A republic on the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula in southwest Europe. Independence was established in 1095, and during the next two centuries it was expanded to its present borders. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese navigators and merchants led European overseas expansion. Portugal built an overseas empire that included Brazil and colonies in Africa, Arabia, India and the Far East. Portuguese power declined rapidly after 1580, although Portugal maintained much of its colonial empire until 1975. Portugal was a kingdom from 1139 until 1910 when the republic was established.
From 1932 to 1968, Portugal was ruled by Premier Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, an authoritarian dictator. After 1968, Salazar's policies were continued by his successors. The regime became increasingly unpopular, largely because of the country's debilitating wars against nationalist movements in the African colonies. In 1974, a military coup overthrew the government, and the new liberal regime quickly granted independence to Angola, the Cape Verde Islands, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome-Principe.
Autonomy was granted
to Macau, Madeira and the Azores. The collapse of authority in
Portuguese Timor brought that territory's occupation by Indonesia in
1976. The government moved increasingly to the left during 1975, and the
communists, despite setbacks at the polls, increased their influence. In
November, a counter-coup halted this trend, and free elections in 1976
gave Portugal a socialist government. Portugal's swift change from a
rigidly controlled rightist dictatorship, through a flirtation with
communism, to a socialist democracy brought enormous economic strains.
In recent years, though, there has been considerable progress.