Portugal emerged as a country in 1143, after a 15 year rebellion by Dom Afonso Henriques (Afonso I). Afonso Henriques defeated his mother Countess Teresa of Portugal, regent of the County (Condado) of Portugal and loyal to the Kingdom of Leon, at the battle of Sao Mamede (Batalha de Sao Mamede) near the town of Guimaraes, in June of 1128. Countess Teresa was imprisoned and exiled by her son, and died in 1130. Guimaraes is therefore known as the birthplace city of Portugal.
However, the true test of an independent nation did not happened until 1385. Joao Mestre de Avis (John of Avis), with the help of legendary supreme constable Nuno Alvares Pereira, defeated the Castilians at the epic Aljubarrota battle, where the Castilians outnumbered the Portuguese 6:1. John I (Dom Joao I) was crowned King of Portugal. John I along with his sons, Duarte (to became the king in succession), Henry The Navigator, and Afonso started the “Golden Decades” of worldwide discoveries (15th and 16th centuries).
A 1911 revolution deposed the monarchy with the assassination of King Manuel I and his son. For most of the next six decades, repressive governments ran the country. Antonio Salazar a right wing fascist ran the country with an iron fist and a austere economic plan which slowly buried Portugal deeper and deeper in its third world status within Europe. Salazar also held on to the colonies of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea, which contributed not just to the deplorable state of those countries, but also to a colonial war which killed hundreds of thousands of Portuguese men.
In 1974, a left-wing military coup installed broad democratic reforms, which had the opposite effect. Too much freedom, too quickly, placed the country in total “democratic chaos”. Union bosses, corrupt politicians, and left-wing and right-wing extremists took turns plundering the country, with disastrous economic and labor plans. Starting in 1976, Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies, and a wave of refugees were poorly assimilated into a society that does not value ethnic diversity to this day.
Successive governments led by communists, socialists and social-democrats took turns managing Portugal. Portugal joined the European Community in 1986, and with the large infusion of capital to bring the country above 3rd country status, prosperity and double digit economic growth in the late 80’s and early 90’s was achieved along with near zero employment rate. Joining the EC gave the country a boost, with a flurry of grants and investments that contributed to new roads and an overall upgrade of a dilapidated infrastructure. However it is estimated that only 36% of the funds contributed to this growth with 64% of the grants wasted in mismanagement and corruption.
Today Portugal is financially on its heels. Under the supervision of the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Portugal is desperately clinging to big budget cuts in pensions, health, education, all the while raising taxes and watching its unemployment ranks grow. Corruption has put some high-profile personalities in jail, such as former PM Jose Socrates and Espirito Santo Group Chief Salgado. Salaries and bonus of state owned companies continue to rise as do those any level of Government including the Assembly, making the People of Portugal uncomfortable. The office of the president spends lavishly with a 16 million Euro budget, and the office of the Ministry maintain its royal perks such a fleet of chauffeured BMWs and Mercedes in the thousands, as well as expenses accounts several times larger than the average salary wages in Portugal of around 500 Euros.
While the government tries the find its footing, the people of Portugal work. Portugal has great companies, national and multinationals, great innovators and inventors, and universities churning out great minds. It is its people’s characters and hard work what will continue to make up for intense corruption in government, state own monopolies, and public-private partnerships set up to employ ex-government officials.
It is the people of Portugal that makes it a great country and the ones that, with time, will bring to justice those who have continuously ransack its coffers and its people goodwill. The first step would be to revise the constitution, allow people to vote for their representatives, not the parties, end the subsidy and empowerment of its parties, and reduce the completely useless Assembly membership from 230 members to half or less.
Time will tell.