Letter from Salazar to Menzies

Lisbon, 1 March 1963


[matter omitted]1

With regard to self-determination, I would like to observe that an excellent beginning for the Committee's work would be to define the precise meaning of the terms it uses. In the motions voted in the recent sessions of the General Assembly against Portugal and the Portuguese territories, the demand for self-determination is equivalent, because it is simultaneous, to the granting of independence. But freedom of this type, granted to various peoples, precludes all possible options, leaving the peoples concerned only with that of forming independent states, even if these are politically and economically non-viable. The members of the Committee may be convinced that, by demanding self-determination at random, they are working for the freedom of men, but basically they are denying them freedom.

[matter omittedj2

I should think that the greatest concern of Australia would be not a disturbance of order, not an attack on Portuguese sovereignty in Timor, but to know who afterwards would exercise sovereignty in that territory. Given the fact that Timor cannot be an independent State, the territory either continues to be a part of Portugal as an autonomous province that it is or is annexed to the Republic of Indonesia; there does not seem to be any foreseeable hypothesis of an Australian dominion or condominium. However good and intimate Australian relations with Indonesia may be, a Portuguese Timor seems incomparably safer and more attentive to the interests of Australia than the same Timor integrated in that Republic. We continue to see the problem in the light of our relations and of the official statements made by the Australian Government during the Second World War.

In fact, the Minister of Foreign Affairs stated in Parliament, on the 27th of November, 1941, that Australia had a very direct interest in preserving the complete political independence of Timor and that Australia could not see with equanimity any development which threatened the integrity of that part of the Portuguese empire. In the note of the British Embassy in Lisbon, dated the 14th of September, 1943, we were told that His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia trusted that the Portuguese Government would share the view that the two Governments should concert between them measures for a common defence of Timor and Australia.

This was the line of thought of the Australian Government of those days, and it does not appear that the world situation enables it now to think differently.

It seemed to me that Your Excellency's letter expresses a conviction that Portugal's nonĀ­ compliance with the injunctions of the UNO will provoke a threat to peace in the territory. By whom and why? President Soekamo and his representatives have declared more than once that they do not entertain any desire to possess Portuguese Timor and we cannot doubt their word. This seems to exclude direct attack by their military forces. It remains to be seen if Soekamo will be able, without betraying his word, to accept the territory, should it be offered to him. Given the expansionist fever which we witness in many quarters, there is always a possibility of national or foreign agents undertaking the work of preparing manifestations of popular will to that end.

Your Excellency has perhaps been informed that this has been and is being tried and, since the Consul for Australia in Dili has maintained intimate relations with his Indonesian colleague, I presume that he could not have failed to convey to Your Excellency all the details of these attempts. In these circumstances, I would myself be very grateful if Your Excellency thought it possible, and useful to the Portuguese Government, to acquaint the latter with what Your Excellency's Consul may have found out in that respect. But the attempts to which I refer and the work of subversion which is being promoted have nothing to do with any promises of self-determination. On the contrary, these would be a pretext to unleash movements and hold out threats to the territory.

But, then, if an Australian dominion is impossible, if the independence of Timor (fed with large sums of money given annually out of the metropolitan budget) is impossible, if Portuguese sovereignty is the only safe one for Australia, what does the latter think of doing or what can it do to maintain the status quo? Its presence in the Committee of 24 can be precious, if it divests itself of the idea that the people of Timor are in a position to express their choice as regards international relations and to define their internal statute, and that recognition of such a position would result in altering the situation in the territory in a manner that would be favourable to Australia. A little over a year ago the United Nations made the disastrous experiment of Goa. The sincerity of the numerous votes which the Indian Union cast in the course of years in favour of self-determination of the Portuguese State of India led to the annexation of the territory and to the loss of the freedoms it enjoyed as a part of Portugal.

I am very grateful to Your Excellency for the friendship towards Portugal which you have shown once again by your letter and I crave your indulgence for troubling you with these considerations. But I think they are of some use for the understanding of the problems which we are facing.

Please, Excellency, accept the assurance of my highest consideration.

[NAA: Al838, 49/l/3, v]