Amélia António, lawyer and president of the Casa de Portugal, denounces the contradiction between the design of the Lusophone platform, projected by Beijing, and the reality managed by the Macau authorities
-Suspending the Lusophone Festival, she fired off terms like “frustrating,” “demotivating,” and “tiresome. Was it the last straw?
Amélia António – It is the accumulation. Throughout three years of inability, impotence… people accepted with calm – and cordial spirit – the limitations imposed on circulation, exits and entries, quarantines, etc. But this was creating a great psychological pressure on people who face various family problems: children being born and not knowing their family, people who are sick, parents who are far away and need assistance.
-Some would go, others would come…
A.A. – That was the routine: they came and lived with the family; they came back, etc. There were cases of illness – and death – and people couldn’t be with their families. That made them feel that, this going on, they couldn’t live like that. A lot of people reacted psychologically that way.
We can look at this on an individual level, in the way of being and feeling; in the expectation that doesn’t unfold. But the institutions have also suffered a lot. They can’t bring people in, they don’t develop their activity with the dynamics and interest… and you have to give it some fire.
You accumulate the years and if you can’t bring anything that energizes, that interests, people lose the capacity to do new things.
-The economic crisis, the lack of mobility, and employability… have they changed the state of mind?
A.A. – Of course! Because people who were performing very interesting and qualified jobs here have left. This leaves a void that cannot be filled. With these limitations, it is not possible to entice others with the same level to come.
-Numbers (unofficial) indicate a negative net balance of around ten percent between the Portuguese who left and those who arrived… Isn’t the psychological effect greater than the statistics suggest?
A.A. – Much greater! Because the majority of the people who left are qualified and known people. This is a time of great contradictions. When we soundly project the need to attract talent, we lose the ones we had.
-In all communities, social strata and age groups?
A.A. – It is very generic. For example, at the level of the gaming operators that had cultural activities, entertainment and shows… when they closed everything the people who were doing them left.
-The Chinese community also complains?
A.A. – Yes… but they started moving earlier, more easily. There is no comparison between the mobility of the Chinese community and the others.
-Hence the greater distress among expatriates…
A.A. – Much greater, because the Chinese community is closer to its own; and the limitations have been lifted. They close a little bit, open a little bit; increase control in one way, relieve it in another way.
-Does that give the authorities more political leeway?
A.A. – Much more… those who can leave, even with heavy rules, are the residents.
-But the economic crisis affects everyone…
A.A. – At all levels! Even what was working had mandatory closing periods, unpaid vacations, etc. Employers use various means to get around the situation before firing. But they also fire.
-Does this cause labor disputes and other litigation?
A.A. – It’s not very noticeable, because people prefer to resolve their situations. Those who are not doing well move on; so, there are those who had to leave and had no alternative; and those who preferred to settle less favorably and leave. Artists, teachers… and many people, mostly qualified, have left. We live in a time of great contradictions between what is said and what is done.
The Beijing design doesn’t fit with the local reality?
A.A. – No way! Every time I hear about bringing in talents… Who is going to come under these circumstances? It is impossible! Every time you want to get a qualified person you see the trouble to get him residence. Not even blue cards anymore, because you have to give priority to locals. In fact, if the work is heavy and difficult, there are no locals who can do it; if it’s very skilled, there are no locals either. All this makes life more difficult.
-How do you comment on the withdrawal of the BIRs to the Macau Forum delegates?
A.A. – That is another very complicated issue – because it is diplomatic. But let’s talk about more mundane contradictions. How can these communities – and the associations that represent them – promote culture, cuisine, etc, if they can’t bring anything from their countries? Neither people nor products; from handicrafts to culinary ingredients… And there are people who come, for example, to study; which also depletes the associations’ critical mass. We live this contradiction even at the level of survival.
Beijing says that Macau has a platform role and the Lusophone countries are important; but in practice that is not what happens.
-Do you feel free for that debate?
A.A. – Those who know me know that, over the years, I have always tried to say what I think. When things are serious, I talk about them. There are those who like it, and those who don’t, but I have to be coherent. I don’t use megaphone politics as a system, making a big fuss about day-to-day problems; but when a serious point is reached, that affects the interests of Macau – and the community, then I have to say things as they are, and as I see them.
-So now it’s serious… And it has to be said?
A.A. – Yes, otherwise it’s too late. I have been through ups and downs here: after the transition, for example, many people left, but the mood was different. Especially the locals, people from Macau, had a lot of fears and doubts about how things were going to be; but they left, taking care of the rear. Little by little, most of them went back. What we see today is not that. Those who are leaving are not coming back.
-Is that also undermining the spirit of those who stay?
A.A. – That’s true. After all, what is our role? We need to clarify if what we interpret, what we think is our role, what China says about the Lusophone community… is in fact what is intended. Because, in Macau, what we have experienced doesn’t match what we understand, and what the central government defines as policy for the Lusophone countries and Macau as a platform.
There are people in Macau, with weight and influence, who are saying the opposite: it doesn’t matter, everything is too much. For them, what is Chinese and comes from China is what matters; that is patriotism. I don’t believe that, just as other people don’t believe that. And those who are optimistic, as I am, have the expectation that things will get back on track.
-Is there a dialogue with the local government?
A.A. – That is the great difficulty! There is above all a great lack of dialogue. We all complain – also the associations. And this makes everything very heavy. Everything is decided and implemented without any dialogue, without previous consultation, without the possibility of explaining that things are not all the same. Rules are made that may apply to some situations, but not to others. And this standardization is made with criteria that do not allow, for example, the survival of some associations.
It could even be solved if there were a dialogue, so that the new norms would take into account different realities. But this doesn’t happen. All problems have solutions when people understand how things work. But this is lacking.
-Is it time to say that the lusophone platform is at risk?
A.A. – You have to make your point; it’s one of those moments in which you can’t remain silent. It is necessary to put your finger on the wounds, because if they are not identified, they are not treated – and they are treated. I speak with a very deep feeling, because Macau has been my home for 40 years. These problems make it difficult to be in Macau and put the future of the communities at risk; namely the Lusophone ones – but not only. The problem is general. This must be solved, alleviated, we must solve the problems and make things viable. That’s why I think it’s necessary to talk.
-What are the limits of criticism today?
A.A. – Contrary to what people think: if you speak you are against the Government; you don’t like Macau, you don’t respect China… for me it is exactly the opposite. It’s because I like Macau, and respect China, that I need to put my finger on the wounds. Otherwise, they won’t be treated, and we’ll be creating a field where people will love Macau less and less, and where people will blame China more and more.
This is completely wrong, because China is not to blame for what goes wrong. It’s just the way things are conducted here.