Three stories emerged this week that gave some respite from the unremitting gloom on offer from the national and international media about
’s economic crisis. Portugal
In very different ways, each of these stories shows that while the current crisis has created crippling problems, it has also presented opportunities.
A report from
Lisbon on the France
24 television channel extolled the virtues of young people who have chosen
to stay at home in austerity-riven and meet the challenges
head-on rather than emigrate to seek employment elsewhere. It gave examples of
young entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses – creating their own work
instead of remaining jobless or exacerbating the brain drain.
One of those interviewed on the programme was a maths graduate who is heading a company using modern methods to produce vegetables. With agriculture now a growth sector (in more ways than one) and likely to help Portugal emerge from recession, other graduates who in better times might have considered becoming doctors or lawyers are now passionately returning to the land with entrepreneurial success rather than the more widspread pessimism firmly in mind.
Some of those who have gone abroad have done rather well too, of course. Luis Amaral is a remarkable case in point. In 2003 he bought Eurocash, a struggling Warsaw-based grocery business, for $30 million. Now
’s biggest distributor of
non-durable goods, Eurocash last year sold, among other things, about three
million bottles of champagne and 7.8 million lollipops. Poland
The company’s value has surged more than fifteen-fold since selling shares in an initial public offering in 2005, helping Amaral, the 51-year-old CEO, amass a $1.1 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Bloomberg quoted a Vienna-based analyst as saying of Amaral: “He’s a visionary who created a custom-built business for the Polish market. Eurocash has helped traditional retailers to survive against the onslaught of giant supermarkets.”
No wonder Amaral is happy to be in
. He lambasted the Portuguese education system
because it “promotes mediocrity,” the judicial system under which “crime pays,”
and the financial system that “gives money to people and not to ideas.” Poland
In a rather more quirky story that first broke around Christmas time, there were further revelations this week about Artur Baptista da Silva, the widely-quoted pundit who told the Portuguese weekly Expresso last month that
needed to renegotiate its bailout package or risk social problems spinning out
of control. Portugal
“If it's not negotiated now, then in six months' time, we'd have to do it on our knees. All the projections that we've done for the economy, debt, unemployment, lead us to believe that
will be in serious difficulties in terms of social control in half a year,”
warned Baptista da Silva in a report relayed by the Reuters news agency.
It sounded sensible enough. Portugal
His comments during a debate at the prestigious International Club in
were greeted with thunderous applause
and a part-standing ovation, according to the Spanish newspaper El País.
He was taken seriously as an expert by the news media because he was an
ex-presidential consultant, a former adviser to the World Bank, a financial
researcher for the United Nations and a professor of social economics at a Lisbon university. US
Well, actually he didn't hold any of these positions.
The 61-year-old looks the part. In fact he is a convicted forger and a conman. None of those who lapped up his financial wisdom saw through his fake CV until after he had established himself as an economics guru. By then some of his former cellmates had been duly impressed by his TV performances.
Although comvicted of 10 crimes between 1982 nd 1998 and having been released from jail a year ago, Baptista da Silva now claims he is the victim of a witch-hunt and has reportedly disappeared from public view. A fresh investigation into alleged falsification of documents is now underway and it is thought likely he will face more charges and be returning behind bars.
In a way that’s a pity. The man clearly has talent. It’s sad that he may not have an opportunity to put it to better use.