252. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Bennett’s Meeting with the JCS


  • Ambassador W. Tapley Bennett, Jr., American Ambassador to Portugal
  • Mr. Philip Farley, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Politico-Military Affairs
  • General McConnell, JCS
  • Admiral Moorer, JCS
  • General Westmoreland, JCS
  • General Chapman, JCS
  • Captain From, G/PM, Department of State
  • Mr. Stephen G. Gebelt, EUR/SPP, Department of State

In response to a request of General McConnell, Ambassador Bennett gave a brief outline of some of the problems confronting Portugal. The Ambassador elaborated on the illness of former Portuguese Prime Minister Salazar,2 noting that a Salazar press interview in June had shown sufficient evidence of deterioration to him to alert the Department of State to the possibility that Salazar’s mental acuteness might be diminishing seriously. Subsequently, as a result of a fall in August, Salazar was hospitalized in September for an operation to drain a cerebral hematoma. After an apparent recovery from that operation, Salazar suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and remained in a coma for many weeks and it was assumed by the medical authorities attending the case that he would not survive. Contrary to that expectation, Salazar is still alive, and according to some reports, may linger on for some time. Although it is improbable that he could resume office, the interpretation of any remarks he might make to visitors could cause confusion on the political scene; and his continued presence has placed certain limitations on the activities of his successor.

The Ambassador noted that the new Prime Minister Caetano had been a favorite candidate for some time and had undertaken his job in an effective manner. His public pronouncements have so far been care[Page 792]fully balanced in order not to upset his followers to either the right or the left. He is confronted by internal economic problems in a country with considerable unemployment, pressures for wage increases, workers who are the lowest paid in Europe, a need for development capital, at the same time as large expenditures are being demanded for the government budget, particularly in view of the heavy military costs necessitated by the conflicts in Africa. The transition has been quite smooth and there is no indication of any dangerous unrest. The military hierarchy seems united at present, but there may develop a problem of “Nasserism” among junior officers who come from less-privileged classes than the traditional officer caste. This is a question which is being followed closely by the Embassy and on which a close watch should be kept in the future.

Portugal is a member of NATO, but Portuguese support is largely passive at present. The presence of the IBERLANT Command is appreciated by the Portuguese and provides a useful reminder of the existence of the Alliance.

Regarding Africa,3 the Ambassador noted that the Portuguese had the security situation in Angola under reasonable control, despite some continuing incursions in the north (the traditionally unstable Dembos region) from the Congo and in the southeast near the Zambian border. He said that during a visit he made there in 1967, he had travelled around the Dembos area in an unescorted vehicle without danger. Angola is prospering, the infrastructure is good, mineral discoveries and the recent Gulf Oil strikes offer important economic prospects for Portugal. Angola is twice the size of Texas, the Portuguese now have a good basic infrastructure, having built hundreds of miles of hard surface roads and installed many landing strips which facilitate movement around the country.

Turning to Mozambique, which is nearly twice the size of the state of California, the Ambassador commented that it was not as prosperous or as unified a country as Angola and lacks infrastructure. Nevertheless, the security situation seemed to be under control, although there are some difficulties on the Tanzanian border.

He then turned to the situation in Portuguese Guinea in West Africa, describing it as considerably more precarious. It is a swampy country of little economic value and is composed of various tribes; the territory lends itself to hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. Given the support in arms and munitions that the rebels receive from the neighboring republics of Guinea and Senegal, an early termination of this seems improbable. He added that the Portuguese Foreign Minister had raised [Page 793] this question in the NATO Council and also in talks with Secretary Rusk, claiming that the real danger lay in the fact that, if Portugal lost control of Portuguese Guinea, it would inevitably lead to the loss of the Cape Verde Islands—the Foreign Minister had asserted that the Soviets would then end up with a base in the Cape Verde Islands.

The Ambassador said that he had dwelt at length on these African problems because they dominated the Portuguese situation, coloring their outlook on NATO, and relations with the U.S. and their attitude toward international organizations generally.

The Ambassador concluded that a specific problem would be arising in the near future regarding our agreement with the Portuguese on the Azores.4 He said that the old agreement expired December 31, 1962, but the Portuguese had let conditions continue as they had been before. However, the Foreign Minister had told Secretary Rusk in November in Lisbon that the Portuguese wish to reopen this question and would have proposals early this year.5 He said he expected to be given some idea of their dimensions after his return to Lisbon later this month. The Ambassador praised the relations between the U.S. military and the Portuguese military and local population in the Azores.

After thanking the Ambassador, General McConnell asked what price the Ambassador thought we might have to pay for continued use of the Azores bases. Ambassador Bennett replied that this was the difficult question; he pointed out that the Portuguese are particularly unhappy about our restrictive arms policy in relation to their African insurgency problems. They would no doubt like to see a change in our overseas policy in relation to their African possessions, but were particularly bitter over our refusal to sell them arms except for use in the NATO Treaty Area.6 They said privately that they were not too upset about what we said or did in the U.N. but we should be more flexible, as they claim the French and Germans are, in supplying them with equipment. They might also ask a straight rental fee for the base.

Admiral Moorer asked about Foreign Minister Franco Nogueira’s relations with the military. The Ambassador replied that they had been cool previously but that because Franco Nogueira had defended Portugal’s overseas policies so vigorously, he was now understood to have been the favored candidate for the Prime Ministership of many of the [Page 794] military. The Ambassador remarked on the Foreign Minister’s vigorous tactics as a negotiator and said that in any negotiations on the Azores he would expect him to come and butt right into our stomach in hopes that the U.S. would “disgorge” something.

General Westmoreland asked about numbers and composition of Portuguese troops in Africa, the social status of military officers in the Portuguese hierarchy and the cooperation between the Portuguese African and European troops in the field. The Ambassador estimated 120,000 troops of whom perhaps 30 percent are African. He said he had been impressed during his visit in 1967 by the confidence the Portuguese had in leaving guard and access to vital installations under the control of African troops and NCOs. He said that military officers were highly respected, but noted that there was no longer as large a percentage from the top families. He expressed the belief that this was all to the good, but it did raise one question which he followed closely and had mentioned earlier. He wondered whether some of the officers who came from the less privileged classes might not eventually produce a situation of internal unrest within the armed forces, repeating that a “Nasserist” phenomenon would appear possible in a privileged society like that of Portugal.

General Westmoreland asked about Portugal’s relations with Brazil. The Ambassador noted that they were primarily emotional, as there is little trade between the countries. However, the Portuguese are proud of the multiracial society they created in Brazil and often express the conviction that they can accomplish the same thing in Africa if given time.

General Chapman asked if there was a link between the Spanish Base negotiations7 and the Azores. Ambassador Bennett said that this question was being watched closely in Lisbon and he was sure that the Portuguese would be anxious to know how much the Spaniards get out of us.

General McConnell asked how relations were between Spain and Portugal. The Ambassador said that the Portuguese have long memories and have not forgotten that Spain occupied Portugal from 1580 to 1640 which may seem a long time ago to us but not to them! Officially, the relations are close and friendly, but there is the normal amount of suspicion between two neighboring countries when one is considerably larger than the other.

Admiral Moorer asked about the status of the air base at Beja, to which the Ambassador replied that both the Germans and the Portu[Page 795]guese had been highly secretive about this base which is now finished but will be used on a much more limited scale than was originally planned and will reportedly concentrate on the training of Lufthansa pilots.

Ambassador Bennett then asked the Joint Chiefs what importance they now give to the Azores. General McConnell and Admiral Moorer said that they continue to be extremely important, because long-range aircraft would not eliminate the need for the base to refuel tactical aircraft and it was extremely valuable in anti-submarine warfare.

Admiral Moorer added that the Navy also considers the Cape Verde Islands very valuable. Ambassador Bennett asked whether Ascension Island might not be an adequate substitute. General McConnell said definitely not as it was one of the most inadequate facilities in the world and useful primarily as a staging area.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL PORT–US. Secret. Drafted by Gebelt. The meeting took place at the Pentagon.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XII, Western Europe, Documents 171 and 172. Caetano replaced Salazar as Prime Minister on September 26, 1968. Salazar died on July 27, 1970.
  3. Documentation relating to Portuguese African territories is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXVIII, Southern Africa.
  4. For text of the Azores basing agreement, signed at Lisbon, September 6, 1951, see 5 UST 2263. The text of the November 1957 extension of the agreement is in 8 UST 2353.
  5. Secretary Rusk and Foreign Minister Nogueiro discussed the Azores base on November 19, 1968, in Lisbon. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XII, Western Europe, Document 175.
  6. 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.
  7. The United States and Spain began discussing the renewal of base agreements in 1967.