Fires fallout prompts government reshuffle “behind closed doors”

The venomous ongoing fallout following Portugal’s latest devastating wildfires has prompted what newspapers are calling “a government reshuffle behind closed doors”.

With Constança Urbano de Sousa shackled with the image of Public Enemy No 1, her spot at the helm of the Ministry of the Interior has gone to the ‘quiet man in the shadows’ who has for all intents and purposes been Portugal’s deputy PM since the ‘geringonça’ snatched power from defeat in 2015.

Eduardo Cabrita’s initial position (State minister) has seen him overseeing the country’s (fairly lacklustre) refugee placement programme.

He is ‘an old friend of prime minister António Costa’ and happens also to be the husband of Minister of the Sea Ana Paula Vitorino.

Popular tabloid Correio da Manhã has remarked that if this is the “new cycle” that President Marcelo says is vital for the future, it doesn’t seem to be embracing any new faces.

“Prime Minister Costa has instead preferred surgical changes and is not making any further alterations”, says the paper – stressing this is “despite fragilities highlighted over the last few months” when it comes to Minister of Defence Azeredo Lopes (on whose watch a veritable arsenal of military hardware appears to have gone mysterious four-month walkabout click here) and Minister of the Economy Caldeira Cabral, who has been described by economist Daniel Bessa as occupying the “job of a dead man”.

The new appointment will be officially confirmed on Saturday, when government ministers will be meeting to map out the country’s new approach to fire prevention and combat, according to recommendations in the first of three highly critical reports (click here).

Meantime, yesterday in parliament – screened live for the nation – saw parties scrapping over the tragedies that have plunged Portugal into world headlines for all the wrong reasons.

PM Costa even managed a grudging apology: “If you want to hear me say sorry, I apologise”, as right-wing MPs appeared to shift all the blame on this summer’s fires on the PS Executive.

The fact that CDS leader Assunção Cristas – the politician behind the looming vote of no confidence – has told journalists: “When I was minister (of Agriculture) there was no tragedy of these proportions in Portugal” has led to a welter of outrage over social media involving images and old stories of how Cristas actively encouraged the planting of eucalyptus monocultures, which are partly to blame for the rapid propagation of this year’s killer fires.

Outgoing opposition leader Pedro Passos Coelho has confirmed that his party will be supporting Cristas’ vote of no confidence, likely to come before parliament next week, saying that as far as he is concerned this government “does not deserve a second chance”.

Nonetheless, everything points to it getting it.

Left-wing allies will continue to support PS, and in the massive ongoing furore little has been said about who/ what was behind last Sunday’s 523 blazes – a number of which started before daylight had broken,

Television commentator and journalist Jaime Gomes Ferreira insists the ‘elephant in the room’ is the fact that “someone wants the forest to burn”.

There are organised interests behind attacks that make it impossible for the authorities, however well organised, to make a difference, he said.

“This is crime on a large scale, and the only people who do not see that are those who do not choose to”.

Firefighters league president Jaime Marta Soares has been ridiculed for saying exactly the same (click here). Jaime Gomes Ferreira has thus come to the rescue – telling SIC’s lunchtime news programme that every government has made the same mistake of blaming these fires on irrelevances.

“Mayors, councillors and firefighters all say the same”, he told the news anchor, adding that it was “infantile” to suggest landowners who do not clear their land are the bogeymen in this struggle.

“Even forests that are clean and well-structured burn”, he said. “Who does this (sets light to them) studies the direction of the winds”.

In the case of Pedrógão Grande in June, the winds were travelling to the west. The destruction was “studied to go from Pedrógão to Castanheira de Pera and develop, this time (Sunday’s blazes) an angle was studied which went exactly from Lousã and then fanned upwards to Viseu. Who did this had calculated the winds. They knew what would happen. The only reason for people not ‘seeing this’ is that they do not want to”.

Jaime Gomes Ferreira is not an hysteric. His book recently released on Portugal’s ‘regime of bankers’ – dedicated to “all the taxpayers who support the State” and pay more than they should “because of the mistakes of a financial elite” – is selling like hotcakes and a ‘must read’ for anyone who wants to understand the closed-circuit of power in this country.

The question really is will this newly shuffled bunch of ‘old faces’ (Cabrita is being replaced by another good friend of PM Costa Pedro Siza Vieira) effect any kind of useful change?

As we wrote this article, the tally of dead in last Sunday’s inferno increased by two to 44. SIC television news reports that two of the most severely injured victims have died in Coimbra hospitals.

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