O português dos outros


In the documentary ‘Citizenfour‘ (2014) we see the campaigning journalist Glenn Greenwald speak at a senate hearing in Brasília to draw attention to the British authorities’ treatment of his partner, David Miranda, who had been detained  for nine hours upon arrival in the UK on jumped-up counterterrorism charges. (The hearing starts at 1h26m.) Having made his home in Brazil, Greenwald made his statement and responded to questions in Portuguese. Although the theme of the hearing was deadly serious, I found it hard to hold back my laughter and difficult to imagine that the assembled journalists were not doing the same. Glenn Greenwald is an extremely brave and principled journalist and the way his partner was treated was outrageous, but his Portuguese was (at least at the time) a bit shit.

Mas quem sou eu para rir? – But who am I to laugh? Well, I lived in Portugal for several years and take an interest in other people’s (particularly English speakers’) command of the language. It’s not entirely a healthy interest, containing elements of snobbery and jealousy, but it is hard not to be competitive, and to try to resolve anxieties about one’s own abilities by means of judging others’ over-harshly. One of the first proper sentences I taught myself to say was ‘My ultimate ambition is to speak better Portuguese than Bobby Robson’, the football manager whose struggles with the language were the source of much mirth and affection:

It became a running joke with friends to take the piss out of British people who spoke Portuguese with no attempt whatsoever to mimic the way local people spoke. Although (adopts very strong English accent) EU NÃO CONSIGO ENCONTRAR BONS EXEMPLOS DISSO ONLINE, anyone who is able to distinguish Portuguese from Spanish will find this clip of the Portuguese writer José Saramago (who exiled himself in Lanzarote and married a Spanish woman) speaking the latter similarly amusing. He simply never made the slightest effort to modify his voice to the sounds of the neighbouring language. I met countless compatriots whose attempts to speak with Portuguese grammar and words but with the sounds of Hemel Hempstead were probably endearing to someone but grated on my ear. 

Ridiculing others was one way of addressing my own anxieties about my pronunciation, and thus about my own legitimacy as a Portuguese speaker – of course, my own command of the language was never by any means perfect, despite my very best attempts to delude myself otherwise. When it came to visiting Brazil, I felt a large chip missing from my shoulder, given that it took a conscious and constant effort for me to speak the jollier version of the language rather than the more slavic-sounding European variety. I envied those foreigners who had learned the more gregarious Brazilian language first, accompanied by that physical volubility natural to Brazilians. As it happened, most other gringo tourists I met there spoke portuñol, but when I was hanging out with Brazilians for prolonged periods and my energy (not, like theirs, inexaustible) started to run down I eventually reverted to my most relaxed version, which is strongly luso-accented and, to Brazilian ears, sounds sometimes cute but mostly sort of backward.

The resulting resentment is probably an ingredient in my wanting to find fault with the esforços of someone like Greenwald, who, after all, succeeded where I failed. Of course, it’s only fair to acknowledge that in the hearing he was under immense pressure. Even Manu Chao, interviewed here before a live audience in Goiás, gets visibly and audibly nervous when obliged to address a roomfull of highly attentive native speakers. I’ve never had to do anything similar, and if I did the results would be atrocious. As the New York Times reported, in his interview with the then-Brazilian President, Greenwald performed extremely well, and he has given numerous interviews and reports which demonstrate that he was having a bad day. Perhaps the fact that his partner had been arrested for terrorism put him off his concordâncias nominais and made him keep forgetting to roll his erres appropriately.

Comedy aside, I’m opposed to language shaming per se. It’s particularly unpleasant and unfair (although very prevalent, particularly when it comes to public figures) in the case of foreigners speaking English, a language few truly choose to learn. There should be a camaraderie among foreign speakers of a language. It takes courage to put one’s aspirations and identity on the line in such a way, and being mocked for doing so is often traumatic.

My Portuguese is now officially enferrujado – rusty, at least when speaking. Fortunately Brazilian music is so rich and enjoyable that I am regularly exposed to new and old vocabulary. In the last couple of years in Mexico and Italy I’ve managed to overcome some of my preciousness about Getting It Right when speaking other languages. I’m not from either place, but I get by, in the sense that I can do what I need to do and I don’t get nervous when interacting with strangers. I think that a lot of my prior anxiety came from trying too hard to fit in, to step outside my own skin and discard my own identity. In such a situation it’s inevitable that you will feel like you’re in a No Man’s Land when trying to reach the other bank of the linguistic shore. As you can see from that poorly-assembled sentence, even my own command of my ‘own’ language isn’t always up to scratch. As for Glenn Greenwald, he’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist rather than an academic linguist or a language freak, and he uses his experience and skills in both English and Portuguese to expose injustice and hold power accountable at every turn*. If he were ever to see this website, he’d probably partir-se a rir: piss himself laughing. And if he heard me speaking Portuguese, he’d likely switch to English quicker than you could say “cê é gringo, né?!”.

*This was written before Greenwald started publicly and repeatedly declaring that he is The Only Person In The World Who Is Aware That There Are Bad People In The World Besides Donald Trump, going to the extent of joining forces with Fox Fucking News in order to make this point as widely and stupidly as possible. I actually used to feel a bit guilty about having taken the piss out of his Portuguese; I don’t now. The man’s an asshole.

Three people I met in Brazil

Although Brazil is officially my favourite country in the world, I’ve only ever actually spent about three weeks there, which kinda puts me in the same category as that fabled tourist who ‘loves Brazil, but has only seen four square miles of it’. In my defence, I do have a Master’s degree in Brazilian and Portuguese Studies, which she almost certainly doesn’t, but then again, to be scrupulously fair, she does have the unfair advantage of never having existed, so she sort-of wins.

I existed in Brazil in November 2010, but apart from this, and this (and, er, this), I’ve never got round to writing about the country, partly because it’s such a vast, complex and dynamic place that it’s hard to know where to begin. So I’m starting at a fairly random point by writing about three people I happened to meet on my holiday, all of whom just so happen to be men and all of whom taught me something remarkable that has stayed with me. That doesn’t mean that these are the only or most extraordinary people I met, but as they almost say in Portuguese, when it comes to both writing and scratching your arse, the difficult thing is getting started.

The first was a middle-aged German who had set down his roots there and who was therefore, annoyingly for me as a self-appointed expert on Brazil, a self-appointed expert on Brazil who actually lived in Brazil. I got talking to him in a tiny bar in the Pelourinho in Salvador de Bahia, where travellers stroll around to the sound of practising Oludum drummers and small children plaintively asking for milk powder which they can then sell to buy crack. In the course of our short conversation the German kept reaching out to touch my arm, just above the elbow, almost falling off his barstool to do so. It suddenly struck me that I’d witnessed Brazilians performing the same gesture thousands of times, to the point where, without realising it, I’d started doing it myself. The fact that he made the gesture in a way which drew attention to it, whereas when I did it I did so without even noticing, gave me some hope that I was managing to fit in (it is my lifelong ambition, along with fathering a child with a perfectly round head (tick!) and winning the Nobel Prize for Blogging, to be mistaken, just once, for a Brazilian). I found it curious that it had taken another foreigner to teach me something so basic. Touch is very important in Braxil – it can be intrusive or seductive, and sometimes both. It’s part of that willingness to connect which I personally find extremely endearing. I once read about a study of how many times friends make physical contact over a coffee in different countries. The statistics were remarkable: for Brazilians it was roughly 100, in the UK about ten, and in Japan (a culture ostensibly very different from Brazil, although I tend to think there are certain unacknowleged points of comparison) zero.

On a beach somewhere to the north of Salvador I met a guy who lived in a house made of plastic bottles. I don’t remember how we got got talking; maybe he asked me for the empty bottle I was holding so he could start to build an extension. He made a living-of-sorts selling handicraft to tourists, of whom on that undeveloped stretch of coast there were few, although there were a couple of fledgling resorts. (Also, in an encouraging sign of an upturn in economic activity, two suspected drug dealers had been shot dead the previous week just next to where the bus stopped on the coast road (or so I was told by the taxi driver who kindly advised me not to walk up to the village but to allow him to let me pay him to transport me instead)). My new friend had taken full advantage of the subsidies that various PT governments had provided. He was extremely enthusiastic about the changes that Lula had wrought in his life and vehemently insisted on taking me to see where he lived. Sadly, partly because it was getting dark and partly due to a near-death experience I’d had in Salvador a few days previously (nothing to do with the German), I declined, although we did drink a bottle of cachaça and I did pay him over the odds for a couple of carancas and various other nicknacks, so we both stumbled away materially replenished and very, very drunk.

In Rio, within a couple of hours of my arrival in the country, overlooking Lapa with a jetlag-relieving drink in my hand, I fell into conversation with the young guy manning the hostel bar. He must have noticed my Portuguese accent, one which to Brazilians sounds distinctly yokelish. Moving on from the icebreaking topic of how unwittingly hilarious Portuguese people are, we got onto the related subject of colonialism. It turned out that one of my favourite Brazilian films (‘Central do Brasil‘) had been the subject of a thesis he had written. It’s the story of an older woman (whose surname is Guimarães, which is significant, as that’s the city where Portugal was ‘born’) living in Rio, where she witnesses the accidental death of the mother of a young boy from the Northeast. She takes it upon herself to rescue the young boy from the dangers of the streets and takes him to track down his father up north. It’s therefore mostly a roadtrip and (my new best friend explained) an exploration of the tangled relationship between the spinsterish colonial power and the orphaned colony, and thus about identity, my very favourite subject. It was a joyous hour or so of intense conversation, a meeting of rapidly addled minds as the Brahma bottles clinked and the maconha fumes fumed. I didn’t know at that point that my nbf was to lose his job the very next day, sacked by the expat owner for spending too much time, er, fraternising with the clientele. At the time, gazing over the undulating contours of what was clearly the friendliest and most picturesque city on earth, I found myself thinking, this is going to be the greatest holiday of my life. It wasn’t, for various reasons, but still.

Rio: Crime, Corruption and Mega-events


‘The system is fucked’. That is the conclusion reached at the end of the film that has become in the last few weeks Brazil’s most succesful production of all time. ‘Tropa da Elite 2’ is the sequel to a film which itself broke box office records in 2007. It is, in the words of the film’s director José Padilha, unusual for such a politically and socially engaged film to meet with such success.

The first film depicted a series of invasions of favelas by the incredibly brutal military police known as BOPE. It was based on real accounts from former BPE agents, and focussed on the attempts to ‘clean up’ the favelas in preparation for the visit of the Pope in 1997. Some people interpreted the film’s tortured protaganist, Captain Nascimento, as an action hero mercilessly blowing away the bandits, which was not precisely the intention of the film makers.

Any kind of gung-ho interpretation of the sequel is not possible. In the new film Captain Nascimento joins forces with a prominent human rights activist to challenge the growing power of the milícias, mafia gangs mostly made up of former (and often serving) police officers who dominate life in many of the favelas, charging extortionate rates for services such as electricity and gas supplies, cable TV and internet, and threatening, beating and murdering those who stand up to them. The film depicts the way in which they have taken over from the drug gangs that used to dominate crime in the favelas, and also highlights the levels of corruption which permit and sustain their activity, reaching up to the highest echelons in the political system: corrupt politicians in the Rio government and in Brasilia itself – hence the stark and bitter conclusion to the film.

After the recent successful operation by the military to expel the drug trafficking gangs from their strongholds in certain favelas, police officers moving into areas previously outside their control were accused by residents of acting ‘just like in the film’ – demanding favours and a share of the income of local businesses. However in recent weeks the focus in the media has not been on the militias themselves, but on the drug gangs.

The drug gangs appear to be on the wane, but the power of the militias is much more deeply entrenched. Through intimidation and bribery they manage to get their own representatives elected to the city council, in order to protect and promote their interests. As for where the proceeds from extortion go, the profits do not all go into the pockets of those further up the scale, but also subsidise the pitifully low salaries of the police, who because they earn only around $800US per month often moonlight as private security guards, either independently or with the mafias. The book of the film even goes as far as to say that in Rio, the problem of violent crime is the police.

In Brazil the police and the military are know as the ‘public security’ forces. However, according to Marcelo Freixo, there is no such thing as public security. He is well placed to judge; for the last number of years he has been a human rights activist fighting against police corruption in the city. It is on Freixo that the character in the film who tries to take on the mafia gangs is based. He has also just begun his second term as a representative on the city council, on behalf of the Socialism and Freedom Party, which split from the ruling Worker’s Party in 2002.

In that capacity has sought to uncover corruption, to expose links between the mafias, the police and politicians, and it was he who instituted a far-reaching public inquiry into these questions. The recommendations that the inquiry produced have still not been implemented. Although the character in the film has a different name, in the book of the film he appears under his own name, and so he has gained a significant profile as someone prepared to challenge power in its most dangerous form. The film and the book both show clearly the terrible dangers that anyone brave enough to stand up to the milícias faces.

It is significant that in the first ‘Tropa da Elite’ film the favela is being cleaned up to ensure security for the visit of an international VIP, the Pope. Ten years later the Pan American Games saw the then governor of Rio reportedly embarking on a campaign to ‘retake the favelas’. The games brought new stadiums and a great deal of investment to some of the wealthier parts of the city, but, in the words of a community activist in one of the favelas, delivered ‘nada para os moradores’ – nothing for the people who actually live in the poorer parts of the city.

More recently the Rio government has launched a campaign to install police posts in some of the areas they were previously afraid to enter. By and large this has been a success in the limited areas where it has been implemented, and the events of the last few weeks, with supposedly impregnable strongholds of the drug gangs invaded and occupied in a very short space of time, have taken everyone by surprise, not least the drug gangs themselves. But as the film shows and as activists such as Marcelo Freixo have tried to make clear, the corruption and violence which blight the lives of hundreds of thousands of people throughout Rio is not at this stage directed or controlled by the drug gangs, but by the militias, whose power is more deeply entrenched.

It is very clear what the impetus for this current campaign to retake certain favelas is about: it is in preparation for the coming of the football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games two years later. As an increasing amount of people around the world are aware, there is a history of the poor being shunted out of town to make way for these mega-events, as we have seen recently in Beijing, where the residents were impolitely requested to stay inside their homes so as not to get in the way of the important foreign guests, and in South Africa, where a movement sprung up fuelled by outrage at the forced evictions of shack dwellers to enable corrupt land deals backed up by the full force of the state.

Remaking the city for such events is not just a cosmetic exercise – it forms part of a strategy to remake the host city more amenable for business interests and tourism. It is also a means of forcing up rents and land and property prices – poverty that can not be physically forced out of sight and out of mind will not be able to withstand the increase in the cost of living as speculators move in – which raises the question of where the poor are to live. In the 1960s and 1970s the answer to the ‘problem’ of the favela was to uproot and force entire communities away from the centre, to the far west of the city. It has been suggested – and evidence shows – that this is what the preparations for the upcoming events will bring about.

Rio is said to be the capital of informality. The favelas are held to be one of its charms, and the views from some of the those located close to the centre are some of the most iconic images of the city. In Rio, the spontaneity and chaos are very much selling points, and the city is sometimes idealised as a space of democracy: rodas de samba, carnival and the beach, spaces which everyone, rich and poor, shares. Reality often and clearly contradicts this picture; the other side of this unboundedness is social exclusion, the threat of violence and the reality of third-world levels of deprivation. Tourists now flock to favelas on organised tours to get a closer look at this curious mix of heaven and hell. But if these spaces of informality are to be formalised, for whose benefit will it be? For the people who live there, or for the rich visitors? And to whom will these spaces belong once the VIPS have left?

Mega-events such as the Olympics and the World Cup seek to submit all local control to commercial interests backed up by the legal and physical might of the state, and to channel and control all surrounding economic activity in such a way as to benefit certain formal interests which operate, as Andrew Jennings has ably demonstrated, in a world of backhanders and sweeteners. The reality behind the airbrushed images is one of extortion and bribery, both formal and informal. Given the obscene corruption of FIFA and the Olympic Committee, amply documented on this site, and given the recent history of the brutal displacements in Beijing and South Africa, it is clear that corruption in Brazil is about to move up to another level. Fortunately there are signs of a growing movement in Rio to begin to expose and challenge the attempt to remake the city in the interests of corrupt international cartels which are much more powerful, but in a way very similar, to the mafia gangs that seek to control and exploit Rio’s favelas. It is, after all, in the words of Captain Nascimento, no accident that favelas exist in the first place.

No More Colosseums!


The prospect of the failure of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, with reports of unfinished facilities leading to athletes and even countries threatening to pull out, has led to an outpouring of racism in the British press. India was never fit to host the games, we read. It was a mistake to award such a prestigious event to a third-world country. Officials in India have also been keen to lambast their fellow citizens for their corruption and inefficiency, and a former sports minister publicly hoped the Games would collapse in disarray so India would not be tempted to bid for future events.

Such reports are now par for the course, perhaps even adding to the anticipation itself. Very similar things were written and said in relation to Athens, Portugal, Beijing and South Africa. But some of the commentary around Delhi has sought to look beyond this specific event to look at the whole genre of international sporting mega-events. In an excoriating article in the Guardian Simon Jenkins condemns the whole farrago and its real legacy of corruption and wastage. A separate report told us that holes dug all over Delhi to plant trees to beautify the city have led to an outbreak of Dengue fever. This is a telling image: attempts to makeover the urban environment to satisfy the overweaning demands of superpowerful sporting bodies such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA are never merely cosmetic, and they always leave scars which may never heal and are increasingly difficult to hide.

Cities spend vast amounts of money to obtain the privilege of hosting such events. In so doing they find themselves trying to satisfy garguntuan appetites. The comi-tragic claim by the British Government that the 2012 Olympic Games will be more sustainable or even an ‘austerity games’ conflicts dramatically with the growing bank of reports highlighting the corruption, overspending and displacements mega-events always occasion. The Brazilian Government also affirmed that the World Cup in 2014 will be an opportunity to showcase and develop parts of the deprived Northeast of the country which do not have such a high level of international recognition. Unfortunately what such optimistic statements fail to acknowledge is that no democratic or national authority makes the decisions about what gets built and where. The terrain of the games is entirely given over to the voracious whims of an international cartel of corrupt megelomaniacs, media executives and giant corporations. The journalist Andrew Jennings has documented the extent to which the histories of the IOC and FIFA show them to be two of the most corrupt institutions on the planet, with the key players and any developers able to scramble onboard pocketing unimaginable quantities of cash, while for very many people the price paid for three weeks of sport is the loss of homes and communities.

Employment is of course one of the most commonly proclaimed benefits of such events. If the prestige were not enough justification for the cost and disruption, the boost to employment and tourism will surely compensate. Here in London over the last few weeks, however, we have seen posters appear on the tube offering opportunities for volunteers to make 2012 happen (a scheme sponsored and coordinated by none other than McDonalds). The roles on offer (staffing the turnstiles and information booths) are of the kind that one might reasonably have assumed to be remunerated. As for the purported benefits of tourism, we now know that not to be the case.

The legacy of all this is supposed to be the acquisition of world-class facilities and infrastructure to attract and dazzle future generations of high-worth visitors. Mega-events have come to play a vital role in the boosting of cities, a central element in the (failed, but nevertheless ongoing) neoliberal model of transformation of the urban environment. The aim is to construct cities of prestige and glamour for the mega-elites, while the poor are increasingly shunted away out of town, hidden behind barriers of billboards advertising the wares and the might of Nike, McDonalds and Coca Cola. But of course what cities such as Delhi, Rio, Beijing and Cape Town, cities home to millions of working and struggling poor, need is not world-class elite infrastructure. There is no urgent requirement for more luxury hotels to accommodate the kind of people who jet around the planet engaged in high-level competition, whether athletes chasing medals or the ubiquitous business traveller seeking deals. In the case of Delhi there is a desperate need for sanitation, electricity, running water, proper public transport, schools and health facilities. London needs to house generations of working class people currently crammed into poor quality and overpriced rented accommodation, rather than sporting superstars. In every city in the world people could be gainfully employed in the provision of all such basic facilities. But instead the cheerleaders of neoliberal globalisation offer the urban poor the once-in-a-lifetime chance to participate in the construction and guarding of new colosseums, built over the ruins of their former homes, while dressed in a uniform generously provided by a fast food company.

After the very public horrors of Beijing 2008 and South Africa 2010, with another of the world’s most unequal societies, Brazil, set to suffer two mega-events in two years, there is now a growing movement against the way in which sporting events are used as a tool to transform and sell off our cities for commercial gain. The left and radical activists everywhere need to engage with these campaigns, wherever attempts are made to sacrifice the urban environment to the lions of international neoliberal capital. No more colosseums!

A few lines on Rio and the Olympics

Sérgio Buarque de Holanda wrote in Raízes do Brasil that south of the equator, there is no such thing as sin. When one thinks of Rio de Janeiro, it is this unboundedness that comes to mind: the spontaneous coming together of bodies, whether in pleasure or in pain, a visceral sensuality and brutality, everything in glorious excess: sex, violence, heat and rhythm; excitement and danger; glamourous wealth and spectacular poverty. Whereas the international Rio of the 1950s was a suave tropical paradise, a playground for the rich, today’s updated image of Rio also acknowledges and, up to a point, celebrates the danger in the form of the stylised violence of Cidade de Deus, and the vicarious, pornographic horrors of baile funk.

Less popular outside Brazil but exponentially more popular inside the country was the film Tropa da elite (eleven million people had reportedly see the film even before it was officially released), which shows the city up somewhat in a much more brutal and far less picturesque manner than Cidade de Deus, making it resemble a tropical Baghdad or Baltimore. The film shows and, according to some, exalts in the violence unleashed by a special police force (the notorious BOPE) in the attempt to clean up the favelas in preparation for the visit of the Pope in 1997.

More upheaval was to come ten years later with the hosting of the Panamerican games, with the then governor of Rio reportedly embarking on a campaign to ‘retake the favelas‘. The games brought new stadiums and a great deal of investment to some of the wealthier parts of the city, but, in the words of a community activist in one of the favelas, delivered ‘nada para os moradores‘ – nothing for the people who actually live in the poorer parts of the city.

Now Rio is to host not just the World Cup in 2016, but also play a major part in the hosting of the Olympic Games two years later. No surprises then at the reaction to the shooting down of a helicopter in one of the favelas late last week. This attack took place despite, or possibly because of the fact that ‘has spent the past year expelling drug gangs and vigilantes from four slums and setting up “pacification” projects by which the slums are permanently occupied by police.’ in response to the attack, the authorities have renewed their promise/threat to clean up the favelas before the VIPs arrive. Comments on Brazilian websites have suggested that the BOPE will have their work cut out over the next seven years.

Megaevents such as the World Cup and the Olympics are now widely understood to involve a very high degree of often very brutal social control. The city must be made safe, negotiable and above all mediatic. Undesirable and unpredictable elements must be airbrushed out of the picture in the bid to produce wholesome and marketable images. But the effects of this process are more than merely cosmetic. The ritual process of evictions, displacements and general corruption that accompanies these events is widely documented elsewhere on this site.

Mega-events transform the city into spectacle, and the airbrushing that gets rid of the evidence – but never the reality – of poverty and inequality is an act of great violence. The brutal forced removals of shanty-town dwellers in South Africa – another society with breathtaking inequalities, largely organised along racial lines – give the lie to the idea that the games in either South Africa or Brazil will be a meaningful celebration of multicultural diversity, one huge party to which everyone is invited.

Rio is a city in which, to paraphrase Andy Merrifield, people would rather stay and be poor than go and live somewhere else. Not that the people of the favelas want to be poor: they would like to have accessible and affordable health and sanitation facilities, proper public transport, investment in education. The same things that the poor would benefit from in any other city, in fact. But the neoliberal city is not about providing these things. It is about getting rid of the poor and appropriating urban space in order to develop an exclusive, private infrastructure: world-class facilities for world-class people.

Sporting megaevents (along with international expos, cities of culture and so on) have a particular role to play in neoliberal urban development. They are an increasingly powerful tool with which cities are remade according to an agenda of transforming the urban environment from a place of spontaneity, unpredictability and the encounter with difference into a much more controlled, homogenous, sanitised space, a theme park and a site of privileged consumption which benefits, primarily, a tiny elite of property developers and large corporate interests (and, one might add, their political servants). Throughout the world the places that poor people are permitted to live are, in a series of orchestrated seismic shocks, shifted away from the centre of the city (and, we might mention, the beach). In the process, that spontaneity, that unboundedness, that constitutes the identity of a city like Rio is destroyed, replaced with a calculable, controlled and entirely dead environment of luxury apartments, shopping malls, private entertainment complexes, and, of course, the ubiquitous empty stadiums, places built by the people who can no longer afford to live in the city, and who could never in their wildest dreams afford to go and see a game. The World Cup and the Olympics, wherever they take place, are not about three weeks of media spectacle. They are about violently taking control of and remaking the city in the interests of the global elite.

Did racism exist in the Portuguese empire?

In 1950-51 Gilberto Freyre conducted a tour of Portugal’s overseas colonies at the invitation of the Estado Novo Government. At the end of a two-week stay in the largest of those possessions, Angola, he wrote the following:

‘Aqui, a presença de Portugal nao significa a ausência, muito menos a morte da África…Angola, luzitanzando-se, enriquece a sua vida, a sua cultura de valores europeus que aqui, neste mundo em formação, confratanizam com valores nativos ou tropicais, sem os humiliar: a oliveira ao lado da bananeira; a uva ao lado do dem-dem; a macieira ao lado da palmeira; o branco ao lado do preto’.

This contrasts sharply with the conclusions of Gerald Bender in Angola under the Portuguese:
‘Africans in colonial Angola were expected to assimilate an almost pure, unmitigated Portuguese culture, barely modified by the slightest trace of their own numerically dominant culture’.

Freyre’s intention was to ascertain if his theories regarding Brazil could be extended to the other Portuguese colonies. He would subsequently write of his trip that he had been able to confirm an ‘intuição antiga’:

‘Portugal, o Brazil, a África e a Índia portuguesa, a Madeira, os Açores e Cabo Verde constituem (…) uma unidade de sentimentos e de cultura’ .

These consisted in a predisposition for miscegenation and an absence of racial prejudice, both of which had their origin in the influence of the Moors, the Jews and of Africa and had served to create the paternalistic and ‘socially plastic’ character of the Portuguese. The Portuguese was ‘the European colonizer who best succeeded in fraternizing with the so-called inferior races’ .

The publication of his first book Casa Grande e Senzala in 1933 had served to overturn the consensus on race in Brazil, which held that Brazil’s lack of development was due to ‘the ”debilitating’ influence of the large black and mestiço population’ . In the late nineteenth century Brazil had imposed ethnic quotas on immigration in an attempt to guarantee the country’s ‘ethnic integrity’ . Freyre challenged these notions through detailing and celebrating the huge influence that the African and the Indian had had on Brazilian life.

However, such ideas of the racial inferiority of the non-European were and had been common currency in Portugal for some time. In 1880 Portugal’s most prominent historian Oliveira Martins had written:
‘Are there not (…) reasons for supposing that this fact of the limited intellectual capacity of the Negro races, proved in so many and such diverse times and places, has an intimate and constitutional cause? (…) Why not teach the gospel to the gorilla or the orangoutang, who do not fail to have ears because they cannot speak, and might understand pretty well as much as the negro?’

Many of Portugal’s most prominent colonial officials shared these racist sentiments. António Enes was ‘a forthright racist, and what he says about the African and his place in the colonies is a truism long accepted by most Portuguese colonialists’ . Mousinho de Albuquerque, Norton de Matos, Serpa Pinto and others ‘continued to propagate the notion that Africans were inherently inferior’ . Politicians in Portugal often shared these beliefs. In a speech in 1893 the MP Dantas Baracho stated the African didn’t deserve citizenship rights, as he was inherently ‘lazy, drunk and criminal’ . The notion of the African as someone who had to be made to work was very current; Mousinho de Albuquerque spoke of the Africans ‘recusando-se a toda a especie de trabalho’ .

Key to Freyre’s work is the notion that the tendency to miscegenation is inherent in the Portuguese character. However, this attitude was not shared by many of those who held powerful positions over Portuguese colonies. The former High Commissioner and Governor General of Angola Vicente Ferriera considered the effects of racial mixing ‘nefastos’ . Marcelo Caetano talked in 1945 of the ‘grave problema de mestiçamento’ , and Bender quotes Norton de Matos’ fears that:

‘(…) the inferiority of Africans could dilute or even ruin the effectiveness of Portuguese colonization if the government did not put ‘for at least a century, the greatest obstacles to the fusion of the white race with the native races of Africa.” .

Such attitudes would come to be challenged in various ways in the middle of the last century. As Claudia Castelo writes, the end of the Second World War implied a wholescale condemnation of ideas of racial purity, and the international consensus dictated that the principle of self-determination should prevail . This presented a problem for Portugal; the African colonies were an existential issue: ‘a moral justification and a reason for being as a power’ . For Marcelo Caetano, ‘sem ela (Africa) seríamos uma pequena nação; com ela, somos um grande estado’ . Nevertheless, as Castelo writes:

‘A ONU passa a considerar o princípio de autodeterminação como um direito humano fundamental, a atribui as potências colonais a obrigação de prepararem os territórios sob sua administração para a independência.’

In response to this situation, the Portuguese state faced an urgent need to affirm its national unity and to reassert its civilising project in the colonies. Salazar had said in 1939 that it was essential to safeguard ‘the interests of the inferior races’ under Portuguese rule . This stance, or at least this language, would have to be reconsidered in the light of the new international mood of racial egalitarianism. In the words of Freyre, quoting Henrique Barros, Portugal needed to give a ‘modern content’ to its ‘ways of living and acting in Africa and Asia’ . Bender writes:

‘Beginning with the intensification of anti-colonial criticism in the United Nations in 1951, Portugal began to shift the emphasis of her ‘mission’ from exaltation of the overseas settler to aggrandizement of the emergent and multiracial societies in Angola and Mozambique’ .

The work of Gilberto Freyre, then, and particularly his willingness to be carefully shepherded around selected parts of Portugal’s overseas world in the same year, 1951 , would play a crucial role in Portugal’s attempts to justify its continuing possession of parts of Africa and India. In one of the books he wrote after his trip to the overseas colonies (hastily recategorised as overseas provinces, hence parts of Portugal itself) he praised the Estado Novo Government as ‘honrado, intransigentemente honesto’ . He also wrote of the ‘gosto de ver confirmado na África e no Oriente (suas) antecipações sobre a obra colonizadora dos portugueses (que) continua a ser activa e fecunda’ . In The Portuguese in the Tropics (1961), a book specially commended by the state to commemorate 500 years since the birth of Henry the Navigator, he even talked of a new civilisation, a third species of man, created by the experience of Portuguese colonization .
Along with ‘Integração portuguesa nos tropicos’ (1958), this book was used by the Estado Novo to legitimise its colonial policies. Castelo writes, ‘O Estado Novo põe em práctica uma estratégia clara no sentido de reverter a seu favor o prestígio internacional de Freyre’ . It was certainly convenient in an international context for the state to have a renowned spokesman of world repute promoting the Portuguese empire as a place without ‘problemas fundamentais, de ordem social, entre portugueses do Continente, e os portugueses dos Territórios Ultramarinos.’

This new adapted form of Luso-tropicalism quickly became Portugal’s core colonial ideology. Salazar talked of the ‘primacy we have always attached to (…) the enhancement of the value and dignity of man without distinction of colour or creed’ . His eventual successor Caetano claimed that in Angola and Mozambique ‘races are blended, cultures are altered (and) efforts are united to continue and perfect a type of society in which men are only limited by their ability, their merits or their work’ . Franco Nogueira went even further in asserting boldly that ‘We alone, before anyone else, brought to Africa the notion of human rights and equality (…) it is a Portuguese invention’ .

In The Portuguese and the tropics, Freyre contrasts the Portuguese colonizing mission with the attitudes of the Northern Europeans, who he accuses of regarding the non-European ‘in the same terms as wild animals’ . In South Africa these attitudes had resulted in the Apartheid system, ‘the most perfect fulfilment until now carried out of the myth of the absolute superiority of the European race’ .

It is true that the Portuguese never enacted apartheid legislation of the kind experienced in South Africa. Black people were not restricted to townships, mixed marriage was permitted and the children of mixed unions were recognised throughout the Portuguese colonies. However, as Bender writes, ‘The absence of racist laws or separate racial facilities is clearly not indicative of the absence of racial segregation’ . There are a number of areas in which it might be useful to consider just how valid is Freyre’s implication that apartheid would have been untenable in Portuguese Africa.

Charles Boxer demonstrates that Portuguese policies with regard to race relations differed considerably according to circumstances of time and place. The Portuguese state was not an automatic promoter of mixed marriages. A royal decree of 4 April 1755, for example, prohibited mixed marriages ‘com mulheres índias ou seus descendentes’ . This contrasted sharply with earlier royal encouragement of mixed unions between Portuguese settlers and indigenous women in order to populate Brazil.

Such unions, as Gilberto Freyre shows, created a profoundly mixed society in Brazil. A similar level of miscegenation was seen in Cape Verde. However, this was certainly not the case in the other Portuguese colonies. The mestiço population of Mozambique in 1960 stood at 0.48%, and that of Angola merely 1.10%. Ironically, the figure for South Africa, where mixed marriages were prohibited by law and the children of mixed unions were not recognised, stood at around 10%. Contrary to Freyre’s assumptions, Brazil was not representative of the majority of Portuguese colonies in terms of miscegenation .

Were the Portuguese colonies substantially more racially integrated or equal than apartheid South Africa? Wheeler and Pelíssier talk of ‘racial castes’ existing in Luanda by the middle of the nineteenth century . Luís Batalha quotes a statistic from Guinea which shows that in 1959 the black population consisted of 502,457 ‘não-civilisados’ and only 1,478 who were considered civilised . Bender writes:

‘This cultural rigidity and the exaggerated standards demanded of Africans (prior to 1961) before they could be officially considered assimilated help explain why less than 1% of Africans in 1950 were legally classified as assimilados.’

The requirements for Africans to be considered ‘civilised’ varied, but:
‘In Guinea, and probably Angola, an applicant had to be able to read and write Portuguese, in spite of the fact that about half the population of Portugal was illiterate.’

One reason for the low levels of assimilation, alongside the virtual impossibility of attaining such status, may have been reluctance on the part of Africans due to white attitudes towards successful assimilados. For the former High Commissioner and Governor General of Angola Vicente Ferreira, the ‘so-called civilised Africans (…) are generally no more than grotesque imitations of white men’ .

It would be difficult to conclude that the policy known as the indigenato was not simply based on racial prejudice. The indígena was legally required to work in order to bring him up to the same cultural level as the European – a process which Salazar himself seemed to believe would take centuries . Jeanne Penvenne writes:

‘Portugal’s policy was patronizing and cloaked in self-serving protectionism. Africans were to be protected from one another and from exploitation by ‘superior races’, but it was also Portugal’s duty as the beacon to civilisation to instruct them in their ‘moral obligation to work’.’

Such policies were not explicitly based on skin colour, as they would be in South Africa, but Duffy makes the point that:

‘It is a logical human step, even in Portuguese colonies, to proceed from laws which distinguish between native and non-native (…) to racial distinctions between black and white’.

Marvin Harris points out that more important than the existence of mestiços being officially recognised, was the way in which they were seen and treated. Unlike in South Africa, in Cabo Verde there were no legal distinctions on the basis of skin colour, but the way that people behaved – exhibiting a strong preference for lighter looks and preferring to attribute a darker complexion to Moorish-Portuguese ancestry rather than African descent – tells us that it was a society with a very high consciousness of racial origin and appearance and that this was related to social and presumably economic stratification. And while in South Africa people were categorised by the state according to their racial origin, Brazil remains a society with an astonishing range of classifications for skin colour, and where someone’s racial status can be determined by their social position:

‘(…) light-skinned individuals who rank extremely low in terms of educational and occupational criteria are frequently regarded as actually being darker in color than they really are.’

In South Africa a number of laws existed which formalised the social exclusion of non-whites. Although this was not the case in Portuguese Africa, Bender records that as of 1970 most Angolan natives lived in rural areas and had little contact with the white population . Penvenne reports that throughout the twentieth century, with the arrival of more and more white immigrants, less urban jobs became available to Africans in Lourenço Marques: ‘The depression crisis hastened the pace of racial exclusion, particularly in the better positions’ . In Angola the increasing numbers of white immigrants meant that by the mid-1950s ‘Positions usually reserved for blacks, such as waiters and taxi drivers, were nearly all occupied by whites’ .
Duffy talks of the growing problems that this exclusion created in terms of race relations. Discrimination was to be witnessed not merely in terms of jobs, but socially too:

‘Signs on the doors of Angolan restaurants reading “Right of Admission Reserved” are not accidental phenomena any more than are the creation of almost exclusively white towns and colonization projects in the interior’ .
While Portugal did not have a formal apartheid system like in South Africa, such examples of inequality and exclusion derived directly from a strong discriminatory impulse intrinsically linked to the essentially antagonistic relation between the exploiting class of European colonialists and the exploited black African masses. The essential pattern right up until independence was defined by the relationship between the master and the slave. As Duffy writes:

‘The fact that the Portuguese male did take as wife or mistress an African or mulatto woman had very little to do with mitigating either slavery or the slave trade and (…) nothing to do with changing racial prejudice. By 1850 Africans in Portuguese colonies were generally regarded as inferior beings, ‘niggers’, whose function was to labour.’


Gilberto Freyre’s ideas of race relations in the Portuguese empire certainly shed a great deal of light on the extraordinary social origins of Brazil’s multiracial society. Their application to other parts of the Portuguese empire was at the very least limited and, certainly in the hands of Salazar et al, profoundly misguided. In the words of Amílcar Cabral:

‘Perhaps unconsciously confusing realities that are biological or necessary with realities that are socioeconomic and historical, Gilberto Freyre transformed all of us who live in the colony-provinces of Portugal into the fortunate inhabitants of a Luso-Tropical paradise.’

However, as Gerald Bender points out, these ideas have proved intensely resistent to any attempts to relate them to the actual reality of Portuguese colonization . Many Portuguese still now believe that their overseas explorations were essentially tame, well-meaning and mostly harmless when compared to those of other colonial powers. In the words of Claudia Castelo, the Estado Novo’s myths regarding the Portuguese attitude to race constitute both in Portugal and abroad ‘uma imagem relativemente duradoira’.

Partido Nacionalista do Brasil (and Germany)

According to this, racismo in Brasil is an unbailable crime for which the, well, racist must be imprisoned.

No way the Polícia can have seen any Brazilian TV over the last eight years, then. But just imagine if we had that law here in the UK. We could lock up all the BNP voters! And then burn down the jail and send this dick off to Guantanamo Bay:

Justin Hawkins to release controversial World Cup song

It mentions the war…

The Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins is to release his own World Cup anthem – and it’s bound to prove controversial.

Going up against Embrace’s official Germany 2006 England song ‘World At Your Feet’, Hawkins has previewed his own song, ‘England’, under his solo name British Whale.

The star told The Sun newspaper that he thinks England’s bid for glory is being undermined by political correctness, with people being too scared to mention the Second World War triumph of 1945.

In response, ‘England’ mentions the event in the lyrics.

Hawkins said: “The whole point of an England World Cup song is to assert our national identity and talk about the achievements of a great nation.

“Why can’t we commemorate all those men who gave their lives in the name of freedom in the war? And, of course, in this case – to bash The Hun? It’s a national sport.”

I wonder if he prefers it to football?

Speaking of anti-German racism, I’m actually quite hoping for massive violence from the British contingent in Germany this summer. Not that I’ve got anything against German people, of course, especially as I am one myself – I just can’t wait to see the stuttering reaction from the Sun and the Daily Mail if it all kicks off… Will the headlines be HAVE A GO AT THE KRAUTS or ALL TOGETHER LET’S HAVE A DECEMBER 1914-STYLE TROOCE? Maybe Melanie Phillips will pop up and start complaining that it’s just not politically correct to hate German people any more. And I wonder what the Tommies make of Geoff Hurst‘s admirable campaign for the German National Tourist Office – is he still a National Hero to Sun readers, or is he a sausage-guzzling sunbed-reserving Quisling TRAITOR?!?

By the way, did I mention that I met Caetano Veloso a couple of weeks ago? We shook hands and everything. Now that’s a fucking hero.