Captain Vitor Alves: Soldier who played a crucial role in Portugal's 'Carnation Revolution'

 

Captain Vítor Alves was one of the key figures of the April 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal, which brought an end to the longest-standing authoritarian regime of 20th-century Western Europe, and which – after several turbulent years – saw a fully fledged democracy emerge.

Alves was one of three leaders of the Movimento dos Capitaes, the driving force within the Movimento das Forcas Armadas [MFA] – the group of army officers which organised the largely peaceful uprising against the 41-year-old military regime. He was been accredited with writing the initial declaration, read at sunrise on 25 April 1974, that the uprising was underway, although the first signal for action famously came when two folk songs were broadcast on state radio in the small hours. "We used the radio," Alves later revealed, "because we were afraid our phones – even the army's internal ones – were being tapped by the secret police."

Although four people were killed during the storming of a police building, most of the images that were flashed around the world thatmorning were peaceful, as protesters pushed carnations into soldiers' rifles and the dictator Marcelo Caetano first took refuge in a police station then fled to Brazil. In one day, a regime which had seized power half a century earlier had fallen.

A well-respected career soldier who had served in Mozambique and Angola, Alves helped to ensure that the uprising was seen as no simple military coup but a serious attempt to install full democracy. His home was used for many secret meetings before the dictatorship fell and it was at his insistence that generals were roped into the National Salvation Junta in order to give what quickly developed into a full-scale civil revolution greater international respectability.

Two turbulent years followed the Carnation Revolution, and several counter-coups threatened to turn the clock back. But with time Portugal's political transformation was successful, with the first free elections being held on 25 April 1975, exactly a year after the Carnation Revolution, paving the way to a democratic constitution.

During this time, Alves twice served as a government minister – of defence, education and also without portfolio – as well as continuing as a spokesman for the MFA. One of his pet projects was the law liberalising media activity, in use until 1999.

His co-conspirator Otelo de Carvalho remembered Alves as "an extremely important figure. He was always very moderate, always insisting that we should be realistic. And his arguments convinced us. He was a diplomat, and a gentleman to boot."

Alves later reached the rank of Colonel before first passing to the army reserve in 1991 then retiring in 2001.

Alasdair Fotheringham

Vítor Manuel Rodrigues Alves, politician and soldier: born Mafra, Portugal 30 September 1935; died Lisbon 8 January 2011.

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