Wednesday, March 29, 2023


Behind the headlines this week

Zero VAT on foodstuffs

In the face of rising inflation and the cost of living, the government is to introduce a list of products that will have zero value added tax. The foods include various fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats and eggs. The arrangement will run from the end of Easter until November. The standard VAT rate in Portugal is 23%, though only 6% on some foods  and 13% on pharmaceuticals.

Islamic centre killing

Two women were killed and others injured by a man wielding a large knife at the Islamic centre in Lisbon on Tuesday. Police shot and wounded the man when he failed to put down the knife. Now in custody, the attacker is thought to be a refugee from Afghanistan who was receiving help from the Islamic community.

Banking looks stable

The outlook for the Portuguese banking sector is looking stable for the next 12 to 18 months, according to the Moody’s Investors Service. It considers the outlook “globally resilient” in the contest of of the current restrictive monetary policy.

Airlines back on track

Airlines for Europe (A4E) are optimistic that they will achieve pre-COVID levels on the number of flights this summer. This is despite 350 flights and 62,500 passengers being hit by French air traffic strikes and other recent airline staff disputes.

More tourism workers

The ministry of the economy wants to increase the number of people working in the tourism sector by 20%. In a plan announced on Monday, 20 different measures are envisaged, including modernising the network of hotel schools. Improvements in the tourism sector are seen as crucial because it is of such importance to the national economy.

Tanks sent to Ukraine

Three Leopard 2A6 tanks donated by the Portuguese government have arrived in Ukraine.

Germany, Poland, Finland and Spain have also sent Leopard battle tanks to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty against Russia.

Madeleine drama

The young woman who claims she is Madeleine McCann is now demanding medical records from a Polish doctor she claims drugged her with pills as a child.  The Polish parents of Julia Wendell, also known as Jula Faustyna, say she has a mental problem. Dr Fia Johansson, the American private investigator supporting Julia in California, says a Polish lawyer has been contacted and there may be a lawsuit to get to the truth. DNA test results are said to be “imminent”. Meanwhile, it has been reported that the London Metropolitan’s Police’s Operation Grange is to receive more funding from the British home office.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Global warming should be No. 1

Former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres has repeated yet again that the number one priority for humanity should be doing everything possible to limit global warming, but clearly this is not happening.

As Secretary-General of the United Nations, Guterres (pictured below) has overseen five years of research by the world’s leading climate science unit, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which produced its final report last week. The study concluded that by the middle of the next decade, it may be too late to avoid a cycle of climate-induced disasters that dwarf what’s already happening across the globe.

The chance of evading the most severe impacts of burning fossil fuels is almost out of reach unless radical changes are made – and made immediately, the study warns.

Changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones are strengthening all the time.

Guterres commented: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. In short, our world needs climate action on all fronts.”

A global conference on water, the first such specialist conference in a generation, was also held by the UN last week. It sought to formulate resolutions to increasing droughts and dwindling amounts of unpolluted drinking water caused by global warming. Among the many delegates, only five world leaders showed up.

As we have reported here before, global warming is the biggest worry for young people in Portugal. A survey showed that three-quarters of those surveyed thought the future “frightening” and 56% thought humanity was doomed. But climate change is not a priority for Portuguese school teachers just now. Teachers have been striking all over the country, leaving classes unattended, while demanding better pay

Money is the number one priority for many people everywhere and it often extends far beyond the understandable desire for comfortable living standards in today’s world. Greed abounds. So does self-importance and violent hatred.

As the UN’s report on its five-year study was being published, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, presidents of two of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses were meeting to discuss closer cooperation in the war in Ukraine and a possible much bigger war against the West. There were more veiled threats of a nuclear conflict. Global warming and an almighty final conflagration did not seem to be of much interest to these self-styled emperors.

In the United States, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter, the chief concerns are bank insecurity, inflation, interest rates and the cost of living. It’s the same in the United Kingdom. Both are not only increasing their use of fossil fuels, but opening new mines to extract more.

Headlines in the American media have also centred far less on global warming than on the hopes of Donald Trump and his millions of loyal supporters that he will be voted for another term as US president, even though he is famously in denial and has described scientific global warming evidence as “false news.”

France is being virtually brought to a standstill by increasingly violent protests, not against inaction against global warming, but the government raising the retirement age by a couple of years to 64. Bad enough in Portugal you may say, the retirement age has come down from 66 and 7 months last year to 66 and 4 months this year.

Pensioners are, of course, the old brigade and may not last long enough to witness total disaster as humanity heads down the road to a final calamity. However, the survey mentioned above showed that many people between the ages of 16 and 25 in a number of countries as well as Portugal feel betrayed, ignored and abandoned by their elders, especially politicians, who have failed to properly respond to climate change.

At 73 years-of-age, António Guterres is an outstanding exception. He is doing his very best to help the young and all other forms of life on the planet to cope in the decades ahead.

In my view we should do the same.


Wednesday, March 22, 2023


 Behind this week’s headlines


Unemployment low

The number of unemployed people in Portugal in February had fallen by 8.3% from February 2022. This was “the second lowest ever” for the month, the ministry of labour, solidarity and social security said on Monday.


Public protesting

As in many cities across the world, mass street demonstrations have been continuing in Lisbon.  Among other things, thousands of Portuguese protestors are demanding higher wages and a cap on soaring food prices.  Official statistics show that more than 50% of workers earned less than €1,000 ($1,067) per month last year. Families are struggling to make ends meet in one of Western Europe’s poorest countries.


Teachers seek EC help

Teachers’ unions are asking the European Commission to help solve their dispute with the government over pay, promotions and careers. The unions are discussing the dispute in the European Commission’s Lisbon office today.


UK and US airlines

EasyJet cabin staff in Portugal are planning a three-day strike, 1 to 3 in April. Like other strikers, they are demanding higher pay and better working conditions.

Meanwhile, the American airline, Delta, has announced it’s going to resume flights between Lisbon and Boston, Massachusetts, from 9 May to 2t October.  


Drug smuggling seizures

The national maritime authority (AMN) has so far sized more drugs in the first three months of this year than in the whole of 2022. More than 20 tonnes have been seized and 31 suspected traffickers arrested.


Wildfire fighters

A group of German fire-fighters have come to the city of Vila Real in the north of Portugal to exchange information and experiences with Portuguese fire-fighters on tactics to be used to cope with forest wildfires - a relative new problem in Germany - as well as in urban areas.   


Rugby Union final

While most international rugby union fans would have been focused more on Ireland’s Grand Slam win over England in the Six Nations Championship last weekend, Portugal finished second in the European Cup final after being defeated by Georgia 38-11.






Sunday, March 19, 2023

Madeleine: mystery and madness

There have been a great many reported sightings of Madeleine McCann since her disappearance in 2007, but the claim by a young woman that she is probably Madeleine is getting enormous media coverage worldwide and prompting yet more bizarre speculation.

The latest claim could be proven in the coming days or weeks, though it seems more likely it will be dismissed as a load of nonsense.

Julia Faustyna, also known as Julia Wendell or Wandelt, has reportedly submitted three different DNA samples for forensic examination in the United States where she is being looked after within the family of a woman called Dr Fia Johansson.

Having lived with parents in Poland for most if not all of her life, Julia is said to be very happy to have left because of internet death threats and parents who took insufficient care of her.

Several key questions come to mind while we await the outcome of the DNA tests:

Is Julia of sound mind?

Who is Dr Johansson?

What is known about Julia’s Polish parents?

What do Kate and Gerry McCann think of all this?

Julia believes she could be Madeleine largely because of a rare misshaped pupil in her right eye. Madeleine had a similar marking. Eye specialists say only one in 10,000 people have this coloboma condition. The chances of someone having exactly the same disorder are said to be only seven in one million. While Julia took to the internet to make her claim, it is obvious she was seeking attention. This she certainly got and her internet messages and images went viral.

Since then facial recognition software has apparently given Julia’s internet images a “90% verdict” against her claim.

If Julia is 21-years of age, as her Polish parents and tabloids across the world are reporting, she is not Madeleine McCann. Madeleine would now be 19. A recent doubt is whether Julia has long to live. There are fears she may have life-threatening leukemia.

The woman who took Julia to the United States is being described as a private investigator and a self-confessed psychic medium. Many people with mental or physical problems seek help from psychics as a last resort if normal treatment is not healing them.

On the other hand, rational people reject physics as illogical proponents of the supernatural who dispatch delusions or deliberate untruths. Like Julia, Dr Johansson has gained a vast amount of fame and critics suggest that this may be her main objective in looking after Julia.

Dr Johansson has advised police in California of the death threats and the bounty placed on Julia’s head, possibly by sex traffickers. The police are apparently now examining these vile messages sent to Julia via Instagram. 

The parents of Julia in Poland are in a hopeless situation. Julia has said that neither they nor her siblings treated her properly. While being accused of receiving Julia from sex traffickers, the Polish couple are said to have refused to supply any DNA evidence to prove otherwise. So when was Julia born and to whom? Surely it would be possible to at least find a birth certificate or obtain some sort of official documentation to show the facts about her early life? Dr Johansson has been quoted as saying she tried but was unable to find any records of Julia’s first five years.

Kate and Gerry McCann have understandable remained silent on all this. They have always been adamant that Madeleine was abducted from their holiday apartment in Praia da Luz. They are thought to remain quietly in contact with the London Metropolitan Police who have been investigating the abduction theory for many years.

A number of independent researchers, as well as many members of the general public, particularly in Portugal, still believe that circumstantial evidence strongly suggests a cover-up and that Kate and Gerry McCann know how and when she died.

But if Madeleine really was abducted and she is now Julia, her real parents in the UK will no doubt be desperately looking forward to being reunited with her as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, as an indication of the grotesque depths this mystery has sunk to, an “exclusive” report in the Daily Star in the UK has said that a living Nostradamus fears “black magic” was at play in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

A completely different angle to the overall Madeleine story appeared in a recent edition of a much more reliable newspaper, The Guardian, in which Ben Leyland revealed the mental problems of his mother, Brenda, who committed suicide in 2014, two days after the airing of a Sky News report about the abusive tweets she had directed at Kate and Gerry McCann.     

For now, the very strange and very sad Madeleine McCann saga continues.



Wednesday, March 15, 2023



 Behind this week’s headlines

Iberian summit

Portugal and Spain are holding their 34th Iberian summit meeting today, Wednesday, in Lanzarote. Topics on the agenda will range from European Union issues and cross-border strategies to cultural affairs. A dozen agreements are expected to be signed, reports Luca News.

Civil servants strike

Participation in the strike by civil servants planned for Friday will be “massive”, the leader of the Common Front of civil service trade unions has predicted. Disruption is expected in central and local administrations, as well as in healthcare and education.

Residence permits

The new portal for immigrants from Portuguese-speaking countries seeking residence permits from the immigration and border service (SEF) received a deluge of applicants. More than 6,300 registered within the first two hours of operation, the government announced on Monday. Most applications are thought to have come from Brazilians. A reconstruction of SEF is to be completed between the end of March and the first days of April.

Suspending priests

The Bishop of Beja has said “there is no place for abusers in the priesthood.” This came after he apologised for saying priests suspected of sexual abuse should be forgiven if they are repentant. However, some bishops are still demanding hard evidence to proceed with suspensions. This has been criticised by Portugal’s president.

Mediterranean tragedy

“There is still a lot of work to do together” to find solutions,” said Portugal foreign minister, referring to the intensification of illegal immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from North, which he described as “a tragedy.”

Housng shortage

The government has a number of key proposals to combat the current housing shortage for Portuguese residents. They are to be discussed and approved by the cabinet between 16 and 30 March.

Maddie McCann claim

The young woman making headlines around the world by claiming to be Madeleine McCann has submitted samples for three different forensic examinations to try and establish if she is indeed the person who disappeared from Praia da Luz in 2007. Having left Poland because of death threats, she is in the United States under the care of a private investigator, Dra Fra Johansson, who says the DNA test results may be passed to the judicial police in Portugal.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Sanctions and the cost of living

The people of Portugal are struggling with a cost of living crisis that shows no sign of abating any time soon despite – and perhaps because of - sanctions imposed by the West on Russia in response to its war in Ukraine.

Dr Uwe Werblow (pictured below), now retired and living in the Algarve, served for decades as a senior official with the European Commission Directorate-General for Development. He questions whether sanctions are of any use in forcing ​a​ country to behave better. More on that in a moment.

Inflation in Portugal settled at 8.2% in February, slightly down for the fourth consecutive month, but the cost of foodstuffs has increased by 21.5% since the same time last year. House prices had risen by 18.7%, the highest in three decades. Rents have significantly increased too, but wages have not.

Government data shows that more than half of the working population earn ​less​ than €1,000 a month. The minimum wage is €760. It is little wonder that thousands of protesters have been taking to the streets of Lisbon to demand an end to letting the poor get poorer in what is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe.

The current crisis started with the COVID pandemic and was later fuelled by energy price hikes as a result of the war in Ukraine. The crisis has now spread to all commodities, especially food, throughout the European Union and far beyond. It’s reckoned to be the worst cost of living crisis in 50 years.

The rising costs are the most pressing worry for 93% of Europeans, according to a recent European Parliament Eurobarometer survey. In Greece, 100% of respondents said they were worried. In Cyprus the figure was 99%, followed by 98% in Italy and the same in Portugal. These worries are felt regardless of gender or age, as well as educational or socio-professional backgrounds.

The second biggest issue to surface from the survey was that 82% of respondents worried about ​the threat of poverty and social exclusion. Global warming and the danger of the Ukraine war spreading across Europe were equal worries, but only in third place with 81%.

Only a third of Europeans expressed satisfaction with what their national government was doing to tackle the rising cost of living, while about 45% of respondents said they were already having difficulty managing bills on their personal income.

However, not everyone is losing out. Energy companies, pharmaceutical corporations, big tech and multinationals operating in the food and luxury sectors have all been raking in billions of euros in profits, say politicians in the European Parliament.

The fossil fuel industry has turned the war in Ukraine into a​n ​opportunity for extra profits. The Shell, TotalEnergies, Eni and Repsol companies reportedly made €78 billion in profits up to September last year.

“The fossil fuel industry has avoided having to foot the bill of an energy crisis of its own making,” according to Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby supporters in EU policy making. It was the spike in energy prices that followed the invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions on Russia, coming o​n​ top of post-COVID difficulties, “that cascaded into a full-scale cost of living crisis,” says the group.

Restrictions introduced during the COVID pandemic impacted heavily on incomes and living costs everywhere. Compared with many other countries, the Portuguese government did remarkably well in handling the pandemic, but the cost of living crisis is a very different matter, largely outside the government’s ability to control.

Russia is severely harming - or even crippling - economies by limiting energy and essential food supplies, as well as fertilisers, metals and other important exports from Ukraine and the Soviet Union itself.

In the Algarve, Dr Uwe Werblow was forthright in his opinion about the impact of sanctions. “My main question is: are western sanctions against Russia more harmful for our own economies and people than for Russia?”

He continued: “Sanctions as a means to discipline trouble- making countries and regimes instead of going to war was developed by Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, in 1910.
Looking at a number of recent cases, I have the impression that the “economic war” hardly works in our globalised world. The Cuban regime has survived 50 years. Obama stopped the sanctions and looked for alternative measures. Iran, since Trump reinstated the sanctions in 2018, has increased GNP by four times in 2022. Russia makes more money with oil and gas than ever before. The new clients India and China and others are very happy!

“As a result, I see plenty of opportunities and trade partners to help weaken and undermine sanctions.... the creation of new alliances to create even more trouble.... and, very often, a weakening of our own western economy.”

Wednesday, March 8, 2023


Behind this week's headlines


Tourism soaring

The occupancy rate last month in Algarve hotels and resorts was its highest in 16 years, according to the National Statistics Institute. The overall number of international tourists to Portugal almost doubled last year. 2023 is predicted to be another exceptionally busy year for tourism in the Algarve, Lisbon and other popular Portuguese destinations.  


Catholic abuse

The Cardinal-Patriarch of Lisbon has ruled that no priests accused of sexually abusing children will be suspended without “proven facts” and a canonical process carried out by the Holy See. However, the auxiliary bishop of Lisbon has promised there will be “zero tolerance” for abusive priests. New and hopefully more detailed measures are expected to be announced this week. 


Airline boss sacked

The government has fired the CEO of Portugal’s state-owned airline, TAP. She was caught in a scandal involving a severance payment of €500,000 to a former board member. The board chairman has also been fired. Neither will receive any compensation. The beneficiary of the severance payment has been ordered to refund €450,000. The government is now looking to privatise the airline. 


Troubled teachers 

School teachers, particularly in the main cities, Lisbon and Porto, have continued to publicly protest against what they regard as poor wages and other unacceptable aspects of their professional employment. They say they are determined to “fight on.” Meanwhile, pupils and their parents remain confused as to when teachers are available for normal classes.


Ocean protection

Portugal’s president has welcomed the UN High Seas Treaty announced at the weekend. Well over a decade in the making, the treaty aims by 2030 to protect marine species in 30% of the world’s international waters where all countries have a right to fish, ship and do research. Only 1.2% of these waters are currently protected.  Almost 200 countries have signed the new, historic, legally binding agreement.


Reducing shellfish contamination

Researchers at the Algarve Centre of Marine Sciences at the University of the Algarve have developed a way of reducing biotoxin contamination in shellfish. The biotoxin originates in the algae eaten by shellfish without causing them any harm, but biotoxins can cause illness and even death to humans and other mammals that eat them.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Breakthrough drug for AMD


A drug has been developed to help those with the dry version of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that up until now has remained untreatable.

Many people in Portugal and around the world suffer from this disease, which causes a loss of vision in the centre of the retina. It nearly always only affects people after the age of 50, but then it progressively worsens making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to carry out some ordinary activities such as reading, writing, driving and watching television. 

There are two kinds of AMD: dry and wet. Both cause a blurring of vision that can eventually lead almost to blindness. The wet form has long been treatable, though it can be at considerable cost and the treatment is not always successful. For decades, most elderly people with the dry kind have given up hope of a remedy in their lifetime. 

The president of the Portuguese Society of Ophthalmology, Dr Rufino Silva, explains on the society’s website that AMD initially shows practically no symptoms and affected people may not even know they have the disease. Only examination by an ophthalmologist allows the correct diagnosis to be made. 

Prevention involves a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, taking vitamins and antioxidants that have been studied for this disease and which may be prescribed by an ophthalmologist. Importantly, it also involves taking physical exercise and not smoking. 

Dr Silva says that anyone who notices a distortion of images should immediately consult an ophthalmologist, and that it is also important to start treatment within one or two weeks.

Persons who already know they have ADM at first see objects or people's faces somewhat distorted, then a shadow appears in the central field of vision, preventing them from seeing clearly a  face they may be looking at. They may not recognise friends passing by in the street or sitting at the next table in a restaurant. 

The disease progresses with time and in the intermediate stages can cause changes in contrast, colour and low-light vision. In the later stages, there is a much more serious loss of sight that may almost reach blindness. It is the most common cause of near blindness in Portugal for persons over 65 years of age.

The treatment for wet AMD can prevent severe vision loss. It is done with intravitreal injections and it may be necessary to maintain this treatment for several years. A new drug, Vabysmo, was introduced last year for both wet AMD and diabetic macular edema (DME). It was the first bispecific antibody approved for eye treatment.

The new drug for dry AMD is called Syfovre. Although it is not a cure and does not bring back normal vision, clinical trials have shown it can slow the progression of the disease. It will be administered with an injection to the eye every 25 to 60 days. 

Syfovre has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and patients in the United States are expected to start having treatment this week. It is still too early to tell just how beneficial the drug will be and there are even question marks about possible risks, such as turning dry into wet AMD.  

However, Geraldine Hoad, research manager at the Macular Society in the UK has said: “This development is a huge milestone for patients living with dry AMD, who up to this point have not had any treatment available for their condition. We hope to have a clearer picture in the coming months.” 

 A submission is being made to the British Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency to have Syfovre approved in the United Kingdom. Before it can be administered in Portugal or any EU member country, the drug will need the approval of the European Commission.  

+ Apologies: this posting, scheduled for Sunday as usual, was delayed because of a computer technical problem.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023


Behind this week's headlines

Shoppers beware!

The Portuguese Food and Economic Security Authority has been carrying out inspections on supermarkets because some may have been charging more than displayed on shelves. Eighty inspectors were at work checking on Wednesday as basic basket prices for foodstuffs increased by 21.1% last year, more than twice the rate of inflation.


Inflation dropping

The National Statistics Institute announced on Tuesday that the consumer price index fell from January by an estimated 0.2% to 8.2% in February. This was the fourth consecutive fall.


More renewable electricity

The government wants to increase the amount of renewable energy in electricity production to 80% in the next three years, according to the minister of environment and climate action. Portugal has natural resources that cannot be underestimated, he said.


Cutting plastic waste

Ahead of a UN meeting on plastic rubbish, the EU wants sweeping new packaging regulations for Portugal and all 26 other nations in the bloc. The new rules would require companies to make the containers for takeaway food and drinks easier to reuse and recycle, thus causing less pollution, according to Bloomberg Green.


Child abuse in 2022

Portugal’s criminal investigation police (PJ) detained 210 people for sex crimes against children in 2022, the highest number in the last five years. The Luca news agency was informed of this by the criminal coordinator of these cases in Lisbon and the Tagus Valley.


Affordable housing

The state wants to make more land available for affordable housing projects in the wake of scrapping golden visas and banning new short-term rental licences that have greatly pushed up housing prices for residents while their wages have remained the same.  


Isabel dos Santos

The former billionaire Isabel dos Santos, whose assets have been frozen in Angola and Portugal, reportedly still owns luxury properties in London worth more than £20 million. Interpol is seeking her arrest for alleged embezzlement, fraud, influence pedalling and money laundering. She is thought to be living in the United Arab Emirates.