Country Listing

Portugal Table of Contents




Portuguese marines practicing an assault landing
Courtesy Embassy of Portugal, Washington


Portuguese infantry during an air assault exercise
Courtesy Embassy of Portugal, Washington

Throughout the nineteenth century, the Portuguese military played a prominent role in national life. Although the army was itself divided ideologically, it often acted as a liberal influence among the political groupings striving for power. During the events leading up to the revolution of 1910, the military remained on the sidelines, lending strong backing neither to the monarchy nor to the republican politicians. When the revolt broke out, loyalist units were of little help to the monarchy because of the republican sympathies of junior officers and sergeants.

During the highly unstable First Republic (1910-26), military power seekers frequently dominated the political scene. The army itself became severely factionalized as a result of its involvement in domestic political disputes. The junior officers who carried out the coup of May 28, 1926, were united in little more than their disdain for the civilian politicians. Their actions were also inspired by the government's failure to deal with their grievances over pay, equipment, discipline, and professional status. Political turmoil continued unabated; a countercoup in 1927 was put down with much bloodshed and harsh punishment of the troops involved. Salazar, then a civilian university professor, was appointed minister of finance by the military government and given sweeping powers to curb loose spending policies.

Although military dissent surfaced several times after Salazar's elevation to prime minister in 1932, he was able to keep rebellious officers under control without depriving the many officers with liberal convictions of their careers. Nevertheless, political reliability rather than professional competence was likely to determine the rate of promotion. Disillusioned senior officers entered hopeless presidential contests against the official candidates, who were also high military figures. In 1958, a previous solid supporter of the regime, General Humberto Delgado, defied Salazar by running against the official candidate, Admiral Américo Tomás. Delgado was easily defeated, but he received a quarter of the vote, considered a credible showing. In 1961 Salazar's unyielding colonial policy touched off a major conspiracy in the senior ranks of the military. Salazar succeeded, however, in rallying the army and paramilitary forces loyal to him to bring about a rapid collapse of the coup attempt. Dissent within the military did not vanish, however, and the regime remained wary. In 1965, for example, it felt sufficiently threatened by the presence of Delgado in neighboring Spain that its intelligence agents assassinated him.

Data as of January 1993