611.53/7–3153: Despatch

No. 808
The Ambassador in Portugal (Cannon) to the Department of State

top secret
No. 92
  • Reference: Depcirtel 53, July 23, 19531
  • Subject: Portuguese Opinion of United States Policy
[Page 1736]

Leaders in the Government and in the formation of public opinion in Portugal have made satisfactory adjustment to the new situations in the United States resulting from the change of Administration six months ago. For reasons peculiar to the personalities, institutions and past experiences of this country the United States must reckon with certain pervading reservations in Portugal as regards some of our American concepts and projects, but this Portuguese attitude has not been greatly affected one way or another by the new orientations in American policy. On the specific topics put forward in the Department’s telegram a generally satisfactory report can therefore be recorded:

There is no appreciable lessening of confidence in United States leadership; the Portuguese do not mistrust the motives underlying American policy toward the USSR; the Portuguese still have confidence in the intentions of the United States to support its Allies in measures designed to strengthen free world security; they do not feel that the United States is failing in its responsiblities in world leadership; their attitude toward United States leadership has not been appreciably influenced by our domestic political events.

The reasons for Portuguese reservations as regards American policy, referred to above, must therefore be sought elsewhere. Public opinion in Portugal, hardly less than the actual administration of the Government, reflects the dominant influence of the personality and philosophy of Dr. Salazar. Even the opposition elements have had to adjust themselves to these influences. Recollections of the political, economic and moral disintegration of the country during its brief experience of a “democracy” early in this century have produced a measure of skepticism and cynicism as regards the operation of popular government. Many of the events in the United States in recent months have therefore been regarded with easy toleration, as a demonstration of how other types of government operate, rather than with any real anxiety.

On the other hand, it happens that after a long period of casual and routine relations with the United States it is only in the very last few years that the Portuguese are coming really to understand the Americans, and to feel any community of interest with us. This experience has been stimulating to them. They may indeed consider us impulsive and impatient; they may think we exaggerate certain dangers, to which, incidentally, they have themselves not been directly exposed; but they admire the energy and generosity with which we are facing up to the responsibilities of world leadership.

The Portuguese response to our leadership is rather different from, and considerably more complex than that of other European countries. With all the sensitiveness of a little nation which for a long time was almost forgotten on the fringe of the Continent, but [Page 1737] which has kept alive the prideful memory of days when it was indeed the great Atlantic power, Portugal naturally could be expected both to be gratified by a recognition of its importance in the Atlantic and European community, and to be unreceptive to large doses of advice, and resentful of reminders of its obligations.

In this situation the United States has been fortunate, in that Portugal has not needed American aid on the scale encountered elsewhere in Europe; and consequently the aid program has not been exposed to the stresses of sudden expansion and pressures, or the dislocations of prospective contraction. Because aid to Portugal began rather late in the general European program, and has been moderate in scope, there have not been the reminders of large-scale American supervision, or “interference”, and the friendship has not cloyed. Moreover, since this country had been spared the ravages of war and the economic crises of Europe generally, the Portuguese, from a practical point of view, can view with less concern the American intention to revise the foreign aid program.

As regards Portugal, then, the attainment of our policy objectives has not been hampered by actions and events on the domestic political scene in the United States. To attain these objectives, however, we must take into account the fact that the Portuguese evaluation of the world situation is rather different from our own.

To the degree that decisions in American policy or political events within the United States might give the impression that we ourselves are tiring of the effort, or inconstant in seeking the objectives to which Portugal has somewhat slowly been brought to join, the task of building greater strength and enthusiasm here will become more difficult. We need not preach to the Portuguese on how to handle their communists, or on distrusting the maneuvers of the Soviet regime; but we must not forget that for Portugal the Elbe seems far away, and except for her small and rather sorry experience in participating in the first World War she has managed over long periods of time, usually to her demonstrable profit, to avoid involvement in the quarrels of Europe. We must on all occasions bring home to the Portuguese a realization of the dangers in the world, and particularly their own exposure to these dangers; and we must keep constantly before them their interest as well as obligation to do their part whole heartedly in the common enterprise.

Cavendish W. Cannon