The struggle in Portugal during the past year has been over ends and means. No one doubted the necessity for action when the old regime fell but there was very little agreement over what that action should be. With the establishment of the supreme military revolutionary council in March 1975, the nationalization of the banks and basic industry, and the forthcoming expropriation of landed estates of over 500 hectares, the question of ends has been settled. Barring a successful counterrevolution, Portugal is clearly set on the road to becoming a socialist state.

The question that remains concerns the means by which this will come about. And how it is answered will determine the future shape of Portuguese politics and society. The Portuguese themselves have given their own unequivocal answer. On April 25, just one year to the day after the nearly bloodless revolution overthrew Europe’s oldest dictatorship, they overwhelmingly rejected authoritarianism—both by those nostalgic for the past and by those impatient to impose their vision of the future.

But they also categorically voted for change, and they did so in one of the highest turnouts ever recorded in a national election. The Portuguese Socialist party, led by Mário Soares, took 38 percent of the vote; the centrist Popular Democrats 25 percent, and Álvaro Cunhal’s Portuguese Communist party 12.5 percent. The PCP’s sister party, the Portuguese Democratic Movement (MDP/CDE) received a mere 5 percent; the right-wing CDS only 7.5 percent.

In retrospect it is remarkable that the Portuguese people got the chance of a free ballot at all. For it was a first year filled with alarms and excursions. Many feared what the people might say when for the first time in Portuguese history they were given the chance to vote freely. Spínola and his allies in the Popular Democratic party had first attempted to abort the process by substituting early presidential elections that would confirm the general in office and stave off the threat of a communist electoral victory. When this failed and it became clear that the communists would gain only a small percentage of the vote, Cunhal and the PCP voiced concern over the lack of “preparation” of the voters, their subjection to obscurantism, and their general inability to make a responsible choice.

Behind the scenes other forces were at work too. This was hardly surprising, for much was at stake. When Caetano fell large interests were threatened, both in Europe and in Africa. For revolutions that begin with euphoria cannot remain mere words and noisy celebration. Where there are winners there must be losers too. And Iberia seems forever doomed to brilliant moments when suddenly, after decades of obscurity, it becomes a microcosm of the hopes, the terrors, and the fantasies of others; a crystal ball where some would see the future. Image and object rarely coincide, though both have the power to precipitate events. The mystery lies mainly in the eye of the beholder. And more often than not it is the past that haunts the present.


Portugal had been the perfect ally for the US. It was docile, dependent, and had nowhere else to go. The US embassy in Lisbon was a quiet pasture for rambunctious right-wingers who had gotten out of hand, such as William Tapley Bennett, Jr., of Dominican Republic fame, and Admiral George W. Anderson, Jr., late of the Cuban blockade. In Portugal they were surrounded by an exceptionally congenial expatriate community. Ensconced among the mimosa groves of Estoril and Cascais or the almond blossoms of the Algarve were fallen dictators (the late Fulgencio Batista), would-be or former monarchs (Don Juan of Spain, Umberto of Italy), arthritic British colonels, a handful of ex-Nazis, and Elliott Roosevelt with his stud farm and his real estate interests in Torralta.

They all seem to have enjoyed Portugal; Admiral Anderson bought a villa in the south. Like so many others rehabilitated by the Nixon years, such men were not without influence. William Tapley Bennett, Jr. became assistant US ambassador to the UN. Admiral Anderson was appointed chairman of the President’s foreign intelligence advisory board. They were a sure source of “unbiased” views on the scruffy soldiers and assorted “reds” who emerged last year from the woodwork of old Portugal to ruin “their” paradise.

There were precious few other sources of information when the Caetano regime was toppled. Within the State Department there had never been any real disagreement over Portugal. The only “irritant” in US-Portuguese relations was caused by the US government’s own equivocation and double standards in its dealings with southern Africa. So oblivious had Washington been to the political forces in Portugal, so unwilling to have even informal connections with the democratic groups opposing the dictatorship, that it knew none of them. The Pentagon knew something, especially about the rightist generals and their plans, but next to nothing about the men who would soon be running the country.


The academic community was of little help. Its Iberian experts, with few exceptions, are disciples of the voluble Yale sociologist Juan Linz, and purveyors of his theories of “authoritarianism.” For the past fifteen years they have been persuading themselves, sometimes at the expense of the Spanish government, that the Franco and Salazar regimes would reform themselves from within, a dangerous and pathetic apologetics that General Spínola himself found contemptible. Unlike bureaucrats, politicians, and Marcello Caetano, however, academics are rarely held accountable. So Juan Linz and his disciples, having left “authoritarianism” behind for a while, are now experts on “sources of radicalism in the Iberian peninsula.” (Linz has become the conduit for research on Portugal in the US financed by the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.) A more honest comment came from a Western diplomat surveying the scene in Lisbon with some bemusement last year: “We don’t know why they are doing all this, and we don’t even know who most of them are.”

The CIA station in Lisbon was of low importance and was regarded as a “retirement post.” Since the late 1950s, however, the CIA had worked closely with the Portuguese political police (PIDE/DGS). Many Portuguese agents came to the US for four-month training courses. Allen Dulles found them “of high caliber, diligent and gracious visitors,” as he wrote in a letter discovered after the April 1974 coup. Most of those sent to the US were from the bureau of investigation, responsible for interrogation and, in numerous documented cases, for the torture of political prisoners. The inevitable result of these arrangements was that within a dying system the CIA was linked to the one element least anxious for change, and, as it proved in the event, the last to know that the real threat to the regime existed within the army.

In Portugal PIDE/DGS formed a grotesque state within a state, locked in continuous struggle with real or phantom communists of the PCP. As always, it was a struggle of mutual advantage, the importance of the PCP and PIDE each reflected in the survival of the other. But when PIDE was dissolved last year following the April coup, the CIA lost its local “assets” overnight. Contrary to the arguments of the CIA’s current defenders, the nature of the CIA connections in Portugal, far from adding to Washington’s knowledge, helped to blind it. 1

After the coup, a “commission” including former political prisoners was set up to root out the political police and its vast network of spies and informers. (The scale of the network amazed even PIDE’s most stringent critics, for the documents discovered at the fortress prison of Caxias outside Lisbon revealed that perhaps as many as one in every four hundred Portuguese had at some time been paid for information by the secret police.) As the twenty-two-member central committee of the PCP had collectively spent 308 years in Salazarist jails, the commission inevitably contained communist militants. The CIA connection and that of several other intelligence agencies was thus threatened with exposure.

Or so they thought. In fact the communists could be counted on for the utmost discretion. The PIDE archives were more useful for blackmail than for public exposure. And their contents were of as much concern to the communist leader Álvaro Cunhal as to anyone else, for the PCP had some very embarrassing skeletons of its own that it had no desire to see resurrected, not least that of the assassinated General Delgado. The PCP will probably find good use for the skills of the former PIDE agents in time. Major (now Brigadier General) Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, commander of the MFA’s not so praetorian guard COPCON, in his best-selling Five Months Changed Portugal (Cinco Meses Mudaram Portugal, Lisbon, 1975), has already argued that the majority of the PIDE agents “were only state functionaries, fathers of families, earning a living for themselves and theirs like anyone else.” (COPCON is more familiarly known these days as “Como Organizar a PIDE Com Outro Nome“—how to organize PIDE with another name.)

Certainly PIDE’s connections with Western intelligence were no surprise to the Portuguese communists. PIDE agents often boasted of the CIA connection to their prisoners, including on one occasion to Mário Soares, now leader of the Portuguese Socialist party. In fact Abilio Pires, the PIDE agent who accompanied Soares to the plane that deported him to São Tomé, had, since the late 1950s, been on the CIA payroll. (He started at $500 a month.) Most of the work of the commission was handled by young miliciano officers in their twenties with no more love for the “social fascists” of the PCP than for the CIA. And the commission contained members of other parties who saw no reason for discretion and were subject to no party discipline. Some information did leak despite the frantic effort to prevent it of General Galvão de Melo, the member of the junta of National Salvation responsible for the “dismantling” process. Le Nouvel Observateur published some highly damaging information on the role of French intelligence in Portugal and a photostat of the Dulles letter I have mentioned.2


Later Bruno Crimi in Jeune Afrique (January 31, 1975) reported in detail on those responsible for the assassination of Amílcar Cabral, not only implicating some of Spínola’s closest associates in Guinea but again revealing some highly incriminating activities of French and German intelligence. None of these developments, however, endeared the new regime in Lisbon to those shadowy, dangerous forces on which Western governments relied, perhaps with more confidence than was deserved, for accurate information.

The combination of diplomatic ignorance on the one hand with the poisonous antagonism and apprehension of the intelligence “community” on the other was only compounded by General Spínola when, with an eye on domestic politics, he invited the communist leader Álvaro Cunhal into the first provisional government. Unlike the PCP, Spínola had not learned the lessons of Chile. He totally misjudged, probably did not even consider, the reactions of Henry Kissinger.

What has been overlooked, in the “sudden” collapse of Kissinger’s policies in Asia and the Middle East, is that the narrowness of Washington’s room for maneuver in Portugal is totally self-created. Kissinger’s reaction to events in Lisbon duplicated his reaction to Salvador Allende, and Portugal’s fears and reactions to the US are fundamentally influenced by the manner of Allende’s death. The type of relationship that existed before April 1974 between the US and Portugal, and the growing estrangement since, are both logical consequences of the foreign policy of the Nixon years, which is probably why its meaning is so studiously avoided by the pundits who find time to go anywhere but Portugal. Which again is not accidental, for Kissinger has on numerous occasions personally cautioned against visiting Portugal, advice which a few, Senator Edward Kennedy for one, chose to ignore, but which many apparently followed. Still, it is a particular irony how soon the Chilean chickens have come home to roost, and where.

Kissinger wrote in A World Restored3 that “a system of collective security justifies universal interference as well as common defense.” But even Metternich (especially Metternich) knew where “universal interference” mattered and where it did not. There is already grumbling in Washington that NATO is not working as an Alliance Solidaire, designed to protect against domestic upheaval as well as foreign aggression. Chile was, as Kissinger himself is supposed to have observed, “a missile aimed at the heart of Antarctica.” Portugal is quite another matter. And however much Portugal’s new rulers think of themselves as part of the “third world,” that is not how Portugal is perceived by Western Europe, the US, or, for that matter, by the Soviet Union.

It is always with special irritation that the practitioners of Realpolitik discover that the counters they push around turn out not to be counters at all but balloons that have a habit of exploding at the most inconvenient moments. The tragedy of US-Portuguese relations is that in the absence of information (or in its ignored presence, which is what happened when Ambassador Stuart Nash Scott’s dispatches failed to coincide with Kissinger’s assumptions), the Secretary of State had little time and less inclination to seek to understand the situation, much less analyze its implications.

As soon as it became known that communists would participate in the government in Lisbon Kissinger’s actions were panicky, reflexive, automatic. Almost immediately NATO “secrets” were no longer passed to the Portuguese. Stories were leaked about a “Mediterranean domino theory.” The US base in the Azores became a “decisive” element in the defense of Israel (Drew Middleton, “Importance of US Munitions to Israel Assayed,” The New York Times, December 2, 1974). Even General George Brown, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and of “Jewish lobby” fame, claimed that had Portugal not agreed to the use of the Azores, the US would “have been hard pressed to help Israel.” 4

All these arguments were specious. Portugal is an Atlantic, not a Mediterranean, power; its strategic importance and that of its Atlantic islands are linked to the central and south Atlantic and the Cape routes. The “domino” argument was almost entirely ideological, concerned with the potential participation of communists in the governments of Spain, Italy, France, and Greece. The Azores base was called “decisive” only because all the NATO allies and even the client state of Spain had refused the US refueling rights during the Yom Kippur war, not because of the intrinsic merits of the Azores base itself. (The Pentagon’s own analyses show that air refueling, although more expensive and cumbersome, would make it possible to by-pass the Azores in resupplying Israel.)5

The special sensitivity to the change of government in Lisbon had a hidden cause. A major policy review of US relations with southern Africa had taken place in the summer of 1969. An interdepartmental group on Africa had reported to the National Security Council that “the outlook for the rebellion [in Portuguese Africa] is one of continued stalemate: the rebels cannot oust the Portuguese and the Portuguese can contain but not eliminate the rebels.”6 In 1970 the US began to move closer to both Portugal and South Africa. Export-Import Bank facilities were extended in Portuguese colonies and the covert aid which had previously gone to Holden Roberto’s FNLA in Angola was curtailed, while in Mozambique aid to the elements within FRELIMO which were considered “pro-Western” stopped.

The US Navy made increasing use of Mozambique and Angolan ports, mainly to avoid any “embarrassment” by visits to South Africa itself. Increasing interest was shown in the port of Nacala in Mozambique, which, with the proper technical facilities, could contain the entire US Seventh Fleet. In mid-1973, the Supreme Allied Command Atlantic (SACLANT) at Norfolk, Virginia, on instructions from the NATO Defense Planning Committee (a committee of the NATO defense ministers), began contingency planning for air and naval operations in defense of South Africa. SACLANT carried out surveys of the state of communications, airfields, and ports of Portugal’s Atlantic islands and African colonies.7

The sudden change of regime and the emergence of an apparently powerful communist movement in Portugal were thus greeted in Washington with more than usual embarrassment. Washington adopted a policy of “wait and see.” For its own interests the attitude was disastrous. For it was like leaving a small baby in a bath for a week and wondering afterward why it drowned. In April and May of 1974 Spínola offered a reforming domestic policy and a conservative colonial policy. Now that one year has passed the US would dearly like to see both carried out; but if it today sought to impose or encourage them by surreptitious aid to so-called “moderates,” a civil war would result in Portugal and Angola.

To have welcomed and supported the new regime last year would, in the Secretary’s view, have set the precedent for Spain, Italy, and France that he had been prepared to destroy Allende to avoid. It is sad but typical that Kissinger reacted to the democratic revolution in Lisbon as if he had stepped on a Portuguese man-of-war in Gerald Ford’s swimming pool. But then Kissinger had personally visited Caetano in Lisbon in January 1974 to thank him for his aid in the October airlift—characteristic of the insensitivity that also took him to see President Park, and would, if he had had his way, have taken him to visit General Pinochet, to thank him too, no doubt, for defending “democracy.”


Little about the internal politics of Portugal can be explained without some historical perspective, and this is no less true of the external reactions to the Portuguese revolution and the labyrinth of hidden pressures brought into play when it occurred. The issue is seen, and increasingly so, as a conflict involving the superpowers, and it is certainly true that events in Portugal could alter the balance of forces in Europe and Africa in directions that might damage or further the ambitions of either.

As yet, however, despite appearances and considerable hysteria, this is still no more than a matter of probabilities. Portugal remains a member of NATO, and the frictions that exist have their roots in actions taken in Brussels and Washington, not in Lisbon. IBERLANT, the “lberian Atlantic” command headquarters of NATO, remains, as it has since 1967, at its offices just off the main road from Lisbon to Cascais, overlooking the narrow entrance to the Tagus. NATO fleets continue to maneuver around Portugal’s coasts, and periodically anchor off the elegant eighteenth-century Lisbon waterfront to disgorge thousands of sailors for shore leave. Although ill-informed and misjudged pressures might well give substance to NATO’s anxieties and make them self-fulfilling—as Ambassador Nash Scott told Kissinger many months ago before being dismissed for his pains—nothing of substance has changed.

The economic and security interests of the United States in Portugal have been in effect “indirect.” The difficulties of US officials in distinguishing the issues and contending groups, and the virulence of their vague fears that something is at stake without much grasp of what it is, are both symbolic of this ambiguous position. Direct US economic interests in Portugal are relatively small, about $150 million, much of that recent, and mainly belonging to ITT. In Africa the economic stake is more important, especially that of Gulf Oil in the Cabinda enclave, a small territory separated from the rest of Angola to the north of the mouth of the Congo River.

Yet nowhere in Portugal or in what was Portuguese Africa, apart from Cabinda, does there exist the clear-cut type of US corporate interests that were threatened and eventually expropriated by the socialist government of Chile, for example. Moreover, the interdepartmental group’s report to the National Security Council in 1969 was unequivocal on the “national security” argument. Referring not only to the Portuguese territories but also to the whole of southern Africa, the report stated: “Our policy positions on southern African issues affect a range of US interests. None of the interests are vital to our security, but they have political and material importance” (AF/NSC/IG 69-8—August 15, 1969, p. 1).

What was involved were not direct American interests but vast European interests tied into the immense southern African mining complex, a source of vital raw materials and bullion, as well as the important strategic and economic question of the Cape routes, used by the tankers that carry almost all of Europe’s oil supplies from the Arabian Gulf. The importance of these factors to Western Europe—and therefore to American concerns for the stability of Western Europe—had a strong influence on Washington’s policies toward Africa. And the same concerns conditioned the US response to the collapse of Portugal’s African empire—just as they had affected the increasingly close relations with southern Africa during the past few years.

But the particular problem in the case of Portugal is that NATO began to find the notion of a “pluricontinental Portugal”—the idea that Portugal was an intercontinental country with European and African provinces, which was the central ideological (or mystical) tenet of the Salazarist African policy—to be a very convenient fiction just at the time when the whole edifice was about to collapse. NATO’s charter excluded it from the South Atlantic, but US and European navy circles, in response to the growing Soviet naval power, had been voicing criticism of this stipulation for a number of years.

Expanding the naval activity of NATO was of course thoroughly congenial to Admiral Anderson in his Algarve villa, and he was the key private adviser to Kissinger on Portugal during the early months, and in all probability still is. In practice, however, this meant that the US was plugged into the most intransigent faction in the Portuguese establishment—admittedly on an improvised and informal basis but nonetheless through an extremely influential channel. These men, the so-called “integrationists,” were opposed not simply to the methods of decolonization of the April 1974 revolutionists but to the very idea of decolonization itself. And it is too soon forgotten that this group was also as much opposed to the ideas of General Spínola as to those of anyone else—perhaps more so, for he was one of them who had gone astray.

General Vernon Walters, the deputy director of the CIA, speaks Portuguese fluently as a result of his service as liaison officer between the Brazilian expeditionary force and the US Fifth Army in Europe during World War II, a period when he became a close personal friend of future marshal Castelo Branco, with whom he would later help to concoct the coup against President Goulart. He arrived in Portugal on a “private visit to a friend” during the early summer last year. Not surprisingly that “old friend” was Admiral Anderson. According to usually reliable sources, Walters met with several of the admiral’s friends—Franco Nogueira, Salazar’s former foreign minister and the executive head of the Espírito Santo interests; Admiral Sarmento Rodrigues, the president of Torralta; Adriano Moreira, chairman of ITT’s Portuguese subsidiary, Standard Electrica; and General Kaúlza de Arriaga, once known as “the Portuguese McNamara.”

Kaúlza, a board member of Petrangol, an Angolan oil concession which is a subsidiary of the Belgium Petrofina and Espírito Santo interests, had been brought to the US in 1969 to meet with that famous strategist General William Westmoreland. Shortly afterward, as commander in chief in Mozambique, Kaúlza set in motion an operation “Gordian knot,” billed as “the final blow against FRELIMO,” as well as a strategic hamlet program. Both operations, like their progenitors, bought poor military results at great human cost.

The group that Walters met through Anderson was of course none other than the old coterie that had surrounded the doddering Admiral Américo Tomás, the deposed president of Portugal, whose incessant intrigues had destroyed Caetano’s faint-hearted attempts at “liberalization” in the early Seventies. And the group contained several bitter personal enemies of General Spínola, enemies who half a year before, when planning the overthrow of the “dangerous liberal” Caetano, had also intended to get rid of General Spínola himself and his close friend and colleague General Costa Gomes.

Indeed General Kaúlza had informed his friends in US, Spanish, and Brazilian intelligence the previous December of his intentions—at least as far as the overthrow of Caetano was concerned. And he had through intermediaries contacted the leaders of the embryonic MFA to seek their support. Oddly, in trying to get their backing, he gave them heretofore secret information on his role in thwarting a military plot (in 1961) intended to force the retirement of Salazar—a plot that involved then Colonel Costa Gomes. Needless to say the MFA rejected this feeler.

One of Spínola’s protégés, then Major (now General) Carlos Fabião, hearing of the plan to assassinate Spínola and Costa Gomes, publicly denounced the plot at the Institute for Advanced Military Studies in Lisbon. This episode considerably enhanced the prestige of General Costa Gomes, who is now president of Portugal. But it also demonstrated how far Kaúlza and his friends were from realizing the political tenor of the MFA; and it helps to explain why both the Spanish and Brazilian governments at first welcomed the coup. As a high official in the State Department observed many months later: “We knew something was going to happen. What surprised us was the direction it took.”

These connections are critical to understanding the fall of General Spínola and the success of the MFA against considerable odds. For they are an indication of the splits among the informal power groups that under-pinned the old regime and remained intact when the corporate state itself collapsed. The long and hidden struggle between such ultras as General Kaúlza, the MFA, and Spínola in 1974 and 1975 has been rooted in these connections and conflicts between forces that were lining up against one another in the years before the coup. It is a complex story that goes deep into the Portuguese past and its ramifications are by no means over. Indeed the real crisis may yet explode, and in the place where the struggle over the last great prize is by no means over—Angola.


Portugal possessed the first, the oldest, and the last of Europe’s empires. But for most of its history it was itself little more than a dependency of others—a situation that received every encouragement from its commercial and administrative leaders. They were content to act as front men for enterprising foreigners or to support a bloated and incompetent bureaucracy from the legal and extralegal kickbacks paid for by the passage of goods through its ports. It was an arrangement that relieved businessmen and government of the more strenuous and potentially disturbing task of constructing a modern industrial society. But it also created severe if disguised internal social and economic tensions that came to the surface when the structures of authority collapsed—as they did before the military coup of 1928 that eventually brought Salazar to power and when the regime he created fell last year.

Because the character of the regime and the elite was always seen as intimately linked to their vassalage to external powers, it was natural, whenever a Portuguese regime fell, that the cry for national independence would arise. When the Portuguese have demanded freedom from inequity, they have always included the inequities imposed by foreigners. The Portuguese did not need theorists to explain “neocolonialism” to them, for they had been its first and most consistent victims. For several hundred years their major political thinkers and some of their major statesmen had struggled with the problem, sometimes successfully, usually unsuccessfully.

Portugal’s very poverty was implicitly a weapon and a threat to the Europe it had first led into imperial adventures; for it Portugal was a part of Europe geographically it was separated from it politically and by a deep failure to create modern social and economic institutions. When so few of the benefits of empire were enjoyed by the Portuguese themselves and so many were enjoyed by outsiders, it was relatively easy for Portuguese “imperialists” of yesterday to become the “anti-imperialists” of today. In Guinea, Mozambique, and Angola the liberation movements have always made a careful distinction between the “Portuguese people” on whom they counted for support and the dictatorial government that was trying to crush them. PAIGC, MPLA, and FRELIMO had all developed ideologies which stood in strong contradistinction to the earlier nationalist movements in Africa; they have feared from the first that a political revolution in Portuguese Africa could still leave them in a condition of neocolonial dependence on Lisbon and on the European economic interests to which Lisbon was tied, and for which it sometimes acted as agent.

The basis for convergence between the PAIGC, MPLA, and FRELIMO on the one hand, and the MFA on the other, thus existed from the beginning. A unique alliance between the colonialist officer corps and its opponents was made possible both by the timing and special circumstances of the liberation movements’ struggle and by the backwardness of Portugal that the MFA officers so resented. There was more than rhetorical plausibility to the argument that the MFA and the African movements were both victims of the same oppression and could both be liberated by its overthrow.

An intimate part of these shared understandings between the MFA and the African movements was a deep hostility to liberalism, both political and economic. For the conundrum that the Portuguese have never been able to resolve is this: whenever economic and political liberalism are wedded, orthodoxy in one makes the other hollow. The arrival of individual liberties during the nineteenth century threatened also to remove the few traditional protections the poorer classes had against economic exploitation. The adoption of free trade, a policy that favored the strong expanding industrial powers of northwestern Europe, threatened a country like Portugal with total subjection. Hence the old oligarchies could always reclaim the mantle of “nationalism,” despite the fact that it had been their own subjection to foreign interests that had often caused their overthrow in the first place.

The point is not merely esoteric, for it is important to an understanding of the philosophy of Portugal’s new rulers. It explains the quiet influence in MFA publications of historians and activists such as Piteira Santos and José Tengarrinha, scholars of the period of the 1820s when Portugal, struggling simultaneously to fend off anticolonialism in Brazil and to maintain a liberal constitution at home, succumbed to decades of civil strife. This distrust of liberalism also helps to explain the importance of the combination of eclectic Marxism and nationalism in the MFA’s philosophy and the attraction such a combination might hold for other would-be military revolutionaries, not all of them by any means in the “third world.”

The split within the old oligarchy was not unrelated to these dilemmas. Salazar had also been a ferocious opponent of liberalism as well as an intense nationalist. It was a peculiarity and a strength of his system that it recognized foreign dependency while mitigating its impact. This he achieved by protecting certain sectors of the economy, those in which Portuguese monopolies built their fortunes on privileged access to lucrative commodities. The Melo fortunes for example were based on tobacco. Yet at the same time other sectors of the economy remained almost wholly in the hands of foreigners, the government intervening only indirectly through customs and tax legislation. Even today 13.5 percent of government revenue comes from customs duties.

This juxtaposition of large Portuguese monopolies, which dominated key parts of the internal market, with extensive but parallel foreign economic interests acting through local foreign-owned companies, worked reasonably harmoniously during the Salazar years. It tended to be based on a highly traditional exchange of Portuguese raw materials and natural products—cork, wine, citrus fruits, fish—for foreign manufactured goods. It was a pattern that conformed with Salazar’s opposition to all but perfunctory industrialization, which he saw as the harbinger of an expanded working class and a threat to his carefully preserved status quo.

Part of the problem for the economic “liberalizers” who emerged as Salazar was dying was how to modernize the Portuguese economy without, in Premier Caetano’s words, “killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.” It is worth remembering that the ambivalence of the government toward the monopolies was as great before the coup as it is now; some of the most hostile passages in Caetano’s Depoimento were directed at António Champalimaud.

Champalimaud was himself one of the most “nationalist” of Portuguese businessmen and his industrial empire one of the least involved in foreign entanglements. He was also the industrialist closest to General Spínola. The “nationalist” arguments of the great Portuguese industrial magnates were in part a ploy, for nationalism served their own interests as much as those of the nation; but there was an important element of truth to them as well. The problem that faces the “revolutionary” government no less than its “fascist” predecessor is how to achieve a new definition of social responsibility for these corporations—the only ones it can effectively control anyway—without both destroying those few “national” enterprises that exist in Portugal in the process and opening up the Portuguese economy to further foreign penetration.

The origin of the split between the monopolists predated the coup and at the time was seen as a conflict between those who favored internal development along European lines and those who wanted to develop Portugal’s African wealth, though in fact it was never quite as simple as that. The sort of solution proposed by Spínola and Champalimaud after the coup and attempted by Caetano in the early Seventies was to remove the worst ridigities of the corporate state but to continue to give the monopolists special protections in the interest of efficient large-scale production.

But Salazar’s institutions were created precisely to protect against the untrammeled competition and business entrepreneurship of liberal capitalism. As the new policy was clearly liberal capitalism for some but not for others—becoming more “liberal” the smaller you were and less “liberal” the bigger—it was not greeted with much enthusiasm, especially by the victims who were driven out of business by government-backed entrepreneurs. It is something of a historical irony that the revolutionary government and the Portuguese Communist party are now dedicated to supporting the small, archaic, and uncompetitive enterprises that managed to survive under the old system.

Salazar’s long-time Foreign Minister Franco Nogueira and the Espíritc Santo interests saw any compromise with liberal demands as suicide—especially demands for compromise in Africa. Nogueira in fact on one occasion observed that if Portugal lost Africa it would “immediately be absorbed by Spain.” It is an interesting thought because if Spain absorbed Portugal today it would be much like swallowing a live and activated grenade. But, as Nogueira well knew, if Portugal had been in danger of being absorbed by anyone it was by Great Britain. Like several other former Portuguese foreign ministers, between leaving his official position and taking over the direction of the Espírito Santo bank he served his stint as board chairman of the Benguela Railway, the main outlet from the Katanga and Zambian copper belt to Lobito Bay in Angola, owned by the British-based southern African giant Tanganyika Concessions.

The Anglo-Portuguese connection was of course the oldest and most persistent of Portugal’s foreign economic and political relationships. Arthur William Costigan, some time before Noel Coward, observed (in 1787) that with the “exception of the lowest conditions of life, you shall not meet with anyone some hours of the violent heat everyday but dogs and Englishmen.” Until only recently a large and ostentatious Union Jack used to fly each Sunday over the Victorian elevator that joins the elegant eighteenth-century streets of downtown Lisbon with the hilly twisting alleyways of the Bairro Alto. Henry Fielding is buried in the English cemetery. William Beckford once cavorted with Lisbon choirboys, his lengthy and repeated visits to mass greatly impressing his hosts with his intense un-English religiosity.

British interests in Portugal amount to over $2 billion. Lisbon is a city of double-decker British Leyland buses and red British telephone boxes stand at most corners. Seventy percent of the world’s cork comes from Portugal, much of it controlled by Ian and Ewan Ramkin’s family business or that of Roderick Reynolds’ National Cork Company. The port wine trade remains dominated by British companies. And the connections go far beyond mere economic interests. The Anglo-Portuguese alliance in particular is rooted in generations of intermarriage, many business and commercial families and several aristocratic ones being as English as they are Portuguese. And these connections can be very ancient indeed; D. João Coutinho de Lancastre, the president of Shell Prospex Portuguesea, is a descendant of “Old John of Gaunt, time honoured Lancaster.”

In practice this had always meant that strong lobbies existed in each country that defended and fostered the other’s interests. For many years a powerful group within the British Conservative party could be counted on to lend support and comfort to the Salazar-Caetano regime. Geoffrey Rippon’s efforts were instrumental in obtaining a preferential trade agreement with the EEC with terms very favorable to the Portuguese. Membership of the British “Portugal lobby” tends to overlap that of the influential Tory “Monday Club.” The solicitude the British conservatives showed the regime in Lisbon was not entirely disinterested, for it had much to do with their concern for the regime in South Africa.

Since 1970 Geoffrey Rippon had been the major political spokesman for the idea, as he put it, that “NATO should broaden its maritime horizons and not have the artificial boundary of the Tropic of Cancer as its southern limit of responsibility in the Atlantic.” It was under this conservative pressure, exerted during the early Seventies in the NATO assembly subcommittee on the “Soviet Maritime Threat,” that the process began that eventually led to the decision in mid-1973 to begin contingency planning for defense cooperation with South Africa. Planning in which Portugal, and especially Portugal’s African colonies, held a critical place.8

A very important economic issue was also at stake. As the interdepartmental report to the National Security Council put it bluntly: “The US has indirect economic interest in the key role which South Africa plays in the UK balance of payments. UK investment in South Africa is currently [1969] estimated at $3 billion [US investment at that time was about $1 billion] and the British have made it clear that they will take no action which would jeopardize their economic interests” (AF/NSC/IG 69-8, August 15, 1969, p. 3).

The Portuguese empire was thus underpinned by economic linkages that combined an almost mercantilist restrictiveness with complex networks representing the interests of Western European, North American, and South African capital. Though it was never apparent on the surface, the pressures to hold on to Portuguese Africa and to protect European capital in Portugal itself were closely interconnected. More important, these pressures tended to parallel the strategic concerns of NATO. And working to achieve these interwined aims were powerful networks of friends. They would not need interdepartmental memoranda of the ITT sort to organize opposition to events that threatened them. More likely it would be a conversation over port at a London club. Nor would they view their action as particularly conspiratorial, much less reprehensible. They were simply doing what came naturally, defending their interests and helping their friends.

But to understand what happened in Portugal and what might yet happen in Angola it is essential also to stress that these lines of influence and concern did not always coincide with Spínola’s views in his ideological and practical policy disagreements with the MFA. For both Spínola and the MFA in their own ways had their own nation’s interests at heart—and these were often different from the interests and preoccupations of foreigners, most especially the British. (It was no accident that Mr. Rippon and some other Tory leaders turned up at a meeting of the right-wing CDS party last January.) After April 1974 Spínola often found that obscure but powerful leverage from Western European interests supporting right-wing groups was applied in ways that could only compromise him.

Such maneuvers were clearly of direct importance to the US. For with the CIA’s “assets” virtually wiped out on the ground and its activities in Chile so well known that its techniques and even its agents were faced with constant exposure, the US had in desperation turned back to its old but estranged friends. What Kim Philby had rent asunder, Álvaro Cunhal put back together. According to wellplaced British sources the CIA is now relying heavily on British intelligence for information about and contact with the new regime. They could do worse. The British appear to have escaped any hint of involvement with PIDE. They have plenty of “assets.” (The British intelligence Portugal desk, if it was ever a desk, was once watched over by Graham Greene, and used Malcolm Muggeridge as a local agent in Lisbon and Mozambique.)

This arrangement with British intelligence. may be shrewder and more subtle than the blundering machinations of Admiral Anderson and General Walters and their Portuguese “contacts” but it still poses dangers. It seems likely to compound the confusion of NATO strategy and Western European interests in southern Africa that has already ruinously distorted the US position toward Portugal.


For a long time it will probably be very difficult to explain the importance of Guinea-Bissau as the testing ground for so much that has happened in Portugal. A tiny, poverty-stricken territory with small economic and only indirect strategic importance, it has been central to the drama. No other colony could have been a more poignant symbol to mark the end of Europe’s imperial adventure. More than five hundred years ago it was discovered by Portuguese mariners in search of a sea passage to the Guinea coast in order to capture control of the commerce in gold and slaves that previously reached Europe from West Africa along Saharan caravan routes. Edging around the difficult African littoral at Guinea, they found the systems of winds and currents which opened the way to the New World, the Cape of Good Hope, and the Indian Ocean. In a sense it all began here where today it has ended.

For the Portuguese the war in Guinea-Bissau was a patent absurdity, but for reasons of precedent and prestige it could not be abandoned. The conflict tied down a vast army in proportion to the population, yet toward the end Portuguese troops were restricted to enclaves, coexisting in the same small territory with a state that had already declared its independence. It was a war where the head of the Portuguese government, Marcello Caetano, could tell the country’s leading general, António de Spínola, then military commander in Guinea, that he preferred defeat to a negotiation that might provide a precedent for Mozambique and Angola.

More than anything else this comment by Caetano drove Spínola into opposition. But the circumstances of the struggle in Guinea had themselves already exercised a profound influence, both on him and on the army he commanded. Soon after his arrival in the late 1960s, Spínola abandoned the largely American-inspired strategy of his predecessor Arnaldo Schultz and borrowed from the techniques of his enemy, the PAIGC. He formed civic action teams, started illiteracy campaigns, attempted to encourage local participation in decision making. He cajoled Jorge de Melo, whose CUF had virtually run Portuguese Guinea as a private business fiefdom, into demonstrating some small social responsibility—distributing land and giving financial aid for settling peasant farmers. Spínola’s tenure in Guinea-Bissau not only made him appear a successful military commander at a time of gloomy disaffection and defeat, but gave him a sense of the possibilities of the firm and understanding exercise of power.

But there was another side to Spínola. Responsive to his men, he could also be brutal if they failed him. He surrounded himself with an entourage of handsome cavalry officers with perfect manners and slim silhouettes (fat officers were banished to the outback). And sometimes bluntness in others is not appreciated by those who are blunt themselves. Spínola tended to like courtiers, and his court was resented. Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, today the commander of the MFA’s security force, COPCON, was head of psychological warfare in Guinea, but not one of the inner circle, and was insulted by being excluded. In September 1974 he was one of the key figures in Spínola’s downfall as president.

In fact almost all the leading characters in the struggles within the Portuguese army during the past year worked with Spínola when he was governor in Guinea, and they either worshiped him or distrusted him because of it. Almeida Bruno, a Spínola appointee to the council of state after the coup, was one of his leading field commanders. Firmino Miguel, defense minister in the first and second provisional government and Spínola’s choice for prime minister in his struggle with the MFA following the resignation of Professor Palma Carlos in July 1974, had headed special operations in Guinea. Carlos Fabião, the last Portuguese governor of Guinea, now commander in chief of the Portuguese army, was Spínola’s other leading field commander.

General Fabião is archetypical of the subtle impact of Guinea in the formation of the new Portuguese army, an impact whose activity and attitudes are still underestimated by civilian politicians and foreign diplomats alike. Both continue to swap stories of the young officers’ “naïveté,” their secret financial deals, their personal abuse of power and carousing and womanizing, as if by portraying them as part of the old gang they can reassure themselves of their intentions. So far they have always been wrong and have consistently underestimated the will and dedication of the MFA. And about no one have they been more wrong than about Carlos Fabião. A tough, quiet, hardheaded officer, Fabião spent much of the past thirteen years in Guinea, where he was a protégé of Spínola. But his loyalty to his experience in Guinea proved greater than his personal loyalty to the monocled general.

Fabião directed the major activities of the Portuguese army in Guinea in social and economic reconstruction. Working in the villages, he saw that such a program required a fundamental transformation of the military ethic. Perhaps this was a natural conclusion for an intelligent man fighting an unpopular war with a conscript army in an indefensible place, a war based on rationalizations so strained that they verged on absurdity. But a transformation of social views did take place among the officers and its depth was not appreciated in Lisbon. In the case of Fabião, this led to a critical miscalculation about his probable action (or inaction) by both Spínolistas and several Western intelligence agencies during the debacle of March 1975, which led Spínola to leave the country.

Had Fabião’s stated convictions been treated seriously, then his failure to move in support of the abortive Spínolista putsch on March 11 would have come as no surprise to the Western agents who apparently expected him to act differently. He had outlined his philosophy in some detail in the socialist daily Republica last October. Speaking of the new internal relationships in the army, he observed that leadership did not rest on any imposed or preordained authority but was exercised by the mutual perception of objectives and the means to achieve them. Speaking of Guinea, he said: “Man alone, self-sufficient, omnipotent, has become a relic of the past, a type of extinct dinosaur, because productive work today is only possible by teamwork with the aid and confidence of all. It is a lesson I will never forget” (Republica, October 30, 1974).

To outsiders such comments seem like platitudes. For a country where such concepts never existed, and within a military establishment which had barely emerged from the nineteenth century, they were revolutionary. And they have been acted upon. None of the activities of the Portuguese army since the ouster of Spínola from the presidency last September can be explained without an understanding of the depth of conviction behind the changes that have been set in motion by men like General Fabião.

Much of what they have done shows how serious and far-reaching their intentions are: the “cultural dynamization” teams which have spread throughout the country, and whose activity was critical in informing the people of their duty to vote and how to go about it; the central role the army has defined for itself in the social and economic reconstruction of Portugal; the myriad committees of soldiers, sergeants and commissioned officers, that are functioning in quasi-legislative bodies within the army. Some Portuguese have been treated harshly and crudely under the rule of the MFA leaders, as the accompanying statement by Antonio de Figueiredo, a widely respected Portuguese liberal, shows. (See box.) But the soldiers who brought about a free election by secret ballot for 92 percent of the eligible voters are not imposing a police state—far from it.

In almost all these activities Guinea-Bissau was the progenitor. The teams of soldiers General Fabião sent into the African villages to encourage expression of local opinion and the formation of cooperatives prefigured the MFA groups that ranged over Portugal before the recent elections. And long before the MFA in Portugal admitted private soldiers and sergeants to its membership and assemblies, or provided for the participation of conscript miliciano sergeants and miliciano officers in its deliberations, the MFA in Guinea under Fabião had institutionalized all of these reforms. Indeed they had done so as early as June of 1974, and this fact was of central importance to the pace of decolonizing Africa.

The war in West Africa had produced one of the few theoreticians of modern Africa, Amílcar Cabral, a man European dogmatists found heretical and comical until his ideas succeeded so well that in a desperate bid to split his movement and vitiate his cause, PIDE and its sinister friends killed him on January 20, 1973, and made him a martyr. But Cabral had been a serious internationalist who had gained the support of the independent African states, and was well known and respected among the “nonaligned nations.”

These connections proved vital during the past year. What is insufficiently appreciated is that during the last twelve months a quiet triumph for African and nonaligned diplomacy has taken place, one no less remarkable for having passed almost unnoticed. While Kissinger muttered about the PCP (whose absence from these developments is so total as to warrant note for that reason alone) and Admiral Anderson’s friends plotted, a strenuous secret diplomacy laid the basis for settlements in the Portuguese colonies. These settlements remain fragile, especially in Angola, which has long been divided by internecine disputes among the liberation movements; but as late as December 1974 few would have predicted that any settlements whatever could be made.

The diplomacy that arranged them emanated largely from Algiers and from Lusaka in Zambia; one in North Africa and the other in the delicate boundary between black Africa and the white minority regimes of the south. And the process of making the settlements helped also to bring Spínola down.

The underlying reasons for this African success should be clear. Washington and Western Europe could not distinguish the forces at play in the Portuguese situation, and bungled into associations with groups such as the one around General Kaúlza de Arriaga, groups so intransigent that they were doomed to help to destroy the very solution that the US must now dearly wish it could have arranged. No such misjudgment took place within the liberation movements. They after all knew the Portuguese, appreciated their strengths and were aware of their weaknesses. They knew the leaders involved, some of them only too well, and above all they knew that real power in Portugal was held by the MFA leaders and that a tacit alliance with them could be made against Spínola.


During the past year three crises moved Portugal decisively to the left and Portuguese Africa equally decisively toward independence. They appeared as a series of sometimes lengthy struggles in which political tensions in Portugal, developments in Africa, and external pressures, both overt and covert, combined to force major confrontations. During these crises most politically sophisticated Portuguese were well aware of the underlying causes of what was happening. But almost never did these surface in the Portuguese press, and when they did it was mainly by insinuation. Only when the crises were over and the consequences were patent—the resignation of Premier Palma Carlos on July 9, 1974, the resignation of General Spínola from the presidency on September 30, 1974, the crushing of the intentona of March 11, 1975—were they publicly discussed by outsiders. But no one involved ever doubted that the shape and content of the political future in Portugal and the achievement of independence in the African colonies were intimately linked. The outcome of the struggle in one sphere would help to consolidate victory or bring defeat in the other. And the victory of the MFA is still not complete.

In Lisbon, the political process was something like peeling a large artichoke, a gradual stripping away of layers, a simplification of political structures. In May 1974 these were astoundingly complex; overlapping and badly defined responsibilities were shared among the president, the council of state, the junta of national salvation, the provisional government, the old military hierarchies, and the MFA coordinating committee—all reflecting real confusion in the division of power. Today all these entities have been replaced or subsumed by a supreme military revolutionary council, plans for which first emerged within the MFA last September and were put in effect immediately after the events of March 11.

The fourth provisional government, also sworn in during March, still includes representatives of various political parties (PSP, PCP, MDP/CDE, PPD); but it has at its core, in charge of the economic ministries, a strong and highly competent team of radical economists, some of them, such as the Catholic radical Pereira de Moura, well known and respected in decidedly nonradical US academic circles. This is in sharp contrast to the paralyzing hostilities and lack of common ground that existed among the members of the first provisional government under Professor Palma Carlos which fell last July. The old army general officer corps—with some notable exceptions, not least the new president of the republic, General Costa Gomes—has been flushed away (saneado) and the old staff officer corps abolished. The Portuguese army has now established a consultative assembly within its own ranks and has a new hierarchy at its head, some of its members elected from within the MFA. The majors of 1974 have become the generals of 1975.

Each crisis in Lisbon was connected with critical moments in the negotiations in Africa where the liberation movements combined military pressures with diplomatic inducements to allow them a free hand. In Mozambique especially, FRELIMO stepped up its fighting while arranging local cease-fires. The MFA in Africa was already acting with a large degree of autonomy, each colony having a different MFA organization linked only informally to the others and, through Captain Vasco Lourenço, to the coordinating committee of the MFA in Lisbon. These arrangements prefigured independence and they allowed a great deal of flexibility in local arrangements with the guerrillas.

In Guinea-Bissau local peace came long before its recognition in a formal settlement. The circumstances of that settlement are extremely revealing. In May 1974, Spínola’s friend Colonel Almeida Bruno went to London with Mário Soares to negotiate with the PAIGC. When they failed to make a deal in June, a decisive shift took place. The negotiations moved out of the European orbit and shifted to the secret diplomacy carried out in Algiers by Major Melo Antunes of the MFA. (Melo Antunes replaced Soares as foreign minister in March 1975.) A settlement was finally arranged at the end of July, but only after a new cabinet had been installed with the pro-PCP brigadier general Vasco Gonçalves as premier; and after the MFA had consolidated its military power in Portugal by setting up a security force, COPCON, under the effective command of Otelo de Carvalho, who also became commander of the Lisbon military garrison.

This was a crucial blow to Spínola’s power, perhaps the most important one: the MFA and its leftist allies in Lisbon could make an African settlement that he could not, sustaining a momentum toward African independence which he opposed. Similar crises erupted over Mozambique in August and September and over Angola from January to March. Both were complex, but in each case the settlements shored up the power of the MFA and allowed it to drive from power the moderate and conservative forces in Lisbon that wanted to hold on to Portuguese Africa.

In all these events the hands of outsiders were concealed, but gradually they are becoming more discernible. Spínola fell from power as president in September after failing to hold a mass rally intended to mobilize a “silent majority” in favor of the presidential elections he hoped would maintain his supreme authority. Mixed up in this strategy were all the old figures of the “integrationists” faction, who were in touch with Admiral Anderson and General Walters. Their intrigues only hurt Spínola’s own prospects and they contradicted his program for gradual disengagement in Africa and liberal social reform at home. A number of them, including Kaúlza de Arriaga, Sarmento Rodrigues, Arnaldo Schultz, Franco Nogueira, and several members of the Espírito Santo family, were later taken off to jail by COPCON, where some remain (held under military jurisdiction that denies them anything resembling due process). In January, as the Angola issue became more acute, it was the turn of Geoffrey Rippon and his friends, the US and Western European supporters of the right-wing CDS, to provide dubious advice and assistance for a lost cause.

Foreign leverage in Portugal will continue to be a central issue in the months ahead. It will be a difficult and dangerous time. Having nationalized the banks and large enterprises, the government must now manage the same companies it once attacked for being elephantine and antisocial. This will complicate relations with the former colonies, with which the MFA hopes to preserve some of the old economic ties. Over 70 percent of Portugal’s commerce is with Western Europe and the US, and it is now subject to the kinds of manipulations of trade and credit encountered by Allende.

Meanwhile Portugal faces immense social and economic problems. More than a million workers are in France or Germany, their remittances now pared down. At home, 300,000 of the total industrial work force of one million are unemployed while thousands of embittered colonists are returning from Africa and 200,000 young army conscripts face demobilization. Already unemployed workers and poor villagers have been taking over the new houses in which many Portuguese workers abroad have invested their savings—a potential source of civil strife.

Premier Vasco Gonçalves has talked incessantly of a policy of “austerity”—but the effect of this on the government’s popular support could be severe. So far those who have gained have been the civil servants, the military, and the factory workers in the larger industries, all who have had substantial raises in pay. With inflation and increasing austerity, they are bound to see these gains wither. Food prices in some areas have increased by as much as 50 percent during the past year.

The PCP, which has been the main force in favor of resisting wage demands, will be crucial in the coming conflict over austerity. It remains firmly entrenched in the provisional government, the unions, and, through “workers’ commissions,” it has a strong influence on the press and television. The recent failure of the PCP in the elections—partly attributable to its tight and unpopular policies on wages—will not destroy these positions of strength; for the elections were not about the immediate distribution of power itself. That had been predetermined by the pact between the MFA and the political parties which accepted the dominance of the MFA in political life for the next three to five years. Cunhal’s early alliance with the MFA allowed him successfully to press for this, fearing precisely the election outcome that occurred.

But the elections have already had an enormous effect on the ambiance of power in Portugal. The triumph of Soares and the strength of the PPD, the party on which Spínola had based his original political strategy, show how strong a threat Spínola was—and still remains—even out of office and out of Portugal (although both the Socialists and the PPD would publicly deny this). In January, as the PCP lost support, there was a real possibility of cooperation between Soares and the Spínolistas—a possibility that made the MFA and the PCP all the more anxious to consolidate their alliance. For Spínola still retains a wide popular following in Portugal.

The real test of the MFA regime has just begun. And the futures of Portugal and Angola remain linked. For some, even the cost of civil war might not be too great to turn the clock back. It has happened before.

(This is the second of two articles on Portugal.)

This Issue

May 29, 1975