Farmers protest
Image of one of this morning's blockades: Nuno Veiga/ Lusa

Protesting farmers block several principle roads in Portugal

Police despair government’s ‘preferential handling of agriculture’

Today’s protests by farmers on principle roads leading into and around Portugal have masked for the moment a worrying ‘spin-off’ that promises to take unrest within the country’s PSP and GNR police forces into new territory.

Yesterday – in a bid to deter farmers from mounting their blockades this morning – the ministers of finance and agriculture held a joint press conference to ‘open the government’s pockets’, ostensibly making around €500 million “available to the agricultural sector”.

The gesture was couched in a way that showed the government was ‘making up’ for cuts at a European level. But not only did it fail dismally to deter farmers, it served as a “red rag” to protesting police, who were out in massive force last night in Porto.

“There’s only no money for police!” chanted thousands of agents of the PSP and GNR as well as prison guards, many of whom had travelled hundreds of kilometres to take part in the demo.

Someone advise the minister of interior administration that patience has its limits”, said one, cited by this morning’s Correio da Manhã.

“Whatever happens from here onwards is the fault of the government”, said another.

CM’s interpretation is that “these two phrases sum up the dissatisfaction and resentment of the thousands of police (syndicates described more than 20,000) who filled the streets of Porto in yet another protest for better salaries and a risk supplement equal to that given to the PJ”.

Five weeks from legislative elections, and the caretaker Socialist government is looking extremely unpopular.

As for today’s immediate protests, they have been concentrated at frontier posts, like Vilar Formoso, in Guarda where the A6 has been blocked in both directions, in Santarém, Beja, Caia near Elvas – and the constant refrain is that farmers are fed up with being lied to. Their accusations that Minister for Agriculture Maria de Céu Antunes is a liar are not new: they have come throughout the minister’s tenure.

Ms Antunes pledged yesterday various ‘packages’ (to the tune of more than €500 million) to help farmers through the situation of drought and with production. At the same time cuts were also announced to the tax on agricultural diesel, with a €50 million credit line made available.

Farmers gathered under the new ‘Movement of Farmers’ told reporters this morning the minister’s words “were not worth talking about”.

PSD leader Luís Montenegro has said the AD (democratic alliance) under which his party is fighting the elections in March “understands the protest and the frustration” of farmers. “This Socialist government has disrespected farmers right up to the last minute of its mandate”, he said.

These protests mirror to a large extent actions begun by farmers in France, and now spreading throughout Europe, but they are more focused on national grievances than the wider EU-centric complaints. ND

Source material: LUSA/ Correio da Manhã/ SIC Notícias