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Monday, Jul.

22, 1946

How Bad Is the Best?


Last week Portugal produced no big spot news ; it hadn't for 20 years ; it
might not for 20 years more if the God he strove so hard to serve spared
Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. For Salazar distrusted news.
He suppressed and distorted it for the good of the Portuguese who, he
believed, were unfit for facts. After 20 years of Salazar, the dean of
Europe's dictators, Portugal was a melancholy land of impoverished,
confused and frightened people. Even Salazar, that model of rectitude,
showed signs of succumbing to a law of politics discovered by Lord Acton:
"Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts ab solutely."

The real news from Portugal was that another European dictatorship had
failed, though it might hang on for years. In the way of dictatorships, it
had stunned and shackled the wholesome forces that might have replaced
it. Not only was Portugal at a new low point, it showed every sign of
changing for the worse, perhaps slowly, perhaps by violent upheaval.

Success Story. Portuguese, however, looked happy enough last week as


Lisbon turned out for the annual People's Fair (to aid Lisbon's numerous
orphans). They rented boats on Palhava Park lake. They smeared their
swarthy faces with spun sugar candy. They took pleasure in their jados
("songs of fate"), although these ditties are not always gay. Sample:

Barbarous and murderous mother, Pitiless, heartless, she Threw her


daughters down a well Where they died in misery.

They bought from fisherwomen in Bedouin-like headdresses the


Portuguese equivalent of hot dogs — grilled sardines. But the biggest
crowds milled, with wistful eyes, around the U.S. pavilion, where wooden
doll exhibits depicted typical scenes of life in the fabled, incredibly
distant land of freedom.

If Portuguese had felt boastful instead of wistful, there was material for
self-congratulation about their Government and their way of life. Britain,
their old ally, banker and protector, now owed them £80,000.000.
Spain, their old rival, was in the United Nations' doghouse, while Salazar,
in spite of his anti-democratic sympathies, had pursued throughout
World War II a serpentine policy whose final tack was enough in the
Allies' direction to earn their tolerance, if not their approval. The
Portuguese national budget, thanks to Salazar, was always balanced these
days. (It had shown a deficit in 68 of the 70 years before 1928.) Portugal's
exports were much higher than before the war; her merchant marine was
about to double its tonnage and her fishing fleet was expanding.
Portugal's shop windows were full of luxury goods unobtainable in most
of Europe. Her currency unit, the escudo, was steady at four U.S. cents.
Unhappy Ending. Behind this glossy exterior of success, decay eats away
at Portugal. Financial Wizard Salazar has not balanced the budgets of
Portuguese families. Food prices have nearly doubled since 1939. One
typical family with a monthly income of 1,200 escudos in May paid out
1,663 escudos for rent, food, clothing, water and light. Strictly controlled
wages lag far behind. Government workers, especially important to a
dictatorship, got a 25% increase in 1944 to meet a 112% rise in the retail
price index.

Plain Portuguese obviously are not buying the luxury goods in the shops.
The incidence of tuberculosis, venereal disease and insanity is high, and
there is an acute shortage of doctors & nurses. In one month last year,
5,800 new mental cases needing hospital treatment were reported, of
whom only 1,118 were treated.

The red tape that keeps patients out of hospitals permits Lisbon's
director of public health to gain credit with budget-minded Salazar by
returning part of his appropriation to the national treasury each year.

The same bureaucracy lets the older half of Lisbon (which had survived
the 1755 earthquake) wallow. A few blocks from the grandiose and
spotless Rocio, Lisbon's counterpart of Times Square, the Old Town's
slums have no electricity, running water or sewage. Once a day street
cleaners climb up & down Castello de Sao Jorge hill, where generations
of shuffling bare feet have polished the cobbles satin-smooth. An hour
after the cleaners have passed, the same steep, crooked passages are foul
with refuse.

Portugal's literacy rate is 50%, one of the lowest of Western countries—


officially. But since those who can barely sign their names are counted as
literate, the actual figure is much lower. Despite repeated promises,
Salazar, a teacher himself, has achieved little or no improvement in
Portuguese education. Teachers make $12-$16 a month; few schools
have been built—but Salazar lavishes money on the preservation of
public monuments.

The minority who can read are little better off than those who cannot.
Contemporary-Portuguese literary efforts are scarcely worth the paper
they are written on. Portuguese are kept in ignorance of some of the
most important world news. Salazar will not let any paper print news
about Russia or about Communist activity anywhere. No Portuguese
paper mentioned the recent wave of strikes in the U.S. nor any other
labor conflict. The United Nations is barely mentioned, because Portugal
is not a member. Since there is sometimes courtesy, if not honor, among
dictators, Salazar has permitted no mention of the controversy between
U.N. and Caudillo Francisco Franco.

M.U.D.-Slinging. How do the people like their strait jackets? Few


dictators ever know. Salazar found out last fall when he suddenly
proclaimed freedom of the press and free elections for a new National
Assembly. After a few days' hesitation, opposition groups which had
scarcely suspected one another's existence came out of the underground.
Two weeks after the proclamation, in a rented schoolroom on Lisbon's
Rua do Bemformoso, the first meeting of the Movimento Unidade
Democratica (M.U.D.) was held. Much to M.U.D.'s surprise, supporters
poured in by the thousands. Every paper except two Government sheets
supported M.U.D. in a campaign of invective against Salazar, who was
shocked by the hatred he had fomented by 20 years of suppression.

When the Government realized that it might be beaten at the polls, it


made three decisions that stopped M.U.D.: 1) refusal to postpone the
elections long enough for M.U.D. to organize a campaign ; 2) refusal to
open the voting registration books, long neglected by many Portuguese,
who scorned controlled elections; and 3) warnings that, whatever the
outcome at the polls, the new freedom would end on the day after the
election. M.U.D. refused to play under those rules; only Salazar's
candidates appeared on the ballots. German-trained political police
pounced on opposition party headquarters, took recalcitrants to jail,
snapped muzzles back on newspapers. 'Army officers who had enrolled in
M.U.D. were demoted; "disloyal" students were flunked. Fear replaced
brief hope as the country slipped lack into bitter, sullen acquiescence,
with little chance that Salazar would ever make another gesture toward
keeping his old promise that his dictatorship was merely a "transition."
Salazar, at 57, had now become dictator for life, unless revolt unseated
him.

The Little Priest. Other modern dictators had been men so evil that their
personalities obscured the inherent evil of dictatorship. Franco was a
barrack-room bully, Mussolini a strutting iiar, Hitler a ranting sadist, and
Stalin a bloody-minded professor of the art of power. But Salazar was a
virtuous man—selfless, intelligent, efficient. If despotism could be
benevolent, Salazar's character was ideal material for "the good
dictator." Born at Santa Comba Dao, not far from Europe's second oldest
university, in a typical pink-walled Portuguese Village, he had made such
good marks in grade school that his peasant mother, whom he
worshiped, called him "the little priest." He entered a seminary, but later
decided he had no vocation for the priesthood and became an economics
instructor at Coimbra University.

In 1926 he got a first unpalatable taste of politics. National finances were


in chaos after 20 changes of government in five years. Salazar was invited
to come to Lisbon to straighten them out. He took a look at the
parliamentary confusion and, in deep disgust, demanded a free hand with
the Treasury. Refused, he caught the next train back to the sedge-lined
banks of the Mondego. He expressed his contempt for Lisbon's attempts
at democracy and said that "one of the greatest mistakes of the 19th
Century (which created the 'citizen'—an individual isolated from the
family, the class, the cultural milieu, etc.) was to suppose that English . . .
democracy was . . . capable of adaptation to all European peoples."

At the end of two years, continued chaos resolved itself into a


government shakeup, and mild, aristocratic General Antonio Oscar de
Fragoso Carmona became President. This besashed and epauletted
figurehead (still President in name today) made Salazar Minister of
Finance, with extraordinary powers, which he used to make himself
dictator of the nation.

Salazar began immediately to construct his Estado Novo. He announced


that the New State would be based on two great calls for social reform—
the Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII and the Quadragesima Anno of
Pius XI (see RELIGION). But however lofty may have been his
inspiration, Salazar's execution was on a quite different pattern, one
already known and hated as Fascism: free thought was abolished, the
individual became subordinated to the state, the human bill of rights was
suppressed and the secret police became the main arm of government.
Soon little boys, well-shod and sporting Balilla-like uniforms, were
marching in the wake of Salazar's blackshirt-type Legido (Legion), which
gave the stiff-arm salute and chanted: "Who leads? SALAZAR!"

The Quiet Life. It is doubtful if Salazar likes either the salute or the
slogan. Unlike all other modern dictators, he hates parades, pomp or
cheers. When he rides to ceremonies with President Carmona, the old
soldier preens and beams; Salazar slinks back in the car, a scowl on his
handsome face with the Savonarola-hard mouth. Asked why he refused
to respond to cheers, Salazar gave a characteristic answer: "I could not
flatter the people without being a traitor to my own conscience. Our
regime is popular but it is not a government of the masses, being neither
influenced nor directed by them. These good people who, moved by the
excitement of the occasion, cheer me one day, may rise in rebellion the
next day for equally passing reasons. . . ."

Salazar has never married and, until very recently, there has been no
woman in his life. Several years ago he adopted two little girls. He rises at
6:30 every morning, has a roll and coffee and attends Mass, then goes to
his office, where his first chore is to arrange the flowers on his desk. He
works until 1 p.m. With a light lunch he has port, usually diluted, and
never more than three-quarters of a glass. After lunch he rests and takes
an hour's walk, sometimes with his adopted daughters, sometimes alone
and unguarded on Lisbon's streets. At 4 he returns to his office and works
till 7:30. All important decisions of all Ministries are made by Salazar.

Woman in the Garden. Salazar relieves this dull routine by tending his
magnificent flower garden at Santa Comba. It was there, and through the
medium of the flowers he loves, that he met the woman who has in the
last few months made an extraordinary difference in his life. When he
decided to give a reception for Dona Amelia de Orleans e Braganga,
mother of Don Duarte Nufio, the pretender to Portugal's throne, his
advisers suggested that the Countess de la Seca, a widow with two young
children, should act as hostess. When the Countess took over the flower
arrangement for the party, Salazar was so impressed by her taste that he
wrote her a short note. She replied with a long letter and Salazar asked
permission to call on her. The Countess received him at tea. Since then
she has been official hostess at his social affairs, which have increased in
number, and his manner has become less introspective and austere. He
takes more interest in clothes and food, and even in the pomp and
trappings of office.

The most significant fact about Salazar's relationship with the Countess is
that not even the gossipy Portuguese, not even Salazar's thousands of
enemies, sug gest that she is his mistress. His reputation for piety is so
great that a liaison is considered unthinkable. Many Portuguese hope the
rumors that he intends to marry are true; they say marriage might
humanize the man whom most of them fear, but whom few love.

The Lust for Power. In recent months Salazar has seemed to need a
mellowing influence more than ever. He was so disillusioned by the
adverse criticism in last fall's brief interlude of freedom that he almost
quit his job. His attitude toward public office lost much of its humility; he
felt now that he really understood the worst in his people, that he had
plumbed the depths of popular perfidy and ingratitude. He used to think
that he had been called by Providence to save his country; he now feels a
martyr condemned (because he alone is right) to save Portugal in spite of
herself. A touch of arrogance always present in his make-up (he never lets
associates or even visitors smoke in his presence) has been growing
noticeably. Now he seems to enjoy the power to suppress criticism.

This tendency spells more influence for the extreme right wing of
Salazar's Cabinet. The Army clique, headed by bull-necked Lieut. Colonel
Santos Costa, a fanatic totalitarian, is important, although Portugal's
military prowess has been dormant for four centuries; in World War I
the Portugese soldiers were considered by many critics to have been the
least effective of the 16 fighting nationalities. Costa and the Interior
Minister, Lieut. Colonel Julio Botelho Moniz, who bosses the political
police, work on Salazar's fear of "chaos" (the familiar justification of
dictators) to get his permission for more & more restrictive measures
against possible rebels.

A relatively liberal wing in the Cabinet took heart during the period of
freedom. The cleavage between it and Costa's followers is widening, and
Salazar may soon have to choose between them.

The Long, Languid Reign. The 8,000,000 Portuguese whom Salazar


rules inherit the memory, but not the courageous spirit, of Magellan,
Prince Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama. After the great age of
discovery, plague, famine and emigration sapped the nation's strength.
Portugal's 16th Century one-eyed demi-Homer. Luis de Camoens, noting
the decline, asked in his Lusiad:

. . . And has one languid reign

Fix'd in your tainted, souls so deep a stain

That now, degenerate from your noble sires,

The last dim spark of Lusian flame expires?

The "one languid reign" prolonged itself through generations of more or


less useless kings and dictators. Portugal's economy was precariously
maintained by cork and port and citrus fruit and sardines from the
homeland, and coffee and sisal from the colonies. Her political survival
was assured by the alliance with Britain, which expected no active
military help from Portugal, but considered it as the most reliable
bridgehead to the Continent.

Pushed into history's backwaters, the Portuguese have quietly tenanted


one of the loveliest of lands, the long Atlantic coast, the purple-brown
hills, the tall pines and the gardens of roses, carnations and bougainvillea
which they tend with rare skill.

But they have never been masters of this land, and Salazar seems to think
they never will be. He has said they were "excessively sentimental . . .
have a horror of all discipline . . . lack continuity of effort and tenacity
[but with] proper discipline and control, there is nothing they cannot be
taught."

Teacher Salazar is aware that there are other teachers with other ideas of
discipline and control. He has recently said: "The world, weary and
disillusioned, is sweeping half-measures from the political field . . .
forming up clearly on the Right or on the Left." Salazar's own policies
have encouraged both the disillusionment and the drift to the Right and
Left extremes. Last month in Lisbon an old streetcar motorman, who
earns $30 a month after 25 years' service, summed it up: "I ask only for
the minimum to enable me and my family to live. Salazar gives us only
the right to die. . . . Yes, I belong to the Anti-Fascist Unity Council ... I
can't tell you how. The M.U.D.? Too much lawyers, too many words, too
afraid of the law.

"We are working with the Army. It is composed of workers, too—and our
day will come. Are we Communists? I do not know ... we are for liberty
and decent human life."

It looked as if the good dictator, like the bad ones, only created what he
wanted most to destroy.

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