In the Portuguese government, there’s the president and his council of state, then there’s the prime minister, who wields the real power. He has 14 ministers. Then he has secretaries of state, or junior ministers. There’s no fewer than 39 of them. They include the assistant to the budget minister, the secretary of the treasury, of finance, of youth and sports, of culture, of innovation and competitiveness.
And they include the Secretary of State of Portuguese Communities Abroad. That’s José Cesário, to whom Palm Coast is of particular interest because it boasts one of the largest concentrations of Portuguese extracts in the United States: the local Portuguese-American Club has 1,200 members, and some of its leaders like to say that there are some 10,000 people of Portuguese extraction in Flagler-Palm Coast—likely the sort of exaggeration that expat communities indulge in in every corner of the globe, but no one is counting.
Cesário—who’s on his way to New England’s Holy Ghost Festival in Fall River, Mass., a Portuguese festival dating back to the days of Queen Isabella—was in town Wednesday morning to mark the official opening of a unique diplomatic feature in Palm Coast: the Honorary Consulate of Portugal, which opened for business in April in the Chiumento building in Town Center (ironically, several months ahead of Palm Coast’s new City Hall a rooster’s crow away).
The consulate is one of just two of its kind in the United States—the other is in Massachusetts—that has full administrative powers to issue Portuguese passports, birth, death and marriage certificates and many other documents of the sort. It can issue anything an embassy can, except visas. But that’s no trouble to American citizens, who don’t need a visa to enter Portugal or most of its 27 sister-nations in the European Union.
But Cesário’s presence at a small ceremony in the second-floor offices of the consulate was meant to underscore the importance of the consulate in Portugal’s constellation of diplomatic missions, and of course the importance of Palm Coast’s Portuguese community in the eyes of the home government: Palm Coast was chosen over Orlando and other cities as the location for this consulate because of the that community.
“It is very important for us, for our government, for our authorities to be here today with you,” Cesário said in English at the end of a 10-minute speech in Portuguese, right after he unveiled a plaque marking the consulate’s opening. With him was Caesar DePaço, who was named honorary consul in Palm Coast six months ago. DePaço, founder and owner of Summit Nutritionals International, a manufacturer of Chondroitin Sulfate, a dietary supplement, was last year’s New Jersey Corporate Citizen of the Year. He’s made a hobby of donating to hospitals and to health research and has donated K-9 dogs to a slew of police agencies, which may explain Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre’s personal presence at today’s ceremony; the sheriff’s office’s K-9 unit has been beset with personnel troubles lately).
Palm Coast wins over an honorary consulate for having the largest community of Portuguese expats in Florida.
DePaço’s generosity is now extending to Palm Coast: He is underwriting the costs of the consulate almost single-handedly, including the salaries of four of its five employees.
“It is my gift” to the Portuguese community, DePaço said. “I decided to cover all the costs associated with the consulate, and I mean the rent, the salaries of the employees with the exception of the salary of the vice consul, who is an employee of the ministry of foreign affairs. Aside from his salary I cover all the costs associated with the maintenance of this consulate.”
To mark the occasion, the consulate had invited a few local Portuguese-Americans, some of them dressed in folkloric wear from the old country, prepared a few hors-d’oeuvres, and included, among the drinks, Portuguese sparkling wine and Vinho Verde, both of which were bubbly, “soft,” as Consulate Assessor Eddie Branquinho put it, and oddly, pleasantly tart. At one point Cesário brandished a bottle of the Raposeira sparkling wine, from the northern part of Portugal—the only wine country there—and boasted: “I must tell you that this sparkling wine is from my district.”
There were almost as many cops as there were individuals out of uniform at the gathering: Cesário’s presence in town had required a full escort and caravan, which some residents noticed driving through local streets around 11 a.m.
The only local dignitaries at the opening were Manfre and Flagler County Commission Chairman Frank Meeker, who’s been adopted by the Portuguese community even though his late mother was Sicilian. Soccer was the tie that bound him to the community, to whom soccer is a religion. (DePaço, incidentally, is a Benfica fan. A few more local officials, among them county commissioners George Hanns and Barbara Revels, attended the lunch on the secretary’s honor later at the Portuguese-American Club.)
“It’s a tribute to the Portuguese people that are here,” Meeker said. “Estimates are 10,000 to 12,000 Portuguese people that are here. Just a hard-working, very sincere group of people that I’ve really come to admire, and I think this is a tribute more to them than it is to anything else. Certainly a welcome addition to Flagler County.”