The United States and
Portuguese Colonialism in 19611
In 1961, the Kennedy Administration decided to adopt
a new African policy, supporting self-determination and independence.
This change occurred while the war against Portuguese colonial rule
erupted in Angola. Acting in accordance with the principles adopted
by the administration, the American Ambassador in Lisbon informed the
Portuguese government of this new policy and recommended the urgent
adoption of reforms in the Portuguese territories in Africa. When, in
March, the situation in Angola was brought to debate in the United Nations,
the United States voted in favor of a defeated resolution condemning
Portuguese colonialism. Needless to say, this action provoked a serious
crisis in Portuguese-American relations.
United States, Portugal, Colonialism, Angola, United
Commenting on the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy to the presidency
of the United States, the Portuguese Ambassador in Washington, Luís
Esteves Fernandes, predicted a difficult period for Portuguese-American
relations. The new president, Fernandes warned, would promote "the
official adoption of an anticolonial policy, subordinated to the principle
of liberation for all dependent territories." (AHD, MNE-SE, PAA,
Box 288). The Portuguese Ambassador was probably aware of Kennedy's considerable
record in terms of public declarations on colonialism. Since the mid-1950s,
John Kennedy had indeed realized the growing importance of nationalism
in Africa and its consequences for American foreign policy. His presidential
ambitions had led him to criticize the record of the Eisenhower administration
and to promise that in a future Democratic administration the United States
would "no longer abstain in the United Nations from voting on colonial
] no longer trade our vote on other such issues for other
supposed gains [
] no longer seek to prevent subjugated peoples from
being heard." (quoted by Mahoney: 1983, 187).
Once elected, Kennedy would face a first serious test of his announced
new African policy with the crisis in Angola in early 1961. In February,
the first important armed action against Portuguese colonial rule in Angola
took place, with the assaults on the civil and military prisons of Luanda;
a few days later, the Liberian delegation at the United Nations requested
the inclusion of the situation in Angola on the agenda for the next Security
Council meeting. In Washington, it was time for important political decisions
regarding Portugal and Portuguese colonialism.
1. A New African Policy
In the early 1960s, the political scenario in Africa was changing. The
anticolonial wave was reaching its peak and, in 1960, the year Kennedy
was elected, seventeen new African nations gained independence. The situation
in Africa had become a major issue in the context of the Cold War. In
recent years, the Soviet Union had been paying more attention to African
issues, trying to establish friendly relations with the newly independent
countries. During the Eisenhower administration, the United States responded
to the new situation in Africa in a "slow and ambivalent fashion,"
due to its close alliance with the European powers. (Duignan and
Gann: 1984, 286). American policymakers feared that European leaders
might consider open support for anti-colonialism and nationalism in Africa
as treasonous to the Atlantic alliance. U.S. State Department officials
frequently praised the French, British, and Belgian colonial administrations
in Africa and warned against the dangers of premature independence. In
the second half of the decade, however, certain signs of change began
to appear and the American government began to take more interest in African
issues. According to the historian David Gibbs, however, this interest
came more "in response to decolonization, rather than as a supporter
of it" (Gibbs: 1995, 314). Within this context, in 1958, the State
Department created a Bureau of African Affairs, and the United States
government began to promote the academic study of African cultures and
languages and to channel "loans and grants" to Africa. Gradually,
"anticolonialism came to be interpreted as a policy that was moral
in itself, as a device for expanding American trade, and as a means for
strengthening the American position." (Duignan and Gann: 1984,
288). Gibbs points out, however, that "one should not [
misunderstand the nature of the Eisenhower administration's interest in
Africa or exaggerate the extent of it." In fact, the formulation
of African policy "remained largely in the hands of the bureau of
European affairs" and Africa was given "low priority by the
administration." (Gibbs: 1995, 315).
As mentioned above, John F. Kennedy had a good record in terms of public
anti-colonial statements. During his presidential campaign, he appointed
Chester Bowles, a long-time supporter of African liberation, as his foreign
policy adviser. This nomination increased expectations that Kennedy would
bring significant changes in American policy towards Africa. This continent
became, for the first time, a significant theme in the 1960 campaign,
allowing Kennedy to distance himself from the Republican candidate and
from Eisenhower's support for colonial powers. Kennedy repeatedly stated
that the United States had "lost ground in Africa" because it
had "neglected and ignored the needs and aspirations of the African
people." (Schlesinger Jr: 1965, 554).
Once elected, John F. Kennedy created a Task Force to recommend a new
policy for Africa. The Task Force, which went to Africa in December 1960,
included three Democratic senators, Frank Church of Idaho, Frank E. Moss
of Utah, and Gale W. McGee of Wyoming, and also the President's brother,
Edward Kennedy. Its final report recommended "sweeping changes in
America's attitude towards Africa." The United States should abandon
"its traditional fence-sittingarising from links with the colonial
powersin favor of support for African nationalism." The report
argued that American policy had failed to keep pace with events in Africa
mainly because the United States was "accustomed to dealing
with Africa primarily through metropolitan powers that controlled the
major part of the continent. The African reality, however, had changed,
and the "relative stability of the colonial period, based upon an
imposed order, has suddenly given place to grave instability arising from
the emergence of many weak and untested independent regimes."
The new administration should adapt its policy towards Africa to the new
winds that were blowing across the continent. Its major goals should be
the "complete ending of colonial rule" and the development of
"stable African governments willing to pursue economic and social
development and uphold basic civil rights." At the same time, the
future administration should avoid the division of Africa into "spheres
of influence of the great powers" and should try to "restrain
African internal conflicts and encourage inter-African cooperation."
(AHD, MEN-SE, PEA Conf. box 15).
The report of the Task Force also dealt with some particular situations
on the African continent. As far as the Portuguese territories were concerned,
the report was particularly critical of American policy. It deplored the
"widespread impression that the United States supports Portuguese
colonialism in Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea" and described
Portuguese rule in these places as "intolerable." It justified
this impression with the American support of Portuguese membership in
NATO and the importance of the American base in the Azores. The report
considered that "silence on issues affecting Portuguese Africa is
a liability far outweighing any short-term strategic considerations"
and went on to suggest that the new administration, in collaboration with
the British, should exert strong pressure on Portugal "looking towards
the emancipation of her African territories." The United States should
also, from now on, cease to accept Portugal's refusal to report to the
United Nations on its "non-self-governing territories."
(AHD, MNE-SE, PEA Conf. Box 15).
2. Events in Angola
The Kennedy administrations new African policy had one of its first
serious tests in Angola. The first relevant armed action against Portuguese
colonial rule in that territory occurred on February 4, 1961, when several
groups of armed Angolans assaulted the civil and military prisons in Luanda,
trying to free Angolan nationalist leaders, and attacked a police station,
the official radio station, an administrative post and a police patrol
car. According to a report from the American Embassy in Lisbon, the Portuguese
"were caught completely by surprise" and suffered seven casualties.
(NA, SDLF, 68D401, Entry 5296, Box 6). The following day, fighting
and mob violence broke out again in Luanda, during the funeral for the
victims of the incidents of February 4. Additional disorders occurred
on February 10, with new incidents in the civil prison. This time, thirteen
"young Africans" had been killed and "their bodies had
been piled up outside the Prison." The American Consul in Luanda,
William Gibson, reported that Luanda was "full of troops" and
that "a company of rangers had been transported from Lisbon to Luanda."
(NA, SDLF, Entry 3093, Box 1).
In Washington, the Portuguese Embassy officially informed the State Department
of the events in Luanda, which did not come as a "great surprise"
to Portugal. Ambassador Fernandes pointed out that "organs of the
international press and other media sources had lately spread the 'news'
of the possibility of such riots." The Portuguese government interpreted
the events as "part of the Communist assault on the Portuguese position,
not only in the Overseas Provinces but also in the Iberian Peninsula [on
the Iberian Peninsula?, with the aim of weakening the Western position
and provoking a situation which might be propitious for the intervention
of the forces of international Communism." Considering the "very
real danger of the situation, it would be of the utmost interest to the
free world that public opinion in the United States should become aware
of the Communist conspiracy now in action against Portugal."
(NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1815).
3. The Liberian request
The events in Angola also had a direct impact at the United Nations, where
delegations from several African countries assumed a very critical position
toward Portugal. On February 20, the Liberian delegation requested an
urgent meeting of the Security Council "to deal with the crisis in
Angola." The Liberians believed that "immediate action should
be taken by the Security Council to prevent further deterioration and
abuse of human rights and privileges in Angola." (NA, SDCF,
1960-63, Box 1821).
Portugal immediately began its political campaign against the placing
of Angola on the agenda of the Security Council. The Portuguese representative
at NATO delivered a note to its partners asking them to pressure their
own governments to vote against the Liberian motion. The Portuguese government
requested their NATO allies, members of the Security Council, "to
instruct their delegates firmly to oppose the inclusion of the item on
the Council's agenda." The action of the Liberians was part of a
"general campaign to force Portugal to abandon its overseas territories"
and part of a "plan to destroy the positions of the West in Africa."
Moreover, according to the Portuguese government, the Charter of the United
Nations did not authorize the Security Council to discuss the "internal
affairs of member states." If the Council were to debate the situation
in Angola, "a dangerous precedent would be created for United Nations
interference in the responsibilities of sovereign states to preserve law
and order in their territories." (NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1821).
In Washington, the Portuguese Ambassador also met with several State Department
officials and requested the support of the United States "in averting
Security Council consideration of the Liberian request." The Portuguese
Ambassador argued that the Security Council was not "competent"
to discuss the events in Angola since these were "purely internal
matters." He also emphasized that the Portuguese government regarded
"the threat of a Security Council discussion as a serious matter,"
and expected "NATO solidarity" to be "the key" to
any American action. In response, Woodruff Wallner, from the Bureau of
International Organizations, indicated that the United States had not
yet reached a decision. His guess, however, was that "the item would
be placed on the Council's agenda." (NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box
The State Department tried to avoid discussion of Angola at the Security
Council and instructed the United States delegation at the United Nations
(USUN) to approach the Liberians and to inform them that the new Administration
had "a number of African problems under active review, including,
as a matter of major importance, the Portuguese territories in Africa."
The United States expected to "take steps in the near future designed
to contribute to the improvement of this difficult situation." In
light of these circumstances, the American government hoped that Liberia
would avoid the discussion of the Angola question in the United Nations
for the time being, realizing that "this problem can be best advanced
at this time through quiet channels rather than in public debate, which
will likely exacerbate the situation." (NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box
The USUN, however, disagreed with these recommendations sent by the State
Department. In anticipation of a broader debate within the administration,
the head of the American delegation, Adlai Stevenson, argued that the
United States should not oppose the placing of Angola on the agenda, "as
some of our allies may urge." Angola was seen "among Afro-Asians
as a straight colonial issue" and these countries would "disregard
the legal arguments presented by Portugal to justify her claim that Angola
is a matter of domestic concern." The refusal to support the motion
proposed by Liberia would be viewed "as favoring Portuguese over
Africans." Moreover, "in view of the importance of disassociating
ourselves from old line colonialism we should not appear to accept Portugal's
contention that Angola is part of Portugal or that its inhabitants have
a genuine opportunity to determine their own future." (NA, SDCF,
1960-63, Box 1821).
The arguments of Adlai Stevenson apparently convinced the State Department.
A telegram sent from Washington to the USUN admitted that, since Liberia
was insisting on calling a Security Council meeting on Angola, there was
no real alternative but "to acquiesce in the consideration of this
matter by the Council." The United States, therefore, would "vote
affirmatively" regarding the placement of the issue on the agenda
of the Security Council. (NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1821).
4. The démarche with Salazar
The Kennedy Administration decided to inform the Portuguese government
of this major change in policy, indicating that Portugal could no longer
count on American abstention or support in the United Nations. Secretary
of State Dean Rusk instructed Ambassador Elbrick to see Oliveira Salazar
and to tell him that the Administration was "deeply concerned over
the deteriorating position of Portugal in the United Nations and in Africa."
The United States wanted "to talk frankly and in friendly spirit
with Portugal as an ally" in order to improve "mutual understanding"
and to influence Portugal "to undertake major adjustments in her
policies which as presently constituted seem to us headed for very serious
trouble." The immediate problem was the Liberian motion to place
the Angolan question on the agenda of the Security Council. Rusk informed
Elbrick that the USUN would vote in favor of the motion, explaining that
due to American "worldwide commitments and responsibilities"
it was "increasingly difficult and disadvantageous to Western interests
publicly to support or remain silent on Portuguese African policies."
The administration was "greatly concerned that because of our close
association with Portugal, which we value as an ally, we shall come under
increasing criticism from Afro-Asian countries which will, rightly or
wrongly, tend to hold us responsible for Portuguese actions." In
view of this situation, the Ambassador should stress to Salazar that "step
by step actions" were "imperative for the political, economic
and social advancement of all inhabitants of Portuguese African provinces
towards full self-determination within a realistic timetable." The
American government was "fully aware of the economic importance of
the overseas provinces to Portugal and of the great potential cost of
their development," and therefore was prepared to extend "important
bilateral assistance to Portugal and to her overseas territories."
(FRUS, 1961-1963, Vol. XIII, 895-897).
Dean Rusk also recommended some caution to Ambassador Elbrick. Rusk was
"fully aware" of the "distasteful nature" of this
approach to Salazar and had "few illusions" that the Portuguese
government was going to change its policies towards its African territories
in the near future. Above all, the United States wanted to avoid the appearance
of a "take it or leave it" attitude which could cause a Portuguese
"counter-action, which we do not want in connection with NATO or
the Azores where we believe retention of base rights is very important."
(FRUS, 1961-1963, Vol. XIII, 895-897).
Elbrick went to see Salazar on March 7 with the counselor of the Embassy,
Theodore Xanthaky. "The countdown had got us both a little jumpy,"
Elbrick confessed, but the interview "went off relatively smoothly."
(NA, SDLF 68D401, Entry 5296, Box 2). Elbrick explained to Salazar
the new American policy and the Portuguese leader, after listening without
interruption, stated that he was not surprised by this new policy, since
several "high government leaders" had already publicly expressed
similar views in recent months. He was, however, "profoundly concerned"
with the "apparent lack of understanding" of the American government
"as to the dangers which will unquestionably result for the West
if the present American policies in Africa are not reversed." Salazar
was particularly worried by the fact that the Soviet Union was "actively
engaged in attempting to bring about the downfall of the two nations of
the Iberian Peninsula." The Russians were "attacking Portugal
via Africa and it would appear that the Americans are ingenuously playing
their game." Salazar also warned Elbrick that it was "manifestly
impossible to be an ally of Portugal in Europe and an enemy in Africa."
(NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1813).
This démarche marked a real turning point in the relations
between Portugal and the United States. The American government formally
informed Salazar that it had changed its policy in Africa and its policy
towards Portuguese colonialism. Later that day, Elbrick sent a telegram
to the Secretary of State commenting on the interview. Salazar, he wrote,
was "calm and very self-possessed and was not unfriendly throughout
the interview. But it was "obvious" that he rejected "any
thought of Portugal's complying with the United States suggestion."
(NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1813).
5. The Security Council Resolution
Meanwhile, in New York, Portugal continued to oppose the debate in the
Security Council. The Portuguese Ambassador, Vasco Vieira Garin, delivered
a letter of protest to the President of the Security Council, who was
now Adlai Stevenson, denying the United Nations any jurisdiction over
the Angolan territory. The situation in Angola was a matter "exclusively
within the jurisdiction of the government of Portugal." (American
Foreign Policy. Current Documents, 1961, 883). Nevertheless,
the Security Council initiated its session on March 10 and decided to
include the Angolan issue on its agenda. There was no vote on the placement
because, as Woodruff Wallner explained to the Portuguese Ambassador in
Washington, "when it became clear that a majority of the Council
was prepared to support inscription
Stevenson decided it would be
pointless to have a vote." (NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1821).
While the Security Council meeting was taking place, the Portuguese Ambassador
in Washington made one last attempt to change the American position. Fernandes
again met with Woodruff Wallner and declared that Portugal had accepted
the American policy of "non-opposition to inscription." But
now that the item was already inscribed, his government wanted the United
States to abstain from the vote on the resolution that would certainly
occur. Wallner replied that the United States did not share the view that
Security Council consideration of Angola was "illegal". Nevertheless,
it was "impossible" for the Administration "to decide our
position on a resolution until it had been submitted." (NA,
SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1821).
On March 14, the representatives of Ceylon, Liberia and the United Arab
Republic submitted a draft resolution calling for the introduction of
reforms in Angola and requesting the appointment of a subcommittee to
examine the situation in the territory. Dean Rusk recalled in his memoirs
that he "strongly recommended to the President that we support the
resolution." According to Rusk, the United States had to demonstrate
that it opposed colonialism "in fact as well as in rhetoric, and
supporting the resolution was one way to do this." (Rusk: 1990,
274). In a telegram sent to the USUN, Rusk recognized that the resolution
went further than he would have wished, with the "disadvantage of
injecting the United Nations into the Angolan problem on a continuing
basis. This would certainly be "distasteful to the Portuguese
and may complicate our bilateral efforts to effect an adjustment of Portuguese
government policy in Africa." Nevertheless, the United States should
vote favorably. (NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1820).
According to the final text of the resolution, the Security Council, "taking
note of the recent disturbances and conflicts in Angola resulting in loss
of life of the inhabitants, the continuance of which is likely to endanger
the maintenance of international peace and security," called upon
Portugal to "consider urgently the introduction of measures and reforms
in Angola. The Council also decided to appoint a subcommittee "to
examine the statements made before the Security Council concerning Angola,
to receive further statements and documents and to conduct such inquiries
as it may deem necessary and to report to the Security Council as soon
as possible." (Department of State Bulletin, April 3,
The Security Council did not approve the resolution. There were only five
favorable votes (United States, Soviet Union, Ceylon, Liberia and the
United Arab Republic), and six abstentions (Great Britain, France, Turkey,
Ecuador, Chile and China). Adlai Stevenson made an extensive statement
justifying the American vote. According to the president of the Security
Council, "while Angola and the conditions therein do not today endanger
international peace and security, we believe they may, if not alleviated,
lead to more disorders with many unfortunate and dangerous consequences."
The United States believed that "the people of Angola are entitled
to all of the rights guaranteed them by the charter" of the United
Nations and, therefore, considered that Portugal had the "solemn
obligation to undertake a systematic and rapid improvement of the conditions
of the peoples of its territories." (Department of State
Bulletin, April 3, 1961, 497-498).
In Lisbon, the defeat of the resolution in the Security Council was received
with jubilation, but the American vote caused strong indignation. In late
March, Franco Nogueira, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met with
Ambassador Elbrick and explained to him that the Portuguese government
could not understand the "casual manner" in which the United
States dealt with the African problem, which was of "such vital importance"
to Portugal. His government could not understand the American tactics,
"publicly attacking Portugal in the Security Council" only one
week after making "private and confidential approaches" to Salazar.
Nogueira pointed out that no Portuguese government could survive the loss
of the overseas territories and therefore the result of American policy,
"if pursued to its logical conclusion, would produce a neutralized
or even a Communist beachhead in the Iberian Peninsula." (NA,
SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1260).
Moreover, Portuguese officials quickly linked the discussion of the Security
Council resolution to the beginning of an extremely violent attack by
UPA forces in Northern Angola. In fact, on March 15, large-scale violence
began in Northern Angola, near the frontier with Congo. A major attack
on Portuguese authorities and the population took place, with at least
200 Europeans being killed or wounded. The American Consul in Luanda reported
to Washington that "apparently coordinated attacks broke out in a
number of posts along the border with the former Belgian Congo early in
the morning of March 15 and at the same time other attacks took place
in the so-called 'Dembos' section of Angola." This report mentioned
that "Angolan natives [
] probably led by expatriate Angolans
from the former Belgian Congo" attacked administrative posts, trading
stores and plantations with "unprecedented ferocity, killing white
families, mulatto families and native Africans who had not joined their
movement with equal and impartial brutality." (NA, SDCF, 1960-63,
The Portuguese press was particularly violent in criticizing the United
States and effectively "fanned an anti-United States sentiment with
articles stressing the duplicity and unreliability of United States policy."
(NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1814). On March 17, for instance, the Diário
de Notícias affirmed that the position the United States assumed
in the United Nations was "profoundly deplored by the whole Portuguese
people." This newspaper pointed out that "if the United States
were attacked in its external territories, in Alaska, in the Hawaiian
islands, in Puerto Rico, in the Virgin islands, in the islands of Samoa
and Guam, or in the Panama Canal zone, who would ask if these countries
or territories are legitimately a part of the United States, or if it
were not the time to promote the independence of some of them?"
(Diário de Notícias, March 17, 1961, 2). Adlai
Stevenson became a favorite target of the Portuguese press. Novidades,
also on March 17, warned Stevenson that he was "walking on a
slippery and dangerous path," as a representative of a country "which
is the leader of the Western World." Stevenson could use the post
he had for "self-destruction," but he should not "drag
others" with him, counseled Novidades. (NA, SDCF, 1960-63,
The events in New York, Ambassador Elbrick pointed out, had become "too
convenient a device for the Government to use in diverting public attention
from the danger it is facing in Angola." (NA, SDCF, 1960-63,
Box 1814). On March 17, the American Embassy in Lisbon was already
reporting "a flow of letters, telegrams and telephone calls"
protesting against the American alignment with the Afro-Asian bloc and
the Soviet Union against Portugal. Elbrick added that the realization
that the United States did not regard "its NATO tie as binding it
to support Portugal's overseas policy" had come "as a shock
to many people outside the government." (NA, SDCF, 1960-63,
Box 1814). Later that day, an alarmed Elbrick telegraphed Washington,
reporting that Portuguese students in Lisbon and Porto had staged demonstrations
outside the Embassy in Lisbon and the Consulate in Porto. The demonstration
in Lisbon comprised about 50 to 100 students carrying placards reading
"Stupid Americans Playing into Commie Hands" and shouting "Americans
Keep Out of Our Affairs." The demonstrators were dismissed by "vigilant
police." In Porto, the demonstration involved more than one thousand
students carrying banners reading, "Americans get out of the Azores."
The police also dispersed them. (NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1814)
The reaction against the American vote in the Security Council came to
a head on March 27, when a crowd of fifteen to twenty thousand Portuguese,
"mostly students and middle-class," staged a hostile demonstration
for more than one hour outside the American Embassy in Lisbon. The protesters
marched from downtown Lisbon, where they had first gathered, and eventually
broke the cordon of policemen around the Embassy and "surged from
all sides to the entrance." The crowd "broke a number of windows
by throwing stones." Ambassador Elbrick reported that no one was
injured and that the police had done what it could "to control and
to disband the crowd." Twenty to twenty-five horse guards had been
summoned, and they used "drawn sabers" to break up the demonstration.
The demonstrators carried posters with inscriptions such as, "America
for the Indians" and "Get Out of the Azores." (NA,
SDCF, Box 1260 and NA SDLF 68D401, Entry 5296, Box 1)
The American Ambassador presented a "strong oral protest" to
the Portuguese government against this "mob attack." (The
New York Times, March 29, 1961, 10). The following day, the
Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs contacted the Embassy saying that
the government "deeply regretted last night's disturbances"
and assuring the Embassy that it would take "adequate steps"
to ensure that more violence did not occur. The Minister, however, pointed
out that "manifestations could not be prohibited per se particularly
because the public feeling is running so high against the United States."
The Portuguese government also refused to issue any public statement regarding
the incident on the grounds that it would only serve "to underscore
United States-Portuguese differences over Africa and thus further embitter
relations." (Na, SDCF, 1960-63, box 1821).
The most important newspapers in both countries discussed the events in
Lisbon. For The New York Times, the situation in Angola did not
"excuse" the Portuguese government for "permitting a mob
demonstration in Lisbon of 20,000 Portuguese who stoned the United States
Embassy and carried on for two hours." There was in Portugal "one
of the most rigidly controlled dictatorships in the world," and a
demonstration of this sort "simply could not happen without the connivance
of the authorities." The "Lisbon rioting", as it was called,
had to be understood as "an indirect expression of the Salazar government's
opinions." However, it should be clear to the Portuguese government
that if it wished "to express its opinions" there were "normal,
diplomatic channels through which to do so." The editorial pointed
out that "diplomacy by managed mobs is expected in Communist countries
as part of the cold war," but not "between two allies who may
have a difference of opinion over some particular issue." (The
New York Times, March 29, 1961, 32).
In Portugal, the Diário de Notícias pointed out that
something had changed in the "old and friendly Luso-American relations."
With very impressive words the newspaper added: "It is sad but it
was not us. We are the same people who during the war risked devastation
and bombardment in order to grant Great Britain and the United States
[the] use of bases in the Azores... We are the same people who in February
1948... again conceded to the United States the Lajes facilities, which
permitted the United States to maintain its lines of communication with
troops stationed in Germany... We are the same people who the United States
and England insisted should enter the United Nations, an organization
to which we did not desire to belong... We are the same people who participated
in NATO from the very outset... We are the same people who last May received
President Eisenhower after he had been subjected to Khrushchev's affronts."
(NA, SDCF, 1960-63, Box 1260).
Politically, the position of the United States in the Security Council
had its first major repercussion a few days later. Oliveira Salazar firmly
denied the American government authorization to install a "Backscatter
radar installation" on the Portuguese island of Madeira, in the Atlantic
Ocean, with capability "for detecting high altitude nuclear tests
conducted within the Sino-Soviet bloc." The United States had already
requested this authorization on December 6, 1960.(AOS, CO/NE-25,
Folder 11). But Salazar's final decision was taken immediately
after the vote on the Liberian resolution in the United Nations, and the
text written in his own hand could not be more eloquent regarding the
new climate of Portuguese-American relations:
does not seem opportune to grant the request. The attitude taken by
the United States government regarding Portuguese overseas territories,
the efforts made, and the spectacular nature of its advice to Portugal
in the United Nations, with the declared intent of capturing the votes
of the African countries, advise us that, on our part, we should show
firmness and should not accede to their requests. It is even impossible
to know, at the present moment, the future of our policy regarding the
United States, that is, if it would be subject to any revision. This
would depend on the role played by that country in inciting subversive
acts against Angola and against the permanence of Angola in the Portuguese
nation. We should not do anything, for now, that aggravates the United
States or their representatives. But denying their requests will show
our legitimate resentment and I think that, as far as they are concerned,
it will encourage them to be prudent in their relations with us."
(AHD, MNE-SE, PEA Conf. Box 15).
looked as if John F. Kennedy's prediction of 1956 had come true. In that
year, Kennedy had declared that American support for decolonization "will
displease our allies" and that the United States would find its policies
"hailed by extremists, terrorists and saboteurs for whom we could
not have sympathyand condemned by our oldest and most trusted friends
who will feel we have deserted them
Some will plead for a more cautious
course; but halfway measures will not do." (Mahoney: 1983, 202)
In late March, a desperate Charles Elbrick telephoned Washington saying
that relations between the United States and Portugal had reached "a
low point." While remaining "polite," even his personal
friends in Portugal were "extremely bitter over what virtually all
Portuguese consider the rapid about-face done by the United States and
feel that we did not give Portugal enough time before announcing our change
of policy to the whole world in the United Nations." In the Ambassador's
opinion, the position of the Embassy was "so unenviable that nobody
from here could say anything at the present time that would be influential
or that would even be listened to." Elbrick even questioned his continuing
role as Ambassador in Lisbon, saying that he was "accomplishing nothing
by being in Lisbon at the present time." (NA, SDLF 68D401, Entry
5296, Box 1).
Despite Elbrick's complaints, the pattern of voting adopted by the United
States in March 1961 would remain the same throughout this year and also
during part of 1962. The United States voted in favor of resolutions concerning
Portuguese colonialism in the General Assembly, in April 1961, the Security
Council, in June 1961, the General Assembly, in December 1961, and again,
in the General Assembly, in January 1962. The deterioration of Portuguese-American
relations was further aggravated by the development of frequent contacts
between the Kennedy administration and the Angolan nationalist movements
and also by the new arms policy announced to the Portuguese government
in August 1961. This was, indeed, the most serious crisis in relations
between the two countries since World War II. It had been caused by two
simultaneous and interrelated factors: the Kennedy administrations
new African policy and the beginning of the colonial war in Angola. However,
it would only take a few months to produce a new and significant change
in the policy followed by the United States government toward Portugal
and Portuguese colonialism. Since mid-1962, the strong stance taken by
the Kennedy administration in its early period would be replaced by a
more complacent attitude toward Portuguese policy in Africa. Ultimately,
Cold War considerations tempered Washington's anti-colonial fervor. American
policymakers would eventually recognize the strategic importance of the
base that the United States armed forces had been authorized to use on
the Portuguese islands of the Azores since World War II. Coupled with
a tough and intransigent Portuguese diplomacy, the necessity of retaining
the Azores base at any cost forced a major "retreat" from the
policies adopted by the Kennedy administration in early 1961 regarding
Angola and other Portuguese territories. When President Kennedy met with
the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Franco Nogueira, two weeks before his
assassination, the Portuguese politician tried to convince him to change
the policies of his administration toward Portuguese Africa. Kennedy replied
that Nogueira could not ask him "after he had gone to the top of
the mountain, to go down to the valley again in less than two years."
But healready had. (JFKL, Oral Hitory Transcripts, Franco Nogueira,
Sources Libraries and Archives
MNE - Historical-Diplomatic Archive, Portuguese Ministry of Foreign
AOS - Oliveira Salazar's Archive
JFKL - John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library
NA, SDCF - National Archives, State Department Central Files.
NA, SDLF - National Archives, State Department Lot Files.
Primary Sources Newspapers and periodicals
Foreign Policy. Current Documents, 1961.
Department of State Bulletin
Diário de Notícias
FRUS - Foreign Relations of the United States
The New York Times
Peter, Gann, L.H. (1984). The United States and Africa: A History,
Gibbs, David (1995). "Political Parties and International Relations:
the United States and the Decolonization of Sub-Saharan Africa,"
in The International History Review, XVII, 2, May.
Mahoney, Richard D. (1983). JFK: Ordeal in Africa, New York.
Rusk, Dean (1990). As I saw it, New York.
Schlesinger Jr, Arthur M. (1965). A Thousand Days. John F. Kennedy
in the White House, Boston.
2004, ISSN 1645-6432
e-JPH, Vol.2, number 1, Summer 2004