Portuguese American Journal

In protest: Open Letter to Mr. Tim Pawlenty – NOPA

Francisco Semião, Founding Director of the National Organization of Portuguese -Americans (NOPA), addressed a letter of protest to Republican Presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty, regarding comments he made at the GOP’s New Hampshire debate, held June 13th, which many Portuguese nationals and many Americans of Portuguese descent found to be derogatory and insensitive.

GOP candidateTim Pawlenty

On his remarks, referring to President Obama, Mr. Tim Pawlenty commented, “This president is a declinist. He views America as one of equals around the world. We’re not the same as Portugal; we’re not the same as Argentina.”

On a brief statement to the Portuguese American Journal, Francisco Semião urged individuals and organizations in the Portuguese community to join the protest by addressing their concerns to Mr. Tim Pawlenty, calling his attention to the role that Portugal has played and continues to play as an historic ally of the United States.  He said, “We have Portuguese Americans who have made significant contributions to the culture, the economy and the political process of this nation. Many are currently in the military or working on behalf of the United States security.”

Referring to Mr. Tim Pawlenty pejorative comments, Francisco  Semião stated, “He should have been more sensitive to the current critical situation in Portugal caught in the global economic crisis which has affected many countries around the world, including the United States.  His remarks also reflect his lack of knowledge regarding the Portuguese speaking world which is interconnected and includes Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique and many other countries and regions, where there is a significant Portuguese presence.”

Open Letter to Republican

Presidential Candidate Tim Pawlenty

Addressing Debate Remarks About Portugal

June 19, 2011

Mr. Tim Pawlenty
Pawlenty 2012
PO Box 385340
Bloomington, MN 55438

Re: Open Letter Addressing Negative Reference to Portugal

Dear Mr. Pawlenty:

At the GOP’s New Hampshire debate on June 13th, your comment that “This president is a declinist. He views America as one of equals around the world. We’re not the same as Portugal; we’re not the same as Argentina” has raised some concerns on how you may view our community and the country many of us and our ancestors came from. We, at The National Organization of Portuguese Americans (NOPA), wish to take this opportunity to provide you with information with the purpose of improving your views about Portugal.

While we appreciate the candidate’s views of American exceptionalism, we were disappointed by the derogatory tone and statement made about Portugal. We would like to remind you of the importance of the long-standing relationship between the United States and Portugal dating back to 1791 and Portugal’s contributions and significant standing in the world.

  • Modern day Portugal has been an integral member of the European Union (EU) and is a strong proponent of European integration. While Portugal held the presidency of the EU Council for the third time during the latter half of 2007, Portugal oversaw the signing of a new EU reform treaty, staged EU summits with Russia, India, and China, and held a second EU-Africa summit. Furthermore, Portugal is a founding member of NATO and continues to be an active member of the alliance.
  • Contributing to the strong ties between the United States and Portugal are the sizable Portuguese communities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, California, and Hawaii. The latest census estimates that 1.3 million individuals living in the United States are of Portuguese ancestry. There are also about 20,000 Americans living in Portugal.
  • A large percentage of Portuguese-Americans are descendents of immigrants who came from the Azores in the late 1950’s after the islands experienced several volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, leaving many without homes. Thousands of victims were in need of aid, and the United States, in a gesture of international goodwill, allocated visas to the people of the Azores to find work and rebuild their lives in America. Since the Azores are known for their rich soil and temperate climate, many of the Portuguese refugees settled in regions of the United States that supported agriculture and dairy, such as the San Joaquin Valley in Central California. Many other Portuguese from the Azores settled in parts of the nation with burgeoning fishing industries, particularly in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York where they continued to diversify and contribute to the nation’s economy and common heritage.
  • According to the U.S. Department of State, bilateral ties with Portugal date from the earliest years of the United States. Following the Revolutionary War, Portugal was among the first countries to recognize the United States. On February 21, 1791, President George Washington opened formal diplomatic relations and the oldest continuously-operating U.S. Consulate in the world, since 1795, is in Ponta Delgada on the Portuguese island of São Miguel in the Azores.
  • Portugal often emphasizes its support for strong European ties with the United States, particularly on defense and security issues. Portugal sees its role as host of NATO’s “Joint Command Lisbon,” located near Lisbon, as an important sign of alliance interest in transatlantic security issues.
  • Finally, the long-standing defense relationship between the United States and Portugal is excellent, centered on the Agreement on Cooperation and Defense (ACD) signed in 1995; however, a U.S. military forward presence at Lajes Field, in the Azores, extends back to World War II and it remains a critical logistic hub for U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. European Command, and NATO Allies. The U.S. Air Force’s 65th Air Base Wing is based in Lajes. This access supports deployed U.S. forces throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. U.S. missions currently supported by a presence at Lajes Field include counterterrorism, humanitarian, and combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Portugal also hosts NATO Allied Joint Force Command Lisbon, which is one of the three main subdivisions of NATO’s Allied Command Operations.

Less than a week before your debate on June 10th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, was delighted to congratulate the people of Portugal as we celebrated our National Day. She stated how “Portuguese history and culture continues to inspire the people of the United States. Whether through the bravery of Vasco de da Gama, the literary works of Luís de Camões, or the contributions of today’s Portuguese-Americans, Portugal’s presence and influence in America is alive and well.” We at NOPA, and the community we represent, would hope a candidate for the office of President of our Nation would be more aware of the importance the bi-lateral ties between the U.S. and Portugal play for the future and defense of America.

Respectfully yours,

Francisco Semião

NOPA Founding Director