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The New State

As Salazar came to be seen as the civilian mainstay of the military dictatorship, he increasingly took it upon himself to lay out the country's political future. He set forth his plans in two key speeches, one on May 28, 1930, and the other on July 30 of the same year. In the first, he spoke of the need for a new constitution that would create a strong authoritarian political order, which he dubbed the New State (Estado Novo). In the second, he announced his intention to establish such a state. The military approved of Salazar's speeches, and on July 5, 1932, after the collective resignation of the government of General Júlio Domingos de Oliveira, which had come to power two years earlier, he was appointed prime minister.

Salazar came from a peasant background. He had studied for the priesthood before turning to economics at the University of Coimbra, where he received his doctorate in 1918 and afterward taught. While a faculty member, he earned a reputation as a scholar and a writer, as well as a leader in Catholic intellectual and political movements. After taking up the reins of government, he retained his professorial style, lecturing the cabinet, his political followers, and the nation. Salazar never married and lived ascetically. A skillful political manipulator with a capacity for ruthlessness, he was a respected rather than a popular figure.

The period of transition to the authoritarian republic promised after the military takeover in 1926 ended in 1933 with the adoption of a new constitution. The 1933 constitution, dictated by Salazar, created the New State, in theory a corporate state representing interest groups rather than individuals. The constitution provided for a president directly elected for a seven-year term and a prime minister appointed by and responsible to the president. The relationship of the office of prime minister to the presidency was an ambiguous one. Salazar, continuing as prime minister, was head of government. He exercised executive and legislative functions, controlled local administration, police, and patronage, and was leader of the National Union (União Nacional--UN), an umbrella group for supporters of the regime and the only legal political organization.

The legislature, called the National Assembly, was restricted to members of the UN. It could initiate legislation but only concerning matters that did not require government expenditures. The parallel Corporative Chamber included representatives of cultural and professional groups and of the official workers' syndicates that replaced free trade unions.

Women were given the vote for the first time, but literacy and property qualifications limited the enfranchised segment of the population to about 20 percent, somewhat higher than under the parliamentary regime. Elections were held regularly, without opposition.

In 1945 Salazar introduced so-called democratic measures, including an amnesty for political prisoners and a loosening of censorship, that were believed by liberals to represent a move toward democratic government. In the parliamentary election that year, the opposition formed the broadly based Movement of Democratic Unity (Movimento de Unidade Democrática--MUD), which brought democrats together with fascists and communists. The opposition withdrew before the election, however, charging that the government intended to manipulate votes. General Norton de Matos, a candidate who had opposed Carmona in the 1949 presidential election, pulled out on the same grounds. In 1958 the eccentric General Humberto Delgado ran against the official candidate, Admiral Américo Tomás, representing the UN. Delgado pointedly campaigned on the issue of replacing Salazar and won 25 percent of the vote. After the election, the rules were altered to provide for the legislature to choose the president.

Salazar's was a low-keyed personalist rule. The New State was his and not a forum for a party or ideology. Although intensely patriotic, he was cynical about the Portuguese national character that in his mind made the people easy prey for demagogues. He avoided opportunities to politicize public life and appeared uncomfortable with the political groups that were eventually introduced to mobilize opinion on the side of the regime's policies. Politics in Salazar's Portugal consisted of balancing power blocs within the country--the military, business and commerce, landholders, colonial interests, and the church. All political parties were banned. The UN, officially a civic association, encouraged public apathy rather than political involvement. Its leadership was composed of a small political and commercial elite, and contacts within ruling circles were usually made on an informal, personal basis, rather than through official channels. Within the circle, it was possible to discuss and criticize policy, but no channels for expression existed outside the circle.

The UN had no guiding philosophy apart from support for Salazar. The tenets of the regime were said to be authoritarian government, patriotic unity, Christian morality, and the work ethic. Despite a great deal of deference paid to the theory of the corporate state, these tenets were essentially the extent of the regime's ideological content. Although the regime indulged in rallies and youth movements with the trappings of fascist salutes and paraphernalia, it was satisfied to direct public enthusiasm into "fado, Fátima, and football"--music, religion, and sports.

A devout Roman Catholic, Salazar sought a rapprochement with the church in Portugal. A concordat with the Vatican in 1940 reintroduced state aid to Roman Catholic education, but Salazar resisted involving the church--which he called "the great source of our national life"--in political questions. His policies were aimed essentially at healing the divisions caused within Portuguese society by generations of anticlericalism. Although the church had consistently supported Salazar, the regime came under increasing criticism by progressive elements in the clergy in the 1960s. One such incident led to the expulsion of the bishop of Porto.

Whatever may be said of his political methods, Salazar had an exceptional grasp of the techniques of fiscal management and, within the limits that he had set for the regime, his program of economic recovery succeeded. Portugal's overriding problem in 1926 had been its enormous public debt. Salazar's solution was to achieve financial solvency by balancing the national budget and reducing external debt. This solution required a strong government capable of cutting public expenditures and reducing domestic consumption by raising taxes and controlling credit and trade. In a few years Salazar singlemindedly achieved a solvent currency, a favorable balance of trade, and surpluses both in foreign reserves and in the national budget.

The bulk of the Portuguese remained among the poorest people in Europe, however. The austerity that Salazar's fiscal and economic policies demanded weighed most heavily on the working class and the rural poor, forestalling the development that would raise their standards of living. Outside the cities, traditional patterns of life persisted, especially in the conservative north, which had been stabilized by evenly distributed poverty and was a stronghold of support for the regime. To create an atmosphere of rising expectations without having the means to satisfy them, Salazar argued, would return the country to the chaotic conditions Portugal had known earlier in the century.

Stable government and a solvent economy would eventually attract foreign investment regardless of the attitude abroad to the nature of Salazar's regime. Cheap labor and the promise of competitive prices for Portuguese-made goods provided an incentive for investment, particularly in labor-intensive production, which was becoming uneconomic in Northern Europe. Priority was given, however, to colonial development. Salazar insisted that the overseas territories be made to pay for themselves and also to provide the trade surpluses required by Portugal to import the essentials that it could not produce itself. In essence, he updated Portuguese mercantilist policy: colonial goods were sold abroad to create a surplus at home.

In the years before World War II, Salazar cultivated good relations with all major powers except the former Soviet Union. Intent on preserving Portuguese neutrality, he had entered into a nonintervention convention with the European powers during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39); however, Soviet activity in Spain and the leftward course of the Spanish Republic persuaded him to support Francisco Franco's nationalists, with whom more than 20,000 Portuguese volunteers served. The war in Spain also prompted Salazar to mobilize a political militia, the Portuguese Legion, as a counterweight to the army.

Although he admired Benito Mussolini for his equitable settlement of Italy's church-state conflict, Salazar found the "pagan" elements in German nazism repugnant. He opposed appeasement, protested the German invasion of Poland in 1939, and would appear to have been among the first, with Winston Churchill, to express confidence in ultimate Allied victory as early as 1940. Portugal remained neutral during World War II, but the Anglo-Portuguese alliance was kept intact, Britain pledging to protect Portuguese neutrality. The United States and Britain were granted bases in the Azores after 1943, and Portuguese colonial products--copper and chromium--were funneled into Allied war production. Macau and Timor were occupied by Japan from 1941 to 1945.

Portugal became a charter member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, and in 1971 Lisbon became headquarters for NATO's Iberian Atlantic Command (IBERLANT). Portugal also maintained a defensive military alliance (the Iberian Pact, also known as the Treaty of Friendship and Nonaggression) with Spain that dated from 1939. Admission to the United Nations (UN) was blocked by the Soviet Union until 1955. In 1961 Indian armed forces invaded and seized Goa, which had been Portuguese since 1510.

Into the early twentieth century, the European settler communities in Portuguese Africa had virtual autonomy, and colonial administrations were perpetually bankrupt. Lisbon's concern in Angola and Mozambique was to make good the Portuguese claim to those territories, and pacification of the interior was still underway in the 1930s. Control over the colonies was tightened under Salazar.

The Colonial Act of 1930 stated that Portugal and its colonies were interdependent entities. The New State insisted on increased production and better marketing of colonial goods to make the overseas territories self-supporting and to halt the drain on the Portuguese treasury for their defense and maintenance. New land was opened for settlement, and emigration to the colonies was encouraged.

Portugal ignored the UN declaration on colonialism in 1960, which called on the colonial powers to relinquish control of dependent territories. Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea were made provinces with the same status as those in metropolitan Portugal by constitutional amendment in 1951. Armed resistance to the Portuguese colonial administration broke out in Angola in 1961 and had spread by 1964 to Mozambique and Guinea. By 1974 Portugal had committed approximately 140,000 troops, or 80 percent of its available military forces, to Africa; some 60 percent of these were African. Portuguese combat casualties were relatively light, and fighting consisted of small-unit action in border areas far from population centers. Only in Guinea did rebel troops control substantial territory. Portuguese forces appeared to have contained the insurgencies, and although large numbers of troops were required to hold the territory, Portugal seemed to some observers capable of sustaining military activity in Africa indefinitely. These same observers considered that, from a military standpoint, the wars had been won.

The wars did not interrupt the colonial production on which Portuguese economic stability depended. Indeed, they had provided a windfall to economic development in Angola and Mozambique, both with large settler communities. A large rural development project was underway in the Cahora Bassa region of Mozambique, as was the exploitation of oil in Cabinda enclave near Angola. More colonial income was being diverted into social services for Africans and Europeans, and in areas of medicine and education better facilities were thought to be available in Luanda and Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) than in Lisbon. However, forced native labor remained a factor in the economic development of Portuguese Africa into the 1960s. Foreign investment capital often came to the colonies from countries whose governments had officially condemned Portuguese colonialism.

No one except Pombal left so broad a mark on modern Portuguese history as Salazar. For nearly forty years, he completely dominated Portuguese government and politics. His departure was prosaic: he suffered an incapacitating stroke in June 1968 after a freak accident and died, still in a coma, more than a year later.

Data as of January 1993

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