Portugal, without its holy spirit


The memory of Banco Espírito Santo

The memory of Banco Espírito Santo

only survives in a shield of the sidewalk of number 195 of the Lisbon Avenue of Liberdade, a much shorter but very luxurious Diagonal. In the lower part, near the Rossio, next to the commemorative monument of the last time that Portugal became independent from Spain, in 1640, there are indigents who already have their own limited territory, to try to sleep as covered as possible despite doing so in full street. Above, the shop windows show the luxury of several thousand euro shelters in a succession of Armani, Louis Vuitton, Cartier or Prada stores. Almost in front of the latter, on the other side of the avenue, at number 195, is the headquarters of Novo Banco, the entity that took over in August the reorganized part of Banco Espírito Santo, of which now only that logo drawn on the sidewalk, in the characteristic Lisbon pavement, made of small fragments.

The holy spirit has disappeared from the Portuguese economy and has dragged Portugal into a new collective depression just after the international bailout, while intensifying the sale to foreign capital of key companies, a process in which Portugal Telecom (PT) is the traumatic central piece, object of a global bid, from Brazil to France and Angola.

Inaugurated in 1882, the avenue de la Liberdade “is the most beautiful artery of Lisbon”, wrote Fernando Pessoa in his guide Lisbon: o que o turista deve ver, from 1925. In recent times, Banco Espírito Santo, to the seat of the number 195 came from time to time a very prominent visitor, Zeinal Bava, the former head of the PT. Born in Mozambique in 1965 into a family originally from Portuguese India, he was the most prestigious Portuguese executive, the Cristiano Ronaldo of the business world, who was still decorated in June with the great cross of merit by the president of the Portuguese Republic. Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the same one who this week asked himself in public what the executives and shareholders of the PT were doing.

Well, one of the things they did was hide the bankruptcy of Espírito Santo. The operator, the Portuguese equivalent of Telefónica, had shareholding interests crossed with the bank chaired by Ricardo Salgado, the last of a long family saga of financiers. Union sources confirm that he received in person the visit of Zeinal Bava at the time when the PT became the cash register of the bank, which detracted the necessary liquidity to try to cover the growing hole that ended up devouring it, without the 897 millions of that secret emergency loan would serve much more than multiplying the crater.

According to the Saturday magazine, Bava made the less than fifteen minute walk between the PT headquarters on Fontes Pereira de Melo Avenue and Espirito Santo on Avenida de la Liberdade. Other versions indicate that to draw less attention to his reserved meetings with Salgado, it is much more credible that he went by car, from the elevator from one garage to the other. With great popularity in the Portuguese society and revered in his company, Bava liked to get to work by the main door and greet everyone, as he also did in the company’s multitudinous Christmas banquets. But his encounters with Salgado were very delicate.

Regardless of the legend of whether

<br />Regardless of the legend of whether

Bava was on foot or not, his visits to Banco Espírito Santo reveal the “incestuous relations” between Portuguese companies and financial capital, as noted by economist António Bagão Félix, who was Minister of Finance. decade in a coalition government of the conservative PSD and CDS parties.

Incest in Lisbon refers to Os Maias. Episódios da vida romántica, the great work of the great Eça de Queirós, which portrays the Lisbon high society of the late nineteenth century, in times of financial anxiety, reflected in the novel through the figure of a banker, as Francisco points out Louçã, economist and long-forgotten leader of the Block of Esquerda. From antagonistic ideological positions Louçã and Bagão share with Ricardo Cabral a very interesting blog in the newspaper Público. Louçã and Bagão are also two of the 14 broad-spectrum Portuguese personalities that have launched the manifesto to “rescue” Portugal Telecom from the chasm in the national interest, in which it left its incestuous relationship with Banco Espírito Santo.

This is why it is very interesting to walk through the economic heart of Lisbon that Zeinal Bava made, either on foot or by car, from the headquarters of Portugal Telecom, on Fontes Pereira de Melo Avenue. Of her Pessoa stood out in his guide the palace of the millionaire Sotto Mayor, where Barclays is now. Immediately you reach the square of the Marqués del Pombal, the old Rotonda, where on October 5, 1910 the resistance of a group of stubborn Republicans, some of them Galicians, managed to overthrow the monarchy forever. In one of those Portuguese contradictions, it was during the First Republic that the project of the great monument to the aristocratic ruler who rebuilt Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755 was concluded. In the Marqués de Pombal square there is the headquarters of EDP, the former Electricidade de Portugal. It was public, like the PT. Both were the flagship vessels of Portuguese capitalism that since the late twentieth century tried to play a leading role in globalization, as prominent players in the world of the Lusophone, as noted António Costa Pinto, political scientist of the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon . For three years, the EDP is controlled by the Chinese public company Three Gorges. Now, the possible sale of what remains under Portuguese control in the PT, merged with the Brazilian Oi, supposes the destruction of that dream of Portuguese capitalism active in globalization and seems to center the country in its old destiny to export and emigrate.

Going down the Avenida de la Liberdade from the Plaza del Marqués de Pombal, at number 230, is one of the most successful exponents of that export effort that is today the great hope of the Portuguese economy. It is the shoe store of Fly London, the thriving brand of the Kya group, of Guimarães, which has just opened its first store in New York and shows the commitment of this traditional industry to the products with the highest added value.

Pedro Lains, researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon specializing in Economic History, points out that in Portugal there are two simultaneous processes today, the decline of sectors that do not survive globalization, a field in which the PT is, the EDP or the Espírito Santo group, and that of emerging projects, such as Fly London or pharmaceutical companies. “The first of these forces prevails over the second, but there will be a time when the process will be reversed,” says Lains, who considers that “Portuguese capitalism is viable, Portugal is a capitalist country.” Although it considers the entry of foreign investors necessary, it is very critical of the specific way in which the last cycle of privatizations takes place, from the sale of the EDP in 2011 to the TAP airline, now in process. According to Lains, Portugal has become the country in Europe with the largest influx of Chinese capital in proportion to its size. They are balance purchases, which do not contribute to technological advancement, he says.

The penetration of foreign capital

The penetration of foreign capital

 which has been felt in the streets of Lisbon for decades, has intensified since the financial rescue and has as a disturbing spearhead the daughter of the president of Angola, Isabel dos Santos, who last Sunday launched an OPA on the matrix of the PT through an instrumental company, Terra Peregrin, which has its headquarters on Avenida de la Liberdade 190, where the Louis Vuitton store is located. The kleptocratic characteristics of the Angolan regime are disturbing in Portugal, although there are those who, like the prominent television commentator Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, prefer that the PT continue to be Portuguese-speaking with Angolan capital than French with Altice.

Portugal Telecom (PT) is the Portuguese equivalent of Telefónica. In the Portuguese universe is a giant, a company that appeared at the forefront in the adaptation to new technologies, from the hand of the recently admired executive Zeinal Bava. This had been placed at the head of the Brazilian Oi, with which the PT was merging when the scandal of the 897 million short-term loan from the PT to Rioforte, one of the companies of the Espírito Santo Group, broke out in summer. in bankruptcy.

The PT has 12,000 workers among whom there is “a lot of concern”, according to Francisco Gonçalves and Mario Rolho, members of the works council, who defend the maintenance of jobs and decision centers in Portugal, through the annulment of the fusion of the Oi, of which PT has remained with the 25%, when losing a 12% by the hole of the 897 million. He has also lost the presidency, when Bava resigned. The trade unionists denounce that it has been the end of a management marked by the “impossible numbers”, to exhibit benefits.

The indebted Brazilian operator Oi put on sale for 7,000 million the business of Portugal Telecom, leader in the neighboring country. French Altice operator and investment funds bid. But a week ago, Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the president of Angola, broke in with her takeover of PT SGPS, which is the parent company of 25% of Oi and can veto the sale of PT Portugal’s business.