Portuguese Seeking Opportunities In Former Colonies | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
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Portuguese Seeking Opportunities In Former Colonies

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Portugal is burdened with such big debts that some are calling it "the next Greece." Unemployment is soaring, and the debt continues to rise, despite draconian austerity measures.

But Portugal has something Greece doesn't have: former colonies, rich in natural resources and in need of labor, both skilled and unskilled. And in a type of role reversal, some Portuguese are now traveling to those places in hopes of improving their lives.

Antonio Valerio, who is studying pharmaceutical science at a university, is among those who see no future in Portugal.

"Our degree has always been a good degree to get a job," he says. "Nowadays, it's not like that, and lots of folks are going abroad — England, Brazil, Angola, China."

The prognosis is expected to remain grim. Overall, unemployment is 14 percent, but for young people, it has reached 30 percent. The economy is expected to shrink by between 3 percent and 6 percent this year, and 2 million people are close to the poverty line.

Polls show most Portuguese no longer have faith in EU-imposed austerity plans, and many people fear they will follow Greece downward. Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho went so far as to encourage his own people to seek their fortunes abroad.

No Jobs At Home

On a recent day, the line outside the Angolan consulate is long. People are hoping to get visas to Portugal's former African colony. Angola has a Marxist-led government, though the country does business with the West these days.

The visa applicants are of all ages, both skilled and unskilled workers. They don't look very happy. Antonio Letton, a 47-year-old electrical technician, is one of the few willing to talk.

"It's sad to have to leave here and seek work in our former colony," he says. "I'm extremely frustrated there are no jobs in my own country."

The former colonial master and its subjects have traded places. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of Portuguese nationals registered in Angola grew by 64 percent. They are working in all fields — particularly construction, hotels and restaurants. Angola, rich in oil, diamonds and copper, is undergoing a huge building boom.

Pedro Santos Guerreiro, editor of the financial daily Negocios, says it's not easy for people brought up in a democracy to adapt to an authoritarian society.

"What strikes me, people have to give up some of their beliefs in order to be in a regime that demands more from people than it should," he says. "But I won't be moralistic, because people are leaving Portugal not to follow a dream, but to escape a nightmare."

Investment Flowing In Raises Issues

And in another role reversal, down-and-out Portugal is now a lucrative target for the newly acquisitive Angolan government, says Tiago Caidado Guerreiro, a lawyer specializing in foreign investments.

"We're being colonized after 500 years by them," he says: "They have been buying here, from banks to telecommunications to real estate assets. You name it, they buy it."

Caidado Guerreiro says the Angolan government owns large stakes in two major banks, in Portugal's biggest cable TV operator and in a large publishing company.

But Angola is not alone. China has also forcefully entered the Portuguese market. It defeated a rival German bid, and now owns large stakes in Portugal's energy sector.

And thanks to Portuguese foreign subsidiaries, Beijing now also has a foothold in Brazil, the United States and elsewhere.

Caidado Guerreiro says with Europe not providing investments, Portugal must open up its horizons.

"Our relations have always been with South America, Brazil and with Africa, and also with China and India," he says. "It was fashionable to be European, but our history told us that's not our place."

But Miguel Gaspar, deputy editor of the daily Publico, is worried about the lack of transparency in business and the questionable labor practices of Portugal's new financial partners.

"I think there is a risk throughout the ... democratic world that powers that are not democratic are having larger and larger ... economic influence," he says.

Not only Portugal, Gaspar says, but the entire European community could find itself paying a hefty price.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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