make sense of the hullabaloo over the referendum, but it hasn’t been easy.
For example, last weekend Tony Blair said Britain might want to change its mind. And he was talking about Brexit, not the Chilcot report.
Many of the 17 million who voted for Brexit have already changed their minds, but that’s as much use to the 16 million who voted to remain as Tony Blair’s regrets over Iraq.
Back in February, it was “after a huge amount of heartache” that Boris Johnson finally made up his mind to stab his friend David Cameron in the back and campaign for ‘leave’. What he really had in mind was to take over the prime minister’s job.
After their Brexit victory, Michael Gove suddenly changed his mind about supporting Johnson for the Tory leadership and decided instead to betray Boris and run himself.
Andrea Leadsom used to think that leaving the EU would be “disastrous” for Britain. Then she changed her mind, campaigned for Brexit and now sees herself as the new Margaret Thatcher. There is at least one major difference. As even Mrs Leadsom may recall, the lady (the grocer’s daughter) was “not for turning”, i.e. changing her mind.
Theresa May campaigned for Britain to stay in. Now she is the most likely person to be tasked with formally leading Britain out.
For the sake of the party and Britain it must be May”, asserted the Daily Mail as the Tory leadership contest got underway this week. Before the referendum. one of the most vehement critics of ‘remain’ campaigners like Theresa May was none other than the Daily Mail.
Sinister plots were being hatched over on the other side. Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary colleagues want him to step down. The majority of the Labour Party voters want him to stay. But Corbyn is not for quitting or changing his mind, not just yet anyway.
The referendum ‘debate’ was steeped in scaremongering, misinformation and lies. It has produced distrust, division, depression, desperation, fears and tears. And for what? Britain is coming out but no one knows where is it going.
It’s a bit more than a mess. According to the media, “the Conservative Party is in flames,” the Labour Party is “tearing itself apart” and “imploding”. Brexit has been likened to a revolution, but no one is talking about carnations.
National votes on sovereignty could become fashionable so we’d better sort out the right plural: referendums or referenda? Millions of Brits, including expats, have petitioned for a second referendum on EC membership. Independence ballots could be in the offing in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Spain... and, yes, Portugal.
A fortnight after the UK referendum, Britain has no proper government. So what’s new? After two general elections since early last December, Spain still had no proper government either. Britain has Scottish separatists. Spain has Catalans.
Portugal is not exactly a pillar of political stability. It’s minority Socialist government is deeply pro-EU, but it depends on the support of the far-left who want little or nothing to do with Brussels.
The government was“saddened” by Brexit and doesn’t want a Portexit, but it does want less austerity. The IMF wants more. Portugal has less than three weeks to correct its excessive deficit and avoid fiscal sanctions from the European Commission. If sanctions are imposed, the Left Bloc plans to demand a referendum on EU membership.
Whatever happens we have the bedrock of the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance. But maybe it’s just as well the alliance is based on the Treaty of Windsor of 1386. The United Kingdom wasn’t around in those days. Portugal signed the treaty with England which the UK looks like becoming once again.
Unfortunately the alliance is not infallible. If only there had been a referendum in 1588 the Portuguese probably would have voted against remaining in their union with Spain. The Spanish Armada that set sail from Lisbon to invade England would never have happened.
Rest assured there are not going to be any more attempted European takeovers. Blighty has balls. The Little Englanders have their country back.
Fantasy and fiasco to the fore. Probably plenty more to come. It’s high summer, the “silly season”. And it’s measuring up to be the silliest imaginable.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Chaos and confusion reign in the UK


Seismic feelings of insecurity have swept across Britain and Europe as the complexities of the UK leaving the European Union start to sink in.
Since referendum day, shell-shock and disbelief have given way to impressions ranging from tragedy to farce. Chaos and confusion reign.
The President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi was at the opening of a major ECB conference in Portugal when he said on Monday: “I have difficulty finding the words to describe what has happened. Probably the best is sadness.”
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa expressed a similar sentiment, but vocabularies in all 28 European countries have struggled to adequately convey reactions. It has already been proposed that English be banned as an official EC language as soon as Britain leaves.
Amid the collapse of the political landscape in the UK, chasms of disagreement among the country’s population and turmoil in the international financial markets, there has been some bitter acrimony in Brussels.
From the initial bewilderment over Brexit, it has emerged that nothing is going to change for Britons living, visiting or investing in the EU, or for EU nationals in the UK – at least not for the next two years.
The two-year period refers to the time it is expected to take for all countries concerned to negotiate and agree on the unprecedented terms of Britain’s exit, starting from when Britain formally says goodbye, probably in September.
Outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron wants Britain to be able to take its time in reaching a deal that hopefully gives the UK the best of both worlds: freedom of trade without free movement of people.
Some leaders in Brussels seem to want the UK out as soon as possible and without concessions. Even so, as explained by British Ambassador Kirsty Hayes in a Lisbon Embassy Facebook page video, so far nothing has changed for Brits in Portugal.
Both President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Prime Minister António Costa have made it clear that Portugal is for staying in Europe despite a call from the Left Bloc for a referendum if Brussels decides to impose new sanctions.
Portugal is in the European Union, feels good in the European Union and wants to continue in the European Union,” said the president. “The Constitution says that any decision on a referendum is for the president to make and therefore this is an issue that does not arise at this point.”
Portugal’s governing Socialist party is firmly pro-EU, though it wants reform in the way the Union is run and especially on attitudes to austerity.
The 40,000 to 50,000 British community in Portugal is small compared with the estimated 800,000 living in Spain. (although only just over 283,000 are officially registered there).
Mariano Rajoy, whose right-of-centre party emerged with the most votes from last week’s second Spanish general election in six months, has said that for the time being expats will keep the same rights to live and work as before.
Even Boris Johnson has said as much. Britain’s leading Brexit campaigner declared this week that the UK would always be “part of Europe” and that the status of EU nationals living in the UK and Britons abroad would be protected under what he called a “fair, impartial and humane “immigration system.”
It ‘s anyone’s guess what will happen to the value of the pound in the coming weeks and months. Naturally this is of concern to expats with British pensions, and those planning to holiday on the continent or buy a home in the southern European sun.
Other than exchange rates, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) says tourists will see little change to their travel plans this summer.
A summer of discontent is now assured, but when things calm down it may be more or less business as usual in the tourist industry that is so vital to Portugal's prosperity. 


Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit, but oldest alliance will remain

Portugal intends to do everything possible to ensure that the rights of the Portuguese citizens in the UK and of British nationals who live, visit or invest in Portugal are all guaranteed in the wake of Britain’s sensational decision to leave the European Union.
This reassurance came from Prime Minister António Costa following the shock result of Thursday’s referendum in the UK. While helping to steady individual fears, Prime Minister Costa also declared that “we have the oldest alliance in the world with the United Kingdom and it will carry on long after what will be the departure of the UK from the European Union.”
The Socialist prime minister spoke of the “inevitable turbulence” following the Brexit vote, but he sought to reassure financial markets by saying that Portugal’s fragile economic recovery will remain on track.
    Britain’s decision to leave had sent a strong signal that the EU needs to reflect on becoming more relevant and useful to the lives of ordinary people, said Costa.
What is needed is not more Europe or less Europe, but a “better Europe” that, for example, produced prosperity and a single currency facilitating trade rather than lifting up some economies and penalising others.
Initially at least, the referendum result is expected to impact negatively on Portugal’s tourist industry and property markets, which rely heavily on British holidaymakers and home buyers. Of special concern was the sudden devaluation of the pound.
Football manager José Mourinho’s income provided a particularly graphic indication of the fall in the pound’s value on Friday. It was pointed out that Mourinho could lose €700,000 in the 10 million pounds a year contract he signed last month with Manchester United.
The unprecedented decision of 52% of British voters to leave the European Union shattered political convention and confounded not only eve-of-referendum opinion pollsters, but even the betting markets. It has raised all sorts of uncertainties about what now happens in the UK and in the UK’s relations with the other 27 EU member states in the coming days, weeks and months.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, has said the other 27 members are keen to preserve their unity. Prime Minister David Cameron will have to explain Britain’s position to fellow heads of government attending next Tuesday’s European Council meeting. It is thought unlikely the UK can expect any concessions from the European Council, the body responsible for setting the EU's policy agenda.
Within hours of the outcome of the referendum, David Cameron announced his derision to resign as prime minister by October despite a letter from around 80 pro-Brexit Conservative MPs insisting it was his ‘duty’ to stay on whatever the result.
The Brexit result has left the United Kingdom divided and in disarray. Most of England and Wales voted for Brexit, but majorities in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. A constitutional crisis is looming. A second referendum on independence for Scotland now seems inevitable. Cross-border cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland may be jeopardised.
The presumptive US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gave the thumbs up to the Brexit vote on a visit to his golf courses in Scotland on Friday. He echoed much of the rhetoric of the Brexit leaders.
Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first,” he said.
They will have the chance to reject today's rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people.”









Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Week – Too much and too little

You may have missed World Digestive Health Day organised on 29 May each year by the World Gastroenterology Organisation, but more than 43,000 food bank volunteers turned up at supermarkets across Portugal on that day to collect food for distribution among 426,000 of the nation’s hungry.
Since then, other statistics have emerged from various sources showing that obesity is increasing at an alarming rate while sardines are becoming bewilderingly scarce.
One in three children between the ages of six and nine in Europe are either overweight or obese, according to a new report by United European Gastroenterology (UEG).The prevalence of overweight children in Europe is higher than in any other continent. The UEG’s Professor Herbert Tilg said: “The economic burden of treating adult obesity is just too great for the European region and priorities need to change quickly.”
The same report warns that an estimated 41 million children under the age of five worldwide are now obese. If current trends continue, this figure is likely to almost double by 2025.
Surprisingly, an internal report last year reckoned that within the European Union the rate of obesity in Portugal was exceeded only by that of Malta.
It may not be of huge significance, but sales of foodstuffs in Portugal’s retail sector in April increased by 1.3% on the month of March and that saw year-on-year growth surge from 3.9% in March to 5.2% in April, according to the Portuguese National Institute of Statistics (INE).
Meanwhile, average life expectancy from birth in Portugal is now just over 81 years, with men living to more than 76 and women making it to 83. A new report from the INE reveals that the average life expectancy has risen by more than two and a half years in the past decade. Portuguese women live six years longer on average, but the gap is narrowing.
People are growing older, but fewer are being born. Portugal has one of Europe’s lowest fertility rates. The average number of children for every woman of child-bearing age fell from three in 1970 to one in 2013, according to the OECD.
Questions arise as to whether the widely lauded Mediterranean diet has anything to do with any of this. Statistics on the subject are scant but it is said that a Mediterranean diet helps arouse sexual desires, if any help is needed that is. The two top stimulants are believed to be those Portuguese staple drinks, red wine and coffee. In moderate amounts of course.
Red wine and coffee are definitely here to stay but concerns are deepening about the future of sardines. Mackerel are by far the most caught and sold fish in Portugal nowadays. Due to fishing quotas, the 13,729 tons of sardines traded at fish auction last year was the lowest amount since such statistical records were first collected.
The national fishing fleet captured a total of 140,800 tonnes of fish (including 46.400 tonnes of mackerel). That was up by 21,000 tonnes on 2014. The 2015 haul fetched €261 million at auction, 5,4% higher than in 2014, but the average price of landed fish, €1.81€ per kg, was the lowest since 2012.
The average price of sardines at auction (€2.19 per kg) was the highest in the last twenty years. Further quota cuts this year are expected to send sardine prices soaring further.
Bom apetite!



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

McCanns appealing to Supreme Court

          
      - Privacy versus freedom of expression -

The lawyer for Kate and Gerry McCann has filed an appeal in Portugal’s Supreme Court following last month’s Appellate Court decision in favour of Gonçalo Amaral.
This is the latest move in the long-running civil action over the former lead detective’s controversial book about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in 2007.
The court last month overturned an earlier decision to award half a million euros in damages to the McCanns. The Supreme Court review is expected to focus mainly on legal aspects of the case rather than material issues.
The lifting of both the damages ruling and the ban on further publication of the book was seen as a highly significant decision within traditional areas of conflict: the right to honour and privacy on the one hand, and to freedom of expression and opinion on the other.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right enshrined in the Portuguese constitution that applies to every citizen, but it comes with certain constraints.
While everyone has a right to express and to publicise their thoughts in words, images or by any other means, the constitution also states that everyone has a right to a good name and reputation, and to the protection of the intimacy of private and family life.
The media have the right - indeed it is their social function - to spread news and give critical or non-critical opinions. It is important that they do so with respect for the truth and for the intangible rights of others, said the three appeal judges in this case last month.
Amaral in his book, The Truth of the Lie, not only included facts that were evidence in the inquiry into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, but aired his opinion that Madeleine was not abducted. He suggested that she died accidentally and that her parents covered this up by concealing her body and making up a false story.
The facts of the case in the form of evidence in police files had already been widely published in newspapers and on the Internet as a result of an initiative by the office of Portugal’s prosecutor general. Amaral had the legitimate right to describe and interpret these facts.
The allegation expressed in his book that the McCanns were involved in a cover-up was not new either. It was already in the public domain as it was contained in the police files and was the basis upon which the couple had been declared official suspects, arguidos, in the original investigation.
The judges indicated that the McCanns had voluntarily limited their rights to privacy by making themselves available to the national and international media to which they had easy access. In effect they opened the way for anyone to debate and express opinions about the case, including opinions that contradicted their own.
In essence, the appeal judges ruled that the McCanns' rights had not been infringed and that Amaral’s book was a lawful example of freedom of expression.
Many observers would argue that the lawsuit instigated by the McCanns seven years ago is turning out to be more harmful and costly to them than the defendants. It has inadvertently generated publicity of a kind they least wanted and boosted book sales, but they have instructed their Lisbon lawyer, Isabel Duarte, to continue to the highest level.
Even that may not be the end of this dispute. Amaral is considering turning tables and suing the McCanns for damages.