History of the Group
It is not known exactly when organized activism around the Olivença Issue began. However, it can be asserted with certainty that its birth is due to the action of the Olivença patriot Ventura Ledesma Abrantes. Forced to leave his native Olivença and exile himself in Lisbon due to his pro-Portuguese position, Abrantes reopened the long-forgotten and ignored Olivença Issue. A prestigious bookseller and editor, he led an association called "Society of Friends of Olivença" in 1925, actively participating in the violent controversy arising between Gustavo de Matos Sequeira and Fidelino de Figueiredo.
Despite the support and contacts he managed to establish and the enthusiasm he conveyed, it was only on August 15, 1938 that the Pro-Olivença Society emerged in Lisbon, at 32 Vitor Cordon Street. Its foundation was significantly contributed to by the dynamism and dedication of two distinguished merchants from downtown Lisbon: Amadeu Rodrigues Pires, its first President, and Francisco de Sousa Lamy, who, along with Ventura Abrantes, formed the founding triumvirate.
In the meantime, the original Installing Committee still included Francisco Velez Conchinhas, Octávio Rodrigues de Campos, Odorico Machado Simões, and Saul Horácio Ventura. The Society, though still of limited scope, was already the embryo of the future Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença.
This initial form of the Pro-Olivença Society would give way to the definitive designation of the Friends of Olivença Group on November 26, 1945, as documented in the inaugural minutes. Among its 40 founding members were names such as General Humberto Delgado, Professor Doctor Quiróz Veloso, General Ferreira Martins, João Afonso Corte-Real, General Raul Esteves, Luís Lupi, Dr. Paulo Caratão Soromenho, or Dr. José Pontes. The first board would be chaired by Dr. José Maria Cardoso, one of the founding members.
Side by side, supporters and opponents of the Estado Novo. Because the goal was and still is national. There, nothing divided them. The consciousness and duty as Portuguese united them in a common desire: OLIVENÇA!
From then on (1945), the Group establishes its headquarters at Casa do Alentejo. Ventura Ledesma Abrantes's dynamism and ideals would attract influential figures from the Portuguese public and intellectual life to the Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença. The Group's records thus reflect the participation of names such as Dr. Jaime Cortesão, Father Raul Machado, Hermano Neves, Prof. Dr. Hernâni Cidade (President in 1971-74), Gustavo de Matos Sequeira, Rocha Júnior, Alberto de Sousa, Sidónio Muralha, Tomás Ribeiro Colaço, Prof. Dr. Queiróz Veloso (President in 1947-52), Dr. Hipólito Raposo, Dr. Paulo Caratão Soromenho (President in 1974-81), Dr. Cancela de Abreu, Conde de Almada, Admiral Henrique Tenreiro, General Humberto Delgado (President of the General Assembly in 1958), Duke of Palmela (President in 1954-55), Dr. Veiga de Macedo, Cupertino de Miranda, João Pereira da Rosa, Tomé Feteira, Dr. Moses Amzalak, the poet Augusto Casimiro, Dr. Torcato de Sousa Soares, Prof. Dr. Eduardo Lourenço, Dr. Mascarenhas Barreto, Dr. Barrilaro Ruas, among many others.
The newly appointed leadership quickly undertakes various initiatives. It appoints a pressure group that, in regular and direct contacts with the government, tries to sensitize the Prime Minister, Oliveira Salazar, to the need for a position on the dispute. The goal was clear: to persuade the Portuguese government to demand the return of Olivença from Spain. Entirely rejecting violent methods, it proposed a diplomatic resolution of the conflict. Another focus of action was the dissemination of the Olivença Issue through the media, in schools, and in the public space. Conferences and propaganda lunches were held in succession from north to south of the country; books were published, pamphlets were distributed and flyers were printed.
Starting in 1953, the official publication of the Group, the magazine "Olivença," beautifully laid out with numerous sponsorships and collaborations, comes off the press. Twelve issues are published, the last one in 1969. One of the most impactful initiatives, resulting in enormous success, was the proposal presented to all Portuguese municipalities to perpetuate the name "Olivença" in the toponymy of the main towns and cities of the country. With few exceptions, one of them being Lisbon, it was generally well-received. As a result, today, approximately 70 streets throughout the national territory bear the name "Olivença." Additionally, the Group is always present at the patriotic ceremonies on December 1st in Lisbon, laying a wreath at the base of the Monument to the Restorers. It was also part of their program to provide economic assistance and support to needy residents of Olivença requesting it. For several years, with Group funding, dozens of children from the Farrapa neighborhood – the poorest area of Olivença –, were thus able to stay at the "O Século" Children's Beach Colony in Estoril. Thanks to the dedication and commitment of Amadeu Rodrigues Pires, Avelino da Mata Antunes (one of the founding members), and João Pereira da Rosa – the “O Século” newspaper's director –, the Friends of Olivença Group achieved a long-standing aspiration that could yield dividends in the medium term: bringing the new generation of Olivença closer to Portugal.
In 1958, in Porto, spurred by Professor Eleutério Cerdeira and Veríssimo Alves Moreira, the first Nucleus of the Friends of Olivença is established.
The Group drafts its statutes only in 1958, which were never approved by the Estado Novo regime. Article 2 states as its main objective and ultimate purpose to carry out the necessary efforts with Portuguese authorities to restore national sovereignty over the Territory of Olivença.
Also, Article 3, subsection b), stipulates that the Group will "undertake, stimulate, and support studies, publications, conferences, visits, pilgrimages, and any activity of any nature, aiming to make known – to both nationals and foreigners – and through existing linguistic, historical, and legal facts and documents, the legitimate rights of Portugal to the return of its sovereignty over the Olivença territory."
Despite the enthusiasm of its active members and its initial momentum it generated, the Group found itself systematically confronted with the hesitation and prudence of the Estado Novo regarding the border dispute with Spain.
Over time, and after the death of Prof. Hernâni Cidade in 1974 – which coincided with the April 25th revolution and, consequently, with a new direction in national politics –, the Group entered a period of obscurity. Most of its members were of advanced age and no longer possessed the strength or vigor necessary to reactivate the cause and promote it in these new circumstances. The youth, attracted by many other challenges, did not join and the difficulties were manifold. The leadership, presided over by Dr. Paulo Caratão Soromenho, seriously considered the possibility of extinction in 1979.
In 1981, the Group reemerges with a new impetus. Admiral Pinheiro de Azevedo takes an interest in the cause, becomes a member, and almost immediately leads a candidacy for the presidency of the Board, winning on June 26, 1981. A profound difference in opinions on the course to follow leads to serious disagreements between two internal factions, ultimately causing the fragmentation of the Group. In an Extraordinary General Assembly called for this purpose, a change in designation to "Patriotic Movement Pro-Olivença" is unanimously approved, and its headquarters were transferred to the Admiral's own residence at Rua Angra do Heroísmo, No. 1 – 1st floor. This is in 1982. Pinheiro de Azevedo, in a somewhat spectacular campaign, inflated by certain media outlets that give him some coverage, prepares for a "Green March" on Olivença.
In 1983, when the Admiral passes away, the Olivença Issue is discredited and even ridiculed in some press. The Group hesitated but persisted, thanks to the dedication and commitment of Luiz de Souza Guedes, its Secretary-General, and Jaime Ramos de Oliveira, one of its oldest members, resuming its initial designation. This was indeed the most challenging period of Oliventine irredentism. Particularly difficult due to the ostracism it faced and the deliberate anathema launched with the evident purpose of obscuring an uncomfortable, undoubtedly still relevant problem, deserving a long-due resolution.
In 1994, the Group of Friends of Olivença rose from the ashes and stood up again. A group of young individuals without partisan affiliations decided that the cause was noble and just, being worth fighting for. They decide to revive the Oliventine controversy, joining the organization and, receiving the ‘baton’ from the previous, older leaders, take the destiny of the Group into their hands.
From 1995 onwards, they initiated a new campaign to agitate the topic through opinion articles and other interventions in various national and regional newspapers, radio, and television. They organized several debates and public events, notably the first one held at the Faculty of Law of the University of Lisbon, presided over by Professor Jorge Miranda.
During this period, the Group founds the delegation of "Friends of Olivença" in Galicia, under the direction of Prof. Isaac Estravíz from Ourense, and reactivates its delegation in Porto/Gaia, led by Eduardo dos Santos Pereira. The creation of the Beja delegation will then follow. The Group starts regularly attending Luso-Spanish summits, urging the Portuguese government to initiate a negotiating process aiming at leading to the definitive resolution of the issue.
At the beginning of this century, the Group launches an extensive campaign to recruit new members, tripling its number, and implements a comprehensive information program about Olivença on the Internet. This effort significantly contributes to raising awareness among the Oliventine population about their roots and clarifying the deceit, myths, and historical misunderstandings that had been incessantly repeated during the decades of Franco's dictatorship. Henceforth, it will no longer be possible to conceal Olivença's history from its people.
In the following years, the Group publishes or collaborates in the publication of various works, including the book "Questão de Olivença" authored by Ambassador Teixeira de Sampaio in collaboration with the Association of Friends of the Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Additional notable publications include "Olivença na Conferência de Paz de 1919" by Mário Rui Rodrigues (president from 1998-2001) and "Olivença: reflexões sobre usurpação e aculturação" by Carlos Consiglieri, among others.
In 2003, the Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença grows with the integration of the "Comité Olivença Portuguesa," which had been founded in 1988 in Estremoz, where it has its headquarters. Until then, this association – in addition to keeping alive the Portuguese claim on Olivença –, promoted significant initiatives to foster Portuguese culture in the Oliventine territory. This was achieved through the dedicated efforts of Professor Carlos Luna, its founder and most active member, who distributed books and audio materials for free to children and young people in Olivença, disseminating local history, language, and Portuguese culture.
The first decade of the 21st century would be marked by resorting to the courts following the intervention by Spanish authorities in the Nossa Senhora da Ajuda Bridge, classified as a Portuguese public interest property. It is worth recalling that in the previous decade (1990), the governments of Portugal and Spain had signed a mutual cooperation agreement for the preservation of the Nossa Senhora da Ajuda bridge and the joint construction of a new bridge downstream. After the Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença denounced that this agreement could imply tacit recognition by the Portuguese government of the de facto existence of a border along the Guadiana River, the agreement was modified in another Luso-Spanish summit. Portugal was then tasked with building the new bridge and preserving the old one. However, this did not happen as the agreement stipulated.
Contrary to the agreement, the Spanish Ministry of Public Works decides to initiate restoration works on the old Nossa Senhora da Ajuda Bridge. According to the Group, these works were being carried out at the behest of the Spanish state without the necessary authorization from the Portuguese administration, making them illegal and clandestine under Portuguese law. This naturally implied a violation of the border and national territory. In 2003, the Tribunal Judicial de Elvas ruling on the precautionary appeal filed by the Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença seeking an immediate halt to the works, ultimately deemed it not within its competence to make a decision on the matter, alleging that it was a dispute within the scope of administrative justice and diplomatic tutelage. The works would be, however, suspended. In 2006, the Tribunal da Relação de Évora determined the opening of an inquiry into a case in which the Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença had accused Spanish authorities of carrying out illegal works on the bridge.
From this point on, the Group also begins maintaining regular contacts with the sovereign authorities, while promoting the collection of signatures for a petition to be presented to the Portuguese Parliament.
In 2004, the matter was discussed in a plenary session of the Portuguese Parliament, with representatives of parliamentary groups unanimously praising the initiative of the Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença. Subsequently, parliamentary forces requested the executive branch to clarify Portugal's position on Olivença. The Portuguese government later publicly stated that – in accordance with constitutional mandates –, it had consistently reiterated that it “maintains the known position regarding the delimitation of the national territory”, that “Olivença is Portuguese territory” and that “the Portuguese government remains faithful to the political-legal doctrine of the Portuguese state regarding the territory of Olivença”.
In 2005, after numerous efforts involving the Lisbon City Council, the Group secures a suitable space to carry out its activities. This space, located in Olaias, designated by the Group as its headquarters, was named the “Centro de Estudos Oliventinos – Ventura Ledesma Abrantes” in honor of its founder.
Between 2005 and 2010, the Group organizes a series of conferences featuring distinguished personalities representing various cultural and political sectors of national life. The aim was to promote debate and, ultimately, to increasingly disseminate the Olivença Issue within the Portuguese society.
At the end of 2018, the Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença obtained the Status of Public Utility from the Portuguese State, thus recognizing the significant activities carried out – always through peaceful means – to safeguard the territorial integrity of Portugal and to assert Portuguese sovereignty. The Association positions itself as a fundamental reference in the public sphere within the scope of its programmatic purposes, namely the reintegration of the Oliventine Territory into the Portuguese Homeland.
The year 2022 marks a historic event. Over two hundred years after the annexation of Olivença by Spain, the Portuguese Parliament publishes a book under its auspices to discuss the topic. In July of that year, at the Assembly of the Republic, with joint organization by the Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença and the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Portuguese Communities, and with the participation of IURIS/FDUL, the book “Olivença na História” is then presented, bringing together a collection of original texts on the Olivença Issue, contributing to its discussion and opening new and interesting perspectives for the future.
The Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença remains thus loyal to the struggle and the spirit that guided its creation. The current leadership aligns with the activity of the past, inheriting a memory and a lofty example of dignity, perseverance, and patriotism from their predecessors, of which they are proud and which will illuminate them in the long and challenging journey ahead. The flame will never extinguish until historical truth is redeemed: OLIVENÇA IS PORTUGUESE LAND!
BELIEVE AND WANT TO PREVAIL