The Lajes Summit, in December 1971, on Terceira Island, was the center of the world.
It was at Estalagem da Serreta, now abandoned, that Marcelo Caetano received the American and French presidents, Nixon and Pompidou, at a summit to confront the economic crisis of the time.
French President Georges Pompidou arrived in the Azores in a torrential rain that left the hosts and dozens of reporters and cameramen waiting for him on the runway with water at his ankles.
But that Sunday, December 12, 1971, those present had the privilege of being among the first mortals to see the world’s most advanced aircraft landing: the supersonic Concorde, then still on experimental flights, used by Pompidou to display the prestige of a France that was then the leader of Europe.
Hours later, Richard Nixon was even more fortunate with the weather: he and his inseparable security adviser, Henry Kissinger, came down from Air Force One, greeted by a clear sky. Marcelo Caetano exulted with joy. For a long time a Portuguese head of government had not appeared at the height of world politics as in those three days, between December 12 and 14, 1971.
Europe and America were grappling with a deep economic and financial crisis that experts did not hesitate to rate as the most serious since World War II. The public enemy number 1 of the international monetary system was inflation – a monster fueled by the astronomical expenses of the Vietnam War in the US, and the welfare state in the six Common Market countries (as was then known the European Economic Community, predecessor to the European Union) and in England, which would enter the EEC in January 1973.
To alleviate inflationary pressure, in August of that year Richard Nixon had abandoned the gold standard and, while preparing to devalue the dollar – which he did a few days after the Azores summit – tried to persuade European partners to value their currencies . But it was not easy. First he had to sell the idea to the French president. Georges Pompidou had succeeded only two years before General De Gaulle, who used the Common Market to show the world that France was leading Europe. For this reason, the old general repeatedly vetoed the British candidacy and took advantage of the political fragility of divided Germany. Pompidou opened the doors to England, but insisted on presenting France as the European “locomotive.”
The Estado Novo had left the country “proudly alone,” as Salazar had said. But now, with the Azores summit, things were going to change … at least, Marcelo Caetano hoped so. The President of the Council arrived at Lajes airport at 12.40 on Sunday, 12. After the praxis compliments, he drove in a car parade to place of the summit: the Estalagem da Serreta (where Pompidou was housed) and the General Board of the District Of Angra do Heroísmo. Nixon settled in the residence of the commander of the American base at Lajes. Marcelo Caetano stayed in the Capitães-Generais Palace, the official residence of the district governor. The Concorde with the French president arrived at 4:40 p.m., whipped by drops of water. The landing was not without mishaps: the plane even had a flat tire, but Pompidou landed without incident. The French delegation, which included Finance Minister (and future President of the Republic) Giscard d “Estaing and Minister of Foreign Affairs Maurice Schumann, followed immediately to the Estalagem da Serreta. Pompidou had a first conversation, of fifty minutes, with Marcelo Caetano.
He returned to the airport in time to welcome Nixon. Air Force One landed at 9:45 p.m. – but the landing of the American president and the Boeing 707, was overshadowed by the star of the occasion: the Concorde who, within a short distance, dominated the runway .
The episode was the subject of a diplomatic arm of the government, according to Portuguese press secretary Pedro Feytor Pinto, in his memoir in Na Sombra do Poder: “The Americans did not want Concorde to be in Front of the airport, as President Nixon arrived at night, with direct transmission on all the televisions of the United States, it would be evidence of the American delay the spectacular presence of the French airplane. It is not easy to argue with Americans but they understood that the part of the base where the ceremonies were carried out was Portuguese and we would decide. Thus, the Concorde was very visible, as would be normal. “And it remained there until Tuesday, when, after the talks were over, Pompidou invited Caetano and Nixon for a guided tour of the interior of the world’s most modern passenger plane.
Nixon e Pompidou conversaram muito ao longo dos dias 13 e 14 de dezembro. Não chegaram a um entendimento sobre o futuro do sistema monetário internacional mas acertaram agulhas para novo encontro, alargado aos outros cinco países do Mercado Comum, à Inglaterra, ao Canadá e ao Japão (o Grupo dos Dez), daí a quatro dias, na Smithsonian Institution, em Washington, de que resultaram os «Acordos de Smithsonian», de 18 de dezembro de 1971 – e a inevitável desvalorização do dólar.
Nixon and Pompidou spoke during the days 13 and 14 of December. They did not reach an understanding about the future of the international monetary system, but they fixed needles for a new meeting, extended to the other five countries of the Common Market, to England, Canada and Japan (the Group of Ten), four days later at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, which resulted in the Smithsonian Accords of December 18, 1971, and the inevitable devaluation of the dollar.
Despite being under the spotlight at the Azores summit, the Portuguese authoritarian regime remained isolated. And in the Azores, the Estalagem da Serreta never returned to glorious days.
The Azores returned to the media spotlight around the world on March 16, 2003. Prime Minister Durão Barroso received US President George W. Bush, Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar and the Prime Minister British Tony Blair at the Lajes base. The summit was intended to express the support of those three European leaders to the United States in the war sparked a few days later against the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Source: Diário de Notícias