Portugal has 10.2 million people. It is the westernmost nation in mainland Europe, with Spain on its border. Portugal is one of the oldest nations in Europe. In 1400s and 1500s, Portugal established the first global maritime and commercial empire; and became one of the world’s major economic, political and military powers. Portuguese explorers in 1500s discovered new land in South America which later became Brazil. Around this time, Portugal monopolised the world spice trade. From 1500s to 1800s other European countries, including Spain, Netherlands, Britain, France and Germany began colonising places around the world surpassing Portugal’s authority and power. In 1807, Portugal did not accede to French Napoleon Bonaparte’s demand to help France against Britain, so France invaded Portugal. Consequently, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil became the Portuguese capital from 1808 to 1821 (13 years). In 1821, Lisbon became the Portuguese capital again (France under Napoleon Bonaparte had lost the war to Britain). Brazil declared its independence from Portugal in 1822. Most other Portuguese colonies became independent in the 1960s and 1970s (mostly through war). Around this time, about a million Portuguese expatriates returned to motherland Portugal which only has about 9 million people. In 1999, Portugal’s last colony Macau was returned to China. Portugal left a profound cultural, architectural and linguistic influence across the world. Today, around 250 million people speak Portuguese. Portugal is a developed country with an advanced economy and high living standards.  

  1. In about 2,000 words, I will describe major events that affected Portugal from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1900 – Discontent among Portuguese workers grew. Increased mechanisation removed the need for workers, so workers began losing their jobs. Rural areas were increasingly depopulated in favour of cities, and emigration especially to Brazil snowballed. People began to look towards socialism as a cure to the country’s inequality. National republicanism swept through the lower middle class.
  3. 1907 – Portuguese prime minister establishes a dictatorship within the framework of the Monarchy. Students strike at a Portugal university.
  4. 1908 – After a failed attempted coup, King Carlos and his son and heir, Liuis Filipe are killed by rebel Portuguese Republicans. The king’s younger son, Manuel II takes over.
  5. 1909 – In Portugal’s capital, Lisbon a demonstration of more than 100,000 occurred, protesting against the political and economic situation of the Monarchy.
  6. 1910 – The Portuguese Republicans overthrew the king in an almost bloodless coup. King Manuel II sails into exile to England. But democracy was slow to establish itself in Portugal’s near-medieval class system.
  7. 1910 (to 1926) – During these 16 years of the First Republic, there were an astonishing 45 changes of government.
  8. 1911 – After a landslide victory by the Republicans in the elections, hopes were high. A new constitution separates church from state. But the economy was in taters, exacerbated by Portugal’s financially disastrous decision to join the Allies in World War One. 
  9. 1914 (to 1918) – World War One. Portugal joined the Allies partly to protect its African colonies from the Germans. Post-war years resulted in political turmoil. Republican factions squabbled, unions led strikes and were repressed, and the military grew more powerful.
  10. 1926 (to 1974) – Amid corruption, repression of the church, and the near-bankruptcy of the state, a military coup in 1926 installed a dictatorship (the Second Republic) that remained until another coup in 1974.
  11. 1926 – General Antonio de Fragoso Carmona becomes president.
  12. 1928 – President Antonio de Fragoso Carmona appoints Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who is a professor of law, Portugal’s Minister of Finance.
  13. 1932 – Antonio de Oliveira Salazar becomes prime minister.
  14. 1933 – A fascist-leaning, right wing dictatorial regime, Estado Novo (New State) is established by Prime Minster Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. He ruled Portugal for the next 36 years with an iron-fist, but he was not the usual corrupt dictator. As a young man, he considered becoming a priest. During his prime ministership, he continued to be modest, pious and celibate. Ruling using Catholic values, he did not tolerate much opposition. A political police force called PIDE was created. The Police put dissenters in jail. Brute force was used to keep the society in order, and mass media censorship became common.
  15. 1936 (to 1939) – Spanish civil war occurred between the Spanish Nationalists and the Spanish Republicans. Portugal sent troops to support the Nationalists under General Francisco Franco. The Nationalists won the Spanish civil war.
  16. 1939 – The Portugal-Spain pact is signed – where there is to be no aggression against each other.
  17. 1939 (to 1945) – World War Two. Portugal remained neutral. But Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar played two hands – Portugal allowed the British to use its airfields – and at the same time Portugal illegally sold tungsten to Germany. Later it was discovered that 44 tonnes of gold were transferred by German Nazis to Portugal.
  18. 1942 – Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar meets with Spanish Nationalist dictator Francisco Franco.
  19. 1947 – Government crushes attempted revolt, and deports labour leaders and army officers to Portuguese Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, near Africa.
  20. 1949 – Portugal becomes a founding member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).
  21. 1949 – For the first time, a Portuguese citizen is awarded a Nobel Prize (Egas Moniz in Physiology / Medicine).
  22. 1951 – The Portuguese government overhauls the entire colonial system in an attempt to curb criticism on Portuguese Colonialism – all Portugal’s colonies were renamed ‘Portuguese Overseas Provinces’.
  23. 1955 – Portugal joins the United Nations.
  24. 1955 – Indian opposition to Portuguese territory (in India) leads to severed diplomatic ties.
  25. 1957 – First live event of the Portuguese National Television and the regular broadcasting began. The event was opened by a famous and former BBC Portuguese war reporter.
  26. 1959 – Portuguese soldiers open fire on protesting dockworkers, killing 50.
  27. 1961 – Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar also becomes Minister of Defence to face war in Africa.
  28. 1961 – Portuguese Colonial War starts in Portuguese Angola. Rebellion breaks out in Guinea and Mozambique.
  29. 1961 – The Indian Army under the direction of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru conquers Portuguese Goa (in India). The Indian Army further conquers Portuguese Daman and Diu (in India).
  30. 1961 – Amnesty International, a human rights organisation, was spawned when British lawyer Peter Benenson learned that two students in Portugal had been imprisoned for 7 years for drinking a toast to liberty whilst under a dictatorship.
  31. 1966 – The Salazar Bridge is inaugurated in Lisbon. It is the longest suspension bridge in Europe and a replica (made by the same engineers) of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, USA.
  32. 1968 – Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar leaves the government due to ill health. He suffered a hemorrhage and was forced to leave office. However, no one informed him that he was no longer in power, and he believed that he was Prime Minister until his death two years later in 1970. Marcelo Caetano became the real Prime Minister. Under Salazar’s prime ministership of 36 years, Portugal’s economy boomed in 1950s and 1960s growing at about 7% to 9% per annum. But his defence of Portugal colonies drained the country’s finances (he had refused to relinquish the colonies) – which is his main downfall. Citizens were not happy that their country was poorer than other European nations.
  33. 1974 – The Carnation Revolution. A military coup, almost bloodless again, took place which put an end to the authoritarian regime of Estado Novo (New State) and started the Third Republic (a democratic form of government). Five decades of dictatorship ended. Portuguese citizens gave carnation flowers to the military army, hence the name Carnation Revolution. General Antonio Ribeiro de Spinola becomes president, succeeded by General Francisco da Costa Gomes.
  34. 1975 – Independence is granted to all Portuguese colonies in Africa (Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Cape Verde Islands, ‘Sao Tome and Principe’, and Angola). Independence is promised to Portuguese Timor. After more than 450 years in power, Portugal withdraws from Portuguese Timor. Huge influx into Portugal of expatriates of around 1 million from former colonies occurred (Portugal only has about 9 million in population).
  35. 1975 – A right-wing coup fails. A turn to the left in the revolution happens and major industries and big properties are nationalised by government.
  36. 1975 – A coup removes far-left influence in politics.
  37. 1975 – East Timor (Portuguese Timor) is violently annexed by Indonesia.
  38. 1976 – Parliamentary elections. Mario Soares becomes prime minister. General Antonio Ramalho Eanes wins presidency.
  39. 1979 – Centre-right alliance wins elections.
  40. 1982 – Military Council of the Revolution is abolished, and civilian government is formally restored.
  41. 1983 – Mario Soares returns as prime minister.
  42. 1984 – Carlos Lopes (long distance runner) wins the first Olympic gold medal for Portugal in the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, USA.
  43. 1986 – Portugal becomes a member of the European Economic Community, now known as the European Union (EU).
  44. 1995 – Antonio Guterres becomes prime minister. (Antonio Guterres later in 2016 becomes Secretary-General the United Nations. He will serve a second 5-year term from 2022.)
  45. 1996 – Community of Portuguese-Speaking countries is formed.
  46. 1998 – In the first Portuguese abortion referendum, the proposal to allow the abortion until 10 weeks of pregnancy is rejected by 50.91% of the voters. This is the first referendum in the history of Portuguese democracy.
  47. 1998 – For the very first time, a Portuguese language author is awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature (Jose Saramago).
  48. 1999 – The foreign ministers of Indonesia and Portugal completed an agreement for the people of East Timor to vote on their future.
  49. 1999 – Macau, the last overseas Portuguese colony, is returned to China.
  50. 2001 – Prime Minister Antonio Guterres resigns after his Socialist Party suffers unexpectedly heavy losses in local elections.
  51. 2001 – Nationwide law to decriminalise personal use and possession of drugs goes into effect.
  52. 2002 – Portugal adopts the euro as its currency.
  53. 2006 – Anibal Cavaco Silva is elected president, pledging to help lead Portugal out of economic slump.
  54. 2007 – In the second Portuguese abortion referendum, almost 9 years after the first, the proposal to allow abortion until 10 weeks of pregnancy is now approved by 59.25% of the voters.
  55. 2007 – On the historic occasion of their first summit, the EU and Brazil (which has a population of 214 million) decided to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership, based on their close historical, cultural and economic ties. Brazil and EU leaders met in Lisbon, Portugal.
  56. 2008 – Parliament votes to bring spelling of Portuguese language more in line with Brazilian practice. Opponents of the move say it is a capitulation to Brazilian influence.
  57. 2010 – The law that allows same-sex marriage is approved.
  58. 2011 – Portugal becomes the third European Union country after Greece and Ireland to apply for EU financial assistance to help it cope with its budget deficit. The European Union and International Monetary Fund agree a 78bn-euro bailout for Portugal, on condition of sweeping spending cuts.
  59. 2011 – The government submits a package of spending cuts and tax increases to parliament in an effort to meet the terms of the country’s 78bn-euro bailout.
  60. 2011 – Hundreds of thousands of workers go on strike a week before parliament is due to vote on the government’s programme of spending cuts and tax rises.
  61. 2011 – Some 30,000 young people rallied in Lisbon to vent frustration over grim career prospects.
  62. 2012 – Credit ratings agency Standard and Poor’s downgrades Portugal’s rating to junk status.
  63. 2013 – Several senior ministers resign over the handling of the economic crisis, but the government survives.
  64. 2013 – The government approves more spending cuts, mainly affecting public-sector employees’ wages, conditions and pensions, in order to avoid a second international bailout.
  65. 2014 – Portugal exits international bailout without seeking back-up credit from its lenders.
  66. 2014 – The government bails out the stricken lender Banco Espirito Santo – Portugal’s largest private bank – to the tune of 3.9bn euros in order to avert a possible wider economic collapse.
  67. 2014 – Interior Minister Miguel Macedo resigns in wake of corruption inquiry linked to allocation of fast-track residence permits, many of which have gone to foreigners willing to invest large sums in Portuguese property. Former Socialist premier Jose Socrates is remanded in custody on suspicion of corruption, tax fraud and money laundering.
  68. 2015 – The government approves rules allowing descendants of Jews who were expelled from the country centuries ago to claim Portuguese citizenship.
  69. 2015 – The head of the tax collection authority resigns amid claims that he tried to shield the files of influential figures from scrutiny.
  70. 2016 – Former prime minister Antonio Guterres is appointed UN Secretary-General. He will serve a second 5-year term from 2022.
  71. 2020 (to 2021) – COVID-19 pandemic caused more than 17,000 deaths in Portugal.
  72. 2021 – Portugal has 10.2 million people.

© Comasters September 2021.

  • Albert Lee
    Posted at 17:23h, 02 September

    Thanks Jeffrey for this write up about Portugal. Interesting to note that though it was riding high during the days when it colonised so many countries around the world yet it went through serious financial crises in the 21st century especially around the same time as Greece and required bail out by IMF, EU etc with consequent austerity drive. It appears that without the resources plundered from the former colonies it is not able to sustain its lavish lifestyle. I understand investment from China is now helping to revive their economy.

    • comasters1
      Posted at 23:30h, 02 September

      Albert, A Formosa in Malacca (Melaka) is my first exposure to the grand monument ‘white’ people left behind in Malaysia. Colonists take land by force in those days – 1500s. China in the 1400s and 1500s were exploring Malacca – and even left 500 Chinese virgins for locals to marry. Portugal left their biggest mark in Brazil. I have an upcoming blog post on Brazil, apart from one on Spain. Prime Minister Salazar wanted to keep the colonies, but in the 1900s, it became no longer viable to maintain them. Internally, Portugal went through tough times, hence the financial crisis occurred in the last few decades. I remember it was easy about 10 years ago to become a Portuguese permanent resident – by merely bringing some money there – not much. I think that has ceased. Still, Portugal has a rich history it can be proud of. Jeff