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1974 - Rebels seize control of Portugal

carnation1974"Army rebels are in control of Portugal tonight after an almost bloodless dawn coup ended nearly 50 years of dictatorship.

Shortly after midnight, tanks rolled into the centre of Lisbon. The Salazar Bridge over the River Tagus was seized and the airport, radio and television centres were taken.

Troops armed with machineguns stormed the barracks where the Prime Minister, Dr Marcello Caetano, and several of his ministers had taken refuge.

The former deputy armed forces minister, General Antonio de Spinola, received the surrender of the prime minister, who has now fled into exile to the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Restore civil liberties

By sunrise the Movement of the Armed Forces, or MFA, was in control. It issued an immediate proclamation appealing for calm and patriotism.

After almost five decades of dictatorship, it promised to restore civil liberties and hold general elections to a national assembly as soon as possible.

The MFA condemned Portugal's foreign policy. After 13 years of fighting, it said, Portugal had been unable to achieve peace "between Portuguese of all races and creeds".

It also called for a clean-up of state-run institutions which had legitimised the abuse of power.

A seven-man junta, led by General Spinola, would oversee the transition period until democracy could be established.

General Spinola and his troops received a hero's welcome from crowds, who gave them cigarettes, food, newspapers and carnations which were in full bloom at the time.

In one violent outburst, up to six civilians were killed (other reports state that four died.Ed) after shots were fired from the headquarters of the police station - and troops responded by storming the building.

The Democratic Elections Commission group, which contested last year's parliamentary elections against the Government, issued a statement today saying that the group considered as positive "an act which could lead to the overthrow of a regime which for 50 years has oppressed the people of Portugal."

The majority of Portuguese troops, nearly 140,000 out of 204,000, are posted overseas, propping up Portugal's tottering colonial empire in Angola, Guinea and Mozambique.

General Spinola was sacked from his job as deputy armed forces minister last month after writing a book, Portugal and the Future, in which he argued that the Portuguese could not win its African wars by military means alone.

He was Governor and Commander in Chief of Portuguese Guinea between 1968 and 1972 and was widely respected for trying to win over the hearts and minds of the local population.

His book was regarded as heretical by the country's right-wing establishment - in particular his stated claim that Portugal was not defending the West and its civilization by colonising African states."



The 25 April coup became known as the Revolução dos Cravos - Carnation Revolution. It ended the longest dictatorship in Europe, the Estado Novo.

The new regime pushed through a rapid and hasty programme of decolonisation. Over the next few years Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Cape Verde Islands, Sao Tome and Principe, and Angola all became independent.

General Spinola served briefly as interim president and was succeeded by General Francisco da Costa Gomes.

Between them they nationalised about 60% of the economy and carried out a major redistribution of land.

Hundreds of political prisoners were released.

Over the course of the next decade a stable two party system was established.

Caetano spent the rest of his life in exile in Brazil.

Freedom Day is now celebrated as a national holiday on 25 April.



Historical context

On the 25th April, 1974, one of the most peaceful revolutions ever documented took place in Portugal. It began in the capital, Lisbon, and was staged as a means of overthrowing some 50 years of dictatorship.

The Carnation Revolution was preceded by years of major upheaval in Portugal. In 1910, an independent, egalitarian government had supplanted the ruling monarchy – and the First Republic of Portugal was born.

This new mode of leadership was replaced in 1926, when the Portuguese military deposed the ruling administration, resulting in a repressive and dictatorial leadership of the country. By 1933 Estado Novo – New State – was founded. It was led by António de Oliveira Salazar, the man who was at the forefront of the initial 1926 defeat of the FirstRepublic.

Salazars’ basic principles were founded upon stabilising the country – he wanted to achieve financial solidity and promote economic growth. During the 16 years that the FirstRepublic had governed Portugal, fundamental stability had not been achieved. It had been a badly implemented system; there was an absence of public order and the administration was chaotic at best.

Carnation Revolution And Dictatorship

The Carnation Revolution and dictatorship became, in the end, mutually exclusive. Under Salazars’ reforms, the country did indeed begin to flourish. This was a huge positive, not least for the people of Portugal. It gave them a sense of new-found security and in return Salazar – and his innovative leadership - gained popularity.

Many things were to change for the better under his rule. As an example, all Portuguese citizens were given the right to an elementary education and Salazar invested huge sums of money into the educational system.

Unfortunately, there was a downside to living under Salazars’ control. Salazar was a dictatorial leader. His beliefs were based upon Portugal living under a Catholic social dogma. This would suggest a collective oneness – social Catholicism is fundamentally related to the wellbeing and security of humanity. However, Salazar was discriminatory in his use of social Catholicism and chose instead to implement a suppressive version.

Salazars’ statutes closely resembled the ones used to govern Italy and Germany. He was supported by the military and had his own security police force; combined with his principles, he maintain his control of Portugal for over 35 years. Due to his reforms, the oligarchy grew wealthy and the nation continued to grow economically – yet due to taxes introduced by Salazar to pay off national debt, the Portuguese became among the most impoverished people in Europe.

Throughout the war years, the 50’s and 60’s, Portugal continued to live under Salazars’ dictatorship. The start of the sixties brought with it the Portuguese Colonial War. Salazar had refused to give up Portugals’ colonies in Africa – Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. This added to the weight that the nation was already burdened with. An oppressive government, low income, lack of freedom and now a war that would require vast financial resources, was to prove too much for the nation of Portugal.

By the early 1970’s, Salazar had died. He’d suffered a stroke in 1968 and was replace by Marcelo Caetano. The regime continued as lead by Salazar. The colonial war continued unabated. The military budget was increasing, the army was over-extended. The global community was putting pressure on Novo Estados to find a resolution – and heavily criticising the handling of its affairs. The ruling administration was finding itself progressively more cut off from the rest of the world.

Portugal began to feel the impact of this external condemnation: the people themselves were becoming increasingly disenchanted. The war had entered into its second decade, young men were emigrating, often illegally, as a means of avoiding conscription. The long years of living under a repressive regime proved too much for the nation and, in April of 1974, the country staged a military coup.

Just past midnight, on the 25th of April, tanks moved into Lisbon. The Salazar Bridge was taken control of, as were television and radio centres and the airport. Marcelo Caetano had taken flight to some barracks, along with some of his ministers, as a means of seeking sanctuary. Military troops took the barracks, whereby Caetano yielded his position and was subsequently exiled to Madeira. Only four people lost their lives, killed by the government forces in an attempt to retain power, at the start of the military coup.

Several hours later, the newly formed MFA – Movement of Armed Forces – had taken control. Despite the fact that the populace had been warned to stay indoor, thousands took to the streets of Lisbon, in support of the military coup. Civilians merged with soldiers and shouted “O Povo unido, jamais será vencido!" – The people united shall never be defeated – and thronged through the streets, calling for change.

The rebellion was named the 'carnation revolution' due to the fact that the soldiers exchanged bullets for a carnation - placed in the barrel of their guns. Many civilians held or wore carnations – all united in bringing peace and democracy to Portugal and its colonies – without the use of violence.

The people of Portugal had liberated their nation – without resorting to hostility and aggression.


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+5 #4 Mildred Burke 2014-04-26 11:01
Not clear what parts of recent Portuguese history Senhor Towl is struggling with.
The pont being - as many Portuguese themselves are asking on their national TV, including the very Army Captains who supposedly started the Revolution / Disturbance - (more accurately the Captains intended just to stop the wasteful colonial wars)... what essentially has changed in 40 years?
If standard of living is just food in the belly then perhaps some general improvement.
Factor in emotional / psycholgical stress and unquestionably there is still a 'fear' swirling around 'ordinary Portuguese'.
Indicative of this is the reluctance to stand out against Corruption that would allow Portugal to move forward into the new (post Pink Map) Europe ....36% of Portuguese saying that corruption affects their DAILY lives.
0 #3 Paul 2014-04-26 09:33
Quoting Mike Towl:
Interesting article Ed. Any idea what the hell Mildred's on about? Sounds like something Michael Foot would write for his own epitaph.

Mildred is just saying that the revolution has not worked. With the average wage now, buying exactly the same as it could in 1974, I reckon she's right for many catagories even though all agree the 'standard of living has gone up.'
0 #2 Mike Towl 2014-04-26 08:39
Interesting article Ed. Any idea what the hell Mildred's on about? Sounds like something Michael Foot would write for his own epitaph.
+6 #1 Mildred Burke 2014-04-25 17:00
Can we now have more Portuguese downgrading this 'Revolution' to its more correct description - a disturbance ?
Given that 4 out of 5 Portuguese today still do not trust their justice system and policing - this 'Liberty, Equality and Fraternity' should not continue to be at the arbitary whim of the elite authorities.
To be battled for in the courts !

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