Everything for Portugal: the Life of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar Part 4

By Christopher Woods (Rated PG for war and violence)

Part Four of Four

After the War

         Even though Portugal had not been directly involved in the war, the war had greatly affected her. Because of Salazar’s obstinacy and dictatorial style, critics in Great Britain and the US branded him as fascist, an insult that would ever after be linked with the deaths of millions of innocents and the suppression of freedom. Despite his economic skills, Salazar could not maintain the immense economic progress Portugal had made before the war. His critics attributed the stagnation to Salazar’s own policies, while in reality, it was more because of the war. But his reputation had been stained, and in the eyes of the rest of the world, Salazar would not be able to wipe out the black mark of fascism. Nevertheless, he continued to do as he had always done—always with the best interests of Portugal at heart, whether the Portuguese knew it or not.

         The remainder of Salazar’s career would focus on his efforts to retain the Portuguese Empire. During the second half of the twentieth century, various western nations began feeling immense guilt because of colonizing Africa. Some, like Belgium, withdrew their influence suddenly and all at once, resulting in unbelievable chaos and the Communists easily taking control. Others, like Great Britain, tried to prepare their colonies for independence before finally granting it; but many of these soon fell to the Communists as well. Salazar clearly saw that granting independence to Angola and Mozambique would more than likely result in nothing but an even greater influence for Communism in Africa. Accordingly, he jealously guarded Portuguese Africa until his death.

         Although Portugal joined NATO in 1949, it didn’t join the United Nations until 1955. Because both the United States and the Soviet Union were on the Security Council, they often blocked applications sponsored by each other. Portugal was only accepted as part of a package deal that accepted sixteen countries to the UN, some sponsored by the United States, and others by the Soviet Union (1).

         In accordance with the prevailing ideas of the time, the UN pressured Portugal to grant Angola and Mozambique independence. But Portugal had owned these lands for five hundred years, and Salazar, as well as many other Portuguese, was convinced that they were not colonies, but as Portuguese as Lisbon. Thus, asking Salazar to grant them independence was asking him to split Portugal itself. Salazar would not hear of it. The UN switched tracks, and in 1959, passed Resolution 1467 (XIV), which defined what a colony was. Shortly following this, in 1960, came Resolution 1514 (XV), which called member states to transfer independence to dependent colonies. Franco Nogueira, the Portuguese representative, argued that the colonies of all the nations would be under control of the UN during their transition from dependence to independence, giving the UN a great deal more power than it was intended to have. Not only that, but giving each ethnicity its own nation ran contrary to the very ideals of the UN, and that the resolutions passed significantly altered the UN Charter. Despite Nogueira’s best rhetoric, though, most representatives remained unconvinced (2).

         The situation in Portuguese Africa at the beginning of the 1950s was not one to be proud of. Corruption, forced labor, and illiteracy abounded. The laws prevented slavery, but there were those who abused the laws. Missionaries of all kinds argued that the African should be treated as an equal with the European; but there were several Portuguese who wanted the cheap labor for higher profits and didn’t care much for preachers. Salazar, however, agreed with the missionaries, and took steps in the fifties and sixties to improve the situation in Portuguese Africa (3).

         Salazar decided to develop Portuguese Africa, and so raise the standard of living. He ordered the construction of modern infrastructure and invested in agriculture in Mozambique and in mining iron and diamonds in Angola. Despite these advancements, many in Portuguese Africa struggled for decentralization, going so far as rioting in the streets. Salazar forcefully repressed the riots but continued improving Portuguese Africa (4).

         The real trouble began on February 4, 1961. African nationalists armed with submachine guns attacked a police barracks and two prisons in Luanda, the capital of Angola. Sixteen men, both African and European, died in the firefight. Upon investigation, the police found the guns to have been made in Czechoslovakia, pointing to Soviet involvement. The nationalists continued their attacks, initiating a vicious war with the inhabitants of Angola. Salazar quickly raised the number of police and soldiers in Angola from 8,000 to 12,000 and used them as a peacekeeping force. They were to defend the villages, but also arrest any Portuguese vigilante who stirred up trouble. Not only were they to defend the villages, but Salazar also tasked them with rebuilding the villages the nationalists had already destroyed and encouraging the settlers to return to their lives. The war was not simply whites versus blacks: the nationalists cared little who their victims were, and half of the total Portuguese soldiers and police were themselves African (5).

         The leader of the nationalists was Holden Roberto, an Angolan by birth, who had been trained by the Soviets and now wanted to bring Communism to his homeland. To that end, he organized the União das Populaçes de Angola (UPA) and ordered the attacks that resulted in villages burnt to the ground and people mutilated (6).

         The exact casualties of the war are impossible to determine. The population statistics were often inaccurate, due to the scattering of villages, and the reports of casualties were often exaggerated. However, a reasonable estimate is that within the first few months, 2,000 settlers had died, and anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 UPA fighters had died (7). The war also forced many settlers and natives of the area to become refugees. About 10,000 fled further south in Angola, while as many as 150,000 fled north, into the Congo.

Critics of Salazar’s regime spread stories of Portuguese brutality, but more often than not, the settlers and natives welcomed the Portuguese army as a force they could trust to restore order. The reports included horrifying stories of Portuguese soldiers killing African men and boys, burning entire villages, and persecuting all the educated Africans. Dr. Adriano Moreira, Portugal’s Overseas Minister, had the task of refuting these reports. According to Dr. Moreira, the forest and grass was so thick and lush that it was very resistant to burning, and so such a tactic was useless in this case. He admitted to raids but denied the reports of wholesale massacres. He also presented accounts of locals who did their best to stay out of the way, saying that the reports were indeed highly exaggerated; they had seen nothing like what had been reported. In fact, quite the opposite happened. As the Portuguese army rebuilt the villages burnt by the UPA, they encouraged the Africans to help them, and return to their ancestral villages. Even some of the refugees in the Congo began returning after a while, despite Congolese attempts to persuade them to stay. As for captured UPA fighters and others arrested under suspicion, Salazar placed them in Moçamedes Prison, specially built for them. When it was first opened, 10,000 prisoners were transferred there. Once there, however, they lived a life highly unlike Salazar’s critics claimed. The prison was divided into several farming communities, where the inmates would learn once again how to be a trusted member of a village. Every year, substantial numbers of prisoners were released. The accusations levelled against Portugal were largely out of character for Portugal. Few European countries had treated the Africans as well as Portugal had, and many Africans enjoyed a life that was equal to or even better than some Portuguese in Africa. There was no reason for Salazar to suddenly turn on all the Africans under his authority, and all the evidence points that he did just the opposite (8).

Mozambique also suffered from unrest. Eduardo Mondlane, a man of much the same caliber as Holden Roberto, formed the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), and promised education and improved living conditions for Africans. However, Salazar hardly took any action in discouraging Africans from joining. When the Africans visited FRELIMO’s outposts and saw how far they fell short of Mondlane’s promises, they decided that remaining loyal to Portugal was the better choice. The Portuguese police arrested many FRELIMO sympathizers, but they encouraged them to return their loyalty to Portugal. Many of the arrestees were released sooner than planned, because of their cooperation. In 1968, FRELIMO fragmented into several factions, and Mondlane was killed by a time-bomb. The organization then adopted a much more Communist attitude and continued fighting for freedom from Portugal (9).

         Portugal’s wars in Africa did not become racial conflicts. Because Portugal had always maintained good relations with the Africans, there were several African teachers and foremen instructing and employing Portuguese. Partly because of this, the UPA never got farther than the northern border in Angola, and FRELIMO never gained much ground at all in Mozambique. Both of these organizations failed to give Africans better living conditions, and the UPA often gave them terror instead. On the other hand, Salazar encouraged the Africans to return to their villages and resume regular life as soon as possible, and had the Portuguese army rebuild the destroyed villages, while arresting all those who sympathized with the African nationalists. Even the prisoners were treated well. It is no wonder that most Africans preferred staying with Portugal to having their own nations.

         Salazar’s regime had by now lasted forty years and was coming to an end. One of the first signs appeared on June 12, 1968, when Salazar repeated a topic at a Council of Ministers and failed to catch his own mistake. Rumors circulated that Salazar was becoming senile and would soon be completely unable to lead the government. However, for the next two months, Salazar continued business as usual without any change (10).

         In early August, while at his summer residence in the Estoril fort, Salazar sat on a deck chair too heavily, collapsed, and hit his head. To the surprise of those present, Salazar got up again, claiming that he was alright. He continued as before, but later in August, began to suffer from frequent severe headaches. In September, his illness became noticeable, and on September 7, Salazar underwent surgery to remove a blood clot that had formed as a result of his fall a month earlier. The surgery was successful, and Salazar slowly began to improve. The hope inspired was shortlived. Just nine days later, on September 16, Salazar suffered an intracranial hemorrage, and fell into a coma. His friend, Cardinal Patriarch Cerejeira, administered him the Last Rites. Americo Tomás, the President of Portugal, convened the Council of Ministers to decide what course of action to take. Some of the ministers opted for Tomás to appoint a successor to Salazar immediately. On the other hand, an American doctor, one of the experts summoned to treat Salazar, thought that Salazar could still survive, but his career was over. Tomás knew that if Salazar recovered enough to regain consciousness and lucidity, then he would be unwilling to resign. He had had plenty of opportunities throughout his career and refused them all. After almost two weeks of uncertainty, on September 25, Tomás appointed Marcelo Caetano the new Prime Minister of Portugal (11).

         Despite all expectations, Salazar continued to hold on to life for many months yet. Some of the ministers grew concerned. How would Salazar react if he learned that Tomás had appointed Caetano in his place? They determined that he should never know and set up an extravagant farce. The portion of the hospital he was kept in was sealed off. The only radio Salazar had access to broadcasted censored news, that said nothing of Caetano’s appointment. The Ministers regularly convened in Salazar’s room, so that Salazar was kept under the impression that he was still Prime Minister. Once again, despite all these efforts, some rumored that Salazar knew the reality of the situation. But due to his inability to speak, he never showed any clear sign of how much he did and didn’t know. Finally, on July 27, 1970—almost two full years since he first fell—Salazar died (12).

         Salazar’s life was defined by two primary aspects: love of God, and love of Portugal. He desired Portugal to be able to stand on its own, and he acknowledged the Catholic faith to be an integral part of Portuguese culture. More than the culture, however, Salazar knew that Portugal needed a strong economy, and he believed that the Catholic Church had offered the best ideas on an economy that still respected man’s need for leisure that benefited his soul. He preserved Portugal from the Great Depression, as it coincided with his acceptance of power and his first initiatives to improve Portugal’s economy. During World War Two, he persuaded Francisco  Franco to stay away from the Axis, while he himself struggled not to be sucked into the Allies. In both endeavors, he succeeded, although Portugal was not entirely unscathed. In the following years, he struggled against the spread of Communism in Africa, and during his regime, succeeded in preventing Angola and Mozambique from falling to Red Moscow. However, he failed in his primary goal: that of establishing a government in Portugal adherent to Catholic doctrine that would last for generations. In 1972, four years after Salazar’s duties ceased and two years after he died, the military again led a coup, this time against Marcelo Caetano. The Novo Estado ended, and a democratic government established in its place. Today, many Portuguese regard Salazar as a fascist dictator who repressed freedoms and tyrannized Portugal. But there are some who remember his selflessness, that all he did, he did for the benefit of Portugal. 


1.  Hugh Kay, Salazar and Modern Portugal, Hawthorn Books, Inc., © 1970, pp. 182-183
2.  Ibid, pp. 183-192
3.  Ibid, 216-220
4.  Ibid
5.  Ibid, pp. 220-221
6.  Ibid, pp. 221-222
7.  Ibid
8.  Ibid, pp. 230-234
9.  Ibid, pp. 258-263. Had the majority of Africans joined FRELIMO, Portugal would have soon lost. The majority of gun-owners in Mozambique were African.
10.  Filipe Ribeiro de Meneses, Salazar: A Political Biography, Enigma Books, © 2009, pp. 598-599
11.  Ibid, pp. 600-604
12.  Ibid, pp. 604-609

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