Why was Portugal unable to keep its overseas territories in the 20th century?

I’m going to do the whole analysis based on Brazil’s position in relation to these colonies, and you alone will deduce the answers.

The systematization, description and analysis of Brazilian positions in relation to the Portuguese Question, in the General Assembly and in the Security Council of the UN, between December 15, 1960, with the approval of Resolution 1.514, in the Plenary of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which contained the Declaration Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, until the admission of the People’s Republic of Angola to the UN, with the approval of Resolution 31/44, also in the Plenary of the General Assembly of the organization, on December 1, 1976, in the allows to gather, in total, the votes of Brazil in 79 resolutions.


Next, we discuss the reason for this conclusion.

Brazil’s relations with Portugal are special.

We inherited from this small Iberian country, our colonizing metropolis, a historical-cultural, linguistic, legal and institutional legacy that were essential for the construction of the Brazilian State and nation.

From discovery, through colonization to the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in Rio de Janeiro, through the successive migratory waves of the 19th and 20th centuries to the creation of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP)1 , Luso-Brazilian relations constitute a chapter in their own right. part of our foreign relations, interspersed, therefore, by the existence of ruptures and continuities that imply the existence of an unfinished partnership.

The “Portuguese Question”, permeated the Brazilian diplomatic and academic environment for at least 15 years and represented the problem that involved a discomfort – let us initially conceive it like this – between the strategic options of Brazilian and Portuguese foreign policy, related to the decolonization of the Afro-Brazilian territories. Portuguese Asians.

We have to go back to 1961 and advance to June 1975 to understand what happened.

There were fourteen years of confrontation, deaths and discussions in Portugal and at the UN.

Angola’s War of Independence began on March 15, 1961, Angola’s independence was established on January 15, 1975, with the signing of the Alvor Agreement.

Immediately, in December 1961, the Indian Union invaded the territories of Goa, Damão and Diu. From December 18 to 19, 1961, a force of 40,000 soldiers from independent India conquered Goa, in an armed action — carried out by land, air and sea, which lasted about 36 hours — ended the 451-year Portuguese rule in Goa by finding little resistance, and integrated the Portuguese State of India into its territory.

The last governor of the Portuguese State of India, the General of the Portuguese Army fell, along with the Portuguese garrison in Goa, during the Indian invasion.

Vassalo e Silva, with around 3,000 men in arms, had to surrender and were temporarily held captive by Indian forces that numbered around 40,000.

Salazar’s idea of ​​fighting India would be unthinkable nowadays, and even in that year of 1961, it wouldn’t be logical, but that’s what the dictator wanted, ordering them not to surrender and fight to the death.

As Vassalo e Silva opted for surrender, given the circumstances of a useless massacre, he was expelled from the Portuguese Armed Forces, having been reinstated after the 25th of April.

The war of independence in Guinea began on January 23, 1963, with the beginning of guerrilla actions in the Tite region and ended in 1974 when Portugal recognized the independence of Guinea Bissau.

Mozambique’s war began on September 25, 1964, with an attack on the administrative post of Chai in the then district (now province) of Cabo Delgado, and ended with a ceasefire on September 8, 1974, resulting in a negotiated independence in 1975.

These wars were not recognized by Portugal as such, they were called terrorist acts against Portugal.

The Budget and accounts of the Portuguese State, throughout the 1960s and following, clearly reflected the financial effort required of the country during the war.

The soldiers who participated in the war were also victims of the war, becoming one of the most visible faces of the consequences of the conflict.

However, the military hospitals became, for them, both a refuge and a deposit where society kept amputated bodies out of sight.

Over the course of these three wars, around 25,000 Portuguese died, as well as 15,000 mutilated people who gathered in an organization called ADFA – Association of the Handicapped of the Armed Forces.

Portugal then lost over thirteen long years about 40,000 men that it would need in the near future, not counting the many others who fled from Portugal, often with their families in order not to get involved in this war.

At that time, both Brazil and the United States and the rest of Europe received these fugitives, who ended up missing in Portugal and helping the rest of the world, since they were people of relative economic power and open mind to be absorbed by these new countries that gave them welcomed.

Having described the context of the war, we return to the question.

Why didn’t Brazil side with Portugal?

This statement is not true, as Brazil oscillated between supporting in some situations and not in others.

As Portugal claimed to be suffering from terrorism, it was not up to Brazil to pronounce or take sides, a fact that lasted until the beginning of discussions at the UN on the issue of these territories.

Self-determination was inscribed in the Charter of the United Nations in a generic and indeterminate form, and detached from the determinations of the dependent territories.

The rise of anti-colonial ideas in the UN was however neither immediate nor linear, developing through the consolidation of a trend that had come since the end of the Second World War.

As Portugal claimed not to have colonies, in December 1960 the General Assembly presented a definition of the concept of non-autonomous territories, emphasizing geographic, ethnic and cultural differences in relation to colonial powers and administrative, legal, economic or historical subordination.

To give a more concrete dimension to these statements, the General Assembly also approved a list of non-autonomous territories, in which all Portuguese colonies were mentioned.

This declaration, approved by 89 votes, contained only 9 abstentions (Australia, Belgium, Dominican Republic, France, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States) and one non-voting member (Dahomey).

Perhaps this is the “green light” found by African nationalists, who with this resolution, understood that by peaceful means, they would not achieve their independence, causing the formation of “guerrillas”, starting the conflict in Angola a few months after this resolution.

This fact is controversial, but undoubtedly weighed in the decision to start attacks.

The maintenance of colonies by Portugal was not in accordance with the interpretation of the United Nations regarding self-determination, and, with the beginning of the war in Angola, in 1961, the Portuguese colonial question was inscribed on the UN agenda, becoming a priority.

Debates on Portuguese colonial policy experienced significant changes in the analyzed themes, with advances and setbacks indicating that the efforts of the United Nations were not linear.

Initially, the situation in Angola was in evidence, being debated in the Security Council and in the General Assembly.

The remaining Portuguese colonies also quickly attracted attention, and the case of the Portuguese State of India, due to the invasion of the Indian Union, deserved a particular study.

Trying to emphasize the Portuguese colonial issue, accusing Portugal of human rights violations and threats to international peace and security, the Member States of the United Nations, including the African and Asian ones, adopted decisions aimed at reinforcing the obligation to Portuguese government transmit the technical and statistical information requested in the Charter.

To circumvent the intransigence of the Portuguese government, which did not recognize the competence of the UN to address issues that it considered to be the internal jurisdiction of the State, the Angola Subcommittee and the Special Committee for Territories under Portuguese Administration were established.

Brazil had to stand against Portugal as it did.

The opposition of interests between Brazil and Portugal then became gradually evident with the assumption of external strategic options coming especially from Brazil, by tracing foreign policy objectives based on autonomous perceptions of the national interest that were incompatible with defense. of Portuguese colonialism.

Most Member States tried to enforce a minimalist interpretation of the idea of ​​self-determination, indicating that it should lead to independence and the transfer of power to freely elected representatives of the colonies.

Having a great influence on the United Nations system, the countries aligned with the Western bloc nevertheless managed to impose a maximalist approach on numerous occasions, claiming that self-determination was not necessarily equivalent to the constitution of sovereign States and that it would have to be preceded by a period of preparation.

However, on the occasion of international pressure to vote sanctions against Portugal, Brazil was one of the few to support Portugal.

Resolution 1542 was approved by 68 votes against 6 (South Africa, Belgium, Brazil, France, Portugal and Spain) and 17 abstentions (among them, the United Kingdom, China and the USA). But what stands out in these votes and that interests us for now is Brazil’s support for the thesis defended by Portugal at the UN, with the consequent vote against resolution 1542:

[…] Brazil voted against the resolution that recommends that Portugal present social, economic and political information about its colonies, for having always defended the thesis that such Portuguese territories are not dependent, but constitute provinces of a unitary State , […] (MRE, 1960, P.14-15 apud TRINDADE, 2012a, p.63).

Brazil, through the votes cast in Resolutions 1,514 and 1,542, made it clear to the international community that it supported Afro-Asian decolonization, but not that of the Portuguese territories, at least in the terms advocated by the UN.

In this sense, in the first and only Resolution of the General Assembly, in which the government of Jânio Quadros was able to express the lines advocated by the recently launched Independent Foreign Policy, Brazil abstained, endorsing the Portuguese position of not voting .

The Brazilian abstention, as a non-hostile gesture towards Portugal, contradicted the position of the United States and even the USSR, having moved Brazil away from the expected position within the bipolar context of the Cold War, which would be to follow the superpower with which it aligned.

Brazilian support for Portugal at the UN was already clearly perceived as contradictory and dangerous for the country, given the risk of retaliation by African states.

With the debates being quite aggressive, the majority understood the situation in the Portuguese colonies as a threat to international peace and security, requesting the adoption of sanctions.

With the departure of Jânio from the presidency, and the inauguration of Jango Goulart, Brazil, on July 31, 1963, aligned itself with the positions of CHINA and the USSR, unlike the USA, United Kingdom and France, voting in favor of Resolution 180 of the UN Security Council, imposing sanctions on Portugal.

This position leads the West to fear that Brazil would start aligning itself with all the positions of CHINA and the USSR, causing the beginning of the break between the United States and the Jango government, which would be overthrown with the support of the United States less than a year later. .

The exhortation made by this Security Council resolution did not find echo in Portugal, which started to isolate itself internationally.

On December 11, 1963, the Assembly approved Resolution 1913 with 91 votes in favor of examining, immediately, the question of territories under Portuguese administration and taking the necessary measures to give effect to its own resolutions.

On this occasion, Brazil abstained in the same way as 9 other countries (Belgium, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States), expressly demonstrating contradiction with the vote given in July , at the Security Council.

Demonstrating the insecurity of the Jango Government in aligning itself again with China and the USSR, in the face of what was happening and happening before our eyes in Brazil, that is, the preparations for the overthrow of President Jango Goulart.

However, as mentioned by renowned authors on this issue, the Brazilian positions were “zigzag”.

Demonstrating the instability of the Jango Government, and its lack of positioning, following the approval of Resolution 1913, on the same date, Resolution No. Norway, Philippines, USSR, Venezuela, United Kingdom, United States and Brazil) and one abstention (France), with the Council noting that Portugal had not complied with the determinations of Resolution nº 180 of the UNSC.

Resolution 183 of the UNSC, in addition to reaffirming the principled content of the Declaration Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and regretting that Portugal had not complied with the determinations of Resolution 180, expressed that the concession, by the government of Portugal, of an amnesty for all persons imprisoned or exiled for advocating self-determination, would constitute a test of good faith.

But, how to explain the favorable vote of Brazil in Resolution 180, the abstention in Resolution 1913 of the AGNU and the favorable vote in Resolution 183 of the UNSC, the last two of the same day, inclusive?

The explanation lay with the Jango government, which was under pressure from all sides. Now oscillating in favor of Portugal, now against.

What can be perceived, therefore, from the systematization and description of Brazil’s positions on the Portuguese Question, at the United Nations, between November 1961 and December 1963, that is, while João Goulart was at the head of the Presidency of the country is that, Brazil will refrain from approving strong resolutions against Portugal in the UN General Assembly, despite having mistakenly approved Resolution 180, which caused so much wear to the Jango Government.

Between December 1962 and December 1963, a period in which the Brazilian posture was “zigzag”, the country experienced its greatest period of turmoil, with strikes and revolts.

The political-military coup of March 31, 1964 began the longest period of dictatorial government in Brazilian history.

What happened that year can be understood as a preventive counterrevolution, common in the history of Brazil since independence.

In depth, “it was a classic coup d’état, the type that punctuated the history of underdeveloped countries, although, in this case, applied to a country that was gaining economic and social complexity.”

The first phase, between 1964 and 1968, is marked by the resumption of the alliance with the USA, and the emblematic episodes are Brazil’s participation in the Peacekeeping Force in the Dominican Republic and the breakup of relations with Havana.

The second, from 1968 to 1985, has a more complex characterization and each Government will look for unique paths in external action. Despite the differences between the various presidents, there is a common thread that gives some unity to the period: with the military, a will to power is outlined, identified with gains in tangible power.

At the opening of the XIX Ordinary Session of the UN General Assembly, in September 1964, Chancellor Vasco Leitão da Cunha, in a conciliatory but forceful speech, demonstrated that Brazil’s position was one of support for decolonization by peaceful means, through the orderly application and peaceful way of the Charter, and not by extreme means.

In October of that year, President Castello Branco himself, in a press conference, summarized the Brazilian position in relation to Portuguese foreign policy, endorsing the explicit terms by Vasco Leitão da Cunha and demonstrating that the decolonization of Afro-Asian territories should be limited to at the discretion of the managing power.

Thus, in support of Portugal, he was confident that Portuguese wisdom would be needed to solve the problem.

Once the positions were established in the discursive scope, on December 20, 1965, already in the XX Period of Sessions 150 , Brazil abstained from voting on Resolution 2,105, in the Plenary of the General Assembly, having this resolution been approved by 74 votes.

Strictly speaking, the UN, with the present resolution, denounced the collaboration of countries with Portugal, among which, Brazil itself.

With this abstention, the first of the military period, Brazil changed the position mistakenly assumed in the João Goulart government, of support for the decolonization of the Portuguese overseas territories.

The day after the approval of Resolution 2105, Resolution 2107 was approved, also in the Plenary of the UNGA, with 66 votes in favor and 25 against, including Brazil, Portugal, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. U.S .

Brazil’s support for Portugal is evident!

In depth, one can see that Brazil rejected an independence process without the participation of Portugal.

The UN action in this respect was observed by Brazil as being a violent method.

On December 12, 1966, Resolution 2,184 was approved in Commission IV of the AGNU by 70 votes in favor and 22 abstentions, including Brazil, clearly supporting Portugal.

This resolution, which dealt specifically with territories under Portuguese administration, condemned the policy of the government of Portugal as a crime against humanity.

Over time, this support from Brazil to Portugal will trigger immense wear and tear for Brazil, as the United Nations resolutions, referring to the decolonization of Portuguese overseas territories, will almost always address the intimate and harmful relationship between Portugal and South Africa in Southern Africa, denoting that support for these countries also permeated the seal of racial segregation, apartheid.

It should also be noted that the positions assumed by Brazil at the UN and the rapprochement between Brasília, Lisbon and Pretoria in the strategic scope, in the period, were equally relevant due to the fact that they made explicit, for the international community, a Brazilian temporization in relation to the colonialism in Africa, behold, South Africa, like Portugal, also maintained territory on that continent under its rule (in this case, Southwest Africa, present-day Namibia).

Thus, despite the preservation of relations with Black Africa during the government of Castello Branco, Brazil’s friendly relations with Portugal and South Africa revealed a contradiction and would imply, in the medium term, political erosion.

Costa e Silva became president without the support of his predecessor and his inauguration was considered a coup within the coup, since the General’s identification with the hard line of the armed forces made him critical of the model of denationalization undertaken by Castello Branco.

Brazilian support for Portugal, at the UN, during the Costa e Silva government period is justified as underlying the understanding, by Brazil, that the colonial struggle waged exposed the war of the western world against the expansion of communism in the world.

In the absence of changes in Portuguese colonial policy, the United Nations from 1965 to 1969 demonstrated a redoubled commitment to the condemnation of Portugal, with Brazil continuing to support Portugal, despite the great internal wear and tear.

President Costa e Silva, victimized by a stroke in August 1969, which left him paralyzed and unable to carry out his duties, was succeeded, on the 31st of that month, in the Presidency of the Republic, by a Provisional Governing Board composed of ministers of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The Board remained in power until October 30, 1969, when Emílio Garrastazu Médici assumed the Presidency of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

The temporal interregnum corresponding to the government of President Emílio Garrastazu Médici, from October 30, 1969 to March 15, 1974, which coincides with that of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mário Gibson Barbosa, covered the XXIV to the XXVIII Period of Sessions of the General Assembly, totaling 32 resolutions on decolonization, in which Brazil, with the expression of its recorded votes, maintained the same posture of support for Portuguese colonialism in Africa observed with Costa e Silva.

In these five years of analysis, abstentions, votes against and even the “no vote” of Brazil in the different resolutions that sought the continuity and expansion of measures against colonialism were recurrent.

During this period there was renewed pressure AGAINST PORTUGAL attributed to numerous factors, namely the worsening situation in the Portuguese colonies as a result of the outbreak of war in Mozambique, the complaints filed against the Portuguese government for violating the territorial integrity of African countries, the unilateral declaration the independence of Southern Rhodesia and the triggering of armed struggle in South West Africa.

In General Assembly resolutions, recognition of the legitimacy of the armed struggle, appeals for embargoes and sanctions, as well as requests for increased assistance to victims of Portuguese colonialism became recurrent, however Brazil did not support these resolutions.

More advances in the idea of ​​self-determination as a result of the analysis of Portuguese colonial policy were seen in the years 1971-1974, when the pressure of the United Nations on Portugal reached its highest level.

The year 1973 represented the culmination of Brazilian support for Portuguese colonialism.

Faced with these demonstrations, on November 24, 1973, 17 countries in black Africa, oil exporters, included Brazil in the list of six countries that would receive economic sanctions, such as the oil embargo, due to its positions on the issue of Southern Africa , especially with regard to recalcitrant positions on the issue of decolonization in Angola and Mozambique.

On March 15, 1974, General Ernesto Geisel assumed the Presidency of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

The “enlightened” or “moderate” military group managed to impose the candidacy of Geisel, a military supporter of the opening of the regime and committed to a slow and gradual distension, that is, to returning the country to the civilian constitutional regime.

Geisel took over and the issue of Brazil’s support for Portugal engendered heated debates, including in the National Congress.

The threat of a trade boycott by black African countries and the setback at the UN in relation to the 173 water use of the River Plate basin, in relation to Argentina, exposed that the Brazilian relationship with Portuguese colonialism had reached an unsustainable point.

With the beginning of the Geisel government and the implementation of ecumenical and responsible pragmatism, the necessary conditions were created for Brazil to reverse its position in relation to Portuguese colonialism. In addition, the uncertainties about the continuation of the colonial war, soon after the scenario built with April 25, 1974, with the Carnation Revolution, in Portugal, which deposed Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano, demanded an accurate observation, by the Brazil, in relation to Portuguese colonialism.

The announcement made by the new government of Portugal, in the sense that it was ready to grant self-determination to its colonies, released Brazil from its commitment to Portuguese colonialism, and this situation was definitively expressed on July 16, 1974, when Brazil recognized the independence of Guinea-Bissau before the colonizing metropolis did so.

Thus, from July 1974 onwards, Brazil’s posture towards the decolonization of the Portuguese overseas changes changes, with this posture influencing the country’s position in the United Nations.

Portugal would only expressly consent to this process after the recognition of Guinea-Bissau, on September 10, 1974 – two months after Brazil.

This international act, on the part of Portugal, provoked, in the Brazilian Senate, two days later, new debates about the “right” change of posture of Brazil, in the face of the inconveniences of Portuguese colonialism in the UN by senators José Sarney, from Maranhão and Ruy Carneiro , from Paraíba, which are interesting for the fact that they demonstrate the pressures that the members of the Brazilian delegations were submitted to during the period of support of Brazil to Portuguese colonialism in the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The Brazilian posture, from then on, followed different directions from previous years.

Inexorably, support for the Portuguese overseas provinces on their way to independence was strengthened.

In an act of reference to the past, Brazil would be the first to seek to establish, in the new independent countries, a diplomatic representation.

With FRELIMO, the initiative was frustrating, with leader Marcelino dos Santos rejecting the proposal made by Brazil on the grounds that the Mozambican people, after years of war, were not used to considering Brazil as a friendly country.

Well, if the attempt to create relations with FRELIMO, in Mozambique, was frustrated, with the leaders of the Angolan parties, the Brazilian proposal was well received, and a Brazilian Special Representation was opened in Luanda, in March 1975, creating space for the establishment of deeper relations between Brazil and Angola, whose independence was approaching.

At the United Nations, the commitment to support the decolonization of Portuguese overseas territories was maintained by Brazil.

On September 17, 1974, in the plenary of the General Assembly, Resolution 3.205203 was approved on the admission of Guinea-Bissau as a Member State of the organization.

The approval of the aforementioned resolution, without a vote (meaning that no Member State disagreed that it should be so) explained that, in fact, the Brazilian demonstration, of July 16, 1974, was firm towards Guinea-Bissau.

Thus, in view of the new circumstances, at the opening of the XXIX Ordinary Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, on September 23, 1974, Minister Azeredo da Silveira began his speech expressly congratulating the presence of the third independent Portuguese-speaking country in the organization , Guinea-Bissau.

Then, the Minister expressed the change in the country’s position in relation to decolonization, considering any delaying measures in this sense to be unjustified, thus indicating that Brazil would unfailingly support the independence of São Tomé and Príncipe, from Cape Verde, from Angola, Mozambique and Timor,

It is interesting to point out that the Brazilian votes given in the resolutions of the XXIX Session until the admission of the People’s Republic of Angola, on December 1, 1976, Brazil and Portugal practically maintained the same posture in relation to their votes.

In this sense, on November 29, 1974, Resolution 3,246 was approved in the Plenary of the General Assembly, with the favorable votes of Brazil and Portugal

This resolution is important because it explicitly demonstrated to the Member States of the organization the change in the Portuguese attitude towards the process of decolonization of the overseas territories by consigning the recognition, by the Portuguese government, of the right of all peoples under its colonial administration to self-determination and to independence, as well as the initiatives already taken in this regard, urging the country to ensure that the peoples still under its colonial administration achieved self-determination and independence without further delay.

The Conclusion is that Brazil supported Portuguese colonialism until its exhaustion, when the metropolis itself exhausted, internally, the forces to continue with the colonial war, demonstrating change in relation to the self-determination of its colonies.

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