Há uns dias, o nosso Ricardo Campelo Magalhães, o autoproclamado “Insurgente que mais atenção presta à política americana”, viu um vídeo de uns apoiantes de Bernie Sanders, um conhecido socialista que achou que o local ideal para passar a lua-de-mel era a União Soviética, a elogiarem o “histórico e importante” dia em Trump e Putin se reuniram e anunciaram um cessar-fogo na Síria (a juntar aos muitos outros que já foram anunciados e que a Rússia e o regime sírio aproveitam para preparar ataques à oposição síria mas que, curiosamente, deixam o ISIS a salvo, quando não o ajudam), e ficou encantado. Compreendo o impulso. Idealmente, uma aproximação entre os EUA e a Rússia seria uma bênção para ambos os países, e também para o resto do mundo. Mas levar a sério essa possibilidade é cometer o mesmo erro que os desastrados Barack Obama e Hillary Clinton cometeram em 2008, ou (em menor grau e mais compreensivelmente, já que Putin estava há pouco tempo no poder e talvez não fosse ainda não tão clara a natureza do seu regime)George W. Bush após o 11 de Setembro: não compreender que uma reaproximação entre a Rússia e os EUA não é possível nem desejável, porque os interesses do regime de Putin não são conciliáveis com os interesses de um país democrático e aberto ao resto do mundo.
O interesse dos EUA (e diga-se de passagem, o nosso) é (ou pelo menos costumava e deveria ser) um mundo o mais pacífico possível, o mais aberto possível ao comércio livre, e também o mais democrático possível, e da combinação de todos estes factores, o mais próspero possível. O interesse de Putin e da rede mafiosa que gira à sua volta reside em enriquecer e manter o seu poder político intacto, até porque sem ele não poderão encher as contas bancárias. Para isso, precisam – por exemplo – de um Médio Oriente instável, para que o preço do petróleo seja o mais alto possível para que os seus rendimentos, muito dependentes do sector energético, não sejam muito afectados, e daí a promoção da perpetuação da guerra civil na Síria. Precisam, também, de promover uma política externa agressiva para com estados seus vizinhos como a Ucrânia, a Estónia, a Lituânia, a Letónia ou a Moldávia, apelando ao “fervor” nacionalista do povo russo, que assim se distrai da decadência económica e militar do país e se une em torno do líder político que enriquece enquanto grande parte da população passa fome ou se embebeda até à morte.
Acima de tudo, a propaganda russa (basta ver a RT) precisa de passar a ideia de que a democracia dos EUA ou dos países europeus é tão disfuncional e corrupta como o disfuncional e corrupto autoritarismo que Putin comanda. Daí a inegável interferência na campanha eleitoral americana: em primeira instância, Putin pretendia descredibilizar a candidata que se esperava que fosse ganhar, Hillary Clinton (que, convenhamos, não requeria um grande esforço para ser descredibilizada, dado o passado pouco abonatório da máquina política da família), e em segundo lugar, promover um candidato com um longo historial de negócios duvidosos com indivíduos ligados à máfia russa, que colocou na estrutura da sua campanha gente com um passado de ligações ao Kremlin (Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, e Carter Page), e que veio publicamentepedir à Rússia que interceptasse e divulgasse os emails de Clinton. Precisamente por todos estes elementos tornarem no mínimo plausível (mesmo que não seja verdadeira) a ideia de que Trump estava conscientemente em “conluio” com a Rússia (e ninguém, excepto os potenciais intervenientes, sabe se estava ou não), Putin preferia promover a candidatura de Trump e descredibilizar a de Clinton: na pior das hipóteses manchava ainda mais a já frágil reputação da candidata Democrata, e na melhor das hipóteses, via ser eleito Presidente dos EUA um candidato que lhe dava pela confiança de que a sua mera eleição descredibilizaria gravemente o processo eleitoral americano junto de uma parte significativa da população, e de que um eventual impeachment motivado pela forma como se deixou enredar na teia do “Kremlingate” ou pelo seu duvidoso passado financeiro minaria a confiança dos seus apoiantes (que duvidariam sempre da legitimidade desse impeachment) nesse mesmo processo; enquanto isso, todas estas atribulações permitem-lhe, na Rússia, dizer “olhem como eles não se governam”, que é o seu principal objectivo.
Por isso, provavelmente, mandou os seus assalariados Manafort e Flynn insinuarem-se junto da campanha de Trump, que ingenuamente os aceitou e logo se deixou comprometer; por isso terá usado o seu aparelho diplomático nos EUA para encetar conversações com Jared Kushner e ou levá-lo a pedir acesso a um sistema de comunicações na embaixada russa que lhe permitisse comunicar com o Kremlin sem estar sujeito à normal fiscalização de comunicações diplomáticas por parte do aparelho de Estado americano, ou dizer isso mesmo sendo falso numa chamada telefónica do embaixador que saberiam estar a ser escutado, com o simples propósito de o comprometer; por isso terá usado a advogada com ligações ao seu aparelho político Natalia Veselnitskaya para atrair o pouco inteligente Donald Trump, Jr. a uma reunião comprometedora, sabendo que o pobre rapaz não teria o juízo necessário para avisar imediatamente o FBI em vez de se deixar manipular por velhas tácticas da espionagem russa.
Sabendo tudo isto, por muito compreensível que seja o desejo de Trump de melhorar as relações com a Rússia e assim resolver uma série de problemas em que os EUA estão envolvidos, é difícil perceber como o Presidente dos EUA não se apercebe de que os esforços nesse sentido, por muito sinceros que possam ser, são fúteis e contraproducentes. E perante isto, só restam duas hipóteses: ou Trump está conscientemente – seja por que razão for – a colaborar activamente com o Kremlin para “tornar a Rússia grande de novo” e fortalecer o Urso russo, ou – perdoe-se o plebeísmo – está a fazer figura de “urso”. Estando familiarizado com as declarações públicas e a acção do senhor, inclino-me para a segunda, mas nunca se sabe.
No passado dia 8, o New York Times noticiou que Donald Trump, Jr. o filho do Presidente dos EUA, se tinha reunido com uma advogada russa – Natalia Veselnitskaya – com ligações ao regime de Vladimir Putin a 9 de Junho de 2016, poucos dias antes do ataque informático ao Partido Democrático ter sido tornado público, e que a reunião tinha contado ainda com a participação de Paul Manafort, o então director de campanha de Trump com um pouco abonatório historial de serviço a políticos próximos do Kremlin na Ucrânia, e Jared Kushner, genro de Trump e alguém que viria meses mais tarde a pedir à embaixada russa que lhe fornecesse um sistema de comunicações que o permitisse comunicar com o Kremlin sem estar sujeito à normal fiscalização de comunicações diplomáticas por parte do aparelho de Estado americano.
Trump, Jr. respondeu à notícia do New York Times dizendo que a reunião lhe fora pedida por um seu conhecido, mas que o nome da pessoa com quem ele se iria reunir não lhe foi fornecido – o homem aparentemente não achou por bem perguntar, ou se perguntou, não achou estranho que não lhe fosse dito – e que se tratara de “uma pequena reunião introdutória” em que se discutiu “principalmente” um “programa de adopções de crianças russas por famílias americanas” que o governo russo “terminou”, e que não houve qualquer contacto posterior.
O que Trump, Jr. não disse foi que a questão das adopções é o pretexto sob o qual Veselnitskaya faz uma campanha contra o chamado Magnitsky Act: depois de Sergei Magnitsky, um advogado que denunciara actos de corrupção do regime russo, ter morrido na prisão, os EUA colocaram mais de quarenta cidadãos russos – aparentemente ligados à morte de Magnitsky – numa de lista de indivíduos sujeitos à apreensão dos seus bens no país e sem vistos para se deslocarem aos EUA; em resposta, Putin decidiu proibir a adopção de crianças russas por parte de cidadãos americanos; desde então, Veseltnitskaya, casada com um ex-governante russo, advogada de um banqueiro russo envolvido num escândalo de lavagem de dinheiro de oligarcas putinistas através de um banco no Chipre, e posteriormente envolvida num filme que procurava descredibilizar William Browder, um empresário americano que se tornara um feroz crítico do regime de Putin, tem usado o problema das adopções como uma forma de argumentar pelo fim do Magnitsky Act, e assim pelo levantamento das restrições impostas aos cidadãos russos. Repare-se, no entanto, que a senhora não intercede junto do homem que efectivamente impede essas adopções – Vladimir Putin -, antes exerce influência sobre quem poderá ajudar uns vigaristas russos a recuperarem o seu dinheiro e envolve-se em esforços para denegrir quem alerta para o seu carácter duvidoso.
Seja como for, no dia seguinte, o mesmo New York Timesnoticiou que três conselheiros da Casa Branca que haviam sido informados do que se passara na reunião de Trump, Jr., Manafort e Kushner com Veselnitskaya confirmavam que o filho do Presidente se reunira com a advogada russa depois de ela lhe ter prometido “informação prejudicial” para Hillary Clinton – recorde-se que a reunião e o pedido para ela ter lugar ocorreram poucos dias antes do anúncio público do ataque russo ao sistema informático, mas depois de este ter sido realizado.
Em resposta, Trump, Jr. afirmou que “a mulher afirmou que tinha informação de que indivíduos ligados à Rússia estavam a financiar o Democratic National Committee e a apoiar a senhora Clinton”, mas que “não foi dado” qualquer “detalhe” ou “informação” que o confirmasse, e que a conversa logo passou para a questão das adopções do Magnitsky Act. “As pretensões de informação potencialmente útil”, disse Trump, Jr., “não passaram de um pretexto” usado por Veselnitskaya para o atrair para uma reunião (que, acrescento eu, o compromete a ele).
Ou seja, Donald Trump, Jr., julgando estar a defender-se, não só disse ter mentido na resposta inicial à notícia do New York Times, como confirmou que só teve a reunião porque lhe fora prometida, por uma advogada ligada ao Kremlin, informação comprometedora acerca de Hillary Clinton, e que efectivamente procurou colaborar com uma agente de uma potência estrangeira que pretendia fragilizar processo eleitoral americano, no sentido de influenciar o resultado prejudicando a candidata que se opunha ao seu pai, e que só não o fez porque afinal essa mesma agente – malandra – não tinha a informação que lhe prometera dar. Para piorar as coisas, num conjunto de emails que o próprio Trump, Jr. hoje divulgou, fica claro que Trump, Jr. só se reuniu com a advogada russa depois do seu intermediário lhe ter dito que tinha “informação que incriminaria Clinton”, e que a partilha dessa informação “fazia parte do apoio da Rússia e do seu governo ao senhor Trump”. “Se isso é o que diz”, terá respondido Trump, Jr., “eu adoro”.
Tenho notado por aqui e por ali um certo entusiasmo da “direita” portuguesa com o discurso que Donald Trump fez na sua visita à Polónia. Das duas uma: ou gostaram do dito porque não o perceberam, e na ânsia de contrariar “a esquerda” e “o politicamente correcto”, não conseguem conter o reflexo de elogiar tudo aquilo a que eles se oponham, ou então gostaram precisamente por terem percebido muito bem, o que será ainda pior. A propósito do assunto, vale a pena ler três artigos publicados por três diferentes autores na The Atlantic. No mais recente, escreve David Frum:
“In Poland, President Trump at last delivered the pledge he omitted from his speech at Brussels’s NATO headquarters. “To those who would criticize our tough stance, I would point out that the United States has demonstrated not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment.” But who now will be reassured by these glib words? The whole world has seen how long and how fiercely President Trump squirmed to avoid pronouncing them—and the world, friendly and hostile, will draw conclusions accordingly. As President Trump rightly noted, “Words are easy, but actions are what matters.” Trump’s actions reveal a president disturbingly infatuated with Russia first as a businessman, then as a candidate for president. Trump’s actions reveal a seeming affinity for Putin-style authoritarianism. His actions reveal that his words about NATO cannot be trusted—and they will not be trusted. (…)it’s even stranger to hear Donald Trump speak of “our own fight for the West.” If his foreign policy has had one theme since January 2017, it has precisely been to smash the unity of the Western alliance. The spinal column of the Western alliance is the U.S.-Germany relationship, and Trump has undermined it since Day One. This speech itself amounts to one more such blow against unity: Trump traveled to Warsaw to praise and reward a Polish government that all America’s other leading allies in Europe have been reproving for its suppression of free media and politicization of its legal system. Trump’s speech in praise of the unity of the West predictably and perversely ended up being an attack on the unity of the West. (…) the most troubling thing about the speech was the falsehood at its core; the problem is not with the speech, but with the speaker. The values Trump spoke for in Warsaw are values that he has put at risk every day of his presidency—and that he will continue to put to risk every day thereafter. Trump’s not wrong to perceive a threat to the Euro-Atlantic from the south and east. But the most recent and most dramatic manifestation of that threat was the Russian intervention in the U.S. election to install Donald Trump as president. The threat from outside is magnified by this threat from within—and it is that truth that makes a mockery of every word President Trump spoke in Warsaw.”
“Our current president began his trip to Europe with a speech in Poland that minimized the role of ideals in American identity, and maximized the importance of what he called “civilization” but which boils down to ties of ethnicity and blood.From Donald Trump this cannot be a great surprise, given the support he has courted and the American groups he has derogated during his time on the public stage. But for a president of the United States it still counts as a notable, even shocking departure. A president’s role when traveling has, until now, been to speak for the American idea. (…)
At least when speaking to the world, American presidents have emphasized an expanded “us.” All men are created equal. Every man is a German. Ich bin ein Berliner. Our realities in America have always been flawed, but our idea is in principle limitless. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Trump gave grace-note nods to goals of liberty and free expression. Mainly, though, he spoke not about an expanded us but instead about us and them. He spoke repeatedly about our “heritage,” our “blood,” our “civilization,” our “ancestors” and “families,” our “will” and “way of life.” Every one of these of course has perfectly noble connotations. But combined and in practice, they amount to the way the Japanese nationalists of the early 20th century onward spoke, about the purity of “we Japanese” and the need to stick together as a tribe. They were the way Mussolini spoke, glorifying the Roman heritage—but again in a tribal sense, to elevate 20th-century Italians as a group, rather than in John F. Kennedy’s allusion to a system of rules that could include outsiders as civis romanus as well. They are the way French nationalists supporting Marine Le Pen speak now, and Nigel Farage’s pro-Brexit forces in the U.K., and “alt-right” activists in the United States, and of course the Breitbart empire under presidential counselor Steve Bannon. They rest on basic distinctions between us and them as peoples—that is, as tribes—rather than as the contending ideas and systems that presidents from our first to our 44th had emphasized.”
“In his first presidential visit, in 2001, Bush never referred to “the West.” He did tell Poles that “We share a civilization.” But in the next sentence he insisted that “Its values are universal.” Because they are, he declared, “our trans-Atlantic community must have priorities beyond the consolidation of European peace. We must bring peace and health to Africa. … We must work toward a world that trades in freedom … a world of cooperation to enhance prosperity, protect the environment, and lift the quality of life for all.” In 2003, Bush returned, and in his main speech didn’t use the terms “West” or “civilization” at all. After celebrating Poland’s achievements, he said America and Europe “must help men and women around the world to build lives of purpose and dignity” so they don’t turn to terrorism. He boasted that America was increasing its funding to fight global poverty and AIDS because “we add to our security by helping to spread freedom and alleviate suffering.” And he said “America and Europe must work closely to develop and apply new technologies that will improve our air and water quality, and protect the health of the world’s people.” (…)In his 2003 speech, Bush referred to democracy 13 times. Trump mentioned it once. And for good reason. Ideologically, what links the current American and Polish governments is not their commitment to democracy—both are increasingly authoritarian. It is their hostility to Muslim immigration. The European Union is suing Poland’s government for refusing to accept refugees. Among Trump’s biggest applause lines in Warsaw was, “While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.” Given that Trump had linked “our values” to America and Poland’s “tradition,” “faith,” “culture,” and “identity,” it wasn’t hard to imagine whom that leaves out. (…) When Bush spoke in Poland, America’s leaders still mostly discussed globalization as a process by which America improved the rest of the world. Trump generally discusses globalization—the movement of both goods and people—as a process by which the rest of the world cheats, weakens, and threatens America. In his two speeches in Poland combined, Bush used variations of the word “defend” five times. Trump used them 21 times in a single speech. The most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech—perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime—was his claim that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” On its face, that’s absurd. Jihadist terrorists can kill people in the West, but unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, they cannot topple even the weakest European government. Jihadists control no great armies. Their ideologies have limited appeal even among the Muslims they target with their propaganda. ISIS has all but lost Mosul and could lose Raqqa later this year. Trump’s sentence only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia. The “south” and “east” only threaten the West’s “survival” if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders. They only threaten the West’s “survival” if by “West” you mean white, Christian hegemony. A direct line connects Trump’s assault on Barack Obama’s citizenship to his speech in Poland. In Trump and Bannon’s view, America is at its core Western: meaning white and Christian (or at least Judeo-Christian). The implication is that anyone in the United States who is not white and Christian may not truly be American but rather than an imposter and a threat. Poland is largely ethnically homogeneous. So when a Polish president says that being Western is the essence of the nation’s identity, he’s mostly defining Poland in opposition to the nations to its east and south. America is racially, ethnically, and religious diverse. So when Trump says being Western is the essence of America’s identity, he’s in part defining America in opposition to some of its own people. He’s not speaking as the president of the entire United States. He’s speaking as the head of a tribe.”
Como come tudo o que os sites de desinformação que frequenta lhe põem no prato, o Ricardo Campelo Magalhães sujeita-se a coisas destas: num dos seus muitos posts a divulgar umas polémicas marginais animadas por gente duvidosa (a começar por um tal de James O’Keefe, uma espécie de Michael Moore da “alt-right”), o Ricardo diz que se “muito se riu” quando “ligaram a demissão de Comey a 2 factores, ambos ligados à Russia”. Talvez no Infowars não tenham mostrado a entrevista, mas não é preciso ter confiança na CNN para acreditar que foi por causa da investigação sobre possíveis ligações da campanha Trump à Rússia que Trump demitiu o ex-director do FBI: basta acreditar nas palavras do próprio Trump (o que é difícil, já que se trata de um mentiroso compulsivo). E quanto à questão da existência ou não dessas tais ligações, que o Ricardo aparentemente acha uma “narrativa” em “descalabro”, convém dizer que nem eu, nem ele, nem ninguém excepto os potenciais envolvidos sabe a verdade. Mas que há muita coisa suspeita, desde o longo historial de ligações de Trump a mafiosos russos à sua estranha insistência em negar a evidência da própria existência de interferência russa nas eleições de 2016, passando pelas ligações de responsáveis da campanha de Trump (e do seu primeiro Conselheiro de Segurança Nacional) ao estado russo, órgãos de propaganda russos, ou ditadores no bolso do Kremlin (e, no caso do dito ex-Conselheiro de Segurança Nacional, uma estranha ligação ao regime turco), para além dos problemas de memória que afectaram toda a gente que teve reuniões com representantes russos, ou pelo pedido de Jared Kushner para usar os sistemas de comunicações russos para “estabelecer um canal de comunicação” com o Kremlin, para fugir aos procedimentos habituais de comunicação diplomática (que registam o conteúdo dessas comunicações), há. Poderá ser coincidência, ingenuidade, ou crime de Trump ou só dos seus associados (este texto faz uma boa análise dos vários cenários possíveis). Não sabemos. Mas para não ver que há fumo e que por isso precisamos mesmo de saber se há ou não fogo, como pelos vistos acontece com o Ricardo, é preciso não querer ver.
The crisis in Portugal’s biggest bank, Caixa Geral de Depósitos, and how it explains the crisis the country itself has faced in last few years.
The small, remote town of Almeida doesn’t make the news very often. Closer to Spain than to Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon, Almeida lives with all the benefits and evils of the relative isolation that every hinterland town in Portugal either enjoys or must endure. But on April 12, a protest against the upcoming closing of the local branch of Portugal’s State-owned bank, Caixa Geral de Depósitos – usually known as CGD or simply Caixa – caught the media’s attention. CGD was undergoing a restructuring process, that in the coming years will encompass a capital injection of more than €5 billion (2,7 of them directly by the State, a €1 billion perpetual debt bond sale, and €960 million in “Contingent Convertibles”, bonds convertible into equity once a specified event – the “trigger” – occurs, basically amounting to a debt cancelation by the State), a staff reduction plan and the closing of a number of branches throughout the country. Almeida was about to lose its own, and the town’s population wasn’t happy.
If the protesters’ aim was to convince Caixa to reverse course – and it obviously was – they fell short. Fourteen days later, on the eve of the scheduled closing date, about fifty people – including the Deputy Mayor – entered and refused to leave the branch’s premises until the decision to close it was overturned. Outside, just beside the small, welcoming park where people spend most of their afternoons hiding from the sun, complaining about their health and sharing gossipy details about the neighbors everyone knows, a few more voiced their support. They were mostly elderly, poor people in old, worn-out clothes, some holding canes and one wearing a suit and hat like no one of any other age would. Spotting the crew of one the TV networks, an elderly lady, probably in her 60’s, approached the reporter, and announced: “this will go all the way. The municipal government is committed, the population is committed, this will go all the way”. “If we have to”, she continued, “we’ll go to Lisbon”. “We will go wherever we have to”, the lady said. The only place they didn’t want to have to go to was the nearest remaining Caixa branch, in the neighbouring town of Vilar Formoso. Many of people interviewed by every TV network gave the reason why: Almeida is an aging town, and people don’t want to have to go all the way there to take care of their affairs. Some of them don’t have cars, public transportation is lacking, and having to do regular visits to Vilar Formoso to collect their pensions, check their balance or just to find an excuse to exchange a few words with the familiar lady who works in the bank is not something that is particularly appealing to them.
“We’re being indiscriminated”, one of the protesters said, not realizing that was the wrong word. Another, a woman it her seventies, said the whole thing was all “an inconvenience”. A gentleman said people “felt deceived”. Another explained that the older people in town want help to cash and deposit money, and they don’t trust outsiders to do it. Hours later, as the protest came to an end when Caixa scheduled a meeting for May 2 to discuss the matter, everyone chanted a luta continua! – “the fight won’t stop”.
Two months earlier, after being nominated as CGD’s President, Paulo Macedo, a former Health Minister for the 2011-2015 center-right coalition government of PSD and CDS chosen by the current center-left government of the Socialist Party to lead the State-owned bank through its restructuring process, said that the latter “is a great opportunity” that was “being given to us all” to “be a part” of the “institution’s relaunch”, but that it was “also a great responsibility”, as “the country is undertaking a significant investment in Caixa, in a time of scarcer resources, and it will justly demand that the former should be well applied”. His goal, he said, is to make CGD a “solid, profitable and confidence-generating” bank, “which is why”, Macedo warned, “it is time to execute, act, work and for us to focus all our energy in the recapitalization and restructuring of our institution, but also in improving our services to our clients and in creating value, allowing us to face the future with optimism and confidence”.
“If we fail”, he added, “we will hardly be given another similar chance”.
When it was created in 1876 by the government of the day, Caixa was devised – as usual in Portugal, by translating into Portuguese a French model, the Caisse Générale des Dépôts et Consignations – as an instrument to respond to the banking crisis the country had faced and that had put the fulfillment of the State’s financing needs in jeopardy, using private citizens’ savings and the obligatory deposits, whether in cash or sovereign debts bonds, that the State charged people (court bails, taxes), to be applied “in a productive way” – that is, by feeding the budget and the chronically hungry State coffers.
In 1892, however, another bankruptcy hit the country – and CGD – like a meteor. In the previous decades, an emigration wave to Brazil and the money those migrants sent back home gave Portugal some credit in the London and Paris stock markets, which allowed the government to sell debt bonds and get the money for its economic policies of infrastructure spending (and buying off internal political clienteles). But when a republican revolution sent Brazil into turmoil, and the “Brazilians’” money stopped crossing the Atlantic, that credit disappeared. Caixa tried to fulfill at least some of the country’s budgetary needs, without being in a healthy situation itself. Its profits collapsed, but the bank itself didn’t. Once the bankruptcy was behind Portugal’s back – it took a few decades – CGD seemed to come of age – so to speak – escaping with varying degrees of difficulty the turmoil of the seemingly never-ending national political and economic tribulations, and became Portugal’s largest financial institution.
Once António Oliveira Salazar and his dictatorship took over the country, and his scrupulous, frugal budgetary policy jumped away from the pages of the obscure papers he wrote as a reclusive but politically ambitious Professor of the University of Coimbra into governmental acts, Caixa’s usefulness to the holders of political power did not cease to exist, but it did change: it was now meant to loan – to private investors and the State – its money, in order to achieve what Salazar called the country’s “financial regeneration” and its “agricultural, industrial and social transformation” – in other words, to “stimulate” the economy and intervene in the market to manipulate production levels and prices in such a way that would favor the humors and interests of the government and its preferred clienteles. Forty years later, when Salazar became incapacitated and had to – finally, most must have thought and said to those they were confident would not rat them out to the secret police – give up his power and be replaced by his former-protégé-turned-political-rival Marcello Caetano, CGD (by now already labelled a empresa pública, the bureaucratic, legal term for a “State-owned company”) still played this role, and would keep it as the new President of the Council of Ministers engaged in his “modernization” policy.
After the April 25th 1974 coup that overthrew the dictatorship, the revolutionary ecstasy Portugal succumbed to for the ensuing year and a half was not – despite the many efforts of the groups who lead it – enough to make the country go from the hands of a dictatorship to those of another, but it was still able to do some damage. The government, temporarily controlled – or at the very least very heavily influenced – by the Communist Party, nationalized banks, insurance companies and increased salaries for government employees (in 1978, already with the first democratically elected government in office, the price the country had to pay for the adventure was an International Monetary Fund bailout). Caixa kept its role as an instrument of political power in the manipulation of the economy as a whole, for instance in promoting and facilitating access to credit for buying a house. In 1992, CGD became a stock corporation, but the State remained its sole stockholder. One would think such a legal statute would give the bank a larger autonomy from political power (that was, in fact, the stated purpose of categorizing it as such). But that was far from being true. During the cheap, easy credit boom of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Caixa was a prime agent in the creation of an excessive debt in Portugal, both in the private and State sectors. In loaning money – as other banks did – to people for buying houses in a country where, to make matters worse, the renting market was far from effective, Caixa – and the financial and political systems as a whole – practically forced them to contract a huge debt burden that might have seemed bearable while interest rates were low and the economy thrived, but would become much less so in the years to come, as would the debt incurred by private companies who saw in the booming construction business an opportunity to get rich, and the huge amount of debt government after government kept getting into to finance multiple infrastructure “projects” that were deemed and sold to the public as “strategic” for the country’s “modernization” and economic development.
In 2008, it would all come crashing down.
The financial and political systems’ infatuation with the housing market was not confined to Portugal. In America, banks and politicians alike engaged in or encouraged what would become known as “subprime” loans – credit given out by the banks to clients who ended up being unable to afford to pay back the loans they were receiving. When many of those borrowers did indeed default on their mortgages, house prices fell as quickly as they had been inflated by the subprime bubble, causing huge losses for the banks that had bet heavily in that market. To make matters worse, many of those loans were “bundled” in so-called “mortgage-backed securities” with “prime”, safer, loans, thus diluting their risk. And because each of those securities were then “bundled” with other securities and then sold to increasingly far-off investors, the more unaware they became of the underlying risk of those products as the further they were in the selling-and-buying chain. The result was that investors in Iceland, Ireland, Greece or Germany – just to stick to the Michael Lewis-reported ones – were, probably without even noticing, financing loans to borrowers in Detroit or somewhere in Tennessee that wouldn’t be repaid. Instead of decreasing the chances of losing the money they were lending to “subprime” borrowers, the “securitization” of those loans by American banks ended up exposing the entire world economy to the risk – and the costs – of that imprudent credit.
By all accounts, Portuguese banks were not among the most affected by that exposure. But slowly, the “subprime” crisis turned into a sovereign debt bonds crisis: as banks needed to be bailed out and the economy stalled, governments all over Europe increased their spending levels, for which they had to borrow more money, in some cases to such a degree that the market’s confidence in those countries’ ability to service their debt reached historic lows, causing the interest rates on their debt bonds to take the exact opposite course, and those countries to no longer being able to finance themselves without a bailout by the IMF.
Portugal was one of those countries. In 2011, the “troika” of the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank came to the rescue with a €78 billion bail-out package with €12 billion for the banks to use to recapitalize themselves. They badly needed them. Not only they were the largest funders of the debt splurge the government of the day, led by then-Prime Minister José Sócrates of the Socialist Party, currently under investigation for corruption, tax fraud and money laundering, but the “austerity” prescribed by the “troika” and applied by the PSD/CDS coalition once an election threw Sócrates out of power also meant that there was no government –i.e., taxpayers’ – money for the “public-private-partnerships” in infrastructure Portuguese banks had become accustomed to invest in at almost no risk to themselves, as well as other shady deals. To further complicate things, Portuguese banks were themselves heavily indebted, both to each other and abroad, and so they to felt the noose tightening around their necks.
Only one bank declined the opportunity to use the “troika” billions to replenish their coffers: Banco Espírito Santo, commonly referred to as BES. The choice, as it would later become clear, was not motivated by an enviable healthy condition of the bank or the financial group it was a part of, but to a need to keep its books as far away from the inquisitive eyes and minds of the “troika” officials, as they would reveal – as they later did anyway – the many unlawful schemes BES was involved in. The oldest and largest economic group in Portugal, Espírito Santo’s assets were among nationalized businesses during the revolutionary period. In the 1990’s, as governments began to privatize all the companies that had been nationalized, the “Portuguese political and economic elites”, the economic historian Luciano Amaral explains in his book about the group, “wanted to rebuild national economic groups as a way to compensate them for what had happened”, and proceeded to “reconstitute” them under “monopolist or at best oligopolistic conditions”, designed to make them successful at the expense of anything else, under the belief that the Portuguese economy required successful Portuguese-owned big economic groups. When BES was privatized, Amaral writes, “the number of banks in the market had become practically half of those that existed in 1975”, and “that numbered kept going down until 2000, thanks to a concentration orchestrated between the State and the financial groups”. Not only, he concludes, “was the privatization carried out within a more concentrated market” than the one it existed at the time of the nationalization, it also “did not prevent the continuation of such a concentration nor did it introduce competition factors”. And the same happened in other sectors were the group had important concerns, like telecommunications, oil or electricity. All of them “saw rising profits thanks to a shrinkage of competition” in their respective markets.
When the economy collapsed, so did BES: governments had less money to spend, which also meant less contracts to be handed to BES-owned companies or BES-financed projects; loans that had been granted in the previous, leaner years were now on the verge of default, and, as Amaral writes in his book, the family had, in order to keep the group in its hands, “often used unorthodox management and financing methods” – “unorthodox” here being an euphemism for “fraudulent” (the head of the group, Ricardo Salgado, is now under investigation by the Portuguese judicial system for alleged criminal practices with BES). By the summer of 2014, BES couldn’t keep its troubles at bay any longer, and everything was over: the group was broken up, and BES gave way to Novo Banco – the “New Bank” – which theoretically kept its predecessors “good assets” while the “toxic” ones were thrown into a “bad bank” designed to bury them.
Among the exposed to those “toxic” assets was Caixa. In the summer of 2014, the Lisbon daily Público reported that CGD had €300 million stuck on several companies of the Espírito Santo Group. Almost a year later, it was revealed that in fact Caixa was owed €410 million by those companies. That – together with the fact that the European Union had changed its rules for state bailouts of financial institutions, reducing the likelihood of such operations taking place, thus threatening the future prospects of banks under duress – surely contributed to Fitch – the rating agency – downgrading CGD’s bonds to a “BB-” investment grade just a few days later.
The bad news for Caixa seemed to pile up: in 2013, before the changes to those European rules, it had been granted a substantial – €1.650 billion – loan by the State; in July of 2015, then Prime-Minister Pedro Passos Coelho complained that while other banks – BPI and BCP – had already started to pay their own loans back, CGD wasn’t yet “able to obtain results that would allow it to pay a fraction” of the amount it had borrowed. “I’m worried”, Coelho said, and he was right to be.
By November 2015, Caixa did report a €3,4 million profit in the year’s first nine months. But that figure amounted to a 93% fall from the profits it had earned in the same period of the previous year, and it had only been achieved by selling much of its stake in insurance companies Fidelidade, Cares and Multicare, a source of revenue the bank obviously would not be able to resort to in the future. Once the year was over and the books were properly looked over, it turned out that CGD finished 2015 with a €171 million loss. In the following three months, it would report a €74 million loss, despite a 5,5% cut in operational cuts and a 4,7% cut in personnel costs.
Caixa was suddenly faced with acute and urgent capital needs. It needed not only to begin to repay the loan it had took from the State, but also to comply with the new ECB capital requirements. But by June 2016, the news coming out was that CGD ran the risk of reporting more than €2 billion in non-performing loans to groups like Espírito Santo and Lena (both involved in the investigation concerning Sócrates). “If it was a private company”, Amaral wrote in his Correio da Manhã column, Caixa would have filed for bankruptcy long ago”.
Rumors that the bank would have to fire people and close branches began to circulate. The Prime Minister – no longer Passos Coelho but the current leader of the Socialist government, António Costa – felt the need to publicly state that any recapitalization would be done exclusively with public money. “We’re going to keep Caixa 100% public, 100% state-owned, and 100% financed with the necessary capital to fulfill its mission”, Costa guaranteed. A week later, someone leaked the information that the amount the government “might” have to spend to do what Costa promised would be €5 billion, to “enlarge the financial pillow” to accommodate the impact of non-performing loans. The Treasury State Secretary, Ricardo Mourinho Félix – José Mourinho’s cousin, believe it or not – reassured the unions that although 2500 workers would cease to work for Caixa, none would be fired, but would simply come from the pool of people that would retire anyway or of people that would be eligible for an early-retirement package, but the unions didn’t trust him. To them, it was all a ploy to “erase Caixa’s credibility” so that private banks could “grab” CGD’s share of the market.
Meanwhile, the ECB was far from confident in Caixa’s restructuring plan, finding the €5 billion figure excessive and unaccounted for. In August, the need for that amount of money became clearer, as the bank reported a €205 million loss and a 28,3% increase in non-performing credit exposures. Two weeks later, the plan was approved by the European Commission. Just a few days later, news surfaced that CGD had failed the ECB’s stress tests, as these shown the bank would need €2 billion euros of additional capital to survive the direst scenario anticipated in those tests.
To make matters worse, another crisis hit Caixa. In March 2016, António Domingues of Caixa’s competitor BPI accepted an offer to become CGD’s new president. He did, however, require that he and his team would be exempted from the salary restrictions applied to public administration workers and from the need to disclose their personal financial information to the Constitutional Court. The government accepted those terms, even though – many would and did argue – the law would not allow those terms to be abided for. Once they became public, the government could not contain the controversy and the public outcry against the privilege Domingues and his team had been afforded with. Immediately, Costa tried to backtrack, claiming the government had not acquiesced to Domingues’s request. After months of pressure and turmoil, Domingues got fed up with it all, resigning from his position, clearing the way for Macedo. In the meantime, CGD’s restructuring plan was still waiting to be put in place. By the end of the year, and with Macedo already on board, Caixa would report a €2,7 billion loss.
Last March, CGD managed to sell the perpetual debts bonds the restructuring plan depend on, but only at a 10,75% interest rate. Costa welcomed the outcome, stating the operation had been a “success, first because of its originality, and secondly because it had a demand four times larger than the existing offer”. What the Prime-Minister declined to mention, however, was that it meant that Caixa would have to pay almost €100 million in interest a year, when the profits projected by Macedo and its team for the future are still nothing but wishful thinking. Between January and March, for instance, CGD lost another €39 million, as two different rating agencies – Moody’s and DBRS – advised against investing in the bank.
Macedo was not discouraged, or at least he did not show himself to be in public. On April 12, as the residents of Almeida took to the streets for the first time to protest against the announced closing of Caixa’s local branch, Macedo was speaking before the Portuguese Parliament in Lisbon. “The plan provides an answer to the big issues” concerning the bank, he said: “more solidity, more efficiency, more operational focus”. A state-owned bank, Macedo said, “doesn’t mean it has to lose money”.
Up until now, it still is.
Even without going further back in History – to the times before the 19th century, back to when the wearers of the Crown held the Kingdom as private property they could dispose of as they wished and use to favor whoever they thought they should – ever since 1851, after the on-and-off-and-on-again civil war that broke after the foundation of the “liberal” constitutional monarchy in 1834 (following another 27 years of intermittent warfare the Portuguese engaged in against both the French and each other), the State played a primary role in determining how wealth was distributed in the country, and to whom. Whether by giving jobs in the public sector to the clienteles of the parties (and even – perhaps especially, those parties’ bigwigs) that took turns in office, by creating tariffs that protected some economic activities from foreign competition, by establishing monopolies that protected some enterprises from national competition, or by channeling the taxpayers’ money (and the debt future taxpayers would have to pay for) into infrastructure projects that filled the pockets of those that were lucky enough to be involved in them or benefited directly from what they had to offer, the State – and the parties that occupied it even if only temporarily – almost singlehandedly decided who would get rich and who would pay (in taxes, higher prices or scarcity of goods) for the latter’s good fortune.
The 1892 bankruptcy put the whole arrangement in jeopardy. In just 18 years, the regime’s inability to share the increasingly diminished spoils of the national treasury around the hungry diners that sat at the budget’s table opened the way to the revolutionaries of the Republic, who from 1910 to 1926 ruled with terror and a strong voracity occupy every job the state had to offer with its supporters – and, just like their predecessors, themselves – without ever finding a solution to the problem that any Portuguese government has to deal with: how to simultaneously use the power of office to distribute wealth to those who sustain it and keep the public finances in a good enough condition so that a bankruptcy doesn’t preclude them from having anything to distribute.
It was that lack of an answer that brought in Salazar and his dictatorship. Commanding a secret police, he could enforce what we would now call an “austeritarian” fiscal policy, while applying an economic policy that, through protectionist tariffs and the condicionamento industrial – literally, the “industrial constraint” – ensured that a handful of big, politically connected economic groups enjoyed the pleasures of operating in monopolized markets. When Caetano replaced Salazar, the economy was slightly liberalized, but the coition between the government and the orbiting business interests remained basically the same, becoming, in fact, one of the major complaints of those who wished Portugal would become a “normal”, “European”, democratic country. But once democracy did indeed replace Salazar and Caetano’s authoritarian regime, and ended up avoiding being itself replaced by a communist dictatorship – whether such an outcome was ever a realistic possibility or not is a matter of some contention – it too would repeat the cardinal sin of all the regimes that had come before it. From the onset, every party that came into the vicinity of power, both at the national and local levels, raced to fill every available job with the “boys” and “girls” who eagerly waited for them within their ranks, with the bill being paid by those working in the private sector (Henrique Medina Carreira, a former Finance Minister turned pundit, once claimed that 60% of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on tax-collected money for their income, meaning that their living standards are payed for the remaining 40%). As the country joined the European Union – at the time still known as the European Economic Union – and the money from its “structural funds” kept pouring in, successive governments of both the center-left and the center-right kept expanding an insolvent Welfare State that by purporting to provide for those who need it and those who don’t ended up giving too little to the former and too much to the latter – mostly those who were already lucky enough to have been afforded with a public sector job -, and “invested” in bloated, often disastrous infrastructure projects that fattened the bank accounts of the companies contracted to build them – and the banks involved in those deals – but burdened everyone else with ever increasing taxes, necessary to pay for the rising debt levels the country put upon itself.
In Portugal, one often hears those on “the left” saying that “political power” is “held hostage” by “economic power” – big, powerful business interests – while those on “the right” complain that “the government” controls and imprisons “businesses”. But the – sad – truth is that in a country where the State is involved –directly or indirectly – in pretty much every economic area of activity, the market of free interaction between individuals and their respective preferences is replaced by the market of political influence and access, where outcomes are decided not by how much one agent is able to satisfy the wants of its prospective clients, but by who has the phone number of the right Minister, party official, CEO or “fixer”, and whose hand can better scratch the back of the person on the other end of the line. In a country like Portugal, both governments and business interests engage in a symbiotic relationship like that between a zebra and the oxpecker: the business interests that are within government officials’ ears finance their parties and engage in the “projects” those governments wish to promote so they can parade them in front of voters as propaganda in electoral campaigns, and in return, governments allow them to spend more money – that the State will later reimburse them for – than they were supposed to. Those same business interests are granted monopolies and guaranteed rents, like those given to the Espírito Santo group when it was privatized, and governments can say to voters that they helped “Portuguese businesses to remain in Portuguese hands”. Portuguese banks loan money to the State in an irresponsible fashion (reportedly about 80% of their exposure to sovereign risk is to the Portuguese government), and when those same banks reach the verge of bankruptcy, the State bails them out.
Caixa was essential element of this promiscuous relationship. When, after the economy as a whole and the financial system in particular were privatized and liberalized in the 1980’s and 90’s, and the country’s acceptance into the European Monetary System and later into the euro allowed for historically low interest rates, home ownership loans given out by Portuguese banks increased 773% from 1990 to 2000. Governments created incentives to those loans, not only helping banks in expanding their business activities and profits (at least until the crisis broke), but also themselves by creating in the voters’ minds the perception of growing prosperity (largely an illusion, as the fact that a large number of the non-performing loans dragging Portuguese banks down are home ownership loans demonstrates). Caixa, especially being the State-owned bank, was at the forefront of this credit bubble. Similarly, CGD was also very much involved – it was the bank with the largest amount of exposure to them – in the public-private partnerships governments contracted to their favored economic groups that gave the latter huge profits simply through the guarantees the State offered them, and the former the opportunity to both feed the construction bubble and dazzle the voters with big infrastructure “achievements”.
More importantly – and damagingly – Caixa has given governments the means through which to interfere in the economy, and therefore to give money to those they have wanted to give money to, often with the shadiest of purposes. For years, Caixa’s stocks in companies like energy behemoth EDP or telecommunications giant PT were used by governments to circumvent the European Union’s rules regarding the voting power of the State’s “golden shares” in those companies: through Caixa, governments could prevent those companies from doing deals those governments were not fond of, for whatever reason. When the Sonae group tried to buy PT, for instance, Caixa blocked the deal. Years later, PT was found to be involved in a series of dubious deals with BES (and the Sócrates government) which would explain why selling it to a private group not known for being amenable to such arrangements would be something Sócrates would not look kindly to.
In 2007, one of Caixa’s competitors, BCP, was going through an internal dispute. The government, at the time led by Sócrates, allowed Carlos Santos Ferreira – who was leading Caixa – and Armando Vara – a former Socialist Minister and a longtime personal friend of Sócrates, who has since been convicted of corruption charges – to leave CGD for BCP, and at the same time, Caixa loaned a large amount of money to a group of BCP stockholders – more prominently, Joe Berardo – using BCP stock as collateral, in order for them buy more stocks and gain control of the bank and ease Santos Ferreira and Vara’s ascent to power. They did, but years later, Berardo’s debt was too high for him to be able to pay it back, and Caixa had to take the loss. For all intents and purposes, the whole operation amounted to the Sócrates government using Caixa (and, indirectly, the taxpayers’ money that would years later be used to bail it out) to gain control of a private bank. As Jorge Jardim Gonçalves, who was pushed out of BCP by the coup, would later remark, by placing two politically connected people (one of them, Vara, someone whom he knew and was close with for years, and would also be tied to him in many of the scandals he’s being investigated for) Sócrates would be able to add BCP to Caixa – which he controlled by virtue of it being owned by the government – and BES – to which Sócrates was close (a proximity that is now also under investigation), and thus find it easier to loan money to the companies and business interests he’d wish, as well as to the State, to fund his growing need to buy votes with increased public spending without having to raise taxes in such a way that would scare voters away.
In 2006, when Santos Ferreira and Vara were still at Caixa, the bank invested heavily in a resort in Vale do Lobo. The deal was disastrous, resulting both in huge losses connected to Caixa’s 24% of the share of the enterprise, and to the non-performing loans with which CGD had financed the whole thing. Needless to say that Sócrates is also being reportedly investigated for a possible involvement in this deal, and how he and Vara might have profited personally from it. In fact, pretty much every bad deal Caixa is involved in has the Sócrates touch to it. For instance, in 2006, Sócrates wanted to make a big deal out of an announcement of a new factory being built in Sines, a small coastal town in Portugal’s southern region, and even handed out millions in tax benefits to facilitate La Seda’s – the company planning to build the factory – decision. Coincidently or not, Caixa invested in La Seda, and again ended up losing a lot of money in the process. The same happened with a Pescanova factory in Mira that Sócrates proudly used as a propaganda tool and that Caixa helped finance: in the end, Pescanova went bankrupt and Caixa was left holding its trousers in its hand, instead of getting its money back.
On May 2, the meeting between Caixa and Almeida’s representatives didn’t take place. The branch closed, and its future is certain: it will stay closed. The town’s people may protest, but they will remain powerless to escape the consequences of CGD’s crisis.
Depending on how things play out in the months and years ahead, the same could be said of the country as a whole. The heavy exposure of Portugal’s banks to their own country’s sovereign debt bonds is not just a symptom of the promiscuous relationship between business interests and governments: it is a dark cloud hanging over the country’s prospects. For now, the economy is growing, as Lisbon and Porto have become a fashionable tourism destination and foreign visitors spend their money in those cities hotels, restaurants and shops. But if for some reason the international economy slows down, Portugal’s will slow down with it, and probably faster than everyone else’s in Europe. If that happens, paying the interests on the debt it already incurred in might become harder, and getting new loans to fund all the spending governments in Portugal need to do might become possible only at impossible-to-endure interest rates. Banks like Caixa might not be able resist another shock like the one some-but-not-all of them were able to back in 2011.
If anything like that happens – and though relatively unlikely, such an outcome is far from impossible – Caixa branches won’t be the only businesses closing, Caixa employees won’t be the only ones losing their jobs, and the whole of Portugal will join the people of Almeida in feeling deceived.
Miguel Esteves Cardoso, cada vez mais transformado numa espécie de Pedro Chagas Freitas se Pedro Chagas Freitas tivesse escrito bem há vinte ou trinta anos e demonstrasse alguma preocupação com o mundo que o rodeia, acha que Jeremy Corbyn, um comunista apoiante de ditadores e regimes corruptos, e um anti-semita com um longo de historial de desculpabilização do (para não dizer “simpatia para com o”) terrorismo, é “uma pessoa decente e bondosa”. O que diz mais acerca de Miguel Esteves Cardoso do que de Jeremy Corbyn.
Na passada segunda-feira, para comentar a boa-nova de que a Comissão Europeia libertara Portugal do “procedimento por défice excessivo”, a RTP achou por bem emparelhar o conhecido economista Vitor Bento com o habitual comentador da estação Fernando Teixeira dos Santos, que passou os 28 minutos do segmento a aplaudir o “reconhecimento” do “esforço” que a sociedade portuguesa fez e a dizer que “há que manter esta linha de rumo” de “rigor” orçamental para “manter a confiança que já se faz sentir” e “não se perder esta oportunidade para consolidar estes ganhos”, depois de se “aprender com os erros cometidos no passado”: “os telhados”, concluiu, “consertam-se quando faz sol, não quando está a chover”.
Teixeira dos Santos falou como se nunca tivesse tido responsabilidades governativas, nem no caminho que obrigou os portugueses ao tal “esforço” de que falou. Mas teve, e grandes, por muito que a RTP (que imagino não lhe pague pouco) e quem o ouve como uma voz credível, esqueça ou finja esquecer que ele foi durante anos e até para além do dia em que foi preciso chamar “a troika” o Ministro das Finanças do ex-primeiro Ministro sob suspeita de corrupção, fraude fiscal e branqueamento de capitais José Sócrates.
Teixeira dos Santos chegou ao Ministério das Finanças bem no início do consulado “socrático”, depois – sublinhe-se – do pobre Luís Campos e Cunha se ter inicialmente deixado enganar pela propaganda do “engenheiro” e posteriormente apercebido daquilo em que se tinha metido, tendo vindo então a público afirmar que o caminho que se estava a iniciar acabaria por ter resultados desastrosos. Teixeira dos Santos, que obviamente não desconhecia o aviso, não entendeu que este merecesse cuidado, e aceitou substituir Campos e Cunha no Ministério das Finanças. A partir desse momento e até ao fim, tornou-se e permaneceu um cúmplice e co-responsável pela fraudulenta política financeira de Sócrates.
Teixeira dos Santos era o Ministro das Finanças quando o governo de Sócrates fingia, através dos mais variados truques, cumprir um défice que estava longe de estar efectivamente controlado. Era o Ministro das Finanças quando o governo de Sócrates se entreteve a aumentar a despesa pública para dar “confiança” à economia. Era o Ministro das Finanças quando o governo de Sócrates, à beira de eleições, decidiu comprar votos com um aumento de salários dos funcionários públicos e uma descida de impostos que abriram um buraco no Orçamento do qual Portugal nunca mais conseguiu sair. E era o Ministro das Finanças quando o governo de Sócrates andou alegremente de PEC em PEC até à bancarrota final. Depois da derrocada, relatos mais ou menos detalhados do caos no “bunker” socrático naqueles atribulados dias do seu crepúsculo começaram a sair na imprensa, e fizeram Teixeira dos Santos parecer, por comparação com o Primeiro-Ministro e alguns dos seus acólitos, um tipo sensato que, à beira do descalabro, não ignorava a realidade como o alucinado líder governativo que achava que tudo estava bem. Mas o facto de ter sido a pessoa que confrontou o lunático que o chefiava com a fatal constatação de que a loucura pela qual partilhavam responsabilidade tinha chegado ao fim não o iliba de ter sido co-autor dessa loucura.
É claro que Teixeira dos Santos, como qualquer outra pessoa, até maus governantes como foi o seu caso, tem o direito de se vir aliviar publicamente dos seus estados de alma sobre a actualidade. Mas num país normal, com uma comunicação social que merecesse ser respeitada pela população e que se desse ao respeito, ninguém lhe daria o palanque que televisões e jornais lhe continuam a dar. Que a RTP, paga com o dinheiro dos portugueses, seja um agente cimeiro da imerecida reabilitação de Teixeira dos Santos só piora as coisas. E que fora do PS e das redacções que lhe são simpáticas haja quem esteja mesmo convencido de que Teixeira dos Santos é mesmo uma voz credível que merece ser ouvida sobre a situação e o futuro de Portugal ajuda bastante a explicar como o país é o que é.
A notícia chegou pela manhã como pão quente: o Estado português conseguiu “colocar” 1500 milhões de euros em títulos de dívida pública a 6 e 12 meses a “juros ainda mais negativos” do que os dos empréstimos semelhantes que contraíra recentemente. Incapaz de se controlar, como de costume, o “Prof. Marcelo” correu à procura das equipas de reportagens das televisões, rádios e jornais, e manifestou a sua enorme alegria com a boa-nova. Segundo o Presidente, sempre convencido de que todo e qualquer acontecimento gira em torno da sua magnífica pessoa, este resultado “confirma a viragem de que eu falei (…) na economia portuguesa”, e mostra que “os mercados” estarão “a sentir” a “solidez financeira” e “o crescimento” que actualmente beneficia o país. “Era impensável”, diz Marcelo, que “há um ano, há dois, há três, há quatro, que nós pudéssemos ir recolher dinheiro a seis meses, a um ano, a juros tão negativos”. Ter sido possível fazê-lo, explica o Presidente, “quer dizer que as pessoas ainda pagam para ter dívida pública portuguesa”. E conclui: “isso é bom”.
Ao contrário do que Marcelo diz, não é. Seria, claro, se fosse um sinal de que o país e a sua dívida surgem, aos olhos de quem a compra – ou seja, de quem nos empresta dinheiro – como um bem duradouramente estável e apetecível. Ora, apesar do que as aparências ilusoriamente levarão a crer, nada disso acontece. Pois ao mesmo tempo que os juros dos títulos de dívida pública portuguesa com juros a curto prazo atingem esses valores negativos, os empréstimos que Portugal contrai a longo prazo (a 10 anos, por exemplo) continuam a ter juros acima dos 3%, mais elevados que a maioria dos outros países da zona euro
Como já há muito tempo se percebe, esta disparidade e este aparente paradoxo só têm uma explicação, que não augura nada de bom acerca do que o futuro reserva a todos aqueles que tiveram o azar de nascer – e a imprudência de continuar a viver – em Portugal: num país como o nosso, em que a dívida pública cresce sem cessar e que só através de truques de contabilidade e incumprimento das suas obrigações para com os mais variados credores (escolas, hospitais, prestadores de serviços, etc.) consegue que o valor do défice orçamental seja inferior àquele que “Bruxelas” exige, seria de esperar tudo menos que se conseguisse pedir dinheiro emprestado a taxas de juro negativas. Olhando para o papel do Banco Central Europeu e a sua “política de compra de activos”, vê-se melhor o que se passa: para salvar da bancarrota países com problemas orçamentais como Portugal (ou a Itália, ou a França, ou a Grécia), o BCE adquire títulos de dívida pública (e injecta dinheiro para economia), aumentando de forma artificial a procura desses produtos, tornando-os de forma igualmente artificial menos onerosos para quem tem de pagar os juros pelos empréstimos que eles representam.
Ou seja: o BCE está deliberadamente a criar uma bolha no mercado dos títulos de dívida pública. É essa bolha que explica os juros inacreditavelmente baixos que Portugal paga pelos empréstimos com maturidades mais curtas, e os juros bem mais elevados dos empréstimos com maturidades mais longas: ao mesmo tempo que a existência da bolha faz com que países que de outra forma ficariam sem acesso a esses mercados (como Portugal) neles permaneçam, e a custos irrisórios ou inexistentes, a consciência de que a bolha existe e a expectativa de que mais tarde ou mais cedo ela terá de rebentar fazem com que só com juros relativamente elevados alguém esteja disposto a correr o risco de nos emprestar dinheiro que só teríamos de pagar daqui a 7 ou a 10 anos, altura em que, talvez sem a ajuda do BCE, poderemos não estar em condições de o fazer.
Marcelo, claro, não diz nada disto, como nunca diz o que quer que seja que tenha um mínimo de complexidade, substância, importância ou gravidade. A única questão, à qual não sei responder, é se não o diz por ser um irresponsável que, para agradar a todos os que não gostam de “divisões partidárias” e afagar os inquietos corações de quem está farto de “más notícias”, apaga do seu discurso e da realidade todo e qualquer facto preocupante para os quais deveria alertar o país e os seus cidadãos, ou se não o diz por ser um completo inconsciente, alguém sem a mínima noção da realidade do país, dos problemas que o afectam, e dos perigos que o espreitam, enquanto os seus pobres habitantes sorriem e dão graças aos deuses da sua predilecção pelo Governo que os faz sentir que as dificuldades passaram e pelo Presidente que lhes assegura que “somos os melhores”.
Jorge Bergoglio, o responsável máximo da Igreja Católica mais conhecido pelo seu nome artístico de “Francisco” e expoente máximo da moderna falsa “autenticidade” dos afectados “afectos” e dos afortunados que vêem virtudes na pobreza que não têm de suportar (da qual o nosso Presidente é o maior representante local) veio a Portugal participar num mega-evento televisivo na Cova da Iria, e um pouco por todo o país, os funcionários públicos aproveitaram a ocasião para gozarem um dia de férias extra o mais longe possível das festividades. Tudo porque o Primeiro-Ministro António Costa resolveu aproveitar o pretexto da “excepcionalidade” da visita papal para contentar a referida (e vasta) clientela com um dia de “tolerância de ponto”, revelando o carácter e natureza do seu Governo.
Num artigo recente, intitulado America’s Placebo President? – “O Presidente Placebo da América?” – Tyler Cowen argumentava que o apelo de Donald Trump junto dos seus eleitores se deve não tanto à substância das suas políticas ou aos resultados que delas esperam, mas da forma como o primeiro Presidente laranja dos EUA, com a sua “retórica” e postura mediática, lhes “sinaliza” que está do seu lado nas “guerras culturais” americanas. Por outras palavras, Cowen acha que Trump apela aos seus fãs não porque eles esperem que ele melhore as suas vidas, mas porque os faz sentir melhor, oferecendo-lhes com a sua pessoa “uma voz pública” e “a ilusão de maior controlo sem o controlo propriamente dito”.
O governo de Costa, no fundo, serve um propósito semelhante, ajustado à medida do nosso provincianismo e pobreza relativa. Ninguém, no seu perfeito juízo (o que já limita de forma mais ou menos significativa o universo de portugueses a que isto se aplica), acredita mesmo que as políticas que Costa e os seus subalternos têm aplicado vão trazer uma grande prosperidade ao país, conseguir um “crescimento” que se veja ou “modernizar” o que quer que seja. No entanto, a crer nas sondagens, há uma satisfação geral com a governação socialista, ou, no mínimo, uma indiferença generalizada em relação à sua inconsequência. Não seria de espantar que tal se devesse ao facto do Governo, com as suas “devoluções”, “reversões” e proclamações de “virar da página da austeridade”, estar, embora sem nada fazer para realmente resolver qualquer um dos problemas estruturais que nos atormentam e mantendo o “livro” da dita “austeridade” bem aberto (com algumas clientelas poupadas ao esforço), a sinalizar que “os tempos difíceis” já passaram: Costa, os seus validos, e “idiotas úteis” (para usar o termo técnico) como os faladores do BE (o PCP presta-se menos a tais figuras) oferecem aos portugueses uma “voz pública” para o seu cansaço com os vários “apertos de cinto” que têm sofrido nas últimas décadas e com as exigências da “Europa”, e uma “ilusão de maior controlo” sobre o seu futuro económico e financeiro, mesmo que “sem o controlo propriamente dito”. A “tolerância de ponto” não serve apenas para dar um rebuçado aos funcionários públicos: serve para que os portugueses sintam que as coisas já não estão tão complicadas como estavam há uns anos atrás, mesmo que nada tenha realmente mudado.
Diga-se que o Governo anterior não era muito diferente: a sua retórica reformista escondia uma política profundamente imobilista, com a qual aos “cortes” (de salários ou pensões) ou “aumentos” (de impostos) não correspondiam medidas estruturais com efeitos duradouros. Se o governo actual oferece “tolerâncias de ponto”, o anterior “acabava com feriados”, uma medida irrelevante mas que sinalizava, sem afectar qualquer interesse realmente poderoso, que as coisas não podiam continuar como nos tempos da fraude “socrática”, dando uma “voz pública” à necessidade de maior rigor e uma “ilusão de controlo” perante a bancarrota sem que nada fosse feito que prevenisse a sua repetição no futuro.
É esse, aliás, o grande problema dos governos que sucessivamente nos têm pastoreado: todos eles se comportam como um médico que acha que a melhor forma de lidar com uma doença de um paciente é mascarar-lhe os sintomas, em vez de efectivamente a tratar. Durante uns tempos, há mesmo quem acredite que está tudo bem. Mas mais tarde ou mais cedo, acabamos sempre por descobrir que esse está longe de ser o caso, e que pagaremos cara a falta de juízo e honestidade de quem os deveria ter.