174. Memorandum of Conversation1


November 16-19, 1968


  • United States
    • The Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Bennett
    • Assistant Secretary John M. Leddy
    • George W. Landau, Country Director, Spain/Portugal
    • Diego C. Asencio, Political Officer
  • Portugal
    • Foreign Minister Nogueira
    • Dr. Jose Luis Archer, Secretary General of Foreign Office
    • Dr. Goncalo Caldeira Coelho, Director General of Political Affairs


  • Portuguese Guinea and the Cape Verde Islands

Foreign Minister Franco Nogueira stated that in April or May of the last year the Portuguese had received a detailed report from New York on a conversation between a prominent American friendly to Portugal and a highly placed Soviet UN delegate. The Soviet delegate had stated that while the Soviet Union was hostile to the Portuguese regime for various reasons, it would not like to see a Portuguese collapse in Angola and Mozambique in the foreseeable future because they were not yet prepared to exploit the resulting situation. Instead they were interested in Portuguese Guinea because it dominated the Cape Verde Islands where the Soviets would hope to establish a base giving them a strategic position in the south Atlantic. The Foreign Minister stated that the strength of insurgent activity in Guinea had increased considerably in recent months. The insurgents appeared to have Soviet and Czech armament in unlimited quantities. The training of guerrillas in the Republic of Guinea with Soviet supervision and support appeared to be increasing with 6,000-8,000 being the current intelligence estimate. The insurgents had introduced an entirely new type of land mine apparently of Chinese manufacture which was very difficult to detect and was causing the Portuguese great difficulties. There were reported [Page 358] to be large stocks of these mines in the Republic of Guinea ready to be shipped. The Portuguese forces in Portuguese Guinea amounted to 20,000 troops and to demonstrate proportions the much larger area of Angola had a Portuguese force of only 50,000.

According to the Foreign Minister the Governor of Guinea, General Spinola, had made a three hour presentation to the Portuguese National Security Council (Note: on October 29, 1968) in which he requested reinforcements of troops and material and stated that unless these were forthcoming, he “would not be in a position to discharge my responsibility for the security of the territory” and an eventual collapse would occur. The Foreign Minister stated that the GOP would try to provide as much as they could and while he and the Defense Ministry felt that Spinola was painting too dark a picture, he wanted the US to know that the situation was really serious and that the Portuguese were worried. He added that he was putting this observation forward with no ulterior motives. While of course there were purely Portuguese motives for staying in Guinea, the loss of Guinea and by extension the loss of the Cape Verde Islands would also be a Western problem of very great importance.

In answer to Mr. Leddy’s question, the Foreign Minister stated that the loss of Guinea would have a tremendous impact on the Cape Verde Islands because the Islands and Guinea were completely inter-related economically, socially, politically and ethnically. In answer to the Secretary’s question, Nogueira stated that he was quite certain the support for the insurgent activity emanating from the Republic of Guinea was Russian in origin rather than Chinese and he was quite prepared to allow US experts to examine captured armaments to prove the point. The Secretary replied that the US now had better leverage with the Republic of Guinea than 2-3 years ago and perhaps something could be done.

In answer to the Secretary’s question as to whether Soviet ships had been spotted off the Portuguese-African territories since the closing of the Suez Canal, Foreign Minister Nogueira replied affirmatively and added that Chinese “spy ships” had also been spotted at several points.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, ORG 7 S. Secret. Drafted by Asencio and approved in S on December 3. The memorandum is Part I of VIII; Part VIII is Document 175. The other memoranda of the conversation are in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, ORG 7 S. The meeting was held in the Foreign Ministry.