PORTUGAL: 'We have never been good at marketing ourselves'
Thomas Cromwell

You might think that the continental European country nearest to the United States would enjoy wide recognition and be a common destination for Americans. Not so, says Portugal's ambassador to the United States, Pedro Manuel Dos Reis Alves Catarino. On the contrary, the ambassador believes that few in America know much about Portugal and what it has to offer to tourists and businessmen. He would like this to change.

There are reasons for Portugal's low profile in the United States, of course. One is that it tends to be overshadowed by its much larger neighbor, Spain, which is linked inevitably to America's large Hispanic community. Portugal, on the other hand, is strongly linked to former colony Brazil, although there are some 1.3 million Portuguese Americans.

Portugal is a great place to visit, the ambassador says. He stresses that Portuguese are easy going and friendly people, and that the sunny climate makes his country a wonderful place to spend time. What's more, it has a 900-year history, with a rich cultural heritage, castles, museums, quaint villages and delightful coastlines and interior regions.

For business, Portugal offers an attractive base to reach the Iberian market of 60 million (10.5 in Portugal, the rest in Spain) and beyond to France, the Benelux countries and Germany. Labor costs in Portugal are still low by West European standards, and there is that fine climate and lifestyle advantage for companies choosing between Warsaw or Bratislava, say, and Lisbon.

Portugal has had several decades of positive political development since an authoritarian regime was ousted in 1974. Although most political parties cast themselves as left of center, to mark their departure from the military-dominated governments of the past, there is a large degree of pragmatism in the way elected governments conduct their business. And Ambassador Catarino says the Socialist Party which recently won a general election is close to the model of Britain's Labour Party, which is ideologically left of center but pragmatic and pro-business in its economic policies.

In 1986 Portugal joined the European Union. This membership brought many benefits in the form of so-called structural funds provided by the EU to help less developed regions of the Union catch up economically with their wealthier brethren. Through this assistance, Portugal managed to upgrade its infrastructure to West European standards, and now has excellent telecommunications, roads and banking services.

As a result, the standard of living in Portugal now is about 75 percent of the average of wealthier EU members, such as Germany and Britain, whereas it was only 55% when Portugal joined. And the standard of living gap is steadily closing.

But, Ambassador Catarino says, Portugal still needs to push through certain reforms, in particular of the "cumbersome" judicial system, inefficient administration and inadequate health and education systems.

The ambassador speaks fervently about the close ties that bind his country with the United States. "We have always been an Atlanticist country," he says, meaning Portugal has stressed the importance of its relations with America across the Atlantic. The ambassador explains further: "We believe the US-European relationship is the basis for European security, which in turn is the basis for European prosperity."

The ambassador also has an interesting take on the benefits of alliance with a major power, now that Portugal is itself no longer a major global player in its own right. He says, "We need to be allied with a dominant power in order to be able to take full advantage of our relations around the world," including with former colonies such as Brazil, Angola and Mozambique. "A strong relationship with the United States means we are more relevant to these countries," he says. He adds that, "We have no hang-ups with [our former colonies]."

He stresses that this is not just a policy of his government, but an ongoing position of successive Portuguese governments.

Regarding the US-led war on terror, the ambassador says that his country has taken the position that it prefers to follow a United Nations lead, but if that is not available it will support the United States. He points out that the Portuguese Azores islands were used both by US warplanes flying to missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and by US president George Bush when he met with the British, Spanish and Portuguese leaders to plan a final UN Security Council resolution to justify an invasion of Iraq.

And, the ambassador says, his government has not followed Spain's lead in pulling its troops out of Iraq because of domestic political pressures. Rather, the 135 gendarmes Portugal sent to help with police work in Iraq were withdrawn after the US and Iraqi elections were over, and only after consultations with the US administration. In fact the new socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates has confirmed that it will remain a close US ally, that NATO is the backbone of its security policy and that it will keep all its international commitments.

The ambassador says that most Portuguese are very conservative in their character and religion, but politically they tend to be left of center. This latter trend is an ongoing result of the reaction to the conservative government overthrown in 1974. However, even Portugal's Communists, who once declared Karl Marx their inspiration and followed Moscow's line, are now fully accepting of the democratic process and have eschewed their more radical positions.

But, returning to the lack of knowledge about his country and its benefits, Ambassador Catarino says that Portugal's weakness is in marketing itself. "We have never been good at marketing ourselves," he says. 

Curriculum Vitae of Pedro Catarino

Born in Lisbon December 5th, 1941
Married with two children
Degree in Law from the University of Lisbon - Faculty of Law - 1963
Joined the Diplomatic Service in June 1964

Summary of Posts

1967/1969 At the Embassy in Pretoria

1970/1972 At the Military Headquarters in Macau (National Military Service)

1973  At the Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York as Delegate to the Sixth Committee (legal matters)

1974/1979 At the Delegation to NATO in Brussels as Defense Counselor

1979/1982 Consul-General in Hong Kong

1983/1989 International Civil Servant at NATO in Brussels as Director of Council Operations and Chairman of the Council Operations and Exercises Committee with  responsibility for crisis management matters.

1989/1992 President of the Inter-Ministerial Commission on Macau and Head of the Portuguese Delegation to the Portuguese-Chinese Joint Liaison Group on Macau.

Head of the Portuguese Delegation to the negotiations for a new Defense and Cooperation Agreement with the United States of America.

Sept.1992/Dec.1996 Permanent Representative to the United Nations New York.

April 1997/Sept.2002 Ambassador in Beijing, Ambassador in Ulan Bator and Pyongyang (non-resident)                                         

From October 2002 Ambassador in Washington