The U.S.-Portugal Relationship: Past, Present, and Future

Good afternoon! Thank you for the introduction, President Nuno Botelho, and thank you very much to the Commercial Association of Porto for hosting this wonderful event.

It is a pleasure to be back in the beautiful Porto region, truly one of my favorite places in Portugal. For the past nearly three years, it has been my honor to represent President Obama and the United States here in Portugal. As my service as Ambassador is coming to an end, I felt it only fitting to come here for one of my final speeches because so much of Porto’s story illustrates the history and potential of the U.S.-Portugal relationship. Before I begin, allow me to thank the many mayors from across the region who are in attendance for their outstanding support during my many trips here. I am honored to count many of you as friends.  I also want to recognize Isabel Gil, Rector of Universidade Catolica, Paulo Rangel, Member of European Parliament, Mayor of  Vila Nova de Famalicão – Paulo Cunha, Mayor of  Gouveia – Luis Tadeu Marques, Mayor of  Bragança – Hernâni Dias and Mayor of  Valongo – José Manuel Ribeiro, and Mario Ferreira, CEO Douro Azul. You too have been friends and counselors to me during my time in Portugal, and I want to say a sincere thanks to each of you.  Muito obrigado!

We are just nine days into 2017, and perhaps you, like I, are continuing to think about New Year’s resolutions. For those in the audience who overindulged in francesinhas or tripas during the holidays — or in my case, craft beers and cheeseburgers– these might include more cardio, cross fit, and calorie-counting.  All good.  But at the top of my list, I have resolved to focus on a different set of “C’s” that have more longevity—certainly in my case– than any diet or workout program.

Commitment.  Cooperation.  And Connection.  These are the raw ingredients that have bound the United States and Portugal for centuries and will underpin our ties in the decades to come.

Our political, economic, and strategic relationship is defined by lasting Commitment. It thrives on Cooperation to advance common interests on a wide spectrum of issues. And it depends on Connecting the next generation of innovators, leaders, and doers who will create opportunities for both our nations to better respond to the complex, global challenges we face.

Commitment. Cooperation. Connection. These are the building blocks of the U.S.-Portugal relationship, past and present. These elements glue the unshakable ties between our people.

Our friendship dates back to the very birth of the United States, when Portugal was one of the first countries to recognize our independence.  Our founding fathers toasted the Declaration of Independence with Madeira wine –unfortunately it was not Port– and we need only look as far as Ponta Delgada to find the longest-standing U.S. consulate in the world.  America and Portugal have been, are, and will continue to be staunch allies.

But a great friendship is one which brings out the best in us, and one that shines in times of hardship, not happiness. The U.S.-Portugal alliance is no stranger to hardship, and just as Porto is known as the cidade invicta, the unvanquished city, I believe that the U.S. and Portugal have an amizade invicta. Through dedicated commitment, our friendship has flourished, even during the most challenging of times.

In 1957, when the Capelinhos volcano on Faial Island in the Azores erupted, forcing a massive evacuation effort, the United States was there.  Upon learning of the disaster, a young Senator, John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, sprung to action. Along with Rhode Island Senator John Pastore, he pushed the Azorean Refugee Act through the U.S. Congress. This single act set into motion a chain of events that led to the emigration of 175,000 Portuguese to the United States, contributing to an increased standard of living, greater working opportunities, and deeper cultural ties with the United States that continue to pay dividends to this day.

On January 1, 1980, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck several islands in the Azores, destroying 70 percent of the houses on the island of Terceira, killing and injuring over 400, and leaving 21,000 people homeless. In that dark hour, the United States too was there. Immediately after the earthquake, Brigadier General Richard Drury and his team at Lajes Field formed groups of first responders. They dug through rubble for survivors, cleared roads, and distributed food and medical supplies alongside the Portuguese Air Force. The gymnasium at Lajes was turned into a temporary shelter, and the mess hall served over 1800 hot meals to victims. Back in Lisbon, Ambassador Richard Bloomfield secured immediate relief assistance to set up additional shelters. And across the United States, from Rhode Island to California, Americans sent donations and collected supplies to assist.

And just last summer, when wildfires erupted across mainland Portugal and Madeira, the United States was there. The Embassy contributed funds to Caritas and the Red Cross to provide much needed animal feed and farming equipment to livestock owners here in northern Portugal whose lands had been incinerated. After hearing from the Red Cross that fire victims were in dire need of food and items of warmth, Embassy personnel, American and Portuguese together, reached out to a nearby donation center and collected approximately 3,000 pounds of rice, milk, noodles, and blankets.

When viewing the bilateral relationship through the lens of history, one thing is clear. We have always been each other’s committed friends.

But some of you might be questioning whether this has changed. You may have concerns that our recent presidential election and the change in administration will weaken the United States’ relationship with Europe. Perhaps you have read media reports claiming that the United States is focusing its interests elsewhere. Or, maybe you have seen headlines alleging we are abandoning our presence at Lajes Field in the Azores and allowing a foreign power to take our place. Let me emphasize that these statements, without exception, are all untrue.

The Portugal-U.S. alliance has endured catastrophic events, and grown stronger each time through our mutual commitment to overcome challenges. Our joint effort to work through the streamlining at Lajes Field is just one example of this commitment. When reductions were announced in 2015, Portuguese leaders came to us with an overarching appeal: that there be no involuntary layoffs of hardworking Portuguese base employees.  We listened, we understood what this meant, and we responded positively. And so, no involuntary layoffs occurred. We put millions into the pension fund so that some workers could accept buyouts or pursue early retirement. Others stayed on and were retrained for new jobs.

It was a monumental effort that required the creativity and compassion of many.  Although overlooked in the press, what both our militaries—Portuguese and American recognize is that our capabilities at Lajes, and our standards of excellence, are every bit as high now as before the downsizing, allowing our countries to continue to meet our security commitments in an increasingly dangerous world. And the United States and Portugal built a strong working dialogue that has demonstrated our commitment, even during challenging times. Especially during challenging times.

The United States’ commitment to Portugal is enduring precisely because it is two-way. Seventy years ago, from the ashes of global devastation and genocide, the United States and Portugal became charter members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO, along with the EU, IMF, World Bank, and the United Nations — now led by a Portuguese — were established to resolve challenges that no single nation or group could overcome on its own. Through our collaboration in these forums, the United States and Portugal have contributed to transatlantic unity.

We will never forget that Article 5, NATO’s self-defense clause, was first triggered after the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. To quote President Obama, “Even as we see a transition of governments in the United States, across Democratic and Republican administrations, there’s a recognition that the NATO alliance is absolutely vital and the transatlantic relationship is the cornerstone of our mutual security as well as prosperity.”

Today and every day, this commitment is reflected in the sacrifices of Portuguese and American troops who stand shoulder to shoulder in NATO operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe, and Iraq, as well as in EU and UN missions in the Mediterranean, Mali, the Central African Republic, and Somalia.

Our alliance will endure government transitions, alterations in policy, and, yes, even a change in ambassador. An amizade invicta only matures and grows stronger with each change it weathers. And that brings me to the second C, cooperation.

One of the sites I and many other visitors to this area will remember most is the iconic arch of the Luis I bridge that connects Porto and Vila Nova da Gaia. One of six stretching across the Douro, the bridge has facilitated commercial and cultural ties between the cities for over a hundred years and exemplifies the cooperation that has helped each city thrive in its own way.

There was not always cooperation between Porto and Gaia but I salute my friends, the mayors of both cities Rui Moreira and Eduardo Rodrigues for their collaboration for the economic benefit of this region. Of course, I have my own story. To highlight their partnership, both mayors agreed two years ago to launch the festival of  São João with a toast , meeting in the middle of the bridge after each had departed from their side. The plan was that I would accompany the Mayor of Gaia and after the toast leave with the Mayor of Porto to watch the festivities with him. Well, with television cameras rolling and on signal, Mayor Rodrigues and I left Gaia to walk across the bridge watching closely as Mayor Moreira was doing the same from his side.  All I could think of was that this felt less like I was going to a toast and a lot more like I was part of a prisoner exchange at Checkpoint Charlie! But it all turned out fine! And S. João is absolutely my favorite festival in Portugal. I was there last year as well.

The United States and Portugal might not be literally connected by a bridge, but I am proud to say that the bridges between our nations have increased significantly the past few years. Let’s look first at defense and security, the primary responsibility of any government. Portugal, with assistance from the United States, hosted Trident Juncture in 2015, the largest NATO military exercise in over a decade. This incredible display brought together 36,000 troops from over 30 allied and partner nations, and involved 140 aircraft and 60 ships, both building Alliance capacity and displaying its resolve.

This past September we celebrated another milestone in military to military cooperation when six Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter aircraft, formerly Portuguese Air Force-operated, were transferred to Romania, lessening that nation’s dependence on Soviet-supplied weapons systems and increasing NATO interoperability and cohesion. And major engagements between our respective military leadership has spiked going from under 10 in 2013 to close to a hundred last year. This bodes well for our ongoing defense collaboration.

It goes without saying that defense is but one area in which we cooperate. I would argue the strength of the U.S.-Portugal relationship is in its breadth and flexibility, vital in meeting today’s challenges, which are transnational in scope and trans-institutional in solution. The refugee crisis is a case in point. Portugal in 2016 opened its hearts and neighborhoods to refugees when others in Europe were building walls. This expression of the best of human values has not gone unnoticed, winning praise at President Obama’s Leaders’ Refugee Summit in New York last September.  The Embassy was proud to have contributed in small part, organizing a multi-stakeholder program for Portuguese leaders to visit the United States and learn from local officials already hosting large refugee populations.

We have all been moved by the indelible images of destitution and desperation that have characterized the global migration crisis, but the United States and Portugal are also committed to working on a host of less visible but equally pressing challenges. In Lisbon, U.S. law enforcement personnel and civilian experts work hand-in-hand with Portuguese authorities on a range of issues — from enhancing our collective cybersecurity to combatting counterfeiting and narcotics.  In October, some 20 Portuguese and U.S. judges had a frank exchange of best practices for combating trafficking in persons, a plague that affects both our countries.

And right here in Porto, thanks to a partnership between NASA and the University of Porto, researcher João Tasso and his team are able to use satellites, submarines, and drones to collect oceanographic data and track patterns in the movements of fish and mammals at a level of detail never before achieved. And the applications for use in maritime security are boundless. Through this collaborative effort, scientists around the world aim to understand the complex challenges facing our oceans and marine environments. An enormous body of work is being built every single day by Portuguese and Americans who advance our relationship on the policy, institutional, and grassroots levels.

I had the pleasure in 2014 to befriend one of these individuals, Portuguese-American Nobel Laureate Dr. Craig Mello. When Dr. Mello came to Portugal on an Embassy-sponsored life sciences mission, he said that no other country was doing more cutting-edge life sciences research than Portugal. Not one. But he lamented that Portugal wasn’t commercializing it or publicizing it in a way that let the world know that research capabilities in Coimbra or Braga could rival those in Cambridge or Boston.

Dr. Mello is right. There is world-class innovation happening here, and not just in the area of life sciences. Portugal is a leader on environmental issues, setting a world record last May when the entire country ran only on solar, wind, and hydroelectric power for 107 hours straight. WindFloat, the groundbreaking off-shore, floating wind platform developed by EDP and its American partner, Principle Power, bobbles six kilometers off the Atlantic coast just north of here, near Aguçadoura, site of the world’s first wave farm.

In the area of high tech, the Porto region leads Portugal with the highest number of startups, 36 percent of the nation’s total. Porto-based start-ups like Veniam or Xhockware, which have successfully opened offices in the United States, are staking Portugal’s claim as a global innovation hub. Adding to this momentum, the spotlight of the tech world was trained squarely on Portugal just weeks ago, when Web Summit, the largest technology marketplace on the continent, opened its doors to more than 53,000 participants and 7000 CEOs from 166 countries. To build on the event’s incredible energy, the Embassy teamed up with Microsoft, and partners like the University of Porto’s UPTEC, to facilitate the Journey to Web Summit Start-up Challenge. This pitch competition for Portuguese start-ups offered the winning start-up the opportunity of a lifetime– a display at the Web Summit, incubator space, and free legal assistance to start a U.S. entity.

One of the cornerstones of the bilateral relationship are our institutional partnerships, as they nurture next-generation scientific research and the development of new technologies. Some of the United States’ finest universities –to include Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Carnegie Mellon University — work with local partners to continue longstanding study abroad programs and faculty exchanges that inspire future collaboration between our nations. One such partnership is between the University of Texas- Austin and the Iberian Nanotechnology Lab, or INL, in Braga, the first fully international research organization in Europe in the field of Nanoscience, Nanomedicine, and Nanotechnology. INL has about 200 researchers and 100 PhD students from around the world, and its collaboration with the University of Texas-Austin and other institutions has paved the way for groundbreaking research to foster nanotechnology commercialization for job and wealth creation. In fact, we will be working with INL Director Lars Montelius, who joins us today, on his upcoming visit to Boston to create and grow more institutional collaborations.

Since I arrived here, the number of U.S. students in Portugal’s finest universities has increased by over 100 percent! With the number of Portuguese students pursuing studies in the United States on the rise as well, we have new opportunities to grow our institutional partnerships.  This year Portugal’s Foundation of Science and Technology (FCT) signed an agreement with the Fulbright Commission, a bilateral organization that plans and implements educational exchanges, for 30 new scholarships that will allow Portuguese students to pursue research and postgraduate studies at U.S. universities. Additionally, NASA and FCT launched a program enabling Portuguese students to intern at NASA centers in the United States.

These partnerships provide scientists and innovators the tools they need to take their efforts to the next level. Our support aims to showcase the talents of the Cristiano Ronaldos of cancer research and the Antonio Guterreses of aeronautics. By providing a stage for emerging researchers and business leaders to share their work and their stories, we inspire the next generation of visionaries, in both our nations and around the world.

There is exciting stuff happening, and it is worth noting that not all of it is new. Nearly $2 billion dollars in goods and $1 billion worth of services are traded across the Atlantic every single day between the United States and Europe. The United States is Portugal’s fifth-largest export market and largest trading partner outside the EU. The 130 U.S. companies operating in Portugal employ over 20,000 people and generate about €5 billion in sales, or 3 percent of Portugal’s GDP.

IBM, one of these companies, first opened its doors in Portugal in 1938. The Machine Watson Company, as it was known at the time, built typewriters and had 24 employees. Now over 1400 strong, IBM Portugal opened its new Innovation Center in Viseu a few weeks ago to develop mobile, cloud, and cognitive solutions.

The world has come a long way since typewriters. Companies like Netflix or Skype, now household names, started with ideas that spread far enough, fast enough to disrupt entire industries and invent a new set of options for consumers. The barriers to transatlantic communication have been vanquished by technology, and the growing number of direct air links between the U.S. and Portugal on United, Delta, American Airlines, TAP, and SATA allow potential investors and partners in both nations to collaborate like never before. This leads me to the third C of the U.S.-Portugal relationship, the power of connection.

On one of my trips through northern Portugal last year, I toured the impressively engineered Túnel do Marão, the longest tunnel on the Iberian Peninsula. Connecting Porto to Vila Real, the tunnel eliminates the hurdles that difficult terrain has long posed to opening up the Douro and Trás-os-Montes regions for further development. This is important not just because of the tunnel’s immense scale, but because increased access and connectivity between people and communities leads to greater ideas, greater innovation, and greater commercial and cultural exchange.

Similarly, the success of the U.S.-Portugal economic relationship will be measured both by our ability to strengthen trade and investment and by our ability to facilitate the connections between people, ideas, and information to support the growth of small and medium enterprises, as well as non-traditional and socially conscious commercial projects. The European Commission estimates that 99.9 percent of Portuguese businesses are SMEs, which account for more than 80 percent of employment. Increasingly, some of the most exciting commercial efforts are being driven not by corporations, but by individuals and communities.

Portuguese-American entrepreneur Michael Finete is just one example of those on the vanguard of U.S.-Portugal commercial innovation. Capitalizing on his family’s background in the fishing industry, Michael sought assistance from the U.S. Embassy Lisbon and U.S. Consulate Ponta Delgada to successfully navigate the process of starting his own product line of sustainably-caught, canned Azorean tuna. Currently in the midst of sending his first shipment to Colombia, Michael’s successful enterprise has established new trade links with three countries, created jobs, and raised consciousness about the responsible handling of one of Portugal’s most precious resources.

Sometimes, a remarkable idea can come from the most unexpected places. You might know of the incredible Alqueva Dark Sky project in Alentejo, the brainchild of Apolónia Rodrigues. She saw in the poor and underdeveloped district of Alqueva a unique, costfree resource— one of the darkest night skies in Europe—and pulled together hotel owners, local politicians, and others to obtain Starlight Tourism certification and transform the area into a destination for astronomers, stargazers, and curious tourists from around the world.

Michael and Apolónia’s stories remind me of another statement by President Obama, “A change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things.” I would add that sometimes, it takes the support of a community to realize the full potential of an extraordinary idea. For this reason, a critical pillar of the U.S.-Portugal relationship is convening and connecting individuals to facilitate the people-to-people ties that lead to positive change.

Connect to Success, the Embassy’s flagship initiative in women’s entrepreneurship, aims to unlock the economic potential of women business owners in exactly this way. The program is comprised of a corporate mentorship program, free practical business workshops, and an MBA/Masters Consulting program that began with Porto Business School as its first participating institution. In fact, through Connect to Success, Emilia Simões, CEO of digital ticketing platform Last2Ticket– a company that was founded here at the University of Porto’s Science and Technology Park– was among the 1000 entrepreneurs and investors invited by President Obama to attend the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit convened by the U.S. government.

Connect to Success has since spread from Porto to Portimão, and counts among its network over 750 women. In fact, the Connect to Success model has been so effective that we are currently in discussions to take the model to other countries, where it can reach an even wider network of women entrepreneurs through the power of connection.

In covering the three Cs of the U.S.-Portugal relationship—commitment, cooperation, and connection—we have touched upon subjects ranging from NATO to sustainable fishing. That is not an accident. Our alliance is as diverse and multifaceted as it is enduring. It manifests as deeply in rural Afghanistan in the service of American and Portuguese troops as it does in laboratories where our scientists collaborate on joint research. It is demonstrated equally by meetings between our high-level political officials as by the astounding number of sister city partnerships that have created friendships stretching from Honolulu, Hawaii to Funchal, Madeira. And from participating in language exchanges to volunteering at cultural festivals that promote mutual understanding, every single one of us has a role to play in strengthening these ties.

I depart this marvelous country January 20.  My one regret? That I don’t have just a bit more time here.  Time to visit one last technology incubator, military exercise, or seemingly quiet, but actually vibrant, village.  Time to push forward one last bilateral initiative.  But it is time to hand the reins to my successor.  So, I would like to end by asking you to become the fourth, critical C in the bilateral relationship – a catalyst for positive change.   It is your actions, your relationships, and your unbound ambition and optimism that can deepen this relationship and expand it through uncharted waters to new horizons, much like your intrepid explorers did a half-millennium ago.  So I urge you…don’t wait for change.  You are that change. There is nothing the Portuguese people can’t accomplish.  It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve in this great country.

I thank you for your warmth and your kindness.  Até breve!