Portuguese Colonial War

The Portuguese Colonial War (1961–1974) was a conflict in which Portugal, ruled by the dictatorial Estado Novo, fought to retain control over its overseas colonies in an era where other colonial empires were conceding to decolonisation. Instead, Salazar’s regime insisted that Portugal was a “pluricontinental” country, with its overseas colonies forming integral parts of Portugal itself (a line not too far removed from what France says about colonies like New Caledonia). The actual fighting of this war took place in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau. Other countries, including Cuba in particular, also sent fighters and aid to help the independence struggle.

The war killed an estimated 8,800 Portu­guese troops (6,300 ethnic Portu­guese soldiers and 2,500 from the African colonies), 26,000 independence fighters, and 110,000 civilians (50,000 in Mozambique, 50,000 in Angola, 5,000 in Guinea-Bissau, and 3,000 white settlers).

The war led to, and ended with, the Carnation Revolution, when the Estado Novo regime was overthrown in Portugal. Discontent had been growing within the Portuguese military as to why they were continuing to fight an “unwinnable” war against colonised people who clearly didn’t want them there, and ultimately (in 1974) there was a military coup against the dictatorial regime. 300,000 white settlers were transported back to Portugal, and Portugal renounced its claim over its foreign terr­i­tor­ies. In East Timor, this resulted in the territory’s invasion and annexation by Indonesia. There were further ramifications as well – the white majority regime in Southern Rhodesia was only able to limp along a scant few years more without Portuguese support, and apartheid in South Africa was defeated 10–15 years after that (with them suffering military defeats in former Portuguese territories in the meantime, like in Angola in 1987–88).

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