Brazil and East Timor

Portugal Table of Contents

At the beginning of the 1990s, Portugal still retained a special interest in its former colony Brazil, although the Portuguese continued to occasionally look down on Brazilians as "people from the tropics," just as Brazilians had their own jokes about the Portuguese. Relations between the two countries were shaped by Brazil's much greater size and more powerful economy. For this reason, Brazilian investment in Portugal in the 1970s and 1980s was considerably greater than Portuguese investment in Brazil. Brazilian telenovelas (soap operas) also dominated Portuguese television, leading to additional resentments. In general, however, relations between the two countries were good, although as of the beginning of the 1990s, any "special" relationship was now largely historical, cultural, and nostalgic, rather than a reflection of concrete interests.

East Timor, Portugal's former colony on the eastern half of the island of Timor in Indonesia, remained a concern for Lisbon in the early 1990s. Portuguese settlers first came to the island in 1520, but it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that Portugal had control of the territory. In 1975 war broke out between rival groups striving for independence from Portugal. Late in the year, Indonesian troops invaded to stop the fighting, and in 1976 East Timor was declared part of Indonesia. As of the early 1990s, continuing resistance on the part of Timorese guerrillas against Indonesian rule had claimed the lives of as many as 100,000 people.

As of the early 1990s, the UN continued to regard Portugal as the administering authority in East Timor. Portuguese officials, for their part, believed that their country had a moral obligation to remain involved in the affairs of its former colony. Through a variety of diplomatic moves, Lisbon attempted to move the Indonesian government to arrange a settlement that could bring peace and even independence to East Timor. Indonesia refused to loosen its hold on the territory because it feared such an action might embolden other areas restive under its control, such as West Irian, to seek independence.

Portugal also sought to maintain good relations with North African and Middle Eastern countries, in part because of geography and in part because Portugal depended entirely on imported oil. Its "tilt" toward the Islamic countries sometimes produced strains in United States-Portuguese relations, particularly when the Middle East was in turmoil and the United States wished to use its bases in the Azores in pursuit of its own Middle Eastern policies.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress