António José Telo is a professor at the military academy and has been a professor at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Lisbon until 1999. He is the author of more than 20 books and 200 articles on history, defense and international relations published in 6 countries. The historian was present in the cycle of conferences insula, under the theme "The war and the great change in the Portuguese reality continental and insular".
President Wilson wrote a document in 14 points explaining what could bring peace to the world, one of which is the need to have a trade commerce at European and global level. In fact, over the years, it has come to live, but nowadays the new governments that are emerging are precisely against these measures, what is your position?
António José Melo: Notice at the time, commerce was vertical, let me translate it in simpler terms, it meant that each empire had free trade, as was the case of the British, French, etc., but there was a strong agenda of one for the other. It was not free, these areas of trade were market areas assured for the great European powers, they were the rule and all were protected by a strong customs tariff, namely Portugal, which allowed the development of their industry. What the US president seems to say is that the solution is to stop these barriers to free trade, which means that goods can enter without paying taxes and for 100 years the West has been guided by this, and was even thought that Commercial freedom is the same as political freedom, is not it. They are totally different aspects, so what happened? In the last decades, 20, 30 and 40 years there has been a massive process of deindustrialization, both in the USA and especially in Europe, today we have less than a third of what we had 30 years ago and it is a process that is deeply felt in the form of employment, there is widespread unemployment, the most affected areas are those in Southern Europe and Germany has even benefited from this, with conditions of competition that other countries do not have and this process is being challenged, how can there is a freedom of trade with unfair competition? When in Europe we have wages that are 100 and the European industries move to countries with salaries of 10 and their products are sold with minimum barriers, that is, we are suffering from unfair competition, because the European standard of living is different from other continents and products coming from abroad end up destroying our industry. And this begins to be disputed in terms of its logic, because it is a central policy, in terms of the European Union and it is increasingly being challenged, why? Because it becomes difficult to keep jobs in Europe.
But this is also happening in the US and one of Donald Trump's standards is precisely to give back to the American middle class that has also been impoverished when its companies have also begun to close and now has been saying that it will tax the products coming from China.
AJM: This is a logic that came from World War I, that is, the US took this flag to institute this principle of the new international order of freedom of trade and today the Americans are saying, hey, we have to stop because in fact it is unfair competition with us, therefore, we have to re-establish customs rules in relation to the companies that go abroad to produce their products and which are then sold in the national territory. And this is also happening in Europe, there are European core policies that are wrong, but this does not jeopardize the free movement of goods within the European area.
But it is precisely these arguments that the extreme right parties use and that are gaining weight in the societies of their countries.
AJM: Something that is normal is that all systems are dated, do not exist forever and there are two hypotheses, or the system has the ability to adapt to new times and change in a coordinated way, which is a European tradition when there no are conflicting factors, dissatisfaction begins to accumulate and forces appear outside the system, which challenge it, taking advantage of this with other objectives, because it is very meaningful. Nowadays, every European feels that the industry has disappeared, that certain jobs no longer exist and that we are reduced to some kind of tourist park of the world. The big industry nowadays is tourism, and this is seen as a bad thing, rare European countries feel this to be a good thing, especially in Southern Europe where this phenomenon is strongly felt, as evidently there are forces that notice this discontent and use these elements in their favor, try to use it to challenge other things. This in itself is not an anti-democratic attitude.
But is not that a way to disturb peace?
AJM: The big problem here is that as it happend the Germany of the 1920s, who did not adapt to change, created chaos within German society itself and in these circumstances anything can happen, from that moment on it is that these forces like Nazism or others appear. In my perspective within the EU, there are two paths that divide, or the united Europe corrects its substantive policies and adapts to the world today and rides a change that is controlled, calm, serene and democratic or change happens any way because it is impossible to stop it, it may even be delayed, but it is inevitable. For example, we saw in the case of Libya and Syria how easy it is to destroy a state, the speed with which it happens and it had external aid, in this case the European one. We have seen how seemingly stable countries turn into chaos and anything can happen from now on, we see a terrible civil war that causes thousands of casualties and allows the advance of Islamic fundamentalism, which is a major threat to European democracy.
We are witnessing in Europe the growth of these movements of extremist parties that gain more and more power at the polls, but in Portugal this does not even have an expression.
AJM: True, Portugal is an exception, it is not a matter of extreme right or left, either one or the other, in traditional terms are very conservative forces and are not innovative. There is no doubt that throughout Europe this means a departure from the vote in relation to what are the traditional parties of power, that is, the discontent is very great, the Europeans are not satisfied as you know, I do not like what is happening, I think I do understand why. Europe is falling at an impressive rate and as a European I do not like it, I saw a report on Italy that will vote for its financial system and that it is as bad or worse than Portuguese and what was seen when interviewing Italians in the street that people said they were going to vote against, but why? Because they are against this government, against this system, whatever the issue they vote against, people are not happy, they feel that something fundamental of their central policies is wrong and they do not like what is happening, they do not know who to trust, because the whole political system is corrupt, it is a self-reproduction, it is a clientalist system because it feeds the clientele.
The Portuguese also have this same opinion about the state, that we live in a corrupted system.
AJM: However, Portugal is the exception, because if we look at France, Italy, Spain, or even Poland, Hungary and England, in all these countries, this happens. It is a Portuguese tradition, we have always had difficulty managing the change of background, usually we delayed. I remember a story that is attributed to Marcelo Caetano, a few days before the 25th of April, in a conversation he had with Freitas do Amaral and that he tells in his memoirs in which he says the following, I am the commander of the boat, I see we are going to the rocks, is going to be shipwrecked, but I cannot go around the rudder, I have to continue on this course even knowing that it will sink, I cannot find an alternative "and in fact the Caetano system wrecked that he saw very well, but this is the Portuguese tradition, does not change anything and suddenly changes everything with a very high price to pay, because the sudden change is chaotic and tends to destroy things that should not destroy.
Is it not also a cultural issue, because we are not a people given to extremes?
AJM: I do not know if we are not given to extremes, in the post-25th of April there were extremes, I do not know if we will not do it, but since its foundation Portugal has a great degree of tolerance, of greater openness and the Portuguese, for this is a good rule of thumb, as it seems to me, has a great sense of humility and perhaps stronger than most Europeans. Then there is this trend of the bad part of the coin, which is how to manage deep changes? Usually implies destabilizing the interests installed, changing things not in a purely cosmetic way, in that we are even a specialist, but notice things change any way, otherwise, the 25th of April was an example of that, if we could have brought democracy as transited by the Spanish without revolution would have been better.
Yes, but they had a civil war.
AJM: That was a few decades before, but the Spanish transition was managed without revolutions and without tanks in the street, the Portuguese was what we saw.
Focusing on another aspect of your speech, you approached the Atlantic, the fact that the Portuguese sea has been a subject of great greed for centuries. At the moment, the opposite is true, it is not seen as a favorable strategic point and almost americans leave the Azores.
AJM: I do not have that interpretation, things and their importance change and take on new aspects. I always say that one of the great potential wealth of Portugal for the future, above all, is its continental shelf. It is the great field of raw materials, the products of the future world and at this moment are emerging technologies that allow this in all fields, the continental shelf whose sovereignty passes through Madeira and the Azores is absolutely essential. It also does not seem that there is an effective exit from the Americans in the Azores, we have seen that there is a group of agents that suddenly becomes interested in the islands and that were not interested before, for example, China has already made trips of the highest level to the Azores, to Madeira not yet, there was a very recent contact with a number one representative of Chinese politics and they have said very clearly that they want to invest in the Azores, but not through the creation of bases. Although, we found that the Chinese created two military bases in the Indian Ocean, it was with the US understanding, not in shock and in Pasquistan a military base was also shared, so there is a sea-going advance here. The Chinese are interested in our Atlantic platform for a very simple reason, because it was closed to them the Northern route for centuries, by the Arctic, at the moment it is open part of the year and possibly short term all year round, and this has shortened the path from China to Europe and this changes everything. The vessels, through the North, have access to the Atlantic and the Azores and Madeira.
But do you think that at the political level it is important to have this alliance with China, as we are inserted in the European space?
AJM: You cannot put the question like this, it's very complex, it has to be put into the set, I was using the example of China that is one of the other interested powers and the americans did not just disappear, just manage the space according to their financial capacities. The US currently has a lot of British policy, we do not use it ourselves, we have to be present for others not to use, or just use with your permission, and the americans will try to make that, China will not be in the Portuguese Atlantic space and I hope the Americans will not succeed.
And do you think that Portuguese politicians, unlike the past, are more visionary and prepared?
AJM: Obviously not, as General Humberto Delgado would say.