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Portugal: Rumblings

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Franco’s fellow Iberian dictator. Portugal’s António de Oliveira Salazar, was also faced with flaring discontent. Crowds of antigovernment rioters in Lisbon had to be dispersed by police flinging tear gas firing over their heads. At Lisbon University, 85 students went on a hunger strike against new government restrictions on educational freedom, won the support of hundreds of others who went into mourning and boycotted classes. In a dawn raid of the campus, police broke the strike by arresting the fasters and more than 1,100 sympathizers.

The government predictably charged that the demonstrations were led by the Communists. While Portugal’s Reds certainly had their share in the outbursts, the riots were more the result of Portugal’s festering dissatisfaction with Salazar’s 34-year-old regime.

Feeling the Pinch. No longer is Salazar regarded as infallible. Repatriated Portuguese soldiers returning from Goa testified to the failure of Salazar’s colonial policy. His stubborn, blundering efforts in handling the bloody insurrection in Angola have placed Portugal in serious economic difficulties. Portugal’s economy is not viable within itself, is dependent on raw materials from Portuguese colonies. But last year, only one-third of the coffee crop in Angola, whose economy accounts for 25% of Portugal’s budget, was recovered; sisal, Angola’s second staple, was harvested only in small quantities. Salazar’s reaction was to boost military expenditures to one-third of the budget so that his army could better suppress further colonial disorders.

The result is economic hardship at home. Taxes are rising, the cost of living is increasing, and the escudo is no longer the hardest currency in Europe. Workers are feeling the pinch, but have no unemployment benefits, no social security, and no unions to look to for support; even soldiers are so poorly paid that it is a common sight to see them scrounging cigarettes on the streets of Lisbon. Potatoes, the staple diet of Portugal’s masses, are often scarce. Economic privations have led to new mumblings about Salazar’s oppression at home; the National Assembly is a fraud, press censorship is complete, and there is no right of public assembly. As discontent increases, “preventative” arrests increase.

Health Hazard. Salazar now finds himself caught between different factions of the forces—church, army, upper classes—that were once the base of his support. One group demands that he crack down even harder at home and in the colonies; another fears that continued repression will only strengthen the Communists (as Batista strengthened Castro in Cuba), urges a more liberal line. Salazar no longer trusts any faction of the army; when a crisis arises, all soldiers are disarmed and their weapons locked up.

Revolt, however, is not imminent. Salazar’s periodic secret meetings with Franco have created the fear in the army that the Spanish dictator would intervene to stop any efforts to unseat his Iberian partner. Older citizens have grown apathetic about Salazar’s government; younger Portuguese, while wanting changes, are not yet willing to risk their lives for them. But Salazar is 73, and as in most dictatorships, there is no heir apparent and no plan for an orderly succession. If his health were to fail. Portugal’s changes could very well be revolutionary.

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