Revisitando 1968

Editorial. Revisitando 1968

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

Este año marca el 50 aniversario de la revolución estudiantil de 1968, lo que ofrece una oportunidad de reflexionar sobre el evento en sí y la percepción del público desde entonces. En 1969, apenas un año después del evento, Raymond Aron (1905-1983) publicó el libro La Revolution Introuvable: Réflexions sur les événements de mai, o The Elusive Revolution: Anatomy of a Student Revolt, en la traducción al inglés. Considerado el testigo más equilibrado de los acontecimientos en París, Aron describió a 1968 como un ‘psicodrama’, más para una comedia revolucionaria que para una verdadera revolución. Aron era el tipo de intelectual que siempre escogió la verdad, cualquiera que fuera el costo. Ser un feroz crítico del marxismo, en una época en que casi todo el mundo estaba envuelto con la izquierda, significó no sólo renunciar a la oportunidad de hacerse popular, sino también exponerse al menosprecio de otros pensadores. Pero, a pesar de todos los intentos de denigrar su imagen, Aron mantuvo su propio suelo. Aron finalmente alcanzó el reconocimiento merecido al final de su vida, especialmente después de la publicación de sus memorias, un mes antes de su muerte, el 17 de octubre de 1983.

Esta edición de PortVitoria reexamina las ideas en torno a las revueltas de los estudiantes de 1968. El principal artículo es ‘París, mayo de 1968: la revolución que nunca existió’, de Peter Steinfels, publicado por primera vez en The International Herald Tribune el 11 de de mayo de 2008, con motivo de los 40 años de 1968, y publicado aquí en español y portugués. Es seguido por el ensayo de Fernando Genovés ‘Raymond Aron y Jean-Paul Sartre: hombres de letras versus intelectuales’, que destaca los paralelos en las vidas de Aron y Sartre, incluido el evento en París, en el 26 de junio de 1979, cuando estas dos figuras imponentes se encontraron de nuevo por última vez. Un obituario de André Glucksmann, uno de los líderes de las revueltas estudiantiles de 1968 en París y que más tarde surgió como uno de los Nuevos Filósofos de Francia es nuestro tercer artículo. Lo mismo fue publicado en la revista semanal estadounidense The New Yorker, el 11 de noviembre de 2015, y es reproducido aquí en portugués. El cuarto artículo es mi proprio ensayo ‘1968 en un casquillo de nuez’, un breve relato de las revueltas de los estudiantes y sus consecuencias.

Un doble revisión de The Once and Future Liberal y The Shipwrecked Mind (La mente naufragada) de Mark Lilla, por James Meek, publicado por primera vez en 2017 en el London Review of Books, se ofrece aquí en español y portugués. Los libros fueron reseñados en varias revistas y periódicos españoles y brasileños, pero la reseña de Meek captura con aprumo sustancia e intención, permitiendo un vislumbre clara de la mente de ese escritor penetrante.

Mucha agua ha pasado bajo el puente desde 1968 y la narración de los acontecimientos que lo rodean también ha cambiado. Cincuenta años después, un número creciente de críticos parece concordar que fue un utopismo socialista que alcanzó el status de un culto. Aún más relevante que la etiqueta que debía aplicarse a 1968, es el hecho de que inculcó muchas ideas inconclusas en las mentes jóvenes y en la población. Esto tuvo muchas consecuencias imprevistas, tales como la sofocación del debate en la esfera pública, el populismo político, el multiculturalismo, el tribalismo y el desaliento de la enseñanza superior. América Latina tuvo todo eso más la fragmentación social causada por la diseminación del marxismo e ideologías semejantes.

Julio de 2018

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Jaron Lanier and the Bummer machine of making heads

Jaron Lanier and the Bummer machine of making heads

An American information technologist named Jaron Lanier is also the author of several books of critique of the Digital Age, such as You are not a Gadget: The Manifesto (2010), Who Owns the Future? (2013), Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality (2017). Lanier has just published his fourth book entitled Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018), in which he denounces Silicon Valley in general, and FaceBook , in particular, as real head-turning machines.

Lanier called the ‘Bummer’ head-turning machine, an acronym in the phrase “Behavior of Others, Modified and Transformed into a Empire for Rent” (Behavior of Others, Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent).

The following is excerpted from the article by Danny Fortson published in The Sunday Times Magazine, 19.05.2018, about Lanier Ten’s new book Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now:

At the heart of his concern is the coupling of the smartphone, an always-on supercomputer, and tracking device, and advertising, which has been utterly transformed from a periodic annoyance that would materialise in defined places – during your favourite television show, on a billboard, in a magazine – to something else entirely. “Everyone who is in social media is getting individualised, continuously adjusted stimuli, without a break, so long as they use their smartphones,” he writes. “What might once have been called advertising must now be understood as continuous behaviour modification on a titanic scale.”

Even more alarming: The Bummer machine is getting stronger every day because what algorithms need more than anything is data to crunch and behaviours to analyse. … The more raw material the algorithms have to work with, the more effective they become. Hence Lanier’s call for mass deletion: “The arc of history has reversed with the arrival of the Bummer machine,” he says. “Quitting is the only way, for now, to learn what can replace our grand mistake.”

The argument goes like this: algorithms are optimised to create engagement and they work extremely well. The average millenial checks his phone 150 times a day. It is typically the first thing they do when they get up and the last thing before they go to sleep. More than 2 bn people are in FaceBook, roughly the same number of followers of Christianity.

The result is that society has “darkened a few shades”, Lanier argues. “If you don’t see the dark ads, the ambient whispers, the cold-hearted memes that someone else sees, that person will seem crazy to you. And that is our new Bummer world . We seem crazy to each other because Baummer is robbing us of our theories of one another’s minds.”

Our solution is to be like a cat, that is, be impervious to instruction or control.

Here are Lanier’s 10 reasons why people should delete their social media accounts:

  1. You are loosing your free will;
  2. Quitting social media is the most finely targetted way to resist the insanity of our times;
  3. Social media is turning you into an asshole;
  4. Social media is undermining truth;
  5. Social media is making what you say meaningless;
  6. Social media is desroying your capacity for empathy;
  7. Social media is making you unhappy;
  8. Social media doesn’t wabt you to have economic dignity;
  9. Social media is making politics impossible;
  10. Social media hates your soul;

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The above was taken from Danny Fortson’s interview of Jaron Lanier published in The Sunday Times Magazine, 19.05.2018, about Lanier’s latest book Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

 

What is Humanism?

“A rationalistic system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.” (Oxford English Dictionary)
“The rejection of religion in favour of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts.” (Collins Concise Dictionary)
“…a non-religious philosophy, based on liberal human values.” (Little Oxford Dictionary)
“…seeking, without religion, the best in, and for human beings.” (Chambers Pocket Dictionary)
“…an appeal to reason in contrast to revelation or religious authority as a means of finding out about the natural world and destiny of man, and also giving a grounding for morality… Humanist ethics is also distinguished by placing the end of moral action in the welfare of humanity rather than in fulfilling the will of God.” (Oxford Companion to Philosophy)

 

Unlike religionists, Humanists have no faith. Having “faith” means having a strong belief in something without proof. Humanists are essentially sceptics. Where religious people might offer supernatural answers to some of the fundamental questions about life, the universe, and everything, we prefer to leave a question mark. Humanists are atheist (meaning “without god”), or agnostic (a term coined by the 19th century biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley, to mean “without knowledge”, since Huxley said one cannot prove or disprove the existence of God).
Humanists reject the notion of an afterlife; we think that this life is the only one we have, and we must make the most of it.
Humanists don’t have the equivalent of the Bible or the Qu’ran, or a book of rules to guide us through life, though we may refer to great works of history, philosophy and literature. You don’t actually need to have read the history of Humanist ideas to be a Humanist, but most, being inquisitive, thoughtful people, will investigate the ideas that interest us.
We can trace Humanist influences over 2,500 years to the Chinese sage Confucius and to the philosophers, scientists and poets of antiquity. One was the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who, starting from Aristotle’s principle that human happiness depends on good conduct, defined the good life as one of pleasure and friendship, absence of pain and peace of mind. His disciples included women and slaves, which was almost unheard of at that time. Epicurus said, “Of all the means by which wisdom ensures happiness throughout life, by far the most important is the possession of friendship.”
For centuries, it was unsafe to openly express unorthodox views about religion, but with the dawn of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, it gradually became possible to do so, with caution. Some described themselves as “rationalists”, “secularists” or “freethinkers”, terms that are still used by Humanists today.
Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution made a huge impact on our understanding of where we come from, has been a strong influence on Humanism. The scientist Marie Curie, the 18th century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, the authors Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the American creator of the Star Trek TV series, Gene Roddenberry, are just a few of the influential people who’ve lived by Humanist principles.
Professor Richard Dawkins, a tireless advocate of secularism, said, “I arrived at my beliefs, as everybody should, by examining evidence.” Many Humanists have worked out their own beliefs and are delighted to find that others have reached similar conclusions. Because we are independent thinkers, Humanists differ about many things, but most of us agree about some basic principles. We believe that we should accept responsibility for our own behaviour and how it affects other people and the world we live in. Because we think that this is the only life we have, we believe it’s important to try to live full and happy lives, and to help others to do the same.
Humanists were involved with the establishment of the United Nations; we value human rights, freedom of communication, freedom from fear, want and suffering, and education free from bias and the influence of powerful religious or political organisations.
In his book Humanism, an introduction, Jim Herrick wrote, “Humanism is the most human philosophy of life. Its emphasis is on the human, the here-and-now, the humane. It is not a religion and has no formal creed, though humanists have beliefs. Humanists are atheists or agnostics and do not expect an afterlife. It is essential to humanism that it brings values and meaning into life.”
In 1996, the International Humanist & Ethical Union General Assembly adopted the following resolution. Any organisation wishing to become a member of IHEU is now obliged to signify its acceptance of this statement:
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality

Note: From: http://suffolkhands.org.uk/humanism/, 27.09.2017

What defines a liberal mind?

What defines a liberal mind?
Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

I am proud to announce that PortVitoria is now entering its 8th year.
The main feature of this edition is an essay by the Spanish thinker Fernando R. Genovés explaining what defines the liberal mind. Genovés starts with the definition provided by Lord Acton (John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton; 1834-1902), who wrote that the liberal mind is the mind of the individual to whom the idea of liberty means something sacred, such as life and property. He then covers the meaning of liberty, which boils down to ‘not to be subjected to the domain of others’, and shows that the sacredness of life and property points to the necessity of individuals to learn how to control themselves and their lives. Liberty is thus the main object of the liberal mind, that is, the mind of persons who make their own decisions and accept responsibility for them. This is even more relevant in a time of post-truths, characterised by false news and by the tricks of constructionism. According with Genovés, liberals are neither conservatives nor radicals, and much less extremists, and, that they tend to not get cosy in political parties.
The other essays of this edition are ‘Decálogo do livre pensador’ (The ten commandments of the free-thinker) by Miguel Ángel Fresdenal, and ‘El passaporte’(The passport), which was taken from my new e-book El hombre rasonable y otros ensayos (The reasonable man and other essays; 2016). Fresdenal’s article touches precisely the problem of how to deal intelligently with the daily bombardment of ideas. My article provides a summary of the history of the passport and also shows how governments sometimes use the passport to further their illiberal agendas.

My e-book El hombre rasonable y otros ensayos (7 November 2016, KDP, Amazon) was reviewed by Norman Berdichevsky, an American writer with a special interest in the Hispanic and Portuguese cultures. This review is presented in both Portuguese and Spanish.
Another review offered in this edition is of Milan Kundera’s Slowness, which was published in French in 1995. The book was launched in Portuguese, in a pocket edition, in 2011, by Companhia das Letras.
During 2016 I managed to complete the migration of PortVitoria from an old-fashioned format to a more modern and flexible one based in WordPress. The new format is much more user friendly for it adjusts to all sorts of computer screens and hand held devices. Now you can bookmark PortVitoria in the home screen of your tablet or smartphone.

January 2017

Catalonia and the battle of ideas in the 21st century

Catalonia and the battle of ideas in the 21st century
Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

As a magazine about the Iberian culture PortVitoria could not ignore the recent referendum for independence held in Catalonia on Sunday, 1st October 2017, in which only 42% of the eligible voters participated, but resulted in a 90 per cent ‘yes’ vote. The national administration in Madrid has declared it unconstitutional and Spain’s Constitutional Court outlawed the referendum. Our editor and contributor Norman Berdichevsky, a cultural geographer with extensive knowledge and expertise on Iberian history, discusses various angles of the problem in his paper ‘The Catalonian referendum and what lay behind it’.
Could Catalonia’s referendum rekindle similar movements elsewhere which in turn could trigger a war? Lets examine the two opposing arguments. The ‘no’ argument states that most people are against violence and would prefer the stability of a normal life, even if backwards and faulty, to the instability of a war. The ‘yes’ argument states that Catalonia’s secessionist movement could rekindle similar movements around the world; fuelled by nationalism and ethnic claims, the same type that caused the wars of the 20th century.
In the 21st century, many State-nations face the problems of secessionism as well as subcultural affirmation. These two are connected by a crave for identity, which is the ‘dish of the day’ in the battle of ideas of the 21st century. One thinker who has contributed greatly to enlighten the battle of ideas of the 21st century is Thomas Sowell, an American economist and a Senior Fellow of The Hoover Institution at Stanford University, California. Among his many books, Sowell wrote on subcultural affirmation in his book Intellectuals and Society (2009), where he calls attention for the dishonesty of self-serving intellectuals behind the single issue activism of the 21st century. He writes: “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth, When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” We are pleased to offer the review of Sorwell’s book by David Gordon, a senior researcher at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
The compounding effects of the internet and the world’s super-population have brought the world’s ambiguities too close for comfort, making the battle of ideas in the 21st century much more volatile than of previous times. We in the 21st century should reflect upon the 20th century if we are to prevent the current battle of ideas from turning into war. No one depicted better the war of ideas of the 20th century and the mass movements it created than the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955). Ortega had a lifetime interest in capturing reality, and his books are still very relevant in the 21st century. His 1914 book Meditations on Quixote depicts the spirit of Spain itself in the character Sancho Panza. His 1929 book The Revolt of the Masses depicts changes as they were occurring all over Europe, describing the barbarism of lootings, the coerciveness of the mass movements and the homogenization of ideas. Ortega showed that the right to freedom comes with the responsibility to think for ourselves and that there is a relation between thinking and surviving: “We do not live to think, but, on the contrary, we think in order that we may succeed in surviving”. The two essays by Fernando Genovés presented in the current edition of PortVitoria cover the themes of Ortega the thinker and the battle of ideas. They were taken from Genovés 2016 book La riqueza de la libertad, and are offered in their English translation.
December 2017

On individualism

On individualism

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

I had two reasons to choose individualism as a theme for the current issue of PortVitoria. The first is the disturbing revelations of ‘Operação Lava Jato’ (Operation Car Wash) in Brazil, namely the denial of many of the accused, that the benefits in kind received amounted to bribes. The second is the upcoming centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution or October Revolution of 1917 in Russia, which resulted in the establishment of the world’s first Marxist experiment and 74 years of oppressive collectivism. These two motives have a common denominator in the populist collectivist tint of the majority of the political parties in Brazil. Individualism is contrary to collectivism and also the antidote for the vice of not owning up to one’s responsibilities. However, due the populist collectivist rhetoric of politicians, individualism is often portrayed negatively as a form of egoism. The sophistry goes more or less like this: ‘If you are against the collective then you are an egotist’.

Is individualism a form of selfishness, as the populist collectivist mindset claims, or is it a simple preference for the individual, as opposed to the collective, as the liberals assert? These are some of the questions I try to answer oi my essay on individualism. In it, I stress the fact that individualism is not a kind of egoism but a recognition of the importance of taking responsibility for what we do with our lives and how we act as citizens. Although the word ‘individualism’ only appeared at the start of the 19st century, the idea of the self is frequent in ancient Greek mythology, literature and philosophy. Socrates’ statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living” resonates well with the concept of individualism. Man’s struggle to be himself resonates even better in Greek drama, as shown in Débora Finamore’s essay on Sophocles.

Brazil needs to build a culture of integrity if it wants to tackle corruption effectively. It needs good citizenship, which boils down to responsible individuals with the habit of thinking for themselves. The best way one can learn how to think for oneself is by learning the kind of things that matter to humanity, general things that are not connected to any specific occupation, otherwise known as liberal education. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in his essay ‘Philosophy for laymen’ that the knowledge of general things that are not connected to any specific skill or profession, such as history and philosophy, could improve enormously the way people think, not only about practical things but also about polemic topics. A Portuguese translation of this essay is offered in this edition of PortVitoria.

Finally, there is a small contribution to history in general, in the two book reviews selected for this edition. David A. West’s book is Darwin’s Man in Brazil: The Evolving Science of Fritz Müller (2016), is reviewed by Amy Cox Hall, while Simon Winder’s book Danubia: A Personal History of Hapsburg Europe (2013), is reviewed by Andrew Wheatcroft. West’s book is about a German physician turned naturalist who immigrated to Brazil and ended up as a collaborator of Charles Darwin. In it, one learns how Müller was attracted to Brazil, to join a new German colony established in the 1850s by Hermann Blumenau and F. Hackradt. West notes that Darwin believed that Müller’s book was “perhaps the most important contribution in support of his ideas”, an example of which being the scientist’s testing of whether butterflies are born knowing exactly which flower had nectar, or if this skill was learned. Another example was Müller’s research on predation in butterflies. Winder’s book describes the lands in Central Europe that were once under the Austrian Hapsburgs, a dynasty which played a great role not only in Europe but also in Latin America. Brazil is the common denominator of both books, namely the German immigrants it received during the nineteenth century, which, in addition to Germans proper, included other peoples from the Austrian Hapsburg Empire such as various minorities from the Galicia–Volhynia region and Pomeranians.

July 2017


Pires-O’Brien, J. Editorial. On individualism. PortVitoria, UK, v.15, Jul-Dec, 2017. ISSN 2044-8236.

Note.  Although the German immigration to Brazil started in 1818, under the rule of João VI, of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and Algarve, the bulk of it took place during the long rule of Pedro II (1825-91), from 1831 to 1889. It was facilitated by Pedro II’s links with both Austria and Germany. Pedro II, of Brazil, was the son of Carolina Josefa Leopoldina of Habsburg-Lorena (1797-1826), fifth daughter of Francis II (1768-1835), of Austria, and the last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. One of his daughters, Teresa Cristina,  Leopoldina Teresa de Bragança e Bourbon (1847-71), married a German prince – Ludwig August of Saxe-Corburg-Gotha (1845-1907), who was a first cousin to both Queen Victoria and her consort Albert, and was the Princess of Saxe-Corburg-Gotha and Dutchess of Saxe.

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El hombre razonable

El hombre razonable

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

‘El hombre razonable’ es el título de uno de los 23 ensayos de mi libro publicado en noviembre de 2016 por Amazon. He escogido este tema por dos razones. El primero fue la curiosidad que tuve cuando encontré el tema por primera vez, cuando trabajaba como intérprete en un proceso de accidente de trabajo. El segundo fue la realización inmediata de lo importante que es el hombre razonable para el buen funcionamiento del Estado, y por tanto de la sociedad. Es obvio que la sociedad no puede prescindir de los individuos excelentes y de los genios, pero ella necesita también del hombre razonable, que, por conocerse a sí mismo, sabe reconocer la excelencia y la genialidad. En contraposición al hombre razonable, hay el hombre mediocre, que no se conoce a sí mismo y abraza la mediocridad simplemente por ser su zona de confort.

La idea del hombre razonable puede ser trazada desde la antigüedad. El corresponsal de la razonabilidad en la antigua Grecia era la phronēsis (φρόνησις), o sabiduría práctica; El hombre razonable de la antigua Grecia era el hombre de phronēsis. En su libro Menón, Platón muestra un diálogo de Sócrates en el que éste afirma que la phronēsis es el atributo más importante para aprender, aunque no puede ser enseñado y tiene que ser adquirido a través del autodesarrollo. Para Sócrates, el hombre poseedor de la phronēsis era aquel capaz de discernir cómo y por qué actuar virtuosamente y, además, alentar esa virtud práctica en otras personas.

Al final de la Edad Media, el filósofo Baruch Espinosa (1632-77) escribió que no hay nada más útil en el mundo que un hombre razonable. Espinosa definió al hombre razonable como el que cultiva el autoconocimiento. Para él, tal objetivo no hace al individuo más especial o menos humano, y sí, perfectamente humano. Cuanto más razonables los hombres, más útiles se convierten en la sociedad. Por la misma tabla, la sociedad es tanto más virtuosa cuanto mayor es su riqueza en ciudadanos razonables.

La descripción que Espinosa dio del hombre razonable está más para el superhombre excelente imaginado por Friedrich Nietzsche que para el hombre medio del Derecho. En el derecho inglés, por ejemplo, es un individuo de un nivel educativo razonable, pero común; Tal nivel educativo presumido no es el superior y sino el medio, aún así, suficiente para permitir una determinada capacidad de razonar acerca de las cuestiones prácticas del día a día.

La clase media es, para los filósofos políticos, el eslabón de la democracia. Cuando, en 1903 los legisladores de Inglaterra y del País de Gales incorporaron el concepto del hombre razonable en el derecho, la imagen de éste era la de un proverbial pasajero dentro del autobús de Clapham, entonces un tranquilo suburbio de Londres y lugar de residencia de ingleses de la clase media. Sucede que Clapham cambió completamente con la expansión de Londres después de la Primera Guerra Mundial. Esta expansión fue mayor en el curso del Támesis, pues amalgamó una gran cantidad de pueblos que hasta entonces poseían una existencia independiente. Los vecinos de Clapham también fueron cambiando, incluyendo el proverbial pasajero del autobús. Si elegimos al azar un autobús que hace el trayecto de Clapham a Camdem, otro ex suburbio amalgamado al Gran Londres, es muy probable que la mayor parte de los pasajeros estar formada por extranjeros que trabajan en el sector de servicios. Puede ser que muchos de esos individuos sean razonables, aunque no parezcan en nada con el hombre inglés en el autobús de Clapham, en 1903.

Así como los ingleses necesitan reflexionar más sobre su hombre razonable típico, también los brasileños, argentinos, mexicanos, etc., necesitan reflexionar sobre su hombre medio. ¿Es él mediocre o razonable? ¿Se mediocre, cómo hacer para educarlo? Si es razonable, cómo aprovechar mejor su razonabilidad?

                                                                                                                                               

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien es una brasileña que estudió en Brasil, Estados Unidos e Inglaterra, y obtuvo su PhD por la Universidad de Londres en 1991. Publicó sus primeros ensayos y reseñas en la revista Contemporary Review, entre 1999 y 2008, y A partir de 2010, en PortVitoria, revista electrónica de actualidad centrada en la cultura ibérica, que ella misma fundó y continúa editando (www.portvitoria.com). En 2016 publicó el libro El hombre razonable y otros ensayos (2016), una colección de 23 ensayos sobre los más diversos temas de la civilización occidental, en portugués y en español, y disponible en todos los portales de Amazon. US $ 9.99; Kindle ed. $2.99.

Check out PortVitoria, a biannual digital magazine of current affairs, culture and politics centered on the Iberian culture and its diaspora.

PortVitoria offers informed opinion on topics of interest to the Luso-Hispanic world in Portuguese, Spanish & English.

Help PortVitoria to continue by putting a link to it in your Facebook or blog.