137. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford1


  • Assessment of Events in Portugal

President Spinola’s resignation Monday morning was the culmination of a major test of political strength over the week-end that has been won by the left. General Costa Gomes, a long-time ally of Spinola, has been named as the new President. Costa Gomes can be classified in the same ideological terms as Spinola, but he probably is more patient about opposing points of view and therefore amenable to compromise. In any event, the Presidency may be shorn of many of its powers and the occupant of the office is in danger of being a decorative figure.

Real power in Portugal is in the hands of the Armed Forces Movement, a group of young, left-leaning officers who engineered the overthrow of the Caetano government last April. Its decisions will be administered by the provisional government headed by Premier Vasco dos Santos Goncalves, 53. There are many uncertainties surrounding the composition of the Movement and what it stands for. It probably represents only a small percentage of the officer corps. It undoubtedly has within its ranks some communists, but it also has young officers genuinely determined to liberalize Portugal and get out of Africa. The latter appear to have predominant influence in the Movement.

Perhaps the most important lesson from the events of the weekend is the close coordination between the Movement and the Communist Party. Between them, their control of the situation was so complete that for all practical purposes the country was in their hands.

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Spinola had been in a contest for power with the Movement for several months. Their differences were seldom made public, although it was clear that the Movement was impatient with the gradual pace of decolonization favored by Spinola. The dispute also arose from domestic problems, with Spinola generally adopting more moderate solutions than the Movement advocated. The central issue, however, was authority—Spinola could not tolerate having his decisions monitored and the Movement was determined to insure that its program be followed to the letter.

A key question now is whether the right will counterattack. They are disorganized but well-financed. Meanwhile, the deteriorating economic situation may be the principal determinant of the course of events in Portugal. A continued serious downturn will foment popular unrest, particularly if the Goncalves administration appears to be drifting away from the promise of free elections next spring.

There have been indications that some members of the Movement want to see a more neutral Portugal, less closely tied to the United States and NATO. However, while the domestic power struggle continues, Portugal’s future position on such foreign policy issues is unclear. Thus far, there have been no indications of foreign policy changes coincident with Spinola’s resignation.

This memorandum is forwarded for your information. I will advise you of significant developments as they occur.

  1. Summary: Kissinger discussed Spinola’s September 30 resignation and its implications.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, Box 10, Portugal (1). Secret. Sent for information. Scowcroft wrote at the top of the memorandum, “President has seen.” In a September 30 memorandum to Ford, under cover of which he forwarded an apparently earlier assessment of the Portuguese situation, Kissinger commented, “Events in Portugal over the weekend seem clearly to demonstrate that the situation there is moving inexorably in a leftist direction, with the Communists and Left Socialists in a controlling position.” Kissinger asserted that there was “every reason to believe that the moderate forces in Portugal have suffered a severe setback and that the position of extremist elements has been substantially enhanced. The Communists and Socialists appear to be the only organized political forces in Portugal. In sum, I consider the situation to be very grave.” Ford initialed Kissinger’s September 30 memorandum. (Ibid.)