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Portugal should take responsibility for its role in slave trade, says president

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Tuesday that his country should do more than just apologize for its role in the transatlantic slave trade.

"Apologizing is sometimes the easiest thing to do: you apologize, turn your back, and the job's done," he said in parliament on the anniversary of the 1974 Carnation Revolution, which overthrew the country's dictatorship.

He added that Portugal should "assume responsibility" for its past in order to build a better future.

His remarks followed Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's address to parliament, which was met with jeers and interruptions by the far-right Chega party.

Brazil, a former Portuguese colony, was built on the labor of African and indigenous slaves. Of the 12 million enslaved Africans brought to the New World, approximately 5.5 million were forcibly taken to Brazil, according to Princeton University's Brazil Lab.

However, Portugal's history of slavery is not typically discussed by its politicians.

In 2017, Rebelo de Sousa became the first Portuguese leader to visit Senegal, once at the center of Portugal's slave trade.

During his visit, he sparked outrage in the academic community by claiming that Portugal abolished slavery in 1761 because "Portugal recognized human dignity."

Following his visit, professors signed a letter denouncing his words as "an idealized" version of what actually occurred, arguing that it was a false narrative intended to make the Portuguese more comfortable with their past.

While Portugal often claims to be one of the first countries to abolish slavery, the abolition only applied to the homeland, and the slave trade was instead redirected to Brazil.

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