Portuguese ask: brother can you spare a dime – for the president?


BRUSSELS, Belgium — Portugal’s protesting pensioners were determined that the president won’t go hungry, but police prevented them from leaving their charitable donation of rice, bread and a collection of loose change at his riverside palace.

The irony was evident as President Anibal Cavaco Silva has ignited a wave of protests with comments that he won’t be able to make ends meet on his pension when he retires from the county’s highest office.

“I’m pretty sure it won’t be enough to cover my costs,” Cavaco Silva, told reporters last week, referring to the 1,300 euro monthly pension he expects to receive from his time as a researcher and university professor.

The 71-year-old head of state was attempting to tell citizens that he shares their pain as they struggle with the euro zone’s second worst recession (after Greece), and they face pay and pension cuts as part of a 78 billion euro international bailout deal.

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The interest rate Portugal is paying on its debt is soaring, and the price investors pay for insuring its government bonds now rivals that of Greece last April, according to Dow Jones Newswire.

One recent reform, signed into law by the president, effectively shaved 14 percent of all pensions over 600 euros a month.

The president waived his salary as president after being elected for a second term a year ago, but on tax returns he has declared income of around 10,000 euro a month. Portugal’s average monthly wage is around 1,000 euros and shrinking.

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Cavaco Silva’s comments did not go down well.

By early morning Wednesday 28,370 people had signed an online petition calling for the center-right president to resign. The protesters outside the 18th century presidential palace in Lisbon held out hats to collect coins under the slogan: “A penny for Cavaco.”

The president released a statement admitting he “had not been sufficiently clear” in expressing himself in his pension comments, which came on the day that central bank figures showed that last month’s Christmas consumer spending fell a record 4.5 percent compared to December 2010. The economy is expected to shrink at least 3 percent this year.

Cavaco Silva has been a leading figure in Portuguese politics since serving as prime minister from 1985 to 1995, before being elected to the largely-symbolic role of president in 2006. But commentators said Cavaco Silva is comments showed a level of insensitivity that would not be easily forgotten by citizens.

“The country lost its president at a time when it needs him the most,” Joao Marcelino, director of the Diario de Noticias newspaper told RTP television.

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