373. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Portuguese African Problems


  • United States
  • The President
  • Under Secretary Ball
  • Mr. William C. Burdett,EUR
  • Mr. Francis E. Meloy, Jr., WE
  • Portugal
  • Foreign Minister Franco Nogueira

The President inquired of the Foreign Minister how his talks with the African group in New York were going. The Foreign Minister replied by describing the disappointing communique issued by the African group the previous evening in which the Africans rejected the resumption of the talks except under new conditions which they laid down. Franco Nogueira went on to say that the Portuguese had regarded the talks as falling into three headings: (1) conditions in the Portuguese African territories; (2) the threat to peace and security; and (3) self-determination. The Africans had been interested only in discussing self-determination. In order to cut through other discussion they had been willing to concede that conditions were good in the Portuguese territories and that there was no threat to peace and security. The Foreign Minister said the Portuguese Government defined self-determination in the same manner as did the United States Government. If there were to be true self-determination all options should be open including independence. Self-determination as defined by the Africans is not self-determination at all as it is limited only to independence. The African communique shows that the Africans do not accept the U.S. and Portuguese definition of self-determination.

The President said that it is true that the Africans say self-determination and independence. We always say self-determination. We mean that all options are open.

The Foreign Minister recounted a conversation he had had in New York with the Guinean representative in which he had asked hypothetically if Guinea would accept the results of a plebiscite in Portuguese territory, even one supervised by Guinea, should the result opt for continued ties with Portugal and against independence. The Guinean representative had rejected this saying such a result could not be accepted. The President asked why the Portuguese Government does not say publicly that it accepts self-determination. They would be in a [Page 582] much more powerful position. The Foreign Minister replied that they had said this in effect and that their position is set forth in the UN Secretary General’s report.

The President said he had seen a definition of self-determination ascribed to Dr. Salazar as meaning participation of the people in the administration and political life of the community. Did this exclude opting for independence? The Foreign Minister said it excludes nothing. An examination of Dr. Salazar’s statements will reveal this.

The President asked where we disagree. The Foreign Minister said we agree on the definition of self-determination but we do not agree on phasing. He asked Mr. Ball if this were correct.

Mr. Ball said that in conversations he has had over the past months both with Dr. Salazar and with the Foreign Minister he believes we differ on our sense of timing. The U.S. feels that there is a tidal wave moving in Africa, that time is telescoped and that there is great urgency in timing. Ten years would be a maximum to bring about conditions where the exercise of self-determination is possible. This would include urgent programs of education and the creation of a situation where the population could exercise the right of self-determination. The real issue between the U.S. and Portugal is timing.

The Foreign Minister said Portugal does not agree that a tidal wave is moving in Africa. If it is doing so, Portugal believes this is only because the U.S. supports it. More important, Portugal feels that once you make a statement you unleash forces which cannot be controlled. Political forces come to the top which cannot be managed. You start by saying ten years and you end up with ten months. This is the great point.

The Foreign Minister continued saying Portugal has now reached a position of political strength where even the Africans admit no war is going on in the Portuguese territories. There is an economic boom in the territories and a return of confidence. Portugal does not see why it should be obliged to submit to the Africans under these conditions.

Franco Nogueira said another point arose in conversations he had the previous day with the Secretary and Mr. Ball. In private talks many of the African representatives take moderate positions. They say individually that what Portugal has said in New York about its policies should be enough to satisfy the Africans for a long time. But when the African representatives are together it is another story.

The President said he understood. Groups are different than individuals. In a group the most extreme becomes the common denominator.

The Foreign Minister referred to a conversation he had in New York with an African representative who personally opposed Ben Bella and felt that Ben Bella was a danger to Africa. He had told the Foreign Minister, however, that publicly he was obliged to support Ben Bella and was afraid not to do so.

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The President inquired as to the capability of guerrillas in the Portuguese territories. The Foreign Minister said it was too costly for the Algerians, for example, to send large numbers of guerrillas; secondly the people of the Portuguese territories do not support the guerrillas. Recently during the tour of the President of the Portuguese Republic through the African territories there was not a single untoward incident. The rebels have no support. There are many leaders in Angola who support the Government. They see what is going on elsewhere in Africa and especially in the Congo just across the border. They want to retain the status quo in Angola and they so state to foreign ambassadors and journalists who visit Angola from time to time. To answer the President’s question, the rebels do not have a very great strategic capability. They are able to cause incidents but the security situation in such South American countries as Colombia is worse today than is the situation in Angola.

In response to a question from the President the Foreign Minister said Portugal has about 40 to 50 thousand troops in Angola at the present time. One third at any one time are on active duty in the north. The remainder are resting or are on garrison duty.

The Foreign Minister had asked African Delegates what else they had to talk about at Addis Ababa after they had condemned Portugal and South Africa. They had replied “nothing.” The Foreign Minister said Portugal still feels that it is the underdog in world opinion. Predictions, however, that Portugal would fall apart have not been fulfilled. He might be accused of bias but in his opinion the situation was far more encouraging than it was two or three years ago.

The Foreign Minister said he was told by an old friend at the UN that many people were not happy with the Portuguese talks with the Africans, that Portugal was not playing the game. The UN thrives on crises and tensions, and the Portuguese talks with the Africans tended to reduce tensions.

The President said that the UN has a special atmosphere. The Africans are becoming more extreme. The Foreign Minister had mentioned an African representative who opposed Ben Bella privately but felt obliged to follow him. In the President’s view that is what we are going to hear more of in the future. The President asked what the Portuguese had said about self-determination at the UN. Franco Nogueira said Portugal had outlined a certain concept which they had said they were implementing. They had indicated precisely the steps planned into 1964 but were unable to be exact as to timing beyond that. These steps had included increased franchise, elections, etc. The Portuguese had indicated two very important things: (1) a plebiscite; and (2) the acceleration of plans for economic development and education. The Foreign Minister said when you expand electoral roles and step up economic development and education, isn’t the result self-determination? The Africans say [Page 584] one man one vote. There is no point to this unless there is a structure within which to operate. Such a structure comes about only through economic and educational development. The population then has a stake in the life of the community. At that point it should then have a say in what happens to that community.

Franco Nogueira asked what is happening in some African countries where one man one vote exists. The result in many cases is an authoritarian regime where 99 percent of the vote is represented as being for the winning candidate.

The Foreign Minister said the President would be amazed at what is said about Portugal in the UN. He, himself, had been called the representative of a cannibal regime, for example. These reports are printed at home in Portugal and cause strong adverse public reaction to the UN. There is opposition in Portugal to doing anything which appears to be giving in to the UN. He, himself, would be out of office if he agreed to UN demands.

The President said that the Foreign Minister had indicated he was happier now about the situation in the African territories than a year ago. He asked if in fact the situation were more secure. The Foreign Minister said that short of an invasion by an army, the situation was secure and under control. The population is not in favor of the rebels. The people have a feeling of security again and have resumed building and investing. There is no problem except in an area of Angola along the border which represents only 1.8 percent of the total territory of Angola. The chief source of the trouble comes from approximately 200,000 members of the Bakong tribe who overlap from the Congo into Angolan territory.

The President asked what the UN African group will do. The Foreign Minister said he could not predict but there will probably be a Security Council meeting, perhaps not soon but eventually. The Africans will seek a resolution with strong measures against Portugal. These could include sanctions or even expulsion from the UN. The President said he did not believe the Africans could expel Portugal but he thought they would condemn the Portuguese. The Foreign Minister replied that Portugal has a clear conscience and does not mind condemnation which really does not amount to much. The U.S. bears a large responsibility in Security Council matters and cannot escape this responsibility.1

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The President replied that this is true. The U.S. does have this burden. That is why we interfere to the extent that we do in Portuguese affairs because sooner or later Portuguese-African problems will come to the UN where we must take a position. We have been attempting to find a way in which we can be more helpful to Portugal than in the past. In view of the Foreign Minister’s optimism regarding the state of affairs in the Portuguese African territories and the problems regarding timing, it is clear that we are not in complete accord. The United States is in a different position than Portugal and must therefore regard matters differently. We are not in entire agreement with Portugal but he thought we would survive our differences.

Franco Nogueira said if the Africans turned to the Soviets this would place a great burden on the Soviets. He did not believe the Soviets were prepared to take on the support of all of Africa. Secondly, the Soviets are moving in other ways than the United States. The Soviets are doing great work in secret subversion all over Africa. Houphouet-Boigny, the President of the Ivory Coast, had told him about this. In the view of Portugal, continued links between Africa and non-Communist European nations gives stability to Africa.

The Foreign Minister said that he was not saying that the U.S. was responsible for events in Africa but the U.S. must bear some responsibility because of the support it is giving to the trend of events. Independ-ence in Africa has been achieved artificially and this has created a fragile situation conducive to Communism.

Houphouet-Boigny had told him that most of the African leaders were very young. What will happen to other young and ambitious Africans if the present leaders stay in office twenty or thirty years? Ambitious new comers find an outlet only through revolt. At this very moment there is a plot in the Ivory Coast which Houphouet-Boigny knows about. The Foreign Minister anticipated that we face a period of unrest ahead in Africa.

The President said he was glad to have this talk with the Foreign Minister. There is likely to be a debate in the UN and a resolution. We will do the best we can to make the resolution as restrained as possible. We will keep in close touch with the Portuguese. The struggle is likely to be violent. The UN is becoming more extreme. Last year’s resolutions are not enough and there is a tendency to go to extremes.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL AFR-PORT. Confidential. Drafted by Meloy and approved by the White House on November 18 and in U on November 20. The conversation was held at the White House.
  2. On December 11, by a vote of 10 to 0 with 1 abstention (France), the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution S/5481, “All Peoples Have the Right to Self-Determination,” reaffirming previous U.N. resolutions on the Portuguese Territories and calling upon all States to comply with the paragraph of the Security Council Resolution of July 31 that was directed against the provision of arms and military equipment to Portugal for use in its territories. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, pp. 161-162. Before the vote, Ambassador Yost told the Security Council that the United States agreed with the definition of self-determination cited in the resolution and would vote for the resolution as a whole.