By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
On the day that the first of two new German-built submarines for the Portuguese Navy, costing around one billion Euros, was officially unveiled in Lisbon, a left-wing group paraded their own sponge submarine through the streets of the city.
The Bloco Esquerda party carried out a demonstration in Lisbon’s Rossio, Baixa Chiado and Largo do Camões squares last week as part of a protest against the Government’s decision to renew the Navy’s submarine fleet during a time of economic crisis.
But at the Alfeite Naval Base on the River Tejo near Almada, the Minister for Defence, Augusto Santos Silva, justified the purchase by stating that the Government would continue to “publicly demonstrate the need for Portugal to maintain a submarine capacity in the Armed Forces”.
This was not only to protect Portugal’s national sovereign territory and interests, but also to meet Portugal’s obligations in combating international terrorism, drug and arms trafficking, protecting fishing fleets and eventually patrolling and supporting research in the Maritime Economic Zone which extends from Portugal to beyond the Azores in the Atlantic which could soon be extended with United Nations approval.
In Lisbon, the BE party paraded through the streets with the model sponge submarine exhorting amused onlookers to “come and see this marvel – this one billion Euro bargain that Paulo Portas (the Defence minister who signed the contract for the submarines in 2004) and (Prime Minister) José Sócrates have bought the country!”
José Manuel Pureza, BE chief whip in Parliament, explained that the demonstration was a way “reacting with humour” and “drawing people’s attention to a poor choice” during a national and international financial crisis.
“If ever such an investment were justified, certainly now isn’t the right time when we’re going through an economic recession,” he said.
Paulo Portas, the head of the CDS-PP party, who has been widely criticised and lampooned for the decision to sign the contracts for the two submarines in 2004, claimed on his party’s website at the end of last week that it was not his decision to purchase submarines, but that of earlier governments in 1993 and 1998.
The current Defence minister, Augusto Santos Silva, took the opportunity at the official reception ceremony for the submarine – which has been cloaked in controversy for over a year due do allegations of millions of Euros of bribery, corruption and fraud – to warn the German suppliers that 1.2 billion Euros of economic spinoffs for Portuguese industry called ‘offsets’ promised in the contract to be organised by the Germans “needed to, and had to, be fulfilled”.