Portugal has eagerly waited for the first major policy statement by Premier Marcello Caetano. He took over as the country's head of government 21 months ago, after a stroke crippled António de Oliveira Salazar and ended the old dictator's 36 years of repressive rule. Portugal's democrats and intellectuals hoped that Caetano would announce the liberalizing reforms that he had promised in his inaugural address.
But those hopes were rudely jarred last week. In a speech to the National Assembly, Caetano at times sounded disturbingly like his predecessor. Declared a leading member of the outlawed opposition: "He is a second Salazar."
It was perhaps an overly hasty judgement. In some matters, to be sure, the new Premier echoed Salazar's old policies. Caetano insists that Portugal's determination to retain its African "provinces" was a matter of national policy and not just the whim of an old man.
"Some people in various countries have thought that persistence was simply the result of Dr. Salazar's personal obstinacy," said the new Premier. "But the truth is that Portugal's position could not have been otherwise." To the cheers of the hawkish National Assembly, Caetano pledged to continue the seven-year anti-insurgency wars in Angola, Portuguese Guinea and Mozambique, which last year soaked up some 40% of the country's $817 million budget.
Caetano's colonial policy means, of course, that Portugal will continue to lack the funds at home to undertake much-needed public works and industrialization. Similarly, the repressive overseas policy impedes progress toward liberalization at home. At the same time, Caetano, who already has allowed the return from exile of Salazar's most prominent political enemy, Lawyer Mario Scares, and eased the press censorship somewhat, pledged that he would submit specific reform bills to the National Assembly before its present term ends next April. Portuguese liberals want Caetano to abolish all forms of censorship, guarantee civil rights for all citizens, and allow opposition politicians to participate in the next elections for the National Assembly.
Though Caetano was silent about the contents of his bills, he was remarkably candid about the pressures that he faces from Portugal's archconservative military and landowners on one side and the restless liberals on the other. "We have sought to create a political climate free from hatred or retaliations that will permit normal relations between those who profess different opinions," said Caetano.
"Of course, some people have shown alarm, thinking that we are going too far, while others consider that what has been done is too timid." For the time being, the Premier seemed determined to keep to himself his own view of which course, between those extremes, Portugal should now take.