RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The latest polls confirm what had been expected: André Ventura is here to stay. A political phenomenon, with a party founded as recently as 2019 – and with only one deputy (himself) – it is now the third political force in the country.
The nearly half a million votes secured on the January 24th presidential elections by André Ventura, a sworn enemy of the Portuguese “particracy” system, signals that a growing number of citizens have had enough.
CHEGA (which means “enough”) is the name of the party that this 38-year-old attorney founded a few months before the 2019 parliamentary elections. He won 1.3% of the vote and a seat in Parliament. On January 24th, he secured nearly 12% of the vote, and his party is now arguably the third largest in Portugal in terms of membership.
How? The cause is clear: the systemic and unpunished rampant economic corruption, fostered or shielded by successive left-wing and center-left governments.
The CHEGA party’s prevailing political orientation is one of economic liberalism and conservative values, but his political adversaries nurture the “far-right” label, typical of anti-democratic, often subversive parties or movements.
Portugal’s political power is controlled by an old, incompetent and hobbled elite, which favors the investments of large international economic and financial corporations to the detriment of national interests and Portuguese taxpayers.
Ventura presents himself as the opposite: he is young, intelligent, charismatic, innovative, a brilliant communicator free to speak his (provocative) mind both within and beyond his party.
And it works.
Voters are tired of electing the same parties and the same people, with disastrous consequences for the country’s economic and social development.
He draws inspiration from Franscisco Sá Carneiro, founder and leader of the PPD/PSD (Popular Democratic Party/Social Democratic Party) in the wake of the Carnation Revolution (April 1974) and Portugal’s Prime Minister for about eleven months in 1980, who in the last week of campaigning for the second presidential election died in a plane crash. Of the ten parliamentary committees on the crash conducted between 1982 and 2011, eight pointed out that there had been an assassination. But the Judiciary Police investigation ruled it an accident for lack of evidence, and the Prosecutor’s Office closed the case in 1983.
Ventura has been labeled by his political rivals and their allied media as an aspiring successor to Salazar (founder of the corporatist authoritarian government, who ruled Portugal between 1932 and 1968). He dismisses the accusation, stating that unlike Salazar he is a supporter of economic development and believes strongly in elections and freedom of speech. But, he says, “I hope to end my days as he did: poor and incorruptible.”
Despite his understandably hectic work schedule and relentless activities, deputy André Ventura granted this interview exclusively for The Rio Times.
Who is André Ventura?
I have a law degree, an area in which I have lectured. I have been a tax auditor, a TV commentator, and I now work full-time as a deputy in the Portuguese Parliament. I am 38 years old and married.
What prompted you to become president of CHEGA and fight the establishment?
My experience in the PSD (Social Democratic Party) taught me that all parties are part of the system, which implies that they are more concerned with their political and personal survival than with solving the problems of the Portuguese. And that made me realize that I didn’t want to remain in a party of the system, which is why I left the PSD and founded CHEGA, the first anti-establishment Portuguese party.
What do you advocate? What does your party represent?
CHEGA represents a complete rupture with the way politics is conducted in Portugal. Politics is there to improve the lives of the people, not to hand out half a dozen positions in public companies to relatives and friends. It is this pernicious tradition that alienates the Portuguese from politics, which is then reflected in the high abstention rates seen in all elections.
What must change in Portugal?
This cronyism and patronage tradition that gives rise to successive cases of corruption that not only undermine the perception that the Portuguese have of politics, but also, and most importantly, destroy the public coffers, which is the people’s money, paid for with their taxes, with their hard work.
What is your assessment of Portugal’s current situation?
As I said before, corruption, cronyism, and patronage are the great scourges of Portugal that prevent a sustained growth of the country’s economy, because there are too many shady interests behind every business deal in the government.
In this respect, allow me also to add that CHEGA has proposed a bill in Parliament to double the penalties for the crime of corruption, with up to 16 years imprisonment for passive corruption and a maximum of 10 years for active corruption.
Where do your voters come from and from which parties and background do you believe prospective voters might emerge?
Our voters come from virtually all political backgrounds, because these are people who have realized that traditional parties are too involved in and dependent on the system as it is: a beneficial system to politicians but detrimental to the ordinary citizen. Moreover, CHEGA is the only party that talks about people’s problems, that is unafraid to point its finger at anyone in order to expose the pretense at morality and the problems that actually exist in society, and that all other parties pretend not to see and not to exist.
Who are your role models (living or deceased)?
Francisco Sá Carneiro, because he was the synonym of rupture and reformism in the Portuguese political arena, and Pope John Paul II, for being a true example of faith.
Does CHEGA have a party program?
CHEGA has the program with which it ran in the 2019 legislative elections and which enabled it to elect a deputy.
What do you think of the European Union as it currently stands?
The European Union is experiencing a very delicate phase in its existence. There are many unresolved issues regarding illegal immigration, but also regarding the economic and fiscal functioning of its member states.
The times ahead will not be easy, particularly because of the impact of the pandemic, and those in charge of the EU must know how to address future problems without it ever compromising the sovereignty of each nation.
Other than reiterated pledges and discourses, there has been no real mobilization of the political class against corruption in Portugal. What has not been done and what needs to be done?
Last year, the Minister of Justice finally presented the long awaited 2020-2024 National Strategy for the Fight Against Corruption which is sadly nothing more than a set of good intentions. Theoretically, it is a well designed document, but if it is properly scrutinized, in practice it results in absolutely nothing because there are no specific measures.
And more critical: this same minister, who introduced this strategy, was the one who allowed the resumé of a prosecutor to be falsified so that he would be appointed to the European Court. If this is not corruption at the highest level of government, then I don’t know what is!
What future do you project for Portugal and what is your take on the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s response?
Considering the way the government has been fighting the pandemic, with random measures, last-minute decisions and a complete lack of preparedness as seen with the start of the school year in September and later with the vaccination plan, the future does not bode well, honestly.
Thousands of people and families are losing their jobs, thousands of people are not being properly cared for in the National Health System because the latter, which has been the target of government cutbacks, is unable to cope with the pandemic while operating regularly. Unfortunately, all this signals that the Portuguese are going to experience much hardship in the near future.
What do you think about China’s ascension?
China’s ascension should be of concern to us in the sense that it could lead to a worldwide imbalance of forces, particularly from an economic standpoint. Not to mention the changes that this ascension may cause in global geography and geopolitics.
What do you think about Brazil and Portugal’s relations with Brazil?
The relationship between Brazil and Portugal is of the utmost historical value and should continue to be nurtured and respected by both nations for a number of reasons, but mainly because there is a large community of Portuguese and Portuguese descendants in Brazil, and the opposite is true in Portugal.
What are you thoughts on LGBTQ rights?
Contrary to what some say, CHEGA is not a homophobic party. You have never heard me or any party leader say that citizens from the LGBTQ community have either more or fewer rights than other citizens. All people, irrespective of their sexual choice, have the same rights and the same obligations in society.
How do you feel, as a politician and as an individual, about the attacks you have been under since the party’s foundation and more recently, regarding the attempts to delegitimize CHEGA? What, in your opinion, is driving these attacks?
It is frustrating to see our work under constant attack, but deep down we know that this is normal. And it is normal because CHEGA is rocking the foundations of this rotten system, which is forcing it to fend for itself, and as they have already realized that victory in the polls is not as comfortable as they would like, they are now trying to overthrow us officially. But they won’t succeed. Only the people can remove us from political life, no one else.
What do you make of your performance in the presidential elections and what insights do you draw from it?
The result was extremely positive. It should be noted that CHEGA had secured 1.29% of the votes in the 2019 parliamentary elections and now the candidate supported by the very same party secured 11.9%, coming very close to second place (12.97%). This result shows us that we have been doing a good job in standing up for the Portuguese and that they acknowledge our work.
What is Portugal’s greatest strength and greatest weakness?
Portugal’s greatest weakness is political correctness, bureaucracy, and corruption, which have hindered the successive governments from working for the truth and the Portuguese. Its greatest strength is its people, who are sovereign, although many forget this.