The October 2019 parliamentary elections in Portugal were noteworthy for numerous reasons, but perhaps the most resonating was the historic election of Joacine Katar Moreira.
The 37 year old, born in Guinea Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, moved to Portugal when she was eight. She joined ecological left-wing party LIVRE following its formation in 2014 and, in 2019, became the first ever Black politician to lead a party into election and win a seat on the national parliament—one of just three Black women deputies to enter a chamber of 230 people.
In addition, she’s opened a necessary debate about disability representation, being the perhaps the most high-profile public figure in the country with a stutter.
Speaking to the news agency EFE, Katar Moreira readily accepted that her stutter “is very evident and that it is even quite spectacular, so it is absolutely impossible for someone to listen to me and pretend that I am not stuttering.”
The speech impediment was a focal point in aggressive world of electoral campaigning, which often questioned her suitability for public office. Her reaction to this, in an interview with comedian and presenter Ricard Araújo Pereira, was, however, iconic: “I stutter when I speak, not when I think. The danger in parliament is individuals who stutter when they think.”
In parliament, she’s a member of committees focusing on constitutional rights and freedoms, and the environment and energy. She has a PhD in African Studies and is the founder of INMUNE—Black Woman Institute.
Katar Moreira has done all of this against phenomenal backlash for speeches that to many would be uncontroversial—such as one that proclaimed, “Europe is not white. Europe is not a white man.”
She continued: “There is no democracy without equity and equality. But also, there is no equality without the voices of ethnic minorities in Europe. And here, I don’t see a lot of them. So I don’t know if my Europe is yours.”
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In early 2020, ties officially broke down between Katar Moreira and LIVRE. LIVRE’s Assembly decided to rescind political confidence in her after a long-running dispute, which began when Katar Moreira abstained from a vote in late 2019 condemning Israeli actions in Gaza. Katar Moreira remains in the parliament as an independent deputy.
“My candidacy sought to close the political invisibility of Black people, was admittedly anti-racist and intersectional feminist and, despite the election, everything that followed highlights the enormous difficulty in accepting the political participation of a such a person,” she said, as quoted in TSF Radio.
Since the break, Katar Moreira has continued her environmental and social justice work. She recently secured a parliamentary resolution recommending the government create a national anti-racist media campaign, which would also be disseminated in schools, public institutions and the police. She’s also joined the council of Progressive International, an international movement joining together public figures like Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland; Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek Finance Minister; and public intellectual Noam Chomsky.
Elected to the Portuguese parliament alongside Katar Moreira were Romualda Fernandes, also born in Guinea Bissau; and Beatriz Gomes Dias from the socialist Bloque de Izquierda (BI), who was born in Senegal and is the director of anti-racist organisation Asociacion Djass.
Clarification 15/06/2020: The article previously referred to Katar Moreira as the LIVRE party leader in the 2019 elections. However, as LIVRE’s leadership is collective, this has been amended to reflect that Katar Moreira was the first Black politician to lead a party into election and win a seat on the national parliament.