Fires and explosives heist “have not affected Portugal’s image abroad”

Putting on a brave show in the face of ridicule by Spanish media, Portugal’s minister for foreign affairs has insisted that the recent fire tragedy of Pedrógão Grande, and the embarrassing explosives heist from a Santarém military base, have “not affected Portugal’s external image” one iota.

Responding to questions (and criticism) from Opposition PSD and CDS-PP MPs, Augusto Santos Silva maintained that Portugal is “one of the most peaceful and secure countries in the world”.

The first description is one that Spanish newspaper El Pais made much of in a send-up earlier this week in which journalist Javier Martín remarked that Portugal is “so peaceful that… strangers went into Tancos military base and took out weaponry in their car without anyone stopping them.

“They took with them a shopping list in which everything was free. They loaded up heavy boxes by hand, going backwards and forwards over 500 metres, and left the way they had come, without a shot being fired or even a shout going out.

“Finding yoghurts in their own fridge would certainly have taken more time”, he quipped, adding that the CCTV system has been out of order for five years (this may be an exaggeration: official version is two), the security fence can be cut with a pair of scissors, and soldiers patrolling the base with ammunition-less guns do not want to go into any of the 25 watchtowers as they are all “in danger of collapsing”.

“If after knowing all this the Global Peace Index doesn’t give first place to Portugal next year, it will be committing an injustice”.

Martín’s text has been widely shared and translated throughout Portuguese national and social media – but if Santos Silva is to be believed, it hasn’t even scraped the surface of Portugal’s image as a seamlessly-run bastion of security.

Portugal knows how to distinguish the accidental from the substantial, Santos Silva told his audience – and “in the substantial Portugal is one of the most peaceful, secure, most committed to multilateral order and most trustworthy countries in the world”.

This man does not hold the post as “chief of diplomacy” for nothing.

Nonetheless, Santos Silva’s admirable speech did not appear to satisfy MPs baying for Socialist shame and outraged that prime minister António Costa has gone off in the middle of all this for a week’s holiday.

CDS-PP’s Pedro Mota Soares affirms that Portugal’s image abroad as a result of Pedrógão Grande and Tancos is “not good, while the PSD’s Miguel Morgado says the incidents have dented our allies’ “confidence”.

Adding to the heat is the fact that almost three weeks since the devastating fires that killed 64 people, among them one fireman and several children, no-one can agree on how they started – let alone why they appear to have been so badly ‘managed’.

Says the country’s tabloid Correio da Manhã, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is on mission to “attenuate the damages” that the explosives heist has heaped on the country’s ministry of defence.

It now seems likely that a post-holiday government reshuffle will ensue, in which both defence minister Azeredo Lopes and Interior minister Constança Urbano de Sousa will be quietly shifted sideways.

Meantime, the latest popular theory about Tancos is that the missing 57 kilos of explosives, along with 44 rockets launchers and 130-plus handgrenades “could have been stolen to attack the Carregado Complex of the Bank of Portugal” where 40% of the country’s gold reserves are stored along with euro notes, hot off the presses.

Carregado is said to be only 90 kms from Tancos, and well-guarded by the most sophisticated surveillance systems known to man, adds CM.

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