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Salazar, António de Oliveira (1889–1970)

Portuguese political leader and dictator. Born on 28 April 1889 in the village of Vimeiro, near the town of Santa Comba Dão, Portugal, António Salazar grew up a conservative Catholic. Educated at the University of Coimbra, he became a professor of political economy there. He was elected to the Portuguese Chamber of Deputies but soon withdrew because he considered it to be a futile exercise. In 1926, in order to end chronic political instability in Portugal (there had been forty cabinets since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1910), the Portuguese military seized power. Salazar was then briefly minister of finance. Recalled to the same post in 1928, he received the full authority that he demanded and in short order had placed Portuguese finances on a firm foundation. Over the next few years he gradually increased his power until in 1932 he became premier of an authoritarian government. From that point, he dominated Portuguese affairs until 1968.

Under a new constitution ratified in a 1933 referendum, Salazar reorganized Portugal as a corporative unitary republic rather than a pluralist state. A national assembly, elected by heads of families, served as the legislative body. A corporative chamber advised the assembly on social and economic matters and represented syndicates of various corporations. The Catholic Church also had widespread influence. Salazar's National Union party was the political voice of the so-called Estado Novo (New State), which combined eighteenth-century enlightened despotism with Christian morality, but also had both fascist and democratic trappings. This system came to be known as clerical fascism and subsequently became a model for the Nationalists in Spain and for Austria.

Profoundly religious, Salazar was also an ascetic and a bachelor. Unlike most dictators, he lived frugally on a modest salary and was utterly uninterested in the accumulation of personal wealth. He also remained virtually unknown to his people. While he admired fascism and supported the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, he also intensely disliked Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and maintained diplomatic relations with Portugal's long-standing ally, Great Britain. As with Francisco Franco in Spain, Salazar appreciated the German war against communism but, unlike Franco, kept his country strictly neutral during World War II until, under British and U.S. pressure, he agreed in October 1943 to lease bases in the Azores. These proved vital to the Allies in the Battle of the Atlantic. Nonetheless, Salazar maintained that the nation was neutral, and Portugal profited from selling goods to both sides.

Portugal emerged from the war in a much better position than Spain, was readily admitted to the United Nations (UN), and was invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Although Portugal was a police state, Salazar always tried to preserve some of the elements of a democratic façade. Unfortunately for his country, however, he refused to allow economic modernization, believing that it would place traditional Portuguese values at risk, and the resultant economic stagnation led many Portuguese to emigrate. In his last years in power, Salazar was increasingly forced to devote substantial financial and military resources to maintaining Portuguese control over its overseas empire, especially in Africa. An injury in 1968 led to a disabling stroke, forcing him to yield power to Marcelo Caetano, who began reforms. Salazar died in Lisbon on 27 July 1970.

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Georgel, Jacques. Le salazarisme: Histoire et bilan, 1926–1974. Paris: Cujas, 1981.; Kay, Hugh. Salazar and Modern Portugal. New York: Hawthorn, 1970.
 

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