Portugal parliament dismisses bid to charge president with treason over support for slavery reparations to former colonies News
CP - Comboios de Portugal, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Portugal parliament dismisses bid to charge president with treason over support for slavery reparations to former colonies

Portugal’s Parliament rejected on Wednesday a bid proposed by the far-right party Chega to charge the country’s president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa with treason over his support for reparation to former Portuguese colonies for slavery and mistreatment during colonization.

The controversy dates back to April 2023 when President Marcelo de Sousa publically declared that Portugal has to assume responsibility for atrocities committed during the colonial era and that do more than apologize, without giving any details. One year later, de Sousa asserted that Portugal has to pay the costs of the crimes committed in former colonies, including slavery and colonial massacres, and suggested financial compensation. His proposal sparked a national debate and refusal from many parties, including the government. The latter rebuffed the President’s proposal and said that it had no plans to pay reparation for the country’s role in the slavery trade.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa’s proposal to pay reparations to former colonies came a few days after the UN Human Rights Chief Volker Turk called countries historically involved in slavery to take concrete actions and compensate people of African descent.

The far-right political party Chega, led by André Ventura who initiated the case, accused Marcelo de Sousa of “treason against the Fatherland” following the latter’s statements about paying compensation for the atrocities committed by Portugal during the colonial era. Ventura said that he would start any “political process for impeachment” to remove Marcelo de Sousa from office, pointing out that none of Portugal’s former presidents dared to say that Portugal must compensate its old overseas provinces. He called for the Assembly of the Republic to meet to further discuss the matter and “create an accusation” against the President.

During the parliament’s debate, André Ventura stressed that the President’s words were “humiliating” to the ancestors who defended Portugal during the war and “buried their loved ones around the world and the Portuguese State gave them nothing,” upholding that Marcelo de Sousa’s statements constitute a betrayal to Portugal and its History.

However, none of Portugal’s political parties, including the Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, supported the far-right party Chega’s initiative to sue the President. Left Bloc deputy Joana Martaguà said that black people still suffer the legacy of transatlantic slavery and that Chega used the president’s statement about historical reparation as  “a pretext for hatred and revenge against democracy.”

Portugal was a colonial empire between 1415 and 1999 with countries like Brazil, Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique under its rule and started the Transatlantic slave trade. During this period, nearly six million Africans were kidnapped and transported across the Atlantic Ocean on Portuguese vessels to the Americas.