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Portugal’s Carnation Revolution – archive, April 1974

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Lisbon junta pledges liberty: war in Africa may be ended

By Jonathan Steele and Antonio de Figueirdo
26 April 1974

An almost bloodless military coup yesterday toppled the Portuguese prime minister, Dr Marcello Caetano, and left the country in the hands of a junta pledged to restore civil liberties after almost 50 years of dictatorial rule.

The prime minister was reported to have surrendered to Gen Antonio Spinola, the man he fired last month for demanding a political rather than a military solution to the 13 years of struggle with guerrilla movements in the African territories of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau.

According to one informed source in Lisbon last night, Dr Caetano and the president, Adm Americo Tomaz, were being exiled with four of their Ministers to the island of Madeira, in the Atlantic.

General Spinola became a national hero for bringing into the open, in a book published last month, the whole debate over the future of the bitter colonial war. With his record of long service in the army in Africa, General Spinola was the one man, with the prestige of a de Gaulle, able to challenge the received wisdom of Portugal’s powerful establishment.

Yesterday he walked through crowds estimated to number several thousand who cheered and shouted “Victory, victory” as he entered the Carmo Barracks where Dr Caetano had tried to hold out against the rebel movement.

The barracks, an old monastery on a small hill in the old part of Lisbon, is normally under the control of the National Republican Guard. It remained loyal to the prime minister for most of the day while the army was taking power throughout the country against minimal resistance. Rebel troops had surrounded the barracks and delivered an ultimatum to “surrender or be shot” to Dr Caetano, aged 67. In the late afternoon they forced their way into the barracks, after firing machine guns and small arms, and General Spinola arrived to receive Dr Caetano’s surrender.

Troops with bullhorns and loudspeakers announced the news to excited crowds waiting nearby. The National Republican Guard – a heavily armed paramilitary organisation which traditionally supported the ultra right – and most of the police force had also surrendered.

President Tomaz, who is aged 79, held out with various cabinet ministers in a separate military headquarters after Caetano’s surrender. The rebels claimed that the president’s own surrender was imminent.

It was Gen Spinola’s dismissal last month by Dr Caetano that had brought Portugal’s growing political crisis to a head. After years of stalemate in Africa which was draining the country’s exchequer and demanding four years of national service of its young men, events in Mozambique in the last six months showed clearly that the army was losing more and more of the initiative to the guerrilla movement, Frelimo.

While there was no prospect of a sudden Portuguese military defeat, the situation was worsening. The world outcry over the Wiriyamu massacre provoked a moral crisis within the Church, and more progressive members of the army and the elite. A coup on the lines of yesterday’s had been predicted for some time, though its exact shape and timing were bound to be in doubt. The report made by young officers about the massacre and published this week in the Guardian may have influenced the choice of when to strike.

The day’s events had begun in the style of a classical coup. At dawn rebel troops seized control of Lisbon’s commercial radio station. They broadcast a proclamation calling themselves “the movement of the armed forces” and saying that the “hour of liberation” had come. They announced the formation of a “national junta of salvation,” and told the police to stay in their barracks and await further orders. Four hours later the national radio network started playing the national anthem and repeating the rebels announcements.

At 11.45 am (10.45 GMT) they broadcast a communique saying: “We dominate the situation from north to the south.” It then asked people to collaborate with the junta. Otherwise martial law would have to be enforced. By then, eight hours after the coup, in spite of confusion in many parts of the country, there was little sign of bloodshed.

But the almost universal reaction of those people who came out on to the streets seemed to be in support of the coup. In Rossio Square in the centre of Lisbon more than 100 young people waved Portuguese flags and shouted “Down with fascism, clown with Caetano.” No police or military authorities intervened. Troops had moved into government buildings, including the Army Ministry, where the ministers of defence, the army, the navy, and the interior had apparently taken refuge. Troops also took control of Lisbon’s main airport. Most military units in Lisbon seemed to join the movement quickly. According to monitored military radio communications, the commander of a warship stationed in the River Tagus, off Lisbon’s central Comercio Square, threatened to bomb any units opposing the rebels.

There was scattered resistance to the rebels. The commander of five tanks stationed near the city centre ordered his men to fire on the rebels, but the men – from the 7th Cavalry Regiment – refused to obey and later surrendered. Early in the day gunfire and explosions were heard near the railway station in the Cais do Sodre, and at least two people were reported to have been hit.

The seven-man junta broadcast the text of their demands and invited General Spinola and his close friend, Gen Costa Gomes, the former chief of staff of the armed forces, to join them.
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Editorial: shock waves from Lisbon

26 April 1974

If it is successful the Portuguese military coup will probably prove to be one of the most important and far-reaching events since the war. The potential for change which stems from yesterday’s uncertain events in Lisbon is enormous. But first the insurgent officers have to establish their rule, and until there is firmer evidence that they control metropolitan Portugal it would be premature to conclude that 45 years of authoritarian rule have ended. Secondly, the officers have to carry out their manifesto. This is a more impressive document than is usually put out by a military junta, but that alone does not guarantee that the junta will carry it out. The diplomatic archives bulge with unkept promises of free elections and the cleaning up of State institutions.

Assuming, though, that the coup is complete, there is a fair chance that the junta will try to stick to its promises. It is in a good position to do so. First, it will have popular support. Portugal’s increasing contacts with the liberal democracies of Europe have left its citizens deeply dissatisfied with dictatorship at home. Secondly, the Army will be able to secure continuity between one regime and another, which is surely what most Portuguese would welcome. The reforms may be profound but they will stop a long way short of revolution. If and when a freely elected Portuguese Assembly meets it will mark a net gain for Europe and a warning to both Spain and Greece that dictatorships of the Right come to grief eventually. Would that Czechoslovakia had been able to pass on a similar message to the dictatorships of the left. Obstacles to the major part of the junta’s promised reforms are more likely to come from Africa than from Portugal itself.
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Franco upset by Spinola’s liberal aims

By James MacManus, Lisbon
27 April 1974

The Spanish government has reacted with extreme concern at the military coup in Portugal. The extent of the reform pledged by the new military junta under General Spinola has alarmed General Franco’s authoritarian government in Madrid. The Spanish press, however, and to judge by the inhabitants of the border towns of Badajoz, the Spanish people have reacted with undisguised glee.

Spain has never quite understood how her smaller and poorer neighbour has retained her huge colonial possessions in Africa. The only colonial vista from Madrid is the Spanish Sahara which, although lucrative, does not match the immense resources of Angola and Mozambique.

Lisbon, although capital of the poorest country in Europe, controls an area in Africa larger than that of western Europe, a situation now in balance after Gen Spinola’s seizure of power. He made clear today that while he will not, for the time being at least, negotiate with the liberation movements in Portuguese Africa he would “elaborate a policy for peace” in the Portuguese colonies.

However, there is no doubt that Portugal’s new leader will move with great caution in Africa. There was no question, as the Spanish press joyfully reported today, that the Portuguese colonial structure would be dismantled overnight. The general is mindful of the risk of UDI action by white Portuguese, particularly in Mozambique where most of the 223,000 whites feel far greater affinity with Rhodesia and South Africa than they do with Metropolitan Portugal.

His first problem will be to prevent any feeling of betrayal among the Portuguese settlers leading to a separationist movement. But since the settlers depend entirely on the 166,000 troops in the three African colonies the junta should be able to forestall any move towards UDI. There is little doubt here that the Portuguese Army in Africa is largely behind the coup.

Portugal’s land frontier to Spain opened briskly today to let in a few of the cars in the long lines that built up on either side of the four crossing points.

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