Obituary: Professor Adelino da Palma Carlos

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Adelino da Palma Carlos, lawyer and politician, born Faro 3 March 1905, married Elina Guimaraes (two sons, one daughter), died Lisbon 25 October 1992.

ADELINO da Palma Carlos played a brief role in Portuguese history that is perhaps more of human than political interest. He was the first prime minister in the provisional government formed after the military pronunciamento in 1974 which overthrew the 48- year-old regime founded by Antonio Salazar.

Da Palma Carlos, a highly respected constitutional law professor known for his integrity, was chosen as prime minister by General Antonio Spinola, the head of the revolutionary Junta of National Salvation which deposed Marcelo Caetano. But within 56 days of his appointment Da Palma Carlos resigned; he felt his power was more figurative than real and he did not want to be associated with arbitrary government. He regarded Portugal's withdrawal from its ancient and far-flung empire, without a plebiscite, as illegitimate and fraught with dangers and abuses. Most members of his government, including Mario Soares, then foreign minister, and Alvaro Cunhal, the Communist Party leader, kept their positions. He was replaced by Brigadier Vasco Goncalves, who ensured that decolonisation was complete even before a new democratic constitution was enacted. At the news of Palma Carlos' death last Sunday in Lisbon, at the age of 87, these former colleagues all joined in praise of a man who put legal principle before personal ambition, and whose resignation in 1974 acted as a moderating influence and warning against the unintended consequences of revolution.

He was born in Faro, in 1905, and grew up in the revolutionary agitation that followed the regicide of King Carlos and his elder son and the proclamation of a Republic in 1910. He was one of the founders of the Republican Youth League when an 18-year-old law student in Lisbon. But with the advent of the right-wing military coup of May 1926 that brought an end to the comparatively brief spell of libertarian republicanism and installed the Salazar dictatorship in power, his political career was cut short. Between the ages of 21 and 69, when he was unexpectedly chosen as prime minister, Da Palma Carlos' life was conditioned by a political regime on which he could have no influence.

The regime's restrictions did not prevent him and his two brothers and one sister from making Palma Carlos one of the most distinguished family names in a society where social and political references, and even personal reputations, were largely tacit and known by way of mouth. His long- standing marriage to Elina Guimaraes, herself an outstanding defender of feminist causes, led people to think that his political views lay somewhere between the extremes represented by his brother Joao - also a lawyer and a lifelong defender of political activists detained by the regime's security police, PIDE - and his sister and other brother, who had distinguished professional and administrative careers necessarily within the regime.

At the time of the 1974 revolutionary pronunciamento Da Palma Carlos and his family were representative of a large group of upper middle-class liberal Portuguese, admiring and dedicatedly inclined to Western values, who had been trapped by the vagaries of history under an undemocratic, originally Fascist-orientated, regime, which had, ironically, stayed in power because of Western strategic support in the 'cold war' against undemocratic Communist rule.

A professional man with no more compromising affiliations than an alleged lifelong membership of freemasonry - also banned under the regime - Da Palma Carlos had every reason to fear the consequences of another system of arbitrary rule, after the experience of half a century of national-colonialist dictatorship.

After resigning from his brief tenure as prime minister, he attempted to form a new party, the Social Democrat Party, devoted to promoting a new constitution, but soon withdrew totally from politics. He lived long enough to see the enactment and consolidation of a new constitution and the evidence that Portugal, within the EC, could not only live, but prosper, without its empire.