1960 - Politics (Part 1)
1960 – 1969
Politics (Part 1)
The US and Portuguese Coup attempt
Politics (Part 1)
The US and Portuguese Coup attempt
In 1961 tensions between the US and Soviet Union was at all-time high, the invasion of Cuba, and the Russian – China border clashes pushed the world closer to war. Following the naval confrontation with Soviet Union US President Kennedy initiated a visit of major European countries and allies. From 15 - 21 June 1961 he visited Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy. On the way back to the US, President Kennedy stopped at the US military base in the Azores. During the visit US President Kennedy met with Portuguese President Semedo, the first Presidential meeting between the two countries was very cordial although a little tense. At the meeting President Kennedy invited the Portuguese President to Washington for the first US – Portuguese Summit.
The US – Portuguese Summit was originally scheduled to be held in April 1962 but due to political situation in US and both governments wanting to have several agreements to sign during the summit it was postponed to 2 - 5 October 1962. President Semedo was received warmly by President Kennedy and met with several major political leaders from both Democratic and Republican parties. Several major important issues were discussed such as the continued war against communism in Africa, Asia and the Americas, the Portuguese Federation as well as US – Portuguese trade. While there were some agreements such as the US recognition of Portuguese Federation which allowed the settling of several international disputes namely the allocation of country code 42 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). A joint statement on continued fight against communism was issued at end but several major issues remained unresolved. The US continued to advocate the complete withdrawal of all European presence in Africa and Asia. The US government policy stated that the continued Portuguese presence in Africa and Asia was detrimental to US interests in those areas. While movement in trade disputes was made the US continued to block any military and advanced electronics trade with the Portuguese Federation.
On 5th of October President Semedo left Washington and flew to New York where he addressed the UN General Assembly. The Portuguese President’s speech was boycotted by many countries including all communist, most African and some Asian countries. At the end of the speech a gathering had been scheduled by the Portuguese embassy with many UN staffers and friendly countries’ ambassadors, but the gathering was abruptly cancelled after the speech. President Semedo left New York within an hour of his speech and returned to Portuguese Federation stopping on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores. Following the sudden departure of President Semedo news reached the UN and rest of world regarding a coup on the Iberian Peninsula. Military units from Alentejo and Beira had converged against the government in Lisbon. The troops seized several government buildings, the Lisbon airport, several radio stations and RTP Television station as well as several bridges and roads in and out of the city. General Humberto da Silva Delgado emerged as the leader of the coup and proclaimed the overthrow of the Estado Novo and proclamation of free Portugal and the dissolution of the Portuguese Federation.
News of the revolt shocked the country and units loyal to the government moved south from Coimbra and Porto while the Portuguese Navy ships moved to block the rebel troops from moving south of Tagus River. As the Portuguese President flew back to Portuguese Federation the people of Lisbon revolted against the attempted coup. Thousands of civilians blocked the rebel troops and formed human chains surrounding the troops in many cases. With the attempted coup in jeopardy of collapsing General Humberto da Silva Delgado made the tactical mistake of ordering the troops to fire on the civilian demonstrators. The troops hesitated to fire on the civilians and the attempted coup collapsed. By the time, the troops loyal to the government reached the city they were greeted as heroes and thousands of exuberant cheering civilians lined the major routes of the liberating troops entering the city. Just as President Semedo plane landed in Sao Miguel the last of the rebel troops surrendered to the civilians and police units, fearing for their lives many of the leaders including General Delgado fled the city.
Two hours after arriving in the Azores, with the attempted coup collapsed President Semedo went on Portuguese radio and television and expressed his love and gratitude for the Portuguese people and their support of the Portuguese Federation dream. He then promised to hold all those responsible for the attempted coup responsible and that all those involved would be brought to justice. As President Semedo left Sao Miguel to the cheer of the people in Ponta Delgada the DGS, PSP, GNR and Portuguese military hunted for all those responsible and participated in the attempted coup.
The arrival of President Semedo in Lisbon was carried live on radio and television. His arrival in Lisbon and the announcement that all Portuguese cabinet members including the triumvirate had survived was greeted with great joy by the city and Federation as whole where the coup had little to no support. On 6th of October in the border town of Olivenza General Humberto Delgado and several of his associates were cornered by Portuguese security forces and in the firefight, he along with most his associates were killed.
Portuguese movie regarding Political intrigue of the Attempted Coup of October 1962
Like the attempted coup 30 years earlier it did not take long for the Portuguese security services to find foreign involvement in the coup attempt, this time though the funding and support had come from the US and not Britain. The US government denied all involvement and knowledge of the coup but when suspicion fell to the CIA there was silence. As the US senate intelligence committee held hearing into the alleged CIA involvement in the coup of a NATO member President Kennedy decided to visit Texas, while there he was assassinated by former US Marine Lee Harvey Oswald. The assassination of President Kennedy so soon after the attempted coup of Portuguese government drew some to speculate Portuguese involvement. The Minister of Interior flanked by the rest of Portuguese Cabinet and President Semedo appeared on Portuguese television and radio and all denied any involvement in the assassination of US President Kennedy. In one statement from the Minister of Interior took a swipe at the CIA stating that not only did the Portuguese not have any desire to institute a government change in another country but that it had not developed or intended to develop that ability unlike the US CIA.
 Several historians have disputed that the order to fire on the civilians came from General Humberto himself, with majority believing it was sent by one of more radical military leaders while a small minority believing the order was actually sent by the DGS to discredit the coup leaders.
 In 1963 the US President Johnston signed an executive order prohibiting the CIA from supporting a coup or action against any NATO country.
The attempted coup put Portuguese - American relations on front and center with every move by the Americans and Portuguese being scrutinized for potential escalation of the political tension. This was exactly what the US needed as its war with communism (both cold and hot) meant it could ill afford to create another adversary especially one situated in many crucial areas of the world. For one casualty of the attempted coup was the suspension of talks to establish American bases in both Portuguese Africa as well Asia. Questions/ Comments?
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