Location: Atlantic Ocean, 1,300-1,800 km west of Portugal
% of population: 3.5% of Portuguese population
The Azoreans inhabit the nine Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The islands were discovered by Europeans in 1351 and settled by Portuguese in the fifteenth century. Spanish immigration followed, as did African, British and Flemish immigrants. The Azores are administratively part of Portugal, not a colony, and are thus a part of Europe. The majority of Azoreans are peasant farmers working for large landowners and lack of job opportunities has caused a steady stream of emigration — mostly to Canada and the United States — and a resultant decrease in population. The Azores occupy a strategic position in the Atlantic Ocean, with a major base established on one of the islands.
With the overthrow of dictatorship in Portugal in 1974, the Azoreans, only 2% of whom voted communist in the elections of 1975, demanded independence. In this demand they were encouraged by the fact that Lisbon was now relinquishing its African colonies. The call for independence was led by the Azorean Liberation Front (FLA) which carried out a series of attacks on Communist Party offices throughout the islands, forcing their closure. Civil governors of the islands and communists holding posts in the farming co-operatives were also forced to resign, and internal administration was surrendered by the Portuguese government to six islanders chosen by the Socialist and Popular Democratic parties. The FLA announced the formation of a provisional government and continued bombing attacks, but the level of support given to the FLA was uncertain as its only base was on the main island of San Miguel where it maintained strong links with wealthy landowners. There were allegations that separatists had links with right-wingers in the USA and elsewhere, backed by Azoreans living in the USA who wished to destabilize the islands politically and bring about a breakaway from Portugal and either independence or US statehood.
The 1976 Constitution granted a measure of autonomy to the Azores and, as in Madeira, this has helped to defuse tensions, although many Azoreans are still critical of rule from Lisbon. The islands are poor and have little appeal for tourists and remittances from Azoreans in the USA remain a major source of income.
(See also Madeira)