It was the year of 1500, when a Portuguese navigator joined a fleet of fifteen ships for the purpose of travelling the same route as Vasco da Gama, to India. The spice trade was, at that time, a very important revenue source for the kingdom, and profitability was such that the Portuguese navigators were willing to take the enormous risks of such a long and stormy voyage.
Until then the spice routes were made by the Mediterranean, crossing the Middle East to India. However, the instability of the territories controlled by Islamic merchants, making these routes become increasingly dangerous and costly, opened a “window of opportunity” that the Portuguese knew how to seize.
The said Portuguese navigator then began his journey along the west coast of Africa, seeking to keep the ‘land ahoy!’ as was customary at the time. Bypassing the Horn of Africa, the fleet is struck by unusually strong winds, which push the caravels away from the African coast. On the other side of the ocean, the Portuguese came across a hitherto unknown territory. They had discovered Brazil.
As you may have already guessed, the navigator I referred to was Pedro Álvares Cabral. Upon arriving in what is now Brazil, he quickly realized that he was not in India, and went on his way to his initial destination in search of such valuable spices. About a year later, Cabral returned to Portugal with only four of the initial fifteen ships. Still, the amount of spices was enough to make the trip highly profitable. On his return, Cabral reported to King D. Manuel I the events of his journey, including the unexpected discovery of the new continent.
Curiously, it would have been twenty-five years since the discovery of Brazil until the King sent someone back into the new territory. In the following centuries Brazil became “only” the main source of wealth of the Portuguese crown. It is astonishing how an accidental event has so radically changed the history of our country, and marked us so profoundly as a nation.
Honestly, I think that this remarkable event largely reflects what we are as a country. It demonstrates our ability of “unleashing”. Cabral was not disoriented by the unexpected. After the forced diversion, it followed its trip towards India, and realised the initial objective. On the other hand, it shows our inability to identify and seize opportunities. Even today that is how it is.
We now spend our lives discussing the deficit, the budget, the debt, the growth, the increases in the civil service, or the 35 hours. But we do not address the essential: what is the strategy for structurally solving our problems and advancing our country towards the goals we want to achieve. Now, the problem begins immediately in the definition of the objectives. For example, do we want to be a tourist destination? If so, what type? Of mass or exclusivity? For retired or for young people? Or do we want to attract foreign investment through new companies? It is
not possible to be everything at the same time, because that way we won’t be the best in anything.
What do we want to be as a country? This is the fundamental question. What goals do we want to achieve in order to be a more developed society, socially and economically?
Is there a clear definition of objectives for Portugal? I did not realise anything until now. I must be inattentive…
Without clear objectives, there is no strategy. There is a set of single and disarticulated measures. A recent example: we created (we did not actually create, we just copied what other countries already did) the golden visa to attract foreign investment. In this context, we “sell” to the non-European investor the possibility of being able to move through the countries of the Shenguen space, in exchange for the purchase of a property with a minimum value of 500 thousand euros. At the same time we are preparing to create a special tax on real estate above that value. I do not dispute the fairness of this measure (this is for another article…), I only question the coherence between the two apparently contradictory measures.
Unlike Cabral, Portugal of today sails aimlessly. Cabral knew what he wanted and where he wanted to go. Portugal has no strategic direction, no clear objectives are identified, it is hard to understand what we want to be as a country. But already in Cabral’s contemporary Portugal so it was, to a certain extent. And the proof lies in the fact that the golden age of the Portuguese empire being based on an event by chance, and not on any planning or strategy.
I wonder, are we waiting for a “new Brazil”? Something that, resulting from the combination of the stars, brings us fortune and solves all our problems? Maybe that’s why we play so much in Euromillions. We have been like this for nine hundred years of history. Perhaps we can change … and continue to be Portuguese.
Till next post!
UWU Solutions CEO / Consultant / Lecturer