Carnation Revolution withers: Phil Davison finds the new Portugal a let-down for the men who won it freedom 20 years ago

TO most of those tuned in to Portugal's Radio Renascenca at 25 minutes past midnight on Thursday, 25 April 1974, it was just a pleasant folk-song about a southern Portuguese town. 'Oh, fair town of Grandola, land of fraternity, the people are the ones who rule most within you.'

But to a group of young army officers, most of them under 30 and later to be known as 'the captains of April', it was the signal that this was their D-day to move against 48 years of dark dictatorial rule. They had been tipped to go on stand-by 90 minutes earlier when the radio station played the first agreed signal, Portugal's 1974 entry in the Eurovision song contest in Brighton, 'E Depois Do Adeus' ('And after the goodbye'). The song did not fare well in Brighton but will be remembered here longer than any of the contest's winners.

Other coded messages had helped prepare the coup and fix 'H-hour' - the move from the barracks. 'Auntie Aurora will arrive at 0300 hours on the 25th. Love, cousin Antonio,' read one message between officers.

By 6pm, it was virtually all over, without a single shot fired by the army. A legendary army major, Fernando Salgueiro Maia, then only 29 and who died in 1992 of cancer, stormed into Lisbon in a convoy of armoured cars and forced the surrender of Marcello Caetano. Caetano had inherited power in 1968 from the ailing Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who had ruled by fear for four decades.

Like Salazar, Caetano used the secret police to keep a lid on opposition. Despite years of independence wars in Africa, it had not occurred to Caetano that his biggest threat might come not from underground political groups but the military. Hardly a family had not had someone killed or wounded in Angola, Mozambique or Cape Verde. Some 9,000 young Portuguese had died and more than 25,000 had been maimed in the dictatorship's efforts to hold on to the colonies. That was the key to the captain's revolt. It was a coup that turned immediately, by force of human nature, into a revolution.

Although the new Armed Forces Movement (MFA) called on people to stay home to avoid bloodshed, they had to give vent to half a century of repression. After daylight, even before Caetano had surrendered, they poured into the streets to kiss and hug soldiers. Flowers stuffed into the barrels of rifles by young women gave 25 April 1974 the title the Carnation Revolution.

The long nightmare of dictatorship was over but a period of political insomnia had begun. There was confusion as to the MFA's aim. Was it just another coup a-la-South America? Time magazine carried a cover painting of the chief of the new junta, monocled cavalry general Antonio Spinola, looking menacing and with the heading 'Coup in Portugal', not revolution. The confusion proved justified and as the new military leaders turned out to straddle the ideological specntrum, civil war looked possible as power was increasingly up for grabs. Many Portuguese had been shocked to see the mushrooming red flags and hammer- and-sickle banners, the Soviet, Cuba and China-like and murals, some of which still give a touch of faded colour to the drab docks of Lisbon. The coup had come six days before May Day, and exiled Communist Party leader Alvaro Cunhal returned on 30 April to join hundreds of thousands in celebrationsthat passed peacefully.

Portugal lived through two years of uncertainty, with the military holding the balance of power but itself split. Their programme centred on the three Ds - democracy, development and decolonisation. By the end of 1975, the colonies had been granted independence - only Macau remains to be handed over to China in 1999.

After General Spinola, the junta chief who had resigned in an earlier split with leftist officers, failed in an abortive coup in March 1975, the junta swung to the left. Banks and big industries were nationalised but the first democratic elections, first for a constituent assembly on 25 April, 1975, then for a new legislature a year later, put an end to the pro-Moscow road. The Communists, with around 12 per cent of the vote, trailed behind the Socialist Party of Mario Soares with 35 per cent.

The coup-cum-revolution's 'second D' - democracy - had been achieved. In 1985 the Social Democratic Party of Anibal Cavaco Silva won power and has held it since. It was that same year that Portugal signed up for the European Union, representing the trigger for the 'third D' - development. Portugal receives an average of pounds 4m a day from the EU; Mr Cavaco Silva has replaced nationalisation with privatisation.

Mr Soares, now 68 and his personal popularity still intact, was elected President in 1986 and will retire when his second term ends in 1996. From that day 20 years ago, before which Portugal was doubly isolated from Europe - Franco's Spain not only hid behind the Ppyrenees but the Spanish-Portuguese frontier used to close down at night - this nation has turned from gazing out towards Africa to alliance with and reliance on Europe.

That is not to say all is peaceful. Economic crisis and unemployment have pushed the Socialists ahead in the polls. Some 'captains of April' say 'Cavaquismo' - Mr Cavaco Silva's neo-liberal policies - have sold out their revolution. 'It's not exactly the Portugal we dreamed about,' says Colonel Vitor Alves, a junior officer during the coup. Disenchantment is not confined to the left. Outside the decrepit former secret-police headquarters, near Lisbon's docks, there is a plaque to the four people killed in the coup. They were civilians shot by secret police as they stormed the building in anger. The plaque, however, has been defaced by a large black swastika.

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution