Terror and fear and assassination were tried and tested tools used by oppressors throughout history. Anti-colonial and liberation struggles were no different. The colonial powers tried all means to stave off independence. Similarly oppressors were targeted for assassination too, especially in Europe. Assassination and massacres were used to try to cling on to colonies or vassal states throughout history. That included assassination at home and abroad.
The atrocities committed by the French and British empires are well known – Germany too, but what about the lesser known colonial powers such as the Netherlands and Belgium? Leopold II’s crimes in the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) are well known now, but Belgium also ruled Ruanda-Urundi (now Rwanda and Burundi). The decolonisation process was appalling and contributed to the genocide that followed. The Dutch built its empire through genocide and slavery in the Banda Islands (now part of Indonesia). It also had an effect on Africa as the Dutch brought race based slavery to South Africa in the 17th Century.
Portugal had an even longer history of colonialism in Africa – centuries before the Scramble for Africa. A small country – the smallest of the traditional European powers, Portugal made its name through explorer-adventurers and through exploitation of its colonies resources and people. Slavery and brutality played a large part in its rise to prominence. However, it failed to keep pace with other European empires and became underdeveloped compared to them. This made it more dependent on keeping and exploiting its colonies in Africa.
Portuguese Colonialism and Fascism
Portugal’s history of colonialism and slavery in Africa is a long one. Bartolomeu Dias is credited – wrongly – with discovering the Cape of Good Hope (see Rewriting History – Meet Necho II and the Phoenicians, and Bartolomeu Dias at https://fittedin.org/fittedinwp/2020/09/27/rewriting-history/). But it went further as that ‘discovery’ played an important part in Portugal gaining a trading advantage to lucrative commodities in the Middle East, Asia, especially India and crucially Indonesia (then known as the East Indies). Portugal played a big role in Trans-Atlantic slavery and a lesser one in the other slavery diaspora to pollute Africa.
It also contributed to the rise of authoritarian government in the 1920s, leading to it enduring a fascist dictatorship for the best part of half a century. It benefited from the Scramble for Africa too. With slavery abolished, white supremacy remained through colonialism, becoming worse as fascism reared its head in Portugal in 1926.
Portugal had fared badly in the Scramble for Africa. It soon came to a head as Portugal claimed a historic right based on ‘discovery’ to land linking its colonies of Angola and Mozambique. This included large swathes of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which Britain claimed by occupation. That led to the Ultimatum of January 1890. Portugal backed down on its claim which led to resentment and the fall of the Portuguese government as it was considered a breach of the Treaty of Windsor (1386) and a national humiliation. Treaties and discord continued for a decade until the Boer Wars obliged Britain to offer better terms. Nevertheless, the Portuguese government never recovered from the Ultimatum. It also contributed to the assassination of the King Carlos on February 1st 1908 – his heir Luís Filipe also died in the attack in Lisbon.
A few days before the assassination a coalition of opponents of the government and monarchy attempted a coup aimed at forcing the abdication of King Carlos I. Its leaders were imprisoned due to arrogant and incompetent organisation. Nevertheless, the attack on the King went ahead resulting in the assassination of King Carlos I and his heir and in further imprisonment of the coup plotters, but the new government snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Two of the assassins, Alfredo Luís da Costa and Manuel Buiça were shot by police and died from their injuries.
The new King Manuel II demanded the resignation of the previous government, causing meaning that the actions of Manuel II legitimised the assassinations by rewarding the coup plotters for their actions. Although the assassinations shocked Portugal and other Europeans, including Britain’s King Edward VII, the backlash against the coalition of opponents of the government and monarchy didn’t last. A judicial investigation into the assassinations uncovered other participants but the report was ‘lost.’ Even Manuel II’s copy was stolen years later. By then it was too late to save the Portuguese system and monarchy. Manuel was the last King of Portugal and he had been overthrown around two decades before his copy went missing.
A prominent member of the Progressive Party and later Progressive Dissidence, José Maria de Alpoim, actively participated in organising the coup attempts and eventually admitted providing weapons used in the assassinations. He fled into exile, but returned in 1910 after the plots bore fruit in sensational fashion. On October 5th 1910 the Portuguese Republican Party organised another coup d’état – the third since January 1908. This one completed the efforts of the previous two, which included the assassinations of Carlos I and Luís Filipe. The Ultimatum of 1890, combined with financial crisis and political instability eroded confidence I the government and monarchy, resulting in the conditions needed for several soldiers and sailors to rebel against the government on October 3rd and 4th. It proved fatal for the previous government. The Republic was declared the following day. At least 50 insurgents died as a result of the 1910 Revolution. The King intended to go to Porto and fight for his throne, but he was overruled and the Royal Yacht Amélia went to Gibraltar, ending centuries of Portuguese monarchy. First Portuguese Republic was established. Its Royal Family remained in exile despite attempts to restore the monarchy – sometimes without the support of the deposed King. There were several attempts at restoration – all were unsuccessful. The former King Manuel II lived long enough for that republic to also fall in a coup d’état but there was no restoration of the monarchy in 1926. The former King Manuel died on July 2nd 1932. Portugal’s monarchy was never restored.
 King Sebastian, the last of the Aviz monarchs of Portugal died in battle in 1578 on an ill-advised crusade in Morocco. He was the last Portuguese King to die a violent death before the assassination of Carlos I.
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