Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents


Economic Elites

The "oligarchy" was the third of the historical triumvirate of power in Portugal (armed forces, church, and oligarchy) to be in decline. Many of the old oligarchical families traced their origins to the Reconquest. They acquired their land, position, and titles, and eventually peasants and cattle, as the Reconquest drove the Moors farther south, opening up new territories for settlement.

This oligarchy, armed with titles of nobility granted it by the royal family in return for loyalty, dominated Portuguese politics for centuries. But over time, its character changed. In the south of Portugal, the Alentejo, the landowning class became increasingly absentee landlords, leaving managers in charge of its estates and moving to Lisbon. In the north, where smallholdings predominated, many members of the oligarchy became impoverished--or went into businesses like wine making. During the reign of Salazar, members of the elite went into banking, insurance, construction, and similar fields in which they could establish oligopolies and monopolies based on their close ties with the government.

After the Revolution of 1974, this economic elite was stripped of power. Its properties were confiscated, many from the elite were jailed or sent into exile, and the group lost all political power. In addition, members of the elite were barred from participating in politics or from forming political movements of their own by means of the laws forbidding far-right political activity.

As of the beginning of the 1990s, most of the exiles had been permitted to return to Portugal, and those who had spent time in jail were freed. Some of the elite managed to regain their power by taking advantage of the economy's need for financial expertise. But the elite as a whole did not regain its old financial position. Its political influence remained limited, as well, and only one member of the old Salazar regime had been elected to parliament.

Data as of January 1993