Why the Portuguese are wooing Gaddafi.jpg

Why the Portuguese are wooing Gaddafi


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“LIBYA will be an important market for our companies, particularly those involved in construction and engineering,” said a serious Basílio Horta, who heads up the Portuguese government trade delegation and marketing body AICEP Portugal Global.

Colonel Gaddafi stole the show at the EU-African Summit last weekend in Lisbon
Colonel Gaddafi stole the show at the EU-African Summit last weekend in Lisbon

Then there’s the question of oil refining – Libya has lots of it (around three trillion gallons) -and Basílio Horta sees Portugal’s deep water oil refinery depot at Sines as the perfect place to purify it and send it on through Europe, North and Latin America.

Sines and its petrochemical plants is getting a lot of foreign investment these days, three billion euros worth to be precise, and is the perfect platform between Africa, Europe and America, largely because it is only one of two deep water ports in Europe – Rotterdam being the other – where large tankers can offload their crude.

Mohamed Taher H. Siala, Libya’s Foreign Liason and International Cooperation Minister, agrees and adds that Portuguese firms, particularly construction companies, can benefit from the current jamboree of road and bridge building, harbour and airport construction and railway laying on what has become a virtual building site in and around Tripoli, the capital of Libya, in recent years.

“We don’t have a railway and we are going to build 800km of track, we are going to attract winter tourism and we know you have very good experience in hotel construction and management and your costs are less than Spain’s,” he said.

He also discussed cement, which he said was a good opportunity for Portuguese investment. “We need 10 million metric tonnes a year and we only have the capacity for five, so we are looking for expertise in this area, such as you and the French have in building new cement factories.”  


Colonel Gaddafi certainly stole the show at the EU-African Summit last weekend in Lisbon. He pitched a massive Bedouin-style tent to house 200 staff and servants at Carcavelos’ São Julião de Barros Naval Fort rather than stay in a hotel. He then invited journalists in for traditional tea. Marketing ploy or good old fashioned desert hospitality, it certainly worked.  

Playing to the press and wearing sunglasses indoors at the summit, the veteran Libyan leader seemed to hug all and sundry warmly, including José Sócrates on a number of occasions, clearly basking in the newfound attention that his oil has brought him.

No longer out in the cold, he is being wooed by the United States, who would like to buy more oil and gas from him than rely on troublesome Russia and Middle Eastern countries, and Portugal, who is competing with France for lucrative construction contracts that will keep the cash flowing in for years to come. The EU lifted its trade embargo on Libya in 2004.

This week the French President is to receive Gaddafi in Paris for the first time in 30 years to sign contracts in a number of areas including energy, nuclear technology, agriculture and health.

Shortly afterwards, EU Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso suggested that “normalisation of EU relations with Libya was possible”, while Libya’s Foreign Minister Abdel Rahman Shalqam is now talking about “full cooperation and partnership” with the European Union.

Libya, on the other hand, is hoping to get a multi-million euro handout from the European Union to do up its aged public health system, a sweetener also aimed at getting Libya to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into Europe from Africa.


Libya has also promised the EU that it will protect valuable archaeological sites dating back 10,000 years and improve its school system. While in Lisbon Colonel Gaddafi said that Libya could not resist the tide of globalisation.

But although Colonel Gaddafi does seem to be cooperating with the European Union on a wide range of issues, from nuclear energy to being more open to owning up for its part in past acts of terrorism such as the Lockerbie bombing, it is still far from clear how far Libya’s openness will extend to personal freedoms for its people and private sector.

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