The Olivença Issue



On January 20, 1801, Spain, cynically and deceitfully conspired with Napoleonic France, declared war on Portugal without any valid pretext or reason, and on May 20, invaded Portuguese territory, occupying a large part of the Alto-Alentejo in the vile and treacherous "War of the Oranges." Led by "Generalissimo" Manuel Godoy, the Queen’s favorite, the Spanish troops besiege and capture Olivença.

In this circumstance, pressured by the demands of Napoleon and Carlos IV and overpowered by the disproportion of forces, Portugal was compelled to sign the so-called Treaty of Badajoz on June 6, conceding to the demands of Napoleon Bonaparte and Carlos IV. Portugal, under duress, yielded the "Town of Olivença, its territory, and people up to the Guadiana" as a "conquest" of the "friendly and neighboring" Spain

With the French and Spanish armies threatening to increase their military actions against the Portuguese territory they had already partially occupied, the principle that legal transactions are only valid when the free will of the parties is present was violated. Portugal thus signed the Treaty of Badajoz, not in the exercise of its full freedom but under the threat of force.

On June 6, 1801, there was a formal confirmation of a pure act of banditry and armed robbery, a simple and exemplary manifestation of the law of the strongest, an attempt to erase history, language, tradition, culture, and community in this land, Olivença.

Olivença, which was then one of the most deeply Portuguese lands, recognized as part of the Kingdom of Portugal by the Treaty of Alcanizes in 1297, along with Almeida, Sabugal, Pinhel, Campo Maior, Ouguela, Juromenha, and many other towns. Olivença which had participated, along with the entire Portuguese Nation, in the formation and consolidation of the Kingdom, the glories and miseries of the Age of Discoveries, the tragedy of Alcácer-Quibir, the Restoration, and had experienced the flourishing of a national culture, language, and prominent figures like Fernão Lopes, Gil Vicente, and Camões!

However, the Treaty of Badajoz also stipulated that the violation of any of its articles by any of the contracting parties would lead to its annulment. This indeed happened when the Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed on October 27, 1807, followed by the Franco-Spanish invasion of Portugal. The Prince Regent, upon his arrival in Brazil, thus declared the Badajoz treaty null and void on May 1, 1808.

After the defeat of Napoleonic France's ambitions, Europe gathered at the Congress of Vienna, which opened in September 1814. The major powers were represented there, including England, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, as well as Portugal, Spain, and Sweden, and even the defeated France. They constituted the «Committee of Eight», the main body of the congress. The work of the congress continued until the following year, with the Final Act being signed on June 9 ("Le Congrès de Vienne”, Robert Ouvrard).

Next to the signatures of the representatives of Austria (Metternich), France (Talleyrand), England, Prussia, Russia, and Sweden, there was the signature of D. Pedro de Sousa Holstein, the future Duke of Palmela, the head of the Portuguese delegation. Spain did not immediately sign but eventually also did so on May 7, 1817.

The Congress of Vienna would lead to a new "European order," which – based on the provisions of the Final Act –, would regulate the continent for almost half a century and preserve it from war. In its Article 105, the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna stated:

«The Powers, recognizing the justice of the claims of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent of Portugal and Brazil, upon the town of Olivença, and the other territories ceded to Spain by the Treaty of Badajoz of 1801, and viewing the restitution of the same as a measure necessary to insure that perfect and constant harmony between the two kingdoms of the Peninsula, the preservation of which in all parts of Europe, has been the constant object of their arrangements, formally engage to use their utmost endeavours, by amicable means, to procure the retrocession of the said territories, in favour of Portugal. And the Powers declare, as far as depends upon them, that this arrangement shall take place as soon as possible».

Thus, any legal force that might be presumed to result from previous treaties conflicting with the new "New European Magna Carta" was formally and definitively discarded. This included the so-called "Treaty of Badajoz," extorted from Portugal by the joint force of Napoleonic France and Bourbonic Spain. These nations decided to subject Portugal to this treaty through one of the slyest and most treacherous acts of the entire Napoleonic period, without any valid pretext or reason, even in the face of the international law of the time. To achieve this, the neighboring kingdom decided to invade Portugal on May 20, 1801, seizing Olivença, Juromenha, and many other towns in Alto Alentejo. This became known as the «War of the Oranges», orchestrated by Manuel Godoy, the "Prince of Peace," a deceitful and treacherous act of war, especially considering it having come from a "friendly and neighboring" power.

Nevertheless, in one way or another, Portuguese diplomacy succeeded in persuading the «General Assembly» of the European powers to consecrate, in the most solemn document it produced, that Spain had no legitimacy to retain Olivença. The powers thus recognized "the justice of the claims made by His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent of Portugal and Brazil, on the town of Olivença and other territories" and obligated themselves to use "their most effective efforts to ensure that the return of said territories to Portugal is carried out”.

At this point, it's important to restate: Spain also signed this treaty on May 7, 1817.

Two centuries have passed since the international community recognized the illegitimacy of Spain's possession of Olivença and the justness of Portuguese claims. Yet, Spain has failed to honor its word and, even worse, has never lived up to the noble character it consistently tries to present as inherent.

More recently – in January 2001 –, when the Prime Minister of Spain visited Portugal, he was interviewed by the Portuguese press and reminded, very clearly and incisively, of “there being longstanding sensitive issues going back dozens of years, particularly concerning border limits, especially in the case of Olivença”. However, he lacked the courage to respond to these issues. Instead – speaking about everything that, in his illustrious opinion, mattered to Portugal and Spain –, he never replied anything about the matter of Olivença. With the typical boldness of a Castilian from the Meseta, he opted to tell us, as if the issue were that simple, that “all this has nothing to do with the old speeches of outdated demands, because they no longer reflect the democratic reality”. This observation – be amazed! – after, in the same interview and in abundance, having taken diametrically opposed positions regarding the demand that the State he represents has been making concerning Gibraltar!

It's essential to note: Gibraltar was "reconquered from the Moors" by Castile in 1462 and was ceded to England in 1713 by the Treaty of Utrecht. The validity of this treaty, according to international law, has never been questioned by anyone, including Spain. Furthermore, Gibraltar was under Spanish dominion for approximately 250 years, significantly less time than it has been British.

Meanwhile, in Olivença, continuously Portuguese and extorted «manu militari», an extortion not internationally recognized, everything – including history, culture, traditions, language –, despite persistent and insidious Castilianizing repression (if this had happened in the 20th century, there would be no hesitation in calling it genocide), remains at all levels deeply rooted in Portuguese identity.

Thus, the Spanish government wants to convince us that Portugal's claims to a part of its territory, militarily occupied by a foreign power – an occupation that received no coverage under the Law of Nations –, are "outdated," while at the same time, unabashedly, it defends that Gibraltar is "the only colony in Europe" when, according to international law, it is undeniably British!

Why the Difference?

It is well exposed to the Portuguese public opinion, which is usually so innocent and gullible when it comes to international relations, be they with neighbors, friends, distant nations, or even foes, that Spain has no qualms about supporting the most fallacious arguments if they serve its interests. Yet, it won't even listen to the most pertinent and valid arguments if they go against its position.

Meanwhile – the discomfort surrounding the «Olivença Issue» being evident in Spain, where there is a lack of reason and valid arguments in its favor –, an unfortunately similar unease is perceived among Portuguese government circles. This is unfortunate because – by not clearly indicating to Spain that it intends and will not give up on regaining de facto sovereignty over Olivença and by not taking appropriate actions –, the Portuguese government only brings discredit to Portugal, as well as it sends the clearest signal of weakness to the neighboring State. The Portuguese government – by not highlighting and repudiating the unjust situation of Olivença, by not acting decisively on this matter – appears as if everything is a result of some form of dependence or subservience to the neighboring State.

However, there may be another, more prosaic and collective reason for the immobility and inaction of our elites regarding the defense of Portugal's rights over Olivença – part of the Homeland! – as suggested by Oliveira Martins in 1879 (História de Portugal). Let it be quoted:

“Hence arises the unique case in Europe of a people who not only do not know patriotism, who not only ignore the spontaneous feeling of respect and love for their traditions, their institutions, their superior men; who not only live by servile and indiscreet (...) imitation; who not only lack a social soul but take pleasure in mocking themselves with the most ridiculous names and the most burlesque disdain. When a nation condemns itself through the mouths of its own children, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern the future of one who has lost the consciousness of collective dignity".



On the few occasions when the «Olivença Issue» is a subject of conversation or a topic in the media, it is observed that the matter, besides being seen as less relevant and even laughable, gives rise to significant misunderstandings and is shrouded in profound ignorance. This particularly concerning the legitimacy and relevance of Portuguese sovereignty...



Find in this section the legislation and international law that legitimize the Portuguese position.

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