marxism-digest V1 #1389

R.J.G.Alves R.J.G.Alves at
Fri Oct 1 16:03:45 MDT 1999

> Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 12:36:04 -0400 (EDT)
> From: "Michael Hoover" <hoov at>
> Subject: Re: US/UN/East Timor/Portugal
> Thanks for correction about Salazar, the hazards of posting from memory.
> I *knew* above at one time and recall US media reports about his
> 'retirement' in 68.  I also recollect Dean Acheson remarking about his
> first meeting with Salazar in early 1950s that latter wasn't a dictator
> *per se* but a dictator-manager (or some such phrase) who didn't rely
> upon repression.

 I don't know who Dean Acheson is or was, but I would not be suprised
if he was a left-of-center "democrat". As late as 1960 you had people
like Eisenhower saying that Portugal was not "developed" enough to live
under any other type of regime. There was a reason for this condoning:
Portugal was a charter member of NATO, and it was an awkward companion
for the so-called "western democracies" in the fight of the "free world"
against communism. Salazar had been much inspired by Mussolini, and he
kept all the repressive institutions in place. The disguise of
democracy" would not fit this unreconstructed fascism.
 Why was Portugal important for NATO? It was not the might of the
army, of course. It was because of the islands of Azores, which, being
located in the middle of the northern Atlantic, had (and still have, to
some extent) an enormous geo-estrategical relevance. The USA has a
military base there since 1943, which has been of crucial importance in
more than one intervention in the Middle East.

> Didn't successor and former right-hand man Caetano allow for elections
> that opened 'space' calling for liberalizing Portugese life, freeing
> political prisoners, and colonial freedom?

 In the essential, the changes were not much more than cosmetic. There
had been elections since 1949 (NATO again), and they were so perfectly
organised that the opposition never managed to elect a single MP. What
he did in this respect was to seduce some milder right-wingers into
being members of the National Union (he changed this name into People's
National Action), therefore giving birth to a "liberal wing" in the
parliament, something unseen before. This was harmless, as the effective
powers of the parliament were nil, zero.
 Some academics which had been in exile were allowed to return, but the
prisons were very full in 25/4/74. Nothing changed in the repressive
apparatus of the regime, except for the name of the political police,
which also changed.
 Caetano was indeed supposed to broaden the social basis of the
dicatorship, and somehow he tried to enlarge a middle class which
longed to enjoy the same type of consumer society as their european
neighbors already did. Portugal joined the EFTA trade agreement at this
point. However, the war in Africa was a drain in the economy. Which
brings us to the colonial question. Caetano was not allowed by the
more hard-line sectors of the regime to negotiate any type of
settlement with the liberation movements, something which apparently
was in his plans for a while. Nevertheless, he gave some
economical and judiciary autonomy to the colonies.

> Coup leader Antonio de Spinola had been military commander in African
> colonies, correct?  Was he among officer class that came to realize
> that colonial wars could not be won or had he become politicized to
> extent that he sympathized with nationlists in colonies as some did?

 Antonio de Spinola was not the coup leader. The coup was organised
and led by a group of lieutenants and captains (MFA) which had indeed
radicalised while serving in the colonies. All of them were very young.
They needed a general, and so they turned to Spinola. The former
commander-in-chief of all troops in Guinea-Bissau had writen a book a
few months before stating that the solution to the wars would have to
be political. This caused great uproar. His personal project was
somewhere half-way between Caetano and the MFA. Soon, the contradictions
between Spinola and the MFA led the former to a putschist attempt. By
28/9/74 he resigned.

> Re. East Timor's importance to US, Portugal had never been important to
> US, a place where CIA agents were sent prior to retirement.  The revo
> pissed Kissinger off for several reasons, one of which was that it
> threw a wrench into his Africa policy of supporting Portugal's colonial
> wars.  According to Richard Barnet, Kissinger called foreign minister and
> socialist Mario Soares a 'Kerensky' and when the latter replied that he
> didn't want to be a Kerensky, Kissinger shouted neither did Kerensky.

 A very famous exchange of words. Kerensky won in Portugal. It has to be
said that Brejnev was very cold about the revolutionary perspectives in
Portugal. He stated clearly to Costa Gomes (President after Spinola)
that as long as there were military blocks, Portugal had no choice but
to become a bourgeois democracy. The Soviet Union would not risk a

> Kissinger's goal was to rid the Portugese gov't of communists and reverse
> the leftward direction of the country.  It was in these contexts that US
> attitudes/policies towards Portugal and East Timor were related, if not
> directly/specifically articulated.  Michael Hoover

 The separatist/terrorist movements in Azores and Madeira, and also the
MDLP terrorist gang in mainland Portugal, were instrumental in making
threat of a civil war very plausible by the Autumn of 75. The USA
in this period was Frank Carlucci, who became head of the CIA just after
left Portugal behind him (and stabilised).
 As you say, the main concern of Kissinger were the portuguese african
colonies, in particular Angola and Mozambique. Two vast countries,
being extraordinarily rich in natural resources. Soon after the
wars were to break in this two countries.
 East Timor was not indeed a major worry. It became so when the
FRETILIN started to look like the winner of the civil war. And so the
indonesian invasion came, less than two weeks after the military coup of
in Portugal, which marked the triumph of the right and atracted far more
than the events in the remote half-island.

 Ricardo Alves

More information about the Marxism mailing list