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Antonio Salazar, Portugal’s last defender of its glorious past

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For detailed biographical information, please check the very first article of this blog. Thanks!

Having suffered a brain hemorrhage in the summer of 1968, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, modern Portugal’s most significant leader, died on July 27th, 1970. He was born in Vimieiro in the central municipality of Viseu on 28 April 28th, 1889, where he was buried in a simple grave following his last wish.

President Américo Tomás (1894-1987) had replaced him as Prime Minister with Marcello Caetano (1906-1980) on September 27th, 1968, something the deposed never realized.

Salazar was educated at the seminary at Viseu, but ultimately decided against a life as a priest. In 1914 he graduated from the law department at the University of Coimbra, where as a professor he specialized in political economy. His strong faith drove him into politics, as he started to write for Catholic newspapers and supported the interests of the Church.

After a military coup d’état on May 28th, 1926 overthrew the unstable First Republic established in 1910, General Óscar Carmona (1869–1951) declared himself president on November 29th of that year. Carmona named Salazar Finance Minister on April 28th, 1928, giving him complete control over the government’s income and expenditures, which enabled the latter to balance the budget and bring financial stability.

Due to his excellent performance, on July 5th, 1932 Salazar was appointed Prime Minister and President of the Council of Ministries by Carmona, who basically relinquished power.

A new Constitution was approved by referendum on March 19th, 1933, formally creating the Estado Novo, an anticommunist, authoritarian, corporatist and nationalistic entity that adhered to the first social doctrine promulgated in the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum issued by Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) on May 15th, 1891 to prevent class struggle. At once, the small Jewish and Protestant minorities enjoyed discrete protection.

The long-time coalition government consisted of conservatives, Catholics and monarchists, whose support he gained by allowing that the last king Manuel II, who passed while exiled in England in July 1932, received a state funeral in his home land.

The National Union (União Nacional) basically served as a subservient umbrella organization that supported the regime itself and therefore lacked any independent ideology. During Salazar’s long presidency, it would remain the sole political party to win any seats in heavily rigged elections hold every four years.

The International and State Defense Police (Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado, PIDE), founded in 1933 and dissolved in 1969, enforced strict censorship and repression of the little existing opposition.

Although Salazar supported Generalissimo Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) by allowing military supplies to reach the Nationalist troops through the port of Lisbon and both sooner or later opposed openly fascist movements, they never got really close.

During World War II Portugal officially remained neutral, though in fact leased naval bases to Britain on the Azores Islands in the Atlantic, based on the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty signed on June 16th, 1373, and to the Americans. On the other hand, tungsten or wolfram was supplied to the Axis powers as well.

As a result of its de facto support of the winning side, Portugal was the only non-democracy among the founding members of NATO on April 4th, 1949. It also reflected its growing role in the containment of Communism in the early stages of the Cold War.

Following the end of the conflict in 1945, European nations gradually granted independence to their colonies, but Salazar vehemently opposed decolonization as he wanted Portugal to maintain international relevance. But he couldn’t go against the tide, so the Indian possessions of Goa, Daman and Diu were the first to be lost in 1961. Negotiations had failed and after strikes as well as acts of civil disobedience were ruthlessly suppressed by the Portuguese administration, India just invaded them.

Simultaneously, revolutionary guerrilla activities started in Mozambique, Angola and Portuguese Guinea. Except in West Africa, the armed forces were able to effectively suppress these insurgencies for a while, but this proxy war drained Portugal of its resources and the world’s recognition. Thousands fled into neighboring countries to avoid military draft and being killed in action.

However, grinding poverty counted as the main reason for often illegal massive emigration. From 1950 1964, the annual number of (temporary) migrants rose from 22,000 to 76,000 and then increased even further.

Salazar stuck to import substitution until the rise of “new technocrats” in the early 1960s led to an opening that attracted international investment, stimulating industrial development and economic growth. Until the oil crisis of 1973, this didn’t stop Portuguese from leaving in droves.

He kept ruling with an iron fist, reminding his people of the instability that had plagued Portugal before, though an emerging generation better educated than ever before thanks to Salazar’s impressive alphabetization campaign, had no collective memory of past hardships and simply wanted freedom.

As a symbolic display of his views of Portugal and its colonial empire, African and European members of the “Mocidade Portuguesa,” a youth organization founded in 1936 and dissolved in 1974, paid homage at his funeral. His exitus eventually marked the end of the first global empire in history.

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