Further calls for resignation of Portugal’s interior minister as Archbishop steps in to Odemira’s human slavery controversy

There have been further (blistering) calls for the resignation of Portugal’s minister for interior administration Eduardo Cabrita as now the Catholic Church has stepped into the brouhaha brought on by the government’s reaction to a surge of positive cases for SARS-CoV-2 among immigrant agricultural workers in the borough of Odemira.

The week drew to a close as badly as it began following the Supreme Administrative Court’s overturning of the government’s jack-booted requisition of ZMar eco-resort (click here).

As far as we know today (Sunday), almost all immigrants roused from their slumbers in the dead of night and bussed to expropriated quarters at ZMar have been removed. 

Indeed, they didn’t even want to be where they were plonked so unceremoniously under cloak of darkness – as there is no way they can get to work from the resort, says parish council president Dário Guerreiro. 

This was just  another ‘detail’ the government seems to have overlooked in its zeal to separate positive (but asymptomatic workers) from those who had tested negative.

On Friday, minister Cabrita was full of conviction that the government would challenge the Supreme Court’s decision. “We are here to save the Portuguese”, he told reporters.  This came over as fairly nonsensical in that a) no Portuguese appeared to need saving, and b) the people frogmarched from their albeit cramped accommodation to be re-housed at ZMar were from the Indian sub-continent.

“In the face of this monumental mess caused overwhelmingly by the incompetence of the government – principally the minister of internal administration whose handling of the situation has produced immense damage to the population and the image of the parish, the minister should have the good sense to resign”, said Mr Guerreiro.

In the past Eduardo Cabrita has brushed off calls for his resignation (even strong hints coming from President Marcelo) – suggesting it ‘ridiculous’ to imagine that the man in charge of ‘coordinating the country’s response to Covid-19’ could be replaced at such a critical time. 

But the clamour is coming from all quarters now.

Say reports, Chega, the CDS, Iniciativa Liberal, even centre-right PSD leader Rui Rio, have all said it’s time for Mr Cabrita to go.

And now the Archbishop of Évora D. Francisco Senra Coelho has thrown in his condemnation.

In December 2019 a document compiled by the Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace denounced the humiliating problem of migrants in the Alentejo, he told Lusa.

“Let me refresh the cultural, social and political memory of the country that we are in the current context of strong political and media rumours over the willingness of the Church present in the Alentejo to collaborate”.

When the document “Desertification and migration in the Alentejo” was presented, “there was no response except the silence of many” over how to tackle “this new form of slavery, even though it was an urgent appeal” warning of consequences of this “dehumanization”, he said.

He has drawn journalists’ attention to various paragraphs in the document, one of which said clearly: “Unfortunately, in many of these cases the existence of people-trafficking and their exploration is suspected, either by mafias or the employing entities themselves”.

The Church offered its availability “to be a privileged partner” in providing shelter for the immigrants, thus helping to “improve their integration” – something that has been ‘complicated’ in Odemira. But… nothing.

It is difficult to see how Eduardo Cabrita will hold onto his post from here. CDS leader Francisco Rodrigues dos Santos has described him as a “the captain of a ship adrift that has just hit the top of an iceberg”.

This may have been a nautical response to Mr Cabrita’s own description of the CDS as a party that is “shipwrecked”.

Whatever the case, the government’s intention to contest the Supreme Administrative Tribunal’s order to remove the immigrants from ZMar ‘with immediate effect’ does appear to have fallen by the wayside.

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