Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 1
Status: Free
Population: 10,400,000
GNI/Capita: $10,900
Life Expectancy: 77
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (94 percent), other [including Protestant] (6 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Portuguese, African minority
Capital: Lisbon


The government was strongly criticized for its handling of massive forest fires that swept across the country during the summer of 2003. Allegations of organized child abuse in state-run orphanages created a national crisis as a number of well-known politicians and television stars were indicted. Following his Spanish counterpart, Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Portugal was proclaimed a republic in 1910, after King Manuel II abdicated during a bloodless revolution. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar became prime minister in 1932 and ruled the country as a fascist dictatorship until 1968, when his lieutenant, Marcello Caetano, replaced him. During the "Marcello Spring," repression and censorship were relaxed somewhat and a liberal wing developed inside the one-party National Assembly. In 1974, a bloodless coup by the Armed Forces Movement, which opposed the ongoing colonial wars in Mozambique and Angola, overthrew Caetano. A transition to democracy began with the election of a constitutional assembly that adopted a democratic constitution in 1976. A civilian government was formally established in 1982 after a revision of the constitution brought the military under civilian rule, curbed the president's powers, and abolished the unelected Revolutionary Council. Portugal became a member of the European Economic Community (later the European Union) in 1986, and in early 2002, the euro replaced the escudo. In 1999, Portugal handed over its last overseas territory, Macao, to the Chinese, ending a long history of colonial rule.

During the last parliamentary elections in March 2002, more than five parties won seats. The center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) took a narrow lead with 40 percent of the vote, followed by the Socialist Party (PS) with 38 percent, the small Popular Party with around 9 percent, and the Communists with 7 percent. The PSD formed a governing alliance with the right-of-center Popular Party, effectively ending six year of PS government. Only about 63 percent of those registered voted.

In the summer of 2003, the government was blamed for acting ineffectively to stem the largest forest fires in modern Portuguese history. The fires destroyed about 10 percent of the country's forests, killing 18 people and causing over one billion dollars in damage. In reaction to the criticism, the prime minister called for a radical restructuring of the forest management procedures. The country also received money from the European Union solidarity fund to help pay for reconstruction after the fires.

A pedophilia scandal in the long-established Casa Pia orphanages rocked the country in early 2003. The scandal hurt, in particular, the opposition PS, whose deputy leader was in prison on charges of pedophilia for four months before being released. The allegations go back 30 years and are considered the greatest upheaval in Portuguese society since the revolution of 1974.

Prime Minister Barroso gave unequivocal support for the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq, even hosting the Azores summit that effectively marked the declaration of hostilities. In the fall, Portugal sent a contingent of the National Republican Guard to Iraq. The 128 police officers, though, were rerouted from their original destination, Nasiriya, after a suicide bomb at an Italian paramilitary base there killed over two dozen people.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The Portuguese can change their government democratically. Turnout at the polls, however, has dropped in recent years. The 230 members of the unicameral legislature, the Assembly of the Republic, are elected every four years by popular vote using a system of proportional representation. The president is popularly elected for a five-year term, renewable once. The president receives advice from the Council of State, which includes six senior civilian officers, former presidents elected under the 1976 constitution, five members chosen by the assembly, and five members selected by the president. While the president holds no executive powers, he can delay legislation with a veto and dissolve the assembly to call early elections. The constitution was amended in 1997 to allow immigrants to vote in presidential elections. The Portuguese have the right to organize in different political parties and other political groupings of their choice, except for fascist organizations. The autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira are relatively independent, with their own political and administrative regimes, and their own legislative and executive powers.

There is relatively little corruption. Transparency International ranked Portugal 25 out of 133 countries in its 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution, and laws against insulting the government or the armed forces are rarely enforced. Commercial television has been making gains in recent years, providing serious competition for the public broadcasting channels that lack funds. Internet access was not restricted.

Although the country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and forbids religious discrimination. The Religious Freedom Act that was adopted in 2001 provides religions that have been established in the country for at least 30 years (or recognized internationally for at least 60 years) with a number of benefits formerly reserved for the Catholic Church, such as tax exemptions, legal recognition of marriage and other rites, and respect for traditional holidays. Academic freedom is respected.

There is freedom of assembly, and citizens can participate in demonstrations and open public discussion. Workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike for any reason, including political ones. A public sector strike in November 2002 and a general strike a month later crippled the country. Both strikes were to protest a proposed labor law that would make it easier to hire and fire workers.

The constitution provides for an independent court system. However, in late 1999, the government began to take some exceptional measures to deal with a back-log of nearly one million cases pending in the judicial system. A number of prominent politicians signed a manifesto in July demanding an investigation into the judicial system during the controversy over the current pedophilia scandal. The manifesto drew attention to the leaking of information during the prosecution process of the scandal and also questioned the length of time that suspects can be held for interrogation.

The constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law and nondiscrimination. However, Amnesty International issued a report in 2003 that expresses concern about a number of human rights abuses in the country, including unlawful police shootings, deaths in police custody, and poor prison conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Other issues include allegations of racist abuse by police and the slow pace of the administration of justice. However, according to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, Portugal has taken a number of steps to combat racism, including passing laws against discrimination and launching initiatives that seek to promote the integration of immigrants and Roma (Gypsies) into Portuguese society.

Portugal is a destination and transit point for trafficked persons, particularly women from Eastern Europe and former Portuguese colonies in South America and Africa. In 2000, a law was introduced that makes domestic violence a public crime and obliges the police to follow through on reports of battering. There are also penalties for sexual harassment in the workplace. Despite these gains, women make only 77 percent of men's earnings. During the election in 2002, about 19 percent of the 230 seats in the legislature were held by women.

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