148. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, November 30, 1955, 3 p.m.1


  • Problems of Concern to Portugal


  • Portuguese:
    • His Excellency Dr. Paulo Cunha, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Portugal
    • His Excellency Genhor Luis Esteves Fernandes, Ambassador of Portugal
    • The Honorable Dr. Henrique Bacelar Caldeira Queiroz, Deputy Director General of Political Affairs of Portugal
  • United States:
    • The Honorable John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State
    • The Honorable James C. H. Bonbright, American Ambassador to Portugal2
    • The Honorable Livingston T. Merchant, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs
    • Mr. Ellwood M. Rabenold, Jr., Portuguese Desk

The Portuguese Foreign Minister met with the Secretary in the Department at 3:00 o’clock on November 30.3 The meeting lasted for an hour and a half. Dr. Cunha said that he thought the problems of concern to Portugal could be laid on the table at this meeting and [Page 446] added smilingly that the solutions could be forthcoming on Friday. The Secretary replied that he welcomed the discussions today but couldn’t guarantee solutions on Friday.


Dr. Cunha opened the talks with the subject of Goa. He emphasized the position which Goa holds in the hearts of all Portuguese. Not only is it constitutionally inseparable from the homeland, but it is a part of the life-blood of the Portuguese people. He referred to the Portuguese presence in Goa for more than four centuries, to racial inter-marriage, and to the traditional bonds of culture and faith. The Indian Union, he said, is agitating to evict the Portuguese from India and has lent support to peace marches against Goa in 1954 and 1955. Dr. Cunha commented that the issue had quieted down recently and there were signs of reasonableness in Indian policy. However, the recent diatribes in India of Bulganin and Khrushchev, describing the Portuguese as “bloodsucking colonialists” have stirred up the matter again. This was unfortunate, he said, although it had the virtue of showing the world how the Soviet Union was joining forces with the Asiatics to throw out the Westerners. The device used by these forces was the issue of anti-colonialism and the Bandung conference demonstrated the nature of the conspiracy. More conferences would follow, with the Chinese, Indians, and other Asiatics joining with Africans to reduce the influence of the civilized Western world. The Foreign Minister asked the Secretary what he thought about this.

The Secretary replied that one could not generalize about colonialism. One had to study particular areas and individual cases on their own merits. In general, he stated, he had always felt that dependent peoples should have the right to self-determination, and if they really wanted independence and were prepared to assume the attendant responsibilities, they should have it. He emphasized the importance of preparation since, if independence were premature, it merely meant that these areas might be too weak to resist outside subversive forces and would become victims of small groups of Communist agitators. In this connection, the Secretary described the doctrine of Stalin and Lenin of making use of nationalism as a tool to detach dependent peoples from their sponsors and then to gobble them up.

Dr. Cunha pointed out that the case of Goa was not a case of colonialism. He said that colonialism implied the subjugation of subordinate peoples who desired to be free. The Goans did not want to be independent of Portugal. Nor did the Indian Government want Goa to be a separate country. It was Dr. Cunha’s conviction that the Goan problem simply involved the desire of one sovereign power to annex the territory of another.

[Page 447]

The Secretary agreed, stating that it was for this reason he had said each case must be studied on its own merits. He then asked whether the Portuguese Government had given any thought to a plebiscite in Goa. This would show the world that the Goans really wanted to remain Portuguese and would help Portugal’s friends, such as the United States, to help her on this issue. Dr. Cunha replied that a plebiscite was politically impossible for his Government. He stated that every Portuguese constitution had contained a provision against the alienation of Portuguese territory. For the Portuguese to hold a plebiscite in Goa would be like the United States holding a plebiscite in Alaska, Massachusetts or Florida to decide whether American citizens there want to remain American. He also drew a parallel with a suppositious case of Spain exerting a claim to southern Portugal (which it once held) and the Portuguese Government consenting to a plebiscite in the southern part of the country in order to decide whether the area should become Spanish or remain Portuguese. The Foreign Minister assured the Secretary that the domestic political considerations involved were quite aside from the outcome of such a plebiscite which every Portuguese was convinced would be in favor of the status quo. On the other hand, Dr. Cunha added, there had been what might be called plebiscites in Goa. The 100,000 Goans who live in India have elected to remain Portuguese citizens. When the peace marches against Goa began in 1954, the people within Goa asserted themselves almost en masse against a movement for independence. And finally, the Indian Government found it almost impossible to recruit Goans for peace marches, which explains why the satyagrahis of 1954 fizzled so badly. All this, Dr. Cunha remarked, was evidence of the will of the Goan people to remain Portuguese.

The Secretary said that he was not recommending a plebiscite, only suggesting it. The decision was obviously one for the Portuguese Government. The Secretary merely wanted to indicate what effect a plebiscite might have on public opinion outside of Portugal and particularly public opinion within the United States, where there were many Americans who either had never heard of Goa or whose first reaction to the Portuguese-Indian dispute was that Portugal should give to India this tiny speck of territory on the sub-continent. The Secretary referred to United States policy with regard to Puerto Rico, where the people had been given every opportunity to be independent of the United States if they so wished. The Secretary remarked that he did not doubt the Foreign Minister’s word in the slightest that the Goans wish to remain Portuguese, but that when you have a statement to that effect on one side, disputed by Mr. Nehru on the other, many people, particularly the uninformed, would like to see some tangible evidence that the one or the other was right.

[Page 448]

Dr. Cunha stated that he understood the above but that a plebiscite in Goa was still out of the question. Ambassador Fernandes at this point remarked that Nehru recently said that even if a plebiscite were held in Goa and were favorable to Portugal, India would not accept the results. The Secretary expressed interest in this attitude of Nehru’s and suggested that the Foreign Minister might mention it in his address which he stated he intended to give to the Press Club on Friday. Dr. Cunha said that he would do so and added that India would not, of course, agree to a plebiscite because of the Kashmir problem.

In the course of the conversation about Goa, the Secretary took occasion to refer to his statement of last August 2.4 He stated that although it had been his intention to be as helpful as possible, he recognized that the Indian press had twisted his statement to favor the Indian cause. What he had tried to make clear on that occasion, he added, was that the United States was opposed to the assertion of geographic claims by force and violence. In his own mind, he said, there was no such thing as peaceful invasion.


Dr. Cunha then expanded his statement about Goa with a forceful and eloquent presentation of the concern of the Portuguese Government over the alarming developments in Asia and Africa against the continued presence of the Western powers. He said that the Asians, aided and abetted by the Soviets, were exploiting the issue of colonialism to push the Western Europeans out of their overseas possessions. If they should be successful in Africa, Dr. Cunha said it would mean the gradual eclipse of Western Europe since the latter’s very existence depends upon the resources of Africa and the continued control exercised by the Western European powers over this continent on their flank. He was sure that once the Europeans were expelled the Russians and Asiatics would eventually fight among themselves, but it would then be too late for Europe. The U.S. because of its geographic position would not feel the full effects as soon as Europe, but they would in the long run. He asserted that the Western bloc cannot afford at this time to be unduly governed by ideological considerations or to give any encouragement to nationalistic forces anywhere in the world, since it would mean playing into the hands of those propagandists of anti-colonialism who so ably serve the communist cause. The Foreign Minister declared with some warmth that the Western European powers should be proud of their colonies and willing to defend them. Portugal was certainly proud of Goa and would fight to retain it. [At [Page 449] this point Dr. Cunha apologized for his lack of eloquence due to language, and asked whether he was clearly understood. The Secretary replied that not only was the Foreign Minister clearly understood, but he couldn’t be more eloquent if he had gone to Oxford or Harvard or Princeton (Yale?).]5 The Secretary expressed full agreement with Dr. Cunha’s estimate of the dire effects on Western Europe of the loss of Africa, and agreed that in the next 25 years this would be a crucial area.

He conceded that there were dangers to premature independence of subject peoples but said that, depending upon the case, freedom might be the only way to combat the communist peril. He cited Indochina where independence was the only course of action owing to past errors in French policy. The Secretary was critical of the way the French had allowed matters to develop in North Africa and remarked that the Spanish in their zone of Morocco, although admittedly faced with a lesser problem, have seemed to handle themselves a little better with the natives. He agreed that very few, if any, problems had arisen as a result of Portugal’s administration of her African possessions. The goal of European powers should be to so conduct themselves with the peoples of their overseas territories that the latter would wish to maintain their association.


Thereafter, Dr. Cunha brought up the subject of Macao. He said that this overseas territory was in economic straits, being dependent on trade with the neighboring areas of China. The population was a striking mixture of Portuguese and Chinese called Macanese. The Foreign Minister went on to refer to Pekin’s warning in connection with the celebration of the 400th Anniversary of Macao. Subsequently, the Chinese Communists made it clear that the Portuguese could continue their occupation of what the Communists said was Chinese territory only if there were increased trade. Dr. Cunha stated that his Government has never been able to understand why the trade policy of the U.S. is different toward the Soviet Union than toward the Chinese Communists. He considered that all the Communist nations should be put into the same category and added that unless trade controls regarding China can be relaxed to some extent, as in the case of the Soviet Union, Portugal is in danger of losing Macao. He recognized the domestic political difficulties which U.S.–China trade presents for the U.S. Government but asked that the U.S. Government consider this problem.

Without giving the Secretary an opportunity to comment, Dr. Cunha went on to the subject of trade between the U.S. and Portugal.

[Page 450]

Trade Between the U.S. and Portugal

The Foreign Minister noted that while Portugal recently relaxed restrictions on imports from the United States, it was still difficult for his country to export to the U.S. in spite of advertising campaigns for Portuguese port, sardines, etc. He said that the balance of trade had become more and more unfavorable and that while the Portuguese were reluctant to reestablish controls this situation could not continue. Finally, he asked whether an arrangement should be worked out for the lowering of U.S. tariffs on Portuguese goods. Ambassador Bonbright stated that one difficulty was the fact that Portugal is not a member of GATT. The Secretary asked the Ambassador why not, and the Ambassador referred the question to Dr. Cunha. Dr. Cunha replied that the Portuguese economists had concluded that membership in GATT would hurt rather than help the Portuguese economy. It would not boost high quality Portuguese exports like wine, lace and canned sardines while the lowering of Portuguese import restrictions would kill her fledgling industries. The Secretary then inquired about a bilateral agreement and most-favored-nation treatment. Ambassador Bonbright said that Portugal benefited from most-favored-nation treatment but that there was no bilateral trade agreement between the two countries. Nothing further was said on the subject but the impression was left that we would consider whether it would be possible to enter into bilateral tariff negotiations with Portugal, despite their non-membership in GATT.


Dr. Cunha’s final subject was the U.S. requirements in the Azores. He stated that these requirements raised serious political questions and that therefore the negotiations could not be left strictly in military channels. He referred particularly to the requirements for the stationing of a U.S. fighter squadron in the Azores and to facilities for the “storage of certain munitions”. He told the Secretary that the Portuguese people were very sensitive about their sovereignty and did not favor the presence of foreigners on their soil. Since the 1951 agreement would expire in 1956 and the facilities which the U.S. wanted to construct in the Azores would not be finished by the time the agreement expired, Dr. Cunha was convinced that the negotiations would have to be at the political level. In this connection he remarked that he personally negotiated the 1951 agreement with U.S. Ambassador MacVeagh and, as a jurist, liked that sort of work.

The Secretary mentioned the importance of NATO maintaining a strong defensive posture as a deterrent to war, especially after the Soviet Union made its intentions clear at Geneva. He also called attention to the technological developments in the nature of modem warfare. [Page 451] He said that the Azores would be one of the anchors for a screen to defend the industrial arsenal of the Allied community. Stressing the defensive rather than the offensive character of our new requirements in the Azores, the Secretary stated that he felt every one of the Western allies should make a contribution to the mutual defense effort and was confident Portugal would continue to make hers in the Azores.

Dr. Cunha countered by saying that there was no question about Portugal doing her part as the 1951 agreement provides. The facilities in the Azores would be available to the U.S. in wartime. Furthermore, they would be maintained and kept serviceable in peacetime after the expiration of the present agreement. However, the Foreign Minister stated, it has been contemplated all along, at least on the Portuguese side, that the job of maintenance and servicing would in a relatively short space of time be taken over by the Portuguese as they are trained and equipped to do the job and that U.S. personnel would not continue to be stationed in the Azores indefinitely. Dr. Cunha stated that he wanted to discuss the problem with Defense officials—did the State Department see any objection to that? The Secretary turned to Mr. Merchant who said he thought such conversations in the Defense Department might be helpful. It was subsequently arranged that the Minister would speak to Mr. Gordon Gray.

The meeting broke up at 4:30. It was agreed that further discussions could take place at 3:00 o’clock on Friday, December 2.

  1. Source: Department of State, EUR Files: Lot 57 D 108, Cunha Visit. Secret. Drafted by Rabenold on December 3.
  2. Bonbright returned to the United States on November 27 in connection with Foreign Minister Cunha’s visit. He returned to Portugal on December 5, after 6 days of consultation and 1 day of personal leave.
  3. Cunha was invited to visit the United States on September 29, and accepted on October 21. In a memorandum to Secretary Dulles on November 21, Merchant expressed EUR’s belief that the objectives of the Foreign Minister were to increase the international prestige of Portugal, make up for the refusal of President Salazar to visit the United States last year, and explain to American officials and the public the Portuguese position on Goa. Cunha’s visit to Washington extended from November 30 to December 2. He departed on December 3 for California.
  4. For text of Dulles’ remarks, see Department of State Bulletin, August 15, 1955, p. 263.
  5. Brackets in the source text.