Thursday, December 29, 2016

The right man at the right time

    As we raise glasses to the notion of peace and goodwill on Earth, more realistic hopes are centred on Portugal’s António Guterres who takes office as United Nations Secretary-General on New Year’s Day. 
One of the few things top leaders across this bitterly divided world seem to agree on is that Guterres is the best man for the herculean task of curbing warfare, deprivation and poverty.
On accepting the world’s toughest diplomatic job, Guterres this month laid out his priorities.
My main goal is to play a contributing, non-partisan and positive role in solving regional and international crises, to relieve as much as it is possible the pains and sufferings of human beings across the globe.”
Given the on-going conflicts across the Middle East, the political turmoil in Europe and concerns everywhere about Donald Trump becoming President of the United States, Lisbon-born Guterres needs all the support he can get.
Among the first of the well-wishers was Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin who said Guterres was obviously the best choice for the job. Promoting greater cooperation between Russia and the United States is one of Guterres’ key aims.
Chinese President Xi Jinping extended a warm welcome to Guterres on meeting him in Beijing and strongly praised the UN as “the most universal, representative and authoritive intergovernmental organisation.” Among other things, the president and Guterres were united in furthering the Paris agreement on climate change
Iran’s permanent chief representative at the UN, Gholamali Khoshroo, has assured Guterres that “the Islamic Republic of Iran will not spare any efforts in cooperating with the UN for spreading peace and stability in the region.”
Other ambassadors at the UN headquarters in New York have emphasised their hopes of a resumption of dialogue and de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan, and between the Israelis and Palestinians.
In discussions with Guterres in her capacity as Chairperson for Landlocked Developing Countries, Zambia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Dr Mwaba Kasese-Bota has urged the new UN chief to mobilise support and global partnerships towards addressing the special needs of the least advanced countries.
After a meeting with Guterres in the White House, outgoing President Barack Obama spoke of his confidence in the new secretary-general and praised his “extraordinary reputation.”
Although a familiar figure in high political and diplomatic circles, Guterres is still not well known among ordinary folk in the world at large.
A brilliant student, he graduated in Lisbon in 1971 in physics and electrical engineering. Having embarked on an academic career, he joined the Portuguese Socialist Party after the 1974 ‘Carnation Revolution’ and switched to full-time politics. He was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002.
From 2005 he served for ten years as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, heading an organisation that towards the end of his tenure had a staff of more than 10,000 working in 126 countries, providing help to more than 60 million people in desperate need.
Guterres is recognised not only as a man of true grit, but also of great integrity and humility. Originally inspired by the “shock” he experienced as a student volunteer working in the slums of Lisbon, he said that as High Commissioner he felt “privileged”to have contributed to “the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.”
Now aged 67 and a devout Catholic who speaks fluent English, French and Spanish, Guterres is heading into the unknown as a uniquely-placed bridge-builder and peacemaker.
The outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry perhaps summed it up best when he said of the new secretary-general: “he is the right man at the right time.”
This time last year a major news organisation ran the headline: “Europe's Year From Hell — and 2016 Could Be Even Worse.”
How right that was.
The same could be said today, not only about Europe but the whole world in 2017.
Let’s hope António Guterres can help prove us wrong.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Climate change: blowing hot and cold

The proclamation at the end of last week’s United Nations climate change conference in Morocco was rather wordy, but the central point was clear: “Our climate is warming at an alarming and unprecedented rate and we have an urgent duty to respond.”
What is not clear is where do efforts to curb global warming go from here, now that Donald Trump has been elected leader of the free world?
Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa was among the delegates from almost 200 countries who gathered in Marrakesh to push ahead with the Paris Climate Agreement adopted at the end of last year.
The gist of the Paris agreement is a commitment to keeping the rise in global temperatures to below 2 ºC, and if possible 1.5ºC, above pre-industrial levels. This envisages a carbon-neutral world sometime this century, with the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity limited to the levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally.
The majority of scientists have long been saying that failure to move away from fossil fuels and restrain escalating temperatures is likely to have “catastrophic” consequences. In Portugal, for example, this is predicted to include rising sea levels that swamp coastal towns and desertification that cripples the tourist industry and agriculture.
Portugal has ratified the agreement along with most other countries and Prime Minister Costa has expressed solidarity with its aims and terms.
The latest Climate Change Performance Index compiled by German Watch and the European Climate Action Network puts Portugal in the top ten countries in the world fighting global warming.
The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based intergovernmental organisation established in the framework of the OECD, states in its 2016 review that in recent years “Portugal has continued to develop and reform its economic policy. This has meant rapid increases in renewable energy deployment, further market liberalisation in the electricity and natural gas sectors and greater emphasis on energy efficiency in policy making.”
Despite the accolades, activist groups in Portugal are continuing to press the present government to scrap prospecting licences granted by the previous administration and rule out any future offshore or onshore exploration for oil or gas.
Offshore concessions threaten normal activities along the entire coastline of mainland Portugal, say campaigners. Exploration on land also pose intolerable risks.
The campaigners argue that it simply makes no sense to continue to prospect for oil and gas if Portugal intends to meet the terms of the Paris agreement.
Although ratified by the majority of signatories, the Paris agreement, the culmination of 25 years of complex negotiations, seems now in jeopardy. Having described global warming as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, President-elect Donald Trump has named a long-time climate change sceptic and spokesperson for the fossil fuel industry, Myron Ebella, to take over as head of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump promised that within 100 days of taking office he would cancel the Paris agreement and “stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN global warming programmes.”
Then on Tuesday this week he confounded everyone yet again. In conversation in the offices of the New York Times he conceded “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change.
Asked by journalists if he still intended to pull out of the Paris agreement, he said he had “an open mind to it.” and that he was “looking at it very closely.”
Should he go back to his original ‘promise’, it is hard to see how the Paris agreement could effectively work to its given timetable. America is second only to China among the planet’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters.
One positive that anti-fossil fuels campaigners take from all this is that Trump’s approval of coal mining and oil and gas extraction is backfiring. Increasing numbers of US citizens are reportedly joining environmental groups and there is speculation that Trump could inspire a whole new generation of climate activists.
The same will surely happen in Portugal if the government does not stop all fossil fuel prospecting in this country.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Full moon madness across the world

     Viewed from this relatively calm corner of the European continent, it seems as though the world is collapsing in an unprecedented period of political turmoil.
On Donald Trump’s election victory, top Portuguese model Sara Sampaio expressed the shock of many when she tweeted: “Brexit and now this! Wow the world has gone bananas.”
Okay, what’s going on is not funny but many people find it hard to get their heads around this combination of confusion and chaos.
The new superman of the western world and his counterpart in the east began by exchanging pleasantries rather than insults. The honeymoon between Trump and Putin is good news for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Bad news for ISIS. Bad news too for NATO of which Portugal is a founder member and in terms of military strength currently rated at 17th out of the active 26 allied countries.
Trump has declared that NATO is “obsolete.” Without mentioning the supposedly sacrosanct ‘attack on one is an attack on all’ pledge, or that NATO fully came to the aid of the US following the 9/11 attacks, Trump has said that America may refuse to help any of its NATO allies unless they “pay their bills” and “fulfil their obligations to us.”
A spokesman for the Russian president took the opportunity to suggest that Trump begin rebuilding bridges between the two superpowers by telling NATO forces to withdraw from the Russian border.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg immediately warned: “We face the greatest challenges to our security in a generation. This is no time to question the value of the partnership between Europe and the United States.”
Military bands proudly played 'Rule Britannia' on Remembrance Sunday ceremonies in Great Britain even though Britannia clearly no longer rules the waves. A flotilla of Russia warships had provided a provocativel reminder of that by sailing majestically through the English Channel en route to Syria on 21st October, the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Meanwhile, the partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom continues to crumble with no coherent plan in sight. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been accused of adding to the chaos.
During a recent spat with Johnson , an Italian economics minister, Carlo Calenda, said: “Somebody needs to tell us something, and it needs to be something that makes sense. You can’t say that it’s sensible to say we want access to the single market but no free circulation of people. It’s obvious that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
Post-Brexit Britain is suddenly looking out of step with its “closest ally” too, though stories emerged this week that Prime Minister May is planning a Trump “charm offensive.”
While the presidential transition process is said to be in chaos and anti-Trump protests continue across a bitterly divided America, anger over traditional politics, austerity, high levels of unemployment and mass immigration are bubbling up across Europe.
Next month’s presidential election in Austria could see Norbert Hofer installed as Western Europe's first freely elected far-right head of state since World War II.
Geret Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration and Eurosceptic Dutch Freedom Party who has been campaigning against the “Islamisation of the Netherlands”, may be able to form a government after the Dutch general election in March.
Marine Le Penn, the self-proclaimed ‘Madame Frexit’ and leader of France’s far-right National Front, stands a good chance of following in Trump’s footsteps and winning a sensational victory in the French presidential election next April and May.
All eyes will then turn to campaigning for September’s local elections and October’s national elections in Germany. Angela Merkel’s popularity has been punctured by her highly controversial immigration policy and she has yet to announce if she will stand for another term as chancellor. Her Christian Democrat party will be severely challenged by growing support from Germany’s anti-Muslim AfD party.
October’s general election in the Czech Republic is forecast to present a tough battle for Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and his centre-left Social Democrats in the face of voter distrust and anti-EU protesters.
Ten shambolic months during which Spain was without a properly functioning administration were finally sorted at the end of last month when the conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy was elected to a second term of office leading a minority government.
The first foreign leader to congratulate Rajoy in Madrid was another minority leader, Portugal’s socialist prime minister António Costa who relies on support from anti-EU and anti-NATO far left parties.
The two leaders seemed like the best of friendly neighbours and promised further bilateral summit meetings, the next in Portugal preceded by a cruise from Spain down the Duroro.
That this week’s meeting between Rajoy and Costa was held on Monday without a hint of madness when the supermoon was at its fullest perhaps augurs well for Iberia if not the rest of the world. 
  Supermoon over Monsaraz, Portugal.

In step left and right, Portuguese and Spanish prime ministers

Friday, September 23, 2016


More articles on current affairs and reviewing the news may follow on this site in due course but for now my main focus is on producing paintings and updating books.
Please have a look at

Two of my most recent oil on canvas paintings.....

The Eye of the Storm
100 x 100 cm

Shepherd’s Delight
60 x 80 cm

See more paintings and updated books on

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 deter 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.