EXCLUSIVE: Portugal is ‘paying a high price’ after new law allows up to 300 million foreigners to gain legal residency, says Portugal’s Chega party leader André Ventura

André Ventura, leader of the Chega or "Enough" party, tells Remix News his party is ready to lead the country, and at the very least, he expects his party to join a government coalition following the national elections. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
By John Cody
11 Min Read

The question of immigration seemed like a major theme in your CPAC speech. You said some level of immigration was necessary, but why not just introduce an immigration moratorium?

I don’t know how it is in all the countries, but in countries like Portugal, Spain, and even France and Italy, countries that I know best, the economy needs some level of immigration for areas like agriculture or tourism, hotels, and restaurants. With massive tourism activity, we need some immigration, but massive illegal immigration or even massive immigration, both legal and illegal, can both bring problems.

For example, in Portugal, now most of the immigration is legal. Why? Because they changed all the rules and revoked most of the rules about citizenship or residency. I’ll give an example. Since last month or two months ago, all the citizens from countries that use the Portuguese language, so imagine, all the citizens from Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Timor, and Guinea — we are talking about 300 million people — can go and get automatic residence in Portugal. This is dangerous, and we are already paying for it with big criminal groups going to Portugal, coming from Brazil or from East Timor.

We are paying a high price. That’s why I was trying to say to the people that we have two approaches: We can say all the immigrants can come. It looks like we are doing everything right, but we are not. We are doing damage to Europe. Or we can say, we need to help those who need help. We need immigration for our economy, but we need to control our borders. And I think I tried to deliver that message here; I don’t know if it was effective, but I tried.

So the numbers coming from Brazil seem like a major problem for Portugal, in particular

I would like to say it is not only Brazil. We have excellent ties with Brazil. Honestly, I was about to meet with the Brazilian former president (Jair Bolsonaro) next week, but he has some problems and it’s not possible.

The problem is not only Brazil, it’s that we are getting all these people from India, from Pakistan, from Bangladesh, and sometimes also from Brazil coming here, and we have no good conditions for them. So, for example, Portugal is facing a major crisis in housing and construction. And now, with these people arriving, sometimes you go to Lisbon and you see a room or a house with 100 people inside or 50 people inside.

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Obviously, you can point out that there are some European countries with much higher immigration problems. That’s obvious. But Portugal is now starting to have this big problem as well. And we should not let what happened to France or to Belgium happen here, and that’s why we are starting to raise the alarm.

Look what happened to Belgium. You don’t want to end up like Belgium or France. We can say it’s an alert for the politicians, but they are not listening because they just want these people right now. And in my opinion, that’s a big danger.

Portugal’s tourism industry seems to be somewhat of a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Some people complain that Lisbon is turning into a tourist town and locals feel like they no longer really belong there. What are your thoughts?

I know that’s true for some people because there has been massive tourism like we’ve never seen before. But honestly, I think that’s not possible to change, because Lisbon is really a fantastic city with fantastic food, nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels. The weather is amazing. So, the prices in Lisbon are higher, but in general, for the French or for an American, for Germans, it’s not terribly high. So it’s attractive.

So, we don’t want to say, oh, let’s not have more tourism. No, let’s create conditions so we can have more tourism. Because tourism is very, very important.

Does this not tie back into immigration though? You say that immigration is needed for jobs in tourism and agriculture. Well, doesn’t Portugal have a very high youth unemployment rate? Why are those people not being put to work?

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It’s true, you are completely right. We don’t have a very high unemployment rate in general, but we have high youth unemployment, also partially in Spain. Both countries have a very high youth unemployment rate.

I believe, but I don’t have the data to tell you, but it is my conviction that one of the big problems is that the government is giving and throwing out money to everyone; they’re creating huge flows of money with large aid packages designed to help everybody.

If you don’t want to work, you get money. If you are an immigrant, and you come and you don’t have a house, you get money.

If you don’t want to work or you are fired and then you give up looking for a job, the state keeps giving you money.

In Portugal, sometimes it’s more profitable not to work because you get money, and you don’t have to pay for transportation, gas, or food. So that’s a problem. When the message you give to people is “You will get money from the government even if you decide not to do anything,” I believe that’s a big problem and a lot of youth unemployment is probably related to this.

There are other perspectives, too. Unfortunately, there has been massive emigration out of Portugal. And we are losing some of our brightest minds to other countries like America or Germany or the United Kingdom. And that’s a shame. We are losing our best, and we are importing other people.

Is this not a fundamental problem with immigration, every country seems to be trading many of their most intelligent citizens, which can be destabilizing?

We must create the conditions that our people don’t want to leave or don’t feel the need to leave for other countries, but we must also control our borders so that we receive and help everybody who needs help. But we cannot say we have an open door, so just come and do what you want.

Look, we had this attack in Lisbon one month ago, an Afghan guy who killed two women. We don’t know yet if he had ties to terrorist groups or to criminal groups. But the truth is that when the attack happened, the authorities didn’t have a clue who this guy was. And why? Because we are not controlling anything. They’re just saying, “Come in and do whatever you want.” And that’s a problem. That’s a really, really big problem.

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Your party is growing explosively. Are you starting to face any sort of censorship on any social media platforms?

Yes, I’m not an expert, but the people who work for us tell us that this is happening on Facebook, Instagram, and in the algorithms. Since I’m not an expert on this topic, I don’t like to speak about it, and I don’t know much about it, but they’re advising us and giving us the alert that this is happening on social media.

Are you able to get into the national media and appear on talk shows?

Yes, to be honest, we have these invitations, but we are not accepting too many now because I want to consolidate the national positions and then start looking at the international scene.

So, you’re here at CPAC, what do you get out of these types of events?

I believe events like these are very important because we have common problems and we share the same difficulties. So, we have to come together, but we cannot forget the most important goal, which is winning in our countries. We have to change our governments. It’s very good to be here, I love it, but it won’t get any results if we cannot win elections.

Last question, how well do you expect your party to do in the next elections?

I think we will get into the government — either leading or in a coalition. I hope we’re leading it, but it’s difficult. We are at 15 (percent), the other party is at 26 (percent). It’s not easy, but we will fight to lead the next Portuguese government. I’ll fight for it, but for sure we will be in the government.

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