176. Memorandum of Conversation1


November 16-19, 1968


  • United States
    • The Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Bennett
    • Diego C. Asencio, Political Officer
  • Portugal
    • Prime Minister Caetano
    • Dr. Goncalo Caldeira Coelho, Director General of Political Affairs, Foreign Ministry


  • US-Portuguese Relations and Africa

The Secretary expressed greetings from President Johnson noting that both the President and Prime Minister Caetano had assumed office in a moment of sadness. The Prime Minister stated that he had been very happy to receive a message from President Johnson on his accession to office in which a reference had been made to the maintenance of cordial relations between the US and Portugal. The Prime Minister reiterated that feeling and added that “we are friends and must be friends”.

[Page 361]

According to the Prime Minister the first Portuguese concern in US-Portuguese relations is the hope for better US understanding of the Portuguese position both domestically and in Africa. On the internal situation it was his impression that US public opinion failed to understand that special circumstances operating in Portugal would not permit the type of government which would be the most acceptable to the US. However, it happened to be the government most suitable for the Portuguese. The government of Portugal was in the process of evolution. Naturally after forty years there had to be things which required moderating. This had to be done carefully and slowly in order to avoid a collapse which would be dangerous for the Atlantic Alliance. Impatience from friends or outside pressure could be fatal to Portugal and dangerous to the Atlantic Community.

In response to the Prime Minister’s request for his views on Africa the Secretary stated that the US was not leading a crusade on the African question and had no interest in the disappearance of the Portuguese presence from Africa. It was not the US that raised questions in the agenda of the UN. When they came up, of course, we had to express our views, which were not always the views of our Portuguese friends. Out of our own national experience we had developed a point of view that a great deal depended on the expression of the authentic views of peoples in areas like Angola and Mozambique. The Secretary cited the case of Puerto Rico, although stating it was not analogous to the situation in the Portuguese African territories, to demonstrate how the US had met criticism in the UN on the status of the island by the simple response of “ask the Puerto Ricans.”2 He had the impression that there was a stronger feeling among the people of Angola and Mozambique for Portugal than somehow the Portuguese had been able to make public and known.

In response the Prime Minister cited the tribal state of native populations both in the Portuguese territories and in the other African lands, which he asserted made elections a farce. What was undeniable was control of a region like Mozambique with less than a division of troops, a valid demonstration that it was an integral part of the Portuguese nation. Another undeniable fact was the foreign base of the subversion being launched against the Portuguese territories. In addition in the Prime Minister’s view when public opinion manifested itself through modern processes it never expressed the deep feelings of the people but rather the thinking of certain leaders. The elite of the native populations in the Portuguese territories were sufficiently evolved to produce such an opinion but because of their European education [Page 362] and their very association with the Portuguese governmental structure they had become detribalized. Therefore, the Portuguese Government considered the friendliness and readiness to accept the present situation on the part of the natives of Angola and Mozambique as an expression of opinion by them.

The Secretary stated that it was his impression that in the last two or three years the attitude of the African States toward the Portuguese territories had moderated to some extent partly because they had understood that the issue in the Portuguese territories was not strictly speaking a racial one. The Prime Minister replied that Portugal’s social objective in Africa was what Portugal had accomplished in making Brazil a multi-racial society and was an eminently human work which could not be precipitated. He was certain that Africa and particularly southern Africa needed the white man not only as a technician but also as a settler. Collaboration between whites and natives was essential to the progress of that region.

  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 III. The other memoranda of the conversation are ibid. The meeting was held in the Palacio Sao Bento.
  2. Reference is to the 1967 plebiscite which defused Cuban efforts to have Puerto Rico considered as a separate item by the UN General Assembly.