Portugal: Golden visas and casino capitalism

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On the March 5, 2013 Paulo Portas, the vice prime-minister of Portugal, and leader of the Partido Popular (the right-wing neo-liberal member of the austerity governing coalition) visited India for a business trip. The objective of this short visit on behalf of the vice admiral of a sinking Portuguese vessel was to insure a safe route for the influx of foreign capital — in this case Indian capital — to reinvigorate the ailing Portuguese economy. There, in New Delhi, and in front of flashing cameras and journalists Paulo Portas gave out  the first ‘Golden Visa,’ which has become quite infamous in Portugal over the past weeks.

Now this ‘Golden Visa’ might seem like the Golden Ticket in the fable of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and that idea isn’t that far off. The system of Golden Visas was implemented, in the words of its promoters, to facilitate foreign investment in Portugal, and to boost the economy with innovative projects. Thus any foreign citizen with enough money and a project to invest in some section of the Portuguese economy a considerable amount of money was given access to the Via dei Fori Imperiali, a sort of express lane without tolls which would allow the rich and the affluent, in other words, the job creators of this world to come and spread their magical dust, and spread economical healthiness throughout the land of Lusitans. It was the magical solution to resolve of Portugal’s economic woes, insourcing entrepreneurship and the audacity of the foreign masters of capital.

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The only problem with the entire scheme is that things didn’t quite work out according to plan. Thus on November 13, a political earthquake shook Lisbon. Four public offices became the targets of special anti-corruption unit raids: Portuguese border services agency, the entity which was in charge of directly issuing the Visas; the Ministry of Justice and the Institute of Registries and Notaries, the equivalent of our Ministry of National Revenue; and the Ministry of Internal Administration, the equivalent of our Ministry of Public Works and Governmental Affairs.

The heads of all these institutions have been questioned by Portuguese police, and have been accused of, corruption, trafficking of influence and money laundering, among other things. Two companies Golden Visas Europe and JMF-Projects and Business Inc. offered services for foreign private investors looking to dry their money in the sun on some picturesque Portuguese beach.

A travel agency for capital, Marx would have been delighted!

Both of these companies had direct ties to the legal public authorities, who were quintessential in the issuing of the infamous Golden Visas. For example Miguel Macedo the Minister of Internal Administration had a direct stake in Golden Visas Europe; he had been the founding partner of the enterprise — even though he was already minister at the time — with a young lady by the name of Luísa Oliveira Figueiredo, who happened to the daughter of António Figueiredo, the head of the Institute of Registries and Notaries.

Miguel Macedo

It was all a coincidence obviously!

In the year 2013 alone, 110,000 Portuguese of all ages, and from all walks of life migrated and initiated ajourney whichwe call saudade, the longing for the return to the mother land. Austerity measures continue to hit Portugal hard, but at least some at the top of the Portuguese political ladder have understood the mechanisms that will allow them to profit from the suffering and the misery of the common Portuguese Joe or in this case João.

Some authors in the past spoke of monopoly capitalism when referring to the uber concentration of capital within the orbit of a few corporations, multinational enterprises, of wealth. For Paul Sweezy, capitalism under Pax Americana in the mid-1960s was far from being the rule of the ‘free-market’ that Adam Smith had theorized. Rather it was an oligarchy, a saturated orgy of the rich and powerful that always reproduced their power through new business ventures and “created” new markets when necessary.

The scandal of the ‘Golden Visas’ underlines the hypocrisy of the extreme right-wing rhetoric, which is in vogue throughout Europe, and is represented in Portugal by the Partido Nacional Renovador (PNR). Hundreds and thousands of poor and toiling African immigrants amass at ‘Fortress Europe’s’ borders; the “wretched of the earth” as Frantz Fanon said. Upon their arrival in Europe they join the ranks of the lowest of the lowest classes, yet form the invisible and voiceless backbone of an economy in shambles.

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We demonise them, tarnish their image. They are the incarnation of all the wrath that the laborious people of Portugal feel. In the meantime multi-millionaire gangsters have made a paradise, coached in the misery of both the Portuguese and the migrant working classes. The focus that the extreme right puts on immigrant populations is a diversion tactic, used as a veil to hide the real illegal immigrants that capitalize on the economic crisis: The ‘Golden’ immigrants, the avatars of the ‘free’ circulation of capital. Unfortunately for them, this inherent contradiction has been unveiled and the emperor is revealed to be naked.

The Golden Visas and the story of Portugal since 2011 is the perfect example of the rise of a new form of capitalism, which can be called ‘casino capitalism.’ It is a mix between libertarian paradise and state-capitalism à la Xiaoping. Its most brutal manifestation is this system of Golden Visas; a rigged lottery which only favours the ‘free’, and the automatization of capital servant of the markets and financial cartels pushed through by a neo-liberal state — the state after all isn’t that bad when it serves the interests of capital!

Within this new economic world everything becomes possible. While millions of young and talented Portuguese leave toiling to put an end to their precarity, the country is being stripped to pieces and sold to the highest bidder. Soon every aspect of Portuguese life will be liberated from the constraints of the state — no regulation whatsoever. In this brave new world modeled through the lense of Atlas Shrugged, everyone will be under the yoke of those that have enough influence and power to make and break the market, those that write the laws of an unfree market.

A luta continua!

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