Known for Feuding With Immigrants, a TV Star Wants to Run a Town Many Call Home

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Meyer’s quote by a TV commentator known for delivering inflammatory messages on race raises a bigger question: How should Portugal address its colonial legacy?

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AMADORA, Portugal – He is a former TV commentator whose provocations have led to his fame, or at least notoriety, in Portugal: for example, by describing seditious calls for racial justice, and by an old-fashioned term black Referring to Portuguese which translates to something like “negro”.

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Susana García, now a former commentator, is running for mayor of Amadora, a city adjacent to Lisbon with the largest black population in Portugal.

The election of the mayor in Amadora, scheduled for Sunday this year along with hundreds of other local races, is usually a sleepy affair, viewed by few outside this working-class town of 185,000, which is in Cape Verde. , is home to many migrants from former Portuguese colonies such as Angola. and Mozambique.

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But Ms. Garcia’s high profile and her combative personality mean she has tapped into a much bigger question than just becoming mayor: namely, how a former colonial power like Portugal should deal with today’s debate about racial justice.

The country, which had African colonies until the 1970s, is home to large communities of African immigrants and second-generation black Portuguese, many of whom today say they face systemic racism and attacks by the police.

“Yes, we have racist countries in the EU, but my country is not a racist country,” Ms Garcia said in an interview. She said those who disagreed were “opportunistic people who never knew what it was like to work.”

The Amadora campaign is also drawing attention for another reason: Ms. Garcia does not claim allegiance to the far right, which has long been known in Europe for fueling racial tensions. She is running with the Social Democratic Party, the country’s moderate conservative party known as PSD. known as

Over the years, a wave of populism in other European countries had left Portugal. The two establishment parties – the conservative PSD and the more liberal Socialist Party – controlled politics, trading power every few election cycles, much as Republicans and Democrats do in the United States.

But that changed with the arrival of a right-wing party called Chega, whose leader split from the PSD in 2018, amid controversy over how far he could go with his loaded language against Portugal’s Roma population.

The PSD has since lost the vote to Chega, and analysts say that may be partly why the party is so interested in Ms. Garcia. In many ways, her campaign seems less about whether she wins—the PSD hasn’t run Amadora in years—but more about changing the party’s image to accomplish more at the political peak.

“It’s a sign that they are trying to engage with a far-right ideology,” said Marina Costa Lobos, a political scientist at the University of Lisbon. “By choosing this woman as the candidate for Amadora, who is ethnically diverse, they are validating a certain discourse.”

For her part, Ms Garcia says she is often misunderstood. In an interview, she spoke of growing up in Mozambique (where her father was based as a geologist), and upon arriving in Portugal at the age of 12, she said that an experience gave her the challenge of being an immigrant from Africa. informed about. Although white, she claims some black ancestry (from a grandmother), noting that many of her relatives are deeper than her.

However, in her television appearances, Ms Garcia, 45, has a different tone. In 2016, she became a commentator on “SOS 24”, a television show focusing on crime news, and soon became known for her provocative language and heated debate style, which often included yelling at people who disagreed with her in the studio. Was. Hate crimes were one of her most passionate topics.

In 2019, Luis Giovanni dos Santos Rodrigues, a 21-year-old student from Cape Verde, was on his way home from a party when a group of men armed with belts surrounded him and his friends. They beat Mr dos Santos, who died a few days later in the hospital.

Ms Garcia soon stepped into the debate over whether the attack should be treated as a hate crime.

“When a white was killed by blacks, we didn’t talk about it being a racist incident,” she said on her show earlier last year. “Nor did we say that immigrants came here to try and do this. We didn’t say anything. So we don’t need to say anything now.”

Throughout that broadcast, he referred to Black Portuguese, using the term once generic to refer to Africans during Portugal’s colonial era, but today it is widely considered offensive.

Despite protests from activists, Ms Garcia became even more vocal. She focused her attention on violent crimes in her shows, despite government statistics showing that crime had fallen over the years. When activists accused police of violence against black migrants, Ms Garcia sided with law enforcement.

When Mamadou Ba, an activist and a Senegalese immigrant, challenged her views that one of Portugal’s problems was rooted in its systemic racism, Ms García called her a “parasite”.

“Their existence is dangerous for all Portuguese,” she said.

In 2020, following a management change at the network, Ms Garcia left, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family.

As elections drew near, he said, he was approached by several political groups, mostly smaller right-wing parties, who said they were interested in his views. The Social Democrats also contacted, but Ms Garcia said she was concerned at first that she might not fit into an establishment political party, saying it was necessary to “speak my mind openly”.

But in the end, Ms Garcia said, she decided to accept his offer as her candidate for Amadora mayor. She said she hopes to add a populist element to the political equation, adding that establishment politicians are “talking about a reality that we, the people, do not know.”

Carla Tavares, the current mayor of Amadora, who is seeking re-election with the Socialist Party, took issue with the idea, noting that Ms García’s stance intended to offend a large part of the city rather than Was.

Ms Tavares also said she was surprised that the Social Democratic Party agreed to an alliance with someone who took such pleasure in provocation. She pointed to a giant election billboard put up by Ms Garcia in front of City Hall.

“I have never encountered such inflammatory rhetoric,” Ms Tavares said.

Flavio Almada, a rapper and community organizer in Cova da Moura, a black neighborhood that Ms. García often spots on her shows, said that even though Ms. García was born in Africa, she never lived up to that reality. Will know what they did as one. Black immigrants from Cape Verde.

In 2015, when Mr Almada went in search of an arrested friend, he was beaten up and abused by Portuguese police. The attack made headlines and eight officers were convicted in the episode.

Ms Garcia’s proposals include expanding the police force that attacked her in Amadora.

“It’s only to get votes from the fearful,” Almada said, adding that he believes Ms. Garcia is using the election to raise her profile nationally among right-wing voters. Whether he won or not.

And there are signs that she may already be looking ahead to Amadora. Recently, Ms. Garcia put up campaign billboards in front of the Parliament House in Lisbon. Although PSD had another candidate for mayor in the capital, many took this as a sign that she wanted to be seen as a national player.

Ms Garcia says she just does what she loves, even if it upsets the establishment.

“When you have an animal like me that you can’t give space to, it’s very hostile to them,” she said. “But I don’t really care. I just want to work.”

Daniela Ferreira Pinto contributed reporting in Amadora, Portugal.

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