87. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Call by Portuguese Ambassador on Ambassador Johnson


  • Dr. Vasco Vieira Garin, Ambassador of Portugal
  • Ambassador U. Alexis Johnson, Under Secretary
  • Mr. Stephen G. Gebelt, Country Officer for Portugal

Ambassador Garin said he wished to welcome Ambassador Johnson back to Washington and had come to pay his respects.

The Under Secretary expressed his condolences on the occasion of the earthquake which occurred in Portugal during the night. The Ambassador said that fortunately there did not appear to have been any fatal injuries in Portugal although there reportedly were some in Morocco. He commented that it was fortunate that this quake had not been as disastrous as the one of 1774 when some 40,000 persons were killed and the city of Lisbon was almost completely destroyed.

Ambassador Garin said that he had followed relations between the United States and Portugal for many years both here in Washington and while serving at the United Nations in New York and he remarked that there were areas of disagreement between our two countries, particularly in respect to Portugal’s overseas territories. Noting that Portugal had its “three little Vietnams” (Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea) which were smaller but, nevertheless, bore some resemblance to the United States problem in Vietnam.

The Ambassador said that enough years had now elapsed since the troubles began in Africa to demonstrate clearly that this was not a spontaneous revolt of the peoples in the areas but rather an externally stimulated insurgent action.

In response to questions by the Under Secretary, the Ambassador said that there was evidence of Chinese involvement, via Tanzania in activities within Mozambique, including some very sophisticated weaponry. He said that in Angola, guerrillas were infiltrating from Congo (K) and Zambia. However, as both those countries need the Ben [Page 202] guela Railway for the export of minerals, they tend to restrain the terrorists. In Portuguese Guinea which the Ambassador said was the most dangerous, there were arms supplied (primarily Soviet or East European) by the Republics of Guinea and Senegal.

The Ambassador said that he considered Portuguese Guinea a dangerous problem for the entire Western world, because it seemed obvious that the Soviets wanted to gain control of Portuguese Guinea and, subsequently, at least one of the Cape Verde Islands. He commented that if he had mentioned ten years before the fact that the Soviets would be in Syria and Alexandria, nobody would have believed him, but they are there now. In the same way, it might seem farfetched to envisage Portuguese Guinea and the Cape Verde Islands as Soviet-dominated today, but this could very well happen within a few years.

The Ambassador said that the Portuguese considered that with the Azores, the Cape Verde Islands and Portuguese Guinea, Angola and Mozambique, they were contributing significantly to the defense of the Western world. However, faced with an enemy which was being supplied arms and assistance from the communist countries, the Portuguese were denied by the United States any military equipment to defend themselves.2 He said that they were even denied spare parts for equipment acquired earlier and the average Portuguese could not understand this and was bitter at such an attitude by an ally which it had assisted. He concluded that he hoped there would be some change in U.S. policy.

The Under Secretary said that he understood the Portuguese position and asked how Portugal’s relations were with the new African states.

The Ambassador said that Portugal’s relations with Malawi were excellent as well as with Botswana and the other new states in southern Africa. He said that relations with Zambia were tolerable, despite statements made by President Kaunda and others. He expressed the belief that relations with Congo (K) were better and he understood that the Congolese had even raised the possibility of reestablishing diplomatic relations. He said Portugal would be willing to do so but had laid down certain conditions that had not yet been met. He expressed the belief that there was no possibility of improving relations with Tanzania. He said that he was convinced that the Africans looked on the Portuguese differently, for example, than they did on the South Africans (he added quickly that Portugal’s relations with the South Africans were excellent although they disagreed on racial policies). He said that in his years at [Page 203] the United Nations, he had felt that the black Africans did recognize that the Portuguese were not racially conscious. The Ambassador said that Portugal was proud of her achievements in creating multiracial societies in Brazil, the African territories and Goa which had remained attached to Portugal despite a great propaganda campaign until India had sent in some 40,000 troops.

The Under Secretary said he believed that Portugal must work for better relations with the black African countries and that, with time and patience, much could be achieved. In concluding, he asked the Ambassador to convey his warm regards to the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Dr. Franco Nogueira, with whom he had served in Japan many years before.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 17 PORT–US. Confidential. Drafted by Gebelt (EUR/SPP) and approved in J on March 5.
  2. In 1961 the United States suspended military shipments to Portugal on the grounds that Portugal was using arms intended for NATO in its African territories.