American Ambassador faces tough questions in Cascais .jpg

American Ambassador faces tough questions in Cascais

AMERICAN AMBASSADOR, Alfred Hoffman Junior, addressing the Americans in Portugal luncheon in Cascais last week, said Portugal had the potential to become the Florida of Europe. During a lively question and answer session, the Ambassador also conceded that President Bush was unpopular in Europe, attributing this to the different mentality of Americans and Europeans, reports The Resident’s Gabriel Hershman.

The Ambassador’s formal presentation was similar to the address on Transformational Diplomacy he delivered to the American Club of Lisbon last month (see The Resident’s February 24 edition). But, Ambassador Hoffman also paid special tribute to incoming Portuguese President Cavaco Silva. “George Bush Senior (a guest at Cavaco Silva’s swearing in ceremony) was President while Cavaco Silva was Prime Minister, and they have a very high regard for each other. So I’m confident that Portugal will continue as a force, both morally and materially, in this just and noble defence of democracy and enhance its reputation as a member of the European and Atlantic alliances,” he said.

Ambassador Hoffman spent half-an-hour answering controversial questions from the audience. Asked what would have happened if Hurricane Katrina had struck Miami, instead of New Orleans, the Ambassador said he trusted Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s ability to handle such a catastrophe better than in Louisiana. “There is no doubt in my mind that preparation and plans (for a hurricane) would have been different than they were in New Orleans,” he said.

Europeans have a more laissez-faire approach

Ambassador Hoffman noted a similarity between Europe’s view of the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W Bush. “If you recall, the Europeans didn’t like Ronald Reagan much either. Why do Europeans see things so differently? I asked the Editor of the International Herald Tribune – based in Paris – that very question. I was really talking about the French! But he said that Americans still have that spirit to confront a problem and solve it immediately, whereas Europeans are more concerned with protecting and conserving what they have – a laissez-faire idea.”

Commenting on Portugal’s reluctance to prohibit smoking in public, the Ambassador said he favoured an eventual ban. He cited his wife’s experience working on Eastern Airlines for 10 years. “She sat at the back of that aircraft where cigarette smoking was allowed. Many were the days that she got sick through cigarette smoke. We all have an enlightened understanding about how not to do something we have done in the past. I think that Portugal will eventually get around to implementing a no smoking ban,” he said.

Troops want to be there

(in Iraq)

As the father of five children, the Ambassador was asked how he would feel if his children were sent to Iraq. “I would be nervous and concerned,” he said. “But I assume that, if they were sent there, they would be adults. And, as adults, they would make their own rational decision on whether to go or not. The overwhelming majority of the troops in Iraq are there because they want to be there. And they are there because they believe in the mission. Isn’t it wonderful that the youth of our country are willing to make that moral decision and support a third party in a seemingly unrelated situation in Iraq?” he asked.

The Ambassador said the United States was not seeking to impose its own definition of a ‘failed state’ (a phrase he had used in his presentation) on the international community. “We don’t define what a failed state is because I think it’s pretty easy to come to a consensus as to what a failed state is. I think it’s one where the government is institutionally corrupt and where people do not have human rights and the opportunity to pursue their own economic self-advantage.” But he admitted that America was not immune from poverty and corruption. “As long as human beings occupy this earth, there will be infidelity, corruption and violence. The issue is how successful we are in addressing these,” he commented.

Portugal could be the

Florida of Europe

Recalling his experiences as a venture capitalist, the Ambassador noted similarities between Florida and Portugal, and said he was optimistic in regard to trade prospects between the two countries. “Florida is the fastest growing state in America because of retirement, wealth and recreation. And, in my mind, there is no doubt that Portugal is fast becoming the Florida of Europe. It’s a very clean industry and very profitable for the host country.”

He also said that Portugal’s lower wage costs could work to its advantage. “Portuguese universities are turning out some extremely well qualified graduates who are willing to work on the cheap. You can hire a qualified university graduate for about 20-25,000 euros a year, nowhere near what it would take to hire an American graduate. When entrepreneurs and venture capitalists see what kind of resources there are here, and how inexpensive it is, we will see a lot more start-offs in Portugal.” The Ambassador also said that America needed to rid itself of its addiction to oil and praised Portugal’s aim of using alternative forms of clean energy, such as wave and wind energy.