Lisbon mayor accused of ‘boycotting’ slavery memorial

By Catarina Demony

LISBON (Reuters) -The mayor of Lisbon has been accused of “boycotting” Portugal’s first memorial to victims of slavery, a long-delayed project in a country still struggling to confront its role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Proposed over five years ago by Portugal’s Association of African Descendants (DJASS), the memorial – which would consist of rows of sugar cane painted black – was meant to be erected at Campo das Cebolas, a central square near Lisbon’s Tagus river.

From the 15th to the 19th century, 6 million Africans were kidnapped and forcibly transported by Portuguese ships and sold into slavery, primarily to Brazil.

But little is taught in schools about Portugal’s involvement in slavery and its colonial past is widely seen as a source of pride.

The memorial, funded by the city council, was approved as part of the city’s 2017-2018 budget, but construction has been delayed since then.

DJASS said in a statement on Friday that obstacles have been created, including requesting less sugar cane and changes to construction materials and to the budget.

Carlos Moedas of the centre right was elected mayor in 2021 but the process of erecting the memorial only resumed in September last year.

At the time, Moedas’ office said approval was still needed from the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage (DGCP) and Lisbon’s parking company (EMEL).

According to DJASS, the mayor’s office said in April DGCP and EMEL had not given their approval, meaning the memorial had be located elsewhere.

The mayor’s office proposed a new location in what DJASS described as a narrow road that gives access to a pier and a parking lot near Lisbon’s cruise terminal.

In a statement, the mayor’s office said it proposed a new location near Campo das Cebolas and was waiting to hear DJASS’ feedback, adding it rejected “dilatory accusations” and would continue to work with the association to find a solution.

Moedas said in March he was “totally in favour of the memorial” but such projects take time.

DJASS said the mayor’s office was dealing with the memorial in a “negligent and disrespectful way” and accused it of adopting a strategy of boycotting the project.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Giles Elgood and William Mallard)