Obituary: Franco Nogueira
Wednesday 21 April 1993
The coincidental deaths of a number of notable Portuguese writers - Manuel da Fonseca, Antonio Jose Saraiva, Natalia Correia and Antonio Quadros - within a week, did not diminish the impact in Portugal of the news of the death of Franco Nogueira, himself a writer and career diplomat, who made his name in the 1960s as the foreign minister and close collaborator of the prime minister Antonio Salazar.
As foreign minister, Nogueira resisted pressure brought to bear at the United Nations and elsewhere to bring an end to the centuries-old Portuguese rule over a far-flung overseas empire, which included Mozambique and Angola, comprising an area 21 times bigger than Portugal itself. In his books, made available in English and other languages, Nogueira in some respects enlarged on the doctrines of the philosopher-dictator Salazar, which were embodied in the regime's constitution, whereby the remnants of the old overseas empire were merely 'provinces' of a single country. In Portugal and in the colonies themselves the simple advocacy of separation or independence, if it ever passed the scrutiny of censorship committees or the vigilance of the PIDE (security police), was punishable by 'preventive measures' of detention and sentences of up to 20 years in prison. But the defence of such bizarre status at the United Nations and within Nato and Efta, at the height of the Cold War and anti-colonialism, required considerable diplomatic persistence. This was achieved mainly by using the extension, or otherwise, of the strategic facilities in the Azores as a counter bargain for US recognition of Portugal's unique status as a 'single state' where the 'Mother Country' was territorially appreciably smaller than the sum of its 'overseas provinces'.
Nogueira's diplomacy might have counted on the cynical calculation that the US, seconded by Britain and other Western powers, had a vested interest in avoiding the instability that would ensue in Portugal and the war-torn African colonies, with the collapse of the regime. But even after relations with Britain became strained over Portugal's 'neutrality' over Rhodesia, this diplomatic expediency prevailed until Salazar became incapacitated by a stroke and Nogueira was replaced by his successor Professor Caetano.
Nogueira's life was made up not of separate chapters, but of parallel careers, starting in the 1940s when he became known as a literary critic in left-leaning periodicals and as charge d'affaires in Tokyo (1946-50), consul general in London (1955-58), and director general of political affairs until 1961, when he was appointed Foreign Minister, thus becoming Salazar's right-hand man at the crucial period of the colonial wars and mounting international pressures.
After the April 1974 military pronunciamento that led to the restoration of democracy and the consequent decolonisation of all so-called 'overseas provinces' Nogueira was briefly arrested and eventually allowed to take himself into exile in London, where he resumed a directorship with the British-built and owned Benguela Railways.
He dedicated his years in exile in London to writing an extensive biography of Salazar, published in seven volumes between 1975 and 1987, widely regarded as his masterpiece, and only weeks before his death he published his last book, significantly entitled The Last Judgement, in which he updated his ultra-nationalist views in the light of the trend of events in the newly independent countries in Africa and the more recent controversies over acceleration of European integration within the EC.
Curiously enough, I came to know Franco Nogueira during his exile in London when he was writing his biography of Salazar while I, a former political prisoner and exile from the national-colonialist regime he served, was writing a book on General H. Delgado, the former presidential candidate and leader of the democratic resistance who was assassinated in 1965 by a group of PIDE agents. He confirmed to me that despite his position as foreign minister, he was genuinely unaware of facts that only Salazar and a small group within the PIDE knew. The editor of Publico, the most modern Portuguese quality newspaper, commented on the fact that President Soares had sent his condolences and a wreath to Nogueira's bereaved family:
The moral superiority of democracies over dictatorships is that, in addition to the well- known everyday advantages, democracies are free from resentment and more ready to forgive those who persecuted democrats.
I found Franco Nogueira to be a man of great intellect and knowledge, whose creative qualities would perhaps have been better applied to literature, rather than to the dreams and causes of empire and dictatorship.
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