Red carpet welcome for honoured guests on Cavaco’s big day.jpg

Red carpet welcome for honoured guests on Cavaco’s big day

POMP AND circumstance marked the official swearing in of Portugal’s 18th President of the Republic last Thursday.

The closest thing Portugal has to a royal event, the day went off like clockwork with even the sun smiling down on the new President Aníbal Cavaco Silva and his 900 Portuguese guests and 119 distinguished foreign guests from around the world.

The white façade of the Palácio de Belém (the Portuguese Parliament building) was draped in the green and red colours of Portugal, and the famous stone steps leading up to the main entrance were graced by an enormous red carpet in preparation for the scores of foreign dignitaries that began arriving in limousines from 8am onwards.

A sea of photographers, including The Resident’s Chris Graeme, were there to record the historic occasion and catch the dignitaries, one by one, as they ran the media gauntlet from car to main entrance.

The most interest was generated by Spanish Crown Prince Felipe of Bourbon and his wife Letizia Ortiz. The Prince, who towered above most of the other guests, wore a sombre dark suit and light blue striped silk tie, was relaxed yet reserved, and content to let his wife, dressed in a light brown two-piece suit, shine with her engaging pearly white media smile. The Prince and Princess of Asturias handed a letter of congratulations from the King of Spain Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia. The Grand Duke of Luxemburg was the other visiting royalty.

George Bush Senior, who flew in for just a few hours, seemed surprisingly vital and energetic for his years. He warmly embraced Cavaco Silva following the inauguration ceremony in the Passos Perdidos (Hall of the Endless Steps) and exchanged friendly banter and laughter with his old ally before heading off to hold talks on Portuguese-US relations with José Sócrates at São Bento.

Addressing journalists after the short meeting, Bush Senior said that the new President was a “personal friend”, thanked Prime Minister José Sócrates for sparing the time to see “an old timer when there were so many other acting heads of state in town” and said he was sorry not to be able to stay longer because he had to “get back to Florida to help out his son, the acting governor”.

South African President, Thabo Mbeki, was also in attendance, while the President of East Timor, Xanana Gusmão, no doubt exhausted following his long journey to Portugal, spent most of the actual ceremony seemingly asleep in the gallery. The East Timorese Foreign Minister, Ramos-Horta was also present, as were the brother of the King of Morocco, Prince Moulay Rachid, Brazil’s former President José Sarnay, Mozambique’s former President Joaquim Chissano with serving President Armando Guebuza, and Guinea-Bissau Head of State Nino Vieira. From around the European Union were the former President of France, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, and former European Union Commissioner, Jacques Delors.

Immediately following the ceremony, the first to congratulate the new President was his wife and First Lady Maria Cavaco Silva, dressed in a bright sky-blue, three-piece suit and a pearl and sapphire choker.  

It was noticed that the new President spent a particularly long time talking with the Chinese representatives, no doubt with a view to fostering future business and trade opportunities for Portuguese companies in the world’s second largest market, as well as Portugal providing a ready consumer market for cheap imported Chinese goods, particularly in the automotive sector.

The British Ambassador John Buck shook hands with Cavaco Silva and exchanged a few brief words. There were no high-ranking government or royal representatives from Portugal’s oldest ally at the ceremony.

Among the Portuguese top brass in attendance at the day’s events was a rather sombre looking former President Mário Soares, who noticeably failed to applaud during the official swearing in ceremony, didn’t join the list of well wishers afterwards to congratulate the new President and wasn’t at the gala dinner at Queluz Palace, where Jorge Sampaio was decorated with the Order of Liberty by Cavaco Silva (his first official duty) for services to the state. Sampaio also received the Great Chain of the Order of the Tower & Sword.

A frail and elderly former President of Portugal, António Ramalho Eanes, and wife Manuela were also on the guest list as were European Union Commissioner José Manuel Durão Barroso, former Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes, PSD leader Luís Marques Mendes, Mayor of Lisbon Dr. António Carmona Rodrigues, former Defence Minister Paulo Portas, presidential candidate Manuel Alegre, TV commentator Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, former PSD Finance Minister Manuela Ferreira Leite, former PS Health Secretary Maria de Belém, and Lisbon Cardinal José Policarpo, among others.

During the ceremony, Prime Minister José Sócrates looked troubled and tired, greeting the new President cordially, with a businesslike smile that failed to conceal the widely reported doubts he must surely have as to the future working relationship between the two men of widely differing political convictions. However, it is expected the two men will bury any political hatchets and co-operate well together in trying to solve the country’s current economic, institutional and political crises. The Minister of the Economy, Manuel Pinho, stared vacantly into space.

From the world of business and entertainment were music promoter and presidential son-in-law Luis Montez (married to the President’s daughter Patrícia) and fado singer Katia Guerreiro.

During the state banquet in the Maria I dining room at Queluz Palace, hosted by Maria Cavaco Silva, both George Bush and the Spanish Crown princes were clearly the brightest stars in the firmament of invited guests.

Pictures on pages 10 and 11 by Chris Graeme