Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die
I was a small child when I first heard Salazar, the Portuguese dictator, spoken of. This was in the early 1960s, when I began to accompany my father on road trips he took with our family once or twice a year to Lisbon to visit and monitor the operation of the Portuguese branch office of our family’s life insurance business. I will never forget the fascination these trips held for my young mind: the sense of adventure that came over me as I traveled halfway across Spain with my parents and siblings on poor roads; our stays at the Parador in Mérida, one of the first in Spain (1933); the cumbersome and bureaucracy-laden crossing of the border with Portugal between Badajoz and Elvas; and finally, the arrival in a different country with freeways and infrastructure that clearly surpassed those of Spain at the time, when (contrary to the way things are now), from the border to Lisbon, Cascais, and Estoril (where we usually stayed), Portugal seemed a wealthier, cleaner, and more prosperous country than our own. Looking back now, perhaps I could attribute these reminiscences to an idealized image in the mind of the child I was then, but my father took pains to explain to us that a little over twenty years earlier, Spain had suffered a bloody and destructive civil war, followed by years of militaristic autarky and economic interventionism which could hardly be compared with anything that had happened in Portugal. In short, to help us understand, he told us that in Portugal, a professor named Salazar was in charge and was “better and not as bad” as General Franco, who had won the war and was in charge in Spain. And even if, at the time, I was unable to fully grasp what my father wanted to communicate to us, it became almost inevitable for my siblings and me, as the naïve children that we were, to associate the ideas of Salazar, prosperity, and Portugal. The fascination we felt for the country is even easier to understand in light of two considerations: first, my father’s explanation to us that during the civil war, my family had been able to survive in France thanks to the loyalty those in the Portuguese branch office of our company had shown toward its founder, my grandfather, Jesús Huerta Peña; and second, the fact that Don Juan de Borbón lived in exile in Estoril, and my father, who supported him, had, from the time of his youth, been a great “Don Juan monarchist” liberal (and, at the age of only eighteen, had been jailed for several days and fined by Franco for that very reason). The fascination my siblings and I shared combined with the delight with which we each received, as a gift from our father and grandfather, a small gold coin. At the time, unlike in Spain, where it was utterly prohibited, such coins could be freely purchased in the precious metal shops that abounded on many Portuguese streets, particularly in the “Rua d’Ouro” and the “Rua da Prata” (gold and silver streets) in the “Baixa” (downtown area) of Lisbon.
The years passed, and later, as a young adult, I was able to closely follow the evolution of our neighboring country, particularly beginning in the 1970s, with the “Carnation Revolution” of April 25, 1974, which established democracy in Portugal and brought about the definitive collapse of four decades of Salazarism. Over the years, and even decades, that followed the revolution—frenetic years of economic and social instability in which Portugal flirted with socialism/communism, harassed its entrepreneurial class, and consumed the capital accumulated during the former stage—the situation was radically reversed, and Portugal became a bleaker, more impoverished country that contrasted more and more with neighboring Spain, which was becoming increasingly strong and prosperous. During those years, a blurry and ambivalent picture was forming in my libertarian mind concerning the Portuguese dictator Salazar: on the one hand, I rejected the corporative, paternalistic “Estado Novo” he had created; but on the other hand, I never forgot the words my father, a true lover of liberty, had spoken of the dictator Salazar.
This image remained in my mind until very recently, when, upon reading an intriguing review in the American magazine Reason, I ordered and received from Amazon a copy of Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die (Lond
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