|Portugal Table of Contents
Portugal's experience with democracy before the Revolution of 1974 had not been particularly successful. Its First Republic lasted only sixteen years, from 1910 to 1926. Under the republic, parliamentary institutions worked poorly and were soon discredited. Corruption and economic mismanagement were widespread. When a military coup d'état ended the republic in 1926, few lamented its passing.
The Salazar-Caetano Era
The republic was replaced by a military dictatorship that promised order, authority, and discipline. The military regime abolished political parties, took steps against the small but vocal Marxist groups, and did away with republican institutions. In 1928 it invited University of Coimbra professor António de Oliveira Salazar to serve as minister of finance. In 1932 he became prime minister. That year marked the beginning of his regime, the New State (Estado Novo).
Under Salazar (1932-68), Portugal became, at least formally, a corporative state. The new constitution of 1933 embodied the corporatist theory, under which government was to be formed of economic entities organized according to their function, rather than by individual representation. Employers were to form one group, labor another, and they and other groups were to deal with one another through their representative organizations.
In reality, however, Salazar headed an autocratic dictatorship with the help of an efficient secret police. Strict censorship was introduced, the politically suspect were monitored, and the regime's opponents were jailed, sent into exile, and occasionally killed.
Portugal drifted and floundered under this repressive regime for several decades. Economic conditions improved slightly in the 1950s, when Salazar instituted the first of two five-year economic plans. These plans stimulated some growth, and living standards began to rise.
The 1960s, however, were crisis years for Portugal. Guerrilla movements emerged in the Portuguese African colonies of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau (formerly Portuguese Guinea) that aimed at liberating those territories from "the last colonial empire." Fighting three guerrilla movements for more than a decade proved to be enormously draining for a small, poor country in terms of labor and financial resources. At the same time, social changes brought about by urbanization, emigration, the growth of the working class, and the emergence of a sizeable middle class put new pressures on the political system to liberalize. Instead, Salazar increased repression, and the regime became even more rigid and ossified.
When Salazar was incapacitated in an accident in 1968, the Council of State, a high-level advisory body created by the constitution of 1933, chose Marcello Caetano (1968-74) to succeed him. Caetano, though a Salazar protégé, tried to modernize and liberalize the old Salazar system. He was opposed, however, by a group widely referred to as "the bunker," the old Salazaristas. These included the country's president, Admiral Américo Tomás, the senior officers of the armed forces, and the heads of some of the country's largest financial groups. The bunker was powerful enough that any fundamental change would certainly have led to Caetano's immediate overthrow.
As Caetano promised reform but fell into indecision, the sense began to grow among all groups--the armed forces, the opposition, and liberals within the regime--that only a revolution could produce the changes that Portugal sorely needed. Contributing to this feeling were a number of growing tensions on the political and social scene.
The continuing economic drain caused by the military campaigns in Africa was exacerbated by the first great oil "shock" of 1973. Politically, the desire for democracy, or at least a greater opening up of the political system, was increasing. Social tensions mounted, as well, because of the slow pace of change and the absence of opportunities for advancement.
The decisive ingredient in these tensions was dissension within the military itself, long a bulwark of the regime. Younger military academy graduates resented a program introduced by Caetano whereby university graduates who completed a brief training program could be commissioned at the same rank as academy graduates. Caetano had begun the program because it was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit new officers as casualties from the African wars mounted.
More about the Government of Portugal.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress