Antonio Salazar, the son of an estate manager, was born in Vimieiro, Portugal, on 28th April, 1889. He was educated in a seminary at Viseu and the University of Coimbra. He graduated in law in 1914 and eventually became a lecturer in economics at Coimbra.
General Antonio Carmona led a military coup in Portugal 1926. He became prime minister with dictatorial powers. In 1928 he was elected president for life by plebiscite. Salazar worked as Carmona's minister of finance. In 1932 Carmona passed his power to Salazar.
In 1933 Salazar introduced a new constitution that contained similarities to the fascist system that existed in Germany and Italy. With the support of the army and the security police Salazar held power for over 35 years. Salazar's economic policies greatly enhanced the wealth of the ruling oligarchy. At the same time Portugal became the poorest country in Europe.
On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War the Portuguese government of Salazar immediately supported the Nationalists in the struggle against the Popular Front government in Spain. Salazar feared that if the Republicans won the war his own authoritarian government would be under threat.
Salazar, concerned about the effect the events in Spain would have on his country, established a new militia that could serve as an auxiliary police. This new police force arrested dissidents and removed politically unreliable people from educational and governmental institutions.
Leaders of the Nationalist Army were allowed to negotiate with representatives from Nazi Germany in Portugal. After the signing of the Non-Intervention Agreement in September 1936, Salazar agreed that Germany could disguise the aid that it was giving by sending men, planes, tanks, and munitions via Lisbon. Salazar's police also arrested supporters of the Popular Front government living in Portugal. He also sealed off the Portuguese frontier to Republicans.
Although he came under considerable pressure from Britain and France, Salazar refused to allow international observers being stationed on the Portugal-Spain border. Officially he claimed that it would be a violation of Portugal sovereignty while in reality he did not want the world to know about the large amounts of military aid that was crossing into Spain.
Portugal remained neutral throughout the Second World War. In December 1942, the Japanese Army occupied the Portuguese territory of East Timor in the Pacific. Salazar refused to declare war on Japan but in 1943 did allow the Allies to use its territories in the Azores as military bases.
Salazar gave up power in 1968 through ill health. Antonio Salazar died in Lisbon on 27th July, 1970.