133. Memorandum for the President’s File by the President’s Assistant (Haig)1


  • Meeting between the President and
  • President Antonio deSpinola of Portugal—June 19, 1974, The Azores

Key points brought up by President Spinola:

Spinola made a strong plea for urgent and substantial assistance from the U.S. This assistance, of a technical, economic and financial nature, should be effective while at the same time discreet, so as not to compromise politically either country.

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Such assistance would be instrumental in countering any moves by the Communists (who have just received strong financial help from the Soviets) to take control of Portugal, thus implanting another Cuba in the Iberian Peninsula. The turn of events just described would have definite repercussions in Spain, a country whose political structure has been badly shaken by the Portuguese Revolution. It would also affect seriously the Alliance and the Western World, on account of the ensuing loss of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands.

President Nixon’s response: Gave assurances that, while not making any specific public statements, he would examine Portugal’s needs with any official President Spinola might care to designate and that the U.S. would do what it could, subject to Congressional approval. President Nixon also assured President Spinola that he would explore any way the U.S. can assist Portugal, both overtly and covertly. In this connection, President Nixon stressed the importance of obtaining financial support from private banks. This support would not be forthcoming, however, if those banks saw the specter of Socialist/Communist penetration and dominance. Therefore it is most essential that President Spinola take strong and effective measures to prevent wildcat strikes and unreasonable wage demands, thus forestalling the destruction of the Portuguese economy by the Communists.

Regarding Spain, President Nixon agreed that there was no question as to repercussions on that country, where he felt that major changes were due soon.

President Nixon also suggested that the U.S. Ambassador had excellent contacts with U.S. banks and could be of assistance.

—President Spinola asked that the law denying assistance to Portugal be repealed.

President Nixon’s response: No problem. This law was based (and this was a mistake) on certain Congressional objections to Portugal’s policies in Africa. I am going to work on it.

An Up-to-Date Re-Assessment of the NATO Military Situation in the Atlantic Area

President Spinola: President Spinola pointed out the urgent need to analyze and re-assess NATO’s military situation in the Atlantic area, this in view of the fact that the free world is faced with the prospect of a Communist bastion in the Iberian Peninsula, as well as with the possibility of the loss of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands.

President Spinola asked for U.S. support in order that Portugal may regain its strategic security, which was destroyed by a number of political parties, particularly the Communists, during the first month following the revolution, when the political situation was uncontrolled. [Page 464] The above is one of President Spinola’s main concerns at the present time.

He then went on to re-state his oft-expressed belief that NATO was too involved in actions related to defense against external attacks as they might occur within a given strategic space. Also that NATO’s thinking was still along very classical lines, with great emphasis on military forces. He stated forcefully that while NATO was providing a defense within a given strategic space, NATO was being attacked on the ideological level by Communist ideologies, and that these developments required action in the field of ideological counter-penetration. It was his view that the West is being destroyed from within, through a number of clever ideological campaigns. He had stated the above many times in the past, and now he was feeling it in Portugal, in his own flesh.

President Nixon’s response: President Nixon appreciated the above analysis of the Communist danger as it exists in Portugal, Spain and Western Europe. He also agreed with the concept that the danger was not so much one that moved across borders, but that it was essentially an internal danger.

Also in this connection, President Nixon stated (and again in his statement to the press) that he considered an independent, free and prosperous Portugal as vital to NATO and to U.S. interests, as well as to U.S./Portugal common interests.

Portugal’s Need for Strong, Clearly Stated U.S. Support for its Domestic and Foreign Policies, Particularly at the U.N.

President Spinola: At the political and diplomatic level Portugal needs a clearly stated support by the U.S. for its domestic and foreign policies, particularly at the U.N. At the present time, Portuguese policies should be easy to support in the light of the evolution of Portugal’s policy towards its overseas territories.

The above-mentioned policy is outlined and defined in a speech by President Spinola at the swearing-in of the Governors of Angola and Mozambique. (President Nixon was handed an English text of the speech.)

The cornerstone of this policy is the unequivocal recognition of and adherence to the principles laid down by the U.N. Of course, Portugal’s previous attitude toward decolonization had caused problems for the U.S., regarding U.S. support of Portugal. Portugal stands now ready to adopt an unequivocal position regarding the initiation of the decolonization process. This decolonization involves a free acceptance of the principle of self-determination. Portugal, however, will only accept a self-determination which is based on an honest democratic system, and arrived at through a referendum or any other acceptable process. Such a process must enable the peoples of the overseas terri[Page 465]tories to assert their sovereign will. Portugal is even willing to agree to international supervision of this referendum, plebiscite, etc.

At this time, Portugal is asking for help from the U.S. with regard to the Guinea-Bissau problem at the U.N. President Spinola knows the problem all too well having been Governor of that territory for five and one-half years, thus thoroughly acquainted with the difficult military situation. Portugal now stands ready to accept a ceasefire, provided adequate safeguards are arranged for all those who are on Portugal’s side in the present conflict, including African armed forces.

President Spinola admits that the PAIGC has gained considerable political success, to such an extent that the U.N. has taken certain definite stands. Also, Guinea-Bissau has been recognized by a sizeable number of countries. Such recognition, even though it lacks a legal or logical basis, is nevertheless a fact and Portugal is willing to accept this fact. What President Spinola wants is for the U.N. to recognize the independence of Guinea-Bissau, on the basis of a situation created by the U.N., but without jeopardizing the normal process of decolonization for the other Overseas Provinces. The latter process is to be carried out along lines consistent with U.N. procedures, including the setting of deadlines and based on an honest referendum. Also in those other Provinces, our policies call for a ceasefire, followed by the creation of local governments that would bring in all African political forces including the liberation movements. Then the people, through a referendum or plebiscite, could decide freely their own destiny.

At the same time, Portugal is very reluctant at present to hand over sovereignty over Mozambique to Frelimo, considering that Frelimo represents only a minority of the people of Mozambique. President Spinola definitely believes in the lofty ideals and principles embodied in the U.N. charter and in the policies that may be derived therefrom. Just the same, he thinks that too hasty a solution, namely that of handing over sovereignty outright to the liberation movements not only would have a highly negative impact on the people at home but it would also constitute a clear-cut victory for the Socialists and Communists. In other words, the Overseas Provinces would be handed over directly to the Socialists and Communists. As things now stand, those are the two parties, which, for domestic policy reasons, are cleverly taking advantage of the external forces that are in fact running the African liberation movements.

So, unless independence is gained while fully respecting the integrity of the aforementioned principles, the domestic repercussions and effects will be quite disastrous.

Next, President Spinola took up again the re-assessment of the NATO military situation in the Atlantic area as it might be affected by the emergence of a Communist bastion in the Iberian Peninsula to[Page 466]gether with the possible loss of Cape Verde and the Azores. He stated that it was of the utmost importance to clearly differentiate between Guinea and Cape Verde when considering self-determination for Cape Verde.

Portugal is willing to recognize the independence of Guinea-Bissau but that issue must be clearly separated from that of Cape Verde. That because when it came to a plebiscite regarding self-determination it is almost a practical certainty that Cape Verde will continue to be Portuguese. President Spinola has very definite guarantees to that effect. On the other hand, if Cape Verde is tied in with Guinea-Bissau it will fall right in the hands of the Soviets. President Spinola knows the secret plans of PAIGC, namely Amilcar Cabral, whereby he would hand over Cape Verde to the Soviets in return for large sums of money which he would use in Guinea.

Cape Verde is but sparsely populated, very poor indeed and a definite financial liability for Portugal. It has nevertheless strategic value. Were it not for that strategic value, Portugal would be most interested in having Cape Verde gain independence through self-determination, as it constitutes a substantial economic burden for Portugal.

This concludes a clear and sincere statement of the very serious problems besetting Portugal at the present time and which casts a shadow over the entire West. President Spinola felt it was his responsibility to speak in this manner on the concerns common to the two countries.

President Nixon’s response: President Spinola can count on U.S. support at the U.N. for his enlightened policies towards Africa. Whatever decisions he makes can be transmitted directly or through our Ambassador.

President Spinola: President Spinola mentioned, as the two Presidents were walking out of the meeting, that it might be appropriate to examine the status of the Azores Air Force Base in the context of the re-assessment of the NATO military situation.

No specific comment by President Nixon.

  1. Summary: Haig reported on a June 19 meeting between Nixon and Spinola.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, Box 4. No classification marking. Nixon was in the Azores from June 18 to 19 to meet with Spinola. Scowcroft forwarded the memorandum to Kissinger under cover of a July 11 memorandum, in which he characterized Haig’s memorandum as “inadequate” and recalled that Spinola had requested that the meeting be head-to-head, “since he felt there was no one in his party whom he could trust.” Scowcroft reported that Nixon had subsequently directed that Walters “visit Portugal, Spain and Italy to get a first-hand assessment of the situation in each country and the overall capability of our Country Team in each” and that Ambassador Henry Joseph Tasca “be tasked to do an initial ‘think piece’ on the contemporary threat of Communist subversion.” Scowcroft noted that he had not implemented either of Nixon’s directions, pending Kissinger’s approval. (Ibid.)