One of the many archive images of destruction in the Azores caused by Hurricane Lorenzo in 2019. Lusa image
One of the many archive images of destruction in the Azores caused by Hurricane Lorenzo in 2019. Lusa image

Azores short-changed by central government over hurricane damage

Archipelago still waiting for €47 million “promised by 2020”

Azores regional parliament has today unanimously approved “to recommend to the mainland government the urgent transfer of amounts necessary for the implementation of construction work relating to damage caused by Hurricane Lorenzo”… in 2019!

The diplomatically worded resolution belies the clear sense of injustice on the archipelago.

Explains Lusa, initial damage caused by Lorenzo was calculated by the previous Socialist regional government at €313.3 million. 

Eighty per cent of that was to have been borne by the mainland government, said Berta Cabral, regional secretary of state for tourism, mobility and infrastructures – lamenting, in particular, the €20 million that the mainland government should have transferred in 2020, but which “never arrived”.

Hurricane Lorenzo cut a swathe across the Azores, particularly hitting the island of Flores. The regional government this far has carried out €88.2 million in construction work, having “only received (from Lisbon) €29.7 million” – meaning there is “some €47 million outstanding”, says Cabral.

What is calling the hold-up? This is where things get a little ugly: Paulo Estevão, parliamentary leader of the PPM party (one of the many involved in the PSD-led coalition) believes it’s all down to “revenge, for the political change” that occurred in the Azores in 2019: PS Socialists “won the elections but lost the absolute majority, and PSD formed a government in coalition”, says Lusa.

Estevão has no doubts: “It is a revenge of the prime minister, in collusion with PS Azores, in an attempt to strangle the region.” 

Vasco Cordeiro (PS), former head of the regional government, dubbed Estevão’s theory “manifestly unreasonable”, suggesting “the PS is always on the side of the Azoreans”.

But certainly other MPs think more along the lines of Estevão. Rui Martins of CDS-PP spoke today of the “stranglehold of the mainland“, and João Bruto da Costa (PSD) said the government in Lisbon treats the Azores “in a different way, depending on whether or not the regional government belongs to the PS”.

Pedro Neves, of PAN, regretted the “arguments about political colours”, but agreed the problem lies “in the way the mainland government treats the autonomous regions”.

Nuno Barata (Liberal Initiative) tried to sit on the fence, suggesting “it is also the fault of the regional government and the Azores ports authority”.

António Lima, of BE, explains why: “mechanisms for transfers to the region take too long” and “the regional government should have already negotiated with the mainland” to solve this problem.

But the bottom line is that Flores particularly needs this investment, and needs it badly.

Hurricane Lorenzo was followed by Storm Efrain, which battered Flores even further, leading to serious constraints in the supplying of the little island.

Thus, MPs accept this issue “deserves special attention from all of us. Not only from us in this House, but also from the 10 million Portuguese people”, said Carlos Furtado (independent, formerly CHEGA).

So now we have to wait and see what happens. Certainly, Lisbon’s government is not short of money: this is a bumper year in terms of incoming funds from Europe, and in terms of taxation. Inflation has also played into the treasury’s pockets

And today, news from the Bank of Portugal is that the economy is actually ‘better off’ than previously thought (the Bank predicts economic growth will be 2.7% this year, not the 1.8% forecast earlier this year).

Even the prime minister has highlighted the increase in exports, particularly of auto parts… and bicycles.

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