Marquês de Pombal

The Dictators of Portugal

Faced with the question “how many dictators has Portugal experienced?”, many people would think immediately of Salazar and possibly the Marquês de Pombal. Over 270 years, Portugal has had 11 dictators and by the end of their tenures, each had become extremely unpopular and each was unseated by different means, nearly all of them involving death or violence.

Although by definition the dictator has ultimate power and, therefore, no statesman serving a monarch can be called a dictator, the Marquês de Pombal who served D. José; Costa Cabral who served D. Maria II; and João Franco who served D. Carlos have all been referred to as “dictator” for at least a part of their governments.

Under the monarchy, there were three dictators:
1. 1755-1777 – Sebastião José de Carvalho e Mello, Marquês de Pombal

Marquês de Pombal

D. João V would not employ Pombal – he said that he had a hairy heart (cabellos no coração), possibly meaning that he detected a streak of ruthlessness. Pombal as Minister of the Crown assumed great power after the Great Earthquake (November 1, 1755) and the attempted assassination of the King in 1758. Pombal was able to disempower the nobility and to bring about the suppression of the Jesuits. He organised the rebuilding of Lisbon after the Earthquake and ensured the undisputed power of the monarch. Although he turned Portugal into a modern country, his methods arouse hostility even today.

2. 1845-1846 – António Bernardo da Costa Cabral

António Bernardo da Costa Cabral

Costa Cabral espoused the liberal cause in the civil war and was appointed as Minister of the Interior by D. Maria II. Although he was hated because he enriched himself and gave jobs to his relatives, he managed to lay the foundations of the modern Portuguese state.

3. 1907-1908 – João Ferreira Franco Pinto Castelo Branco
During his year of dictatorship, Franco was opposed by all political parties. His only real supporter, D. Carlos, became the principal political enemy of practically everyone. D. Carlos was consequently assassinated and Franco, responsible for the safety of the Royal Family, immediately resigned.

Republican Portugal was chaotic, with six dictators in 16 years (1910-1926):
4. 1915 – Joaquim Pereira Pimenta e Castro
Pimenta e Castro was an early short-lived experiment in dictatorship during the First Republic.

5. 1917-1918 – Sidónio Bernardino da Silva Pais

Sidónio Bernardino da Silva Pais

Professor of Calculus and Vice Chancellor of Coimbra University, Minister of Public Works, Minister of Finance and then Ambassador to Germany in 1912. He returned to Portugal when war was declared in March 1916, and overthrew the democratic government. As both President and Prime Minister, conditions in Portugal worsened for a year before he was assassinated in December 1918.

6. 1918-1919 – João do Canto e Castro
President Sidónio had appointed him Navy Minister in September 1918 and, after the assassination, the country was effectively without any government at all. He was selected as interim president because he was the oldest among them, he was the highest ranking and was the least political. He left office when a new President was elected.

7. 1926 – José Mendes Cabeçadas Júnior
Mendes Cabeçadas was an officer on the Adamastor, the ship that shelled the Royal Palace on October 4, 1910. As General Gomes da Costa revolted in Braga on May 28, Cabeçadas was on the spot in Lisbon and assumed both offices as the Prime Minister and the President resigned. After three weeks, he was forced to give up both positions in favour of Gomes da Costa.

8. 1926 – Manuel de Oliveira Gomes da Costa
Gomes da Costa had served in colonial wars in India and Africa and then in Flanders in the Great War. He was highly decorated for his war service. He became Prime Minister on June 17, 1926 and President of the Republic on June 29. He soon proved that he had none of the qualities required for either role and he was pushed aside by General Óscar Carmona and exiled to the Azores.

9. 1926-1933 – Marshal António Óscar Fragoso Carmona
Never a democrat, Carmona boasted that he voted for the first time in 1933 in the National Plebiscite, which was the vote to confirm the Constitution of Salazar’s Estado Novo. Believed Gomes da Costa too moderate Carmona proclaimed himself President and assumed dictatorial powers. He presented himself for election as President of the Republic in May 1928 as the only candidate. He appointed Salazar as Finance Minister in 1928 and nominated him as Prime Minister in 1933. Carmona was President of the Republic between 1926 and his death in 1951.

The New State (1933-1974) had two dictators:
10. 1933-1968 – Dr António de Oliveira Salazar

Dr António de Oliveira Salazar

Salazar became Prime Minister in July 1932 and he introduced his authoritarian and rightist Estado Novo in 1933. He removed all army officers from the government and instead appointed his colleagues from university. Portugal became a Corporative and Single Party country spread over three continents. Censorship was continued and the new labour laws prohibited free trades unions. Salazar adopted totalitarian practices in order to keep power, mostly through propaganda and his secret police. He may have used draconian tactics, but he achieved order and political stability.

11. 1968-1974 – Dr Marcello das Neves Alves Caetano
Like Salazar, Caetano was an academic and a lawyer, and the middle classes saw in his accession a chance for opening up the economy and for greater freedom in elections. In the early 1970s, Portugal suffered from the oil crisis and its ongoing Colonial Wars. Caetano’s legacy was his inability to bring Salazar’s wars to a successful conclusion; and his inability to keep the army on side.

Study of these dictators in a country of ‘brandos costumes’ reinforces the belief that, however badly functioning any democracy, it is infinitely preferable to dictatorship.

By Lynne Booker
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Lynne Booker, along with her husband Peter, founded the Algarve History Association. [email protected]