Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents



During the 1960s and early 1970s, Portugal waged three colonial wars simultaneously on the African continent (see The Role of the Armed Forces in Africa , ch. 5). These campaigns hurt the economy, drained morale, and gradually became politically unpopular. The end of the wars in Africa brought independence to the colonies almost immediately. The manner in which independence was granted, however, and the results that were produced proved to be highly controversial.

In his unsettling book, Portugal and the Future, General António de Spínola had proposed stopping the wars, finding a peaceful resolution, and granting independence to the colonies. But he wanted to maintain good relations with the colonies and to link them with Portugal and possibly Brazil through a Portuguese-speaking Lusitanian confederation of nations that would resemble the British Commonwealth. This proposal was rejected by the radical and more impatient members of the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas--MFA).

In Guinea-Bissau, after brief negotiations and a cease-fire, Portugal granted independence to its former colony and turned power over to the Marxist African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (Partido Africano pela Independência de Guiné e Cabo Verde--PAIGC). Cape Verde also became independent but did not become part of Guinea-Bissau. In the much larger territory of Mozambique, Portugal turned over the reins of government to the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique--FRELIMO), another Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group. And in Angola, Portugal's most valuable African colony, power was given to the similarly Marxist-Leninist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola--MPLA) which, among the three factions fighting for independence, was the only one allied with the Soviet Union. The smaller colony of São Tomé and Príncipe also became independent.

The haste with which independence was granted and the simple turning of power over to the very Marxist-Leninist elements Portugal had been fighting, without any further guarantees, had a number of serious consequences. Hundreds of thousands of Portuguese settlers were stranded, many of whom had lived in the colonies for generations. They lost their homes, land, and positions. Most of them returned to Portugal, where many lived in squalid conditions and added to the country's unemployment problems. Their departure left the African colonies without the teachers, educators, managers, and other trained personnel needed to make a successful transition to independence. Plagued by continuing civil wars and violence, political conditions and living standards in the newly independent states deteriorated.

Portugal's relations with these former colonies long remained strained, for they felt they had been abandoned by the mother country. With time, however, relations improved, trade resumed, Portuguese educators and technicians were welcomed back, and new ties among the Portuguese-speaking nations began to be forged. Portugal served as a useful intermediary in arranging agreements to reduce conflicts in Angola and Mozambique. In 1984, for example, Portugal sponsored the Nkomati Accords between Mozambique and South Africa by which the two latter countries agreed to stop supporting guerrilla groups in each other's territory. The three countries later agreed to manage the giant Cahora Bassa hydroelectric power plant for the benefit of all. Although Portugal would no longer play a large role in Africa, its special relationship with the continent's Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) countries made it likely that it would play a role of some importance.

Data as of January 1993