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History of Portugal
 Timeline of Portuguese history 

The Carnation Revolution (Portuguese: Revolução dos Cravos), also referred to as the 25 de Abril, was a left-leaning military coup[1] started on 25 April 1974, in Lisbon, Portugal, that effectively changed the Portuguese regime from an authoritarian dictatorship to a democracy after two years of a transitional period known as PREC (Processo Revolucionário Em Curso, or On-Going Revolutionary Process), characterized by social turmoil and power disputes between left- and right-wing political forces.

Despite repeated appeals from the revolutionaries on the radio inciting the population to stay home, thousands of Portuguese descended on the streets, mixing with the military insurgents [2].

The military-led coup can be described as the necessary means of returning democracy to Portugal, ending the unpopular Colonial War where thousands of Portuguese soldiers had been conscripted into military service, and replacing the authoritarian Estado Novo (New State) regime and its secret police which repressed elemental civil liberties and political freedoms. It started as a professional class[3] protest of Portuguese Armed Forces captains against a decree law: the Dec. Lei nº 353/73 of 1973.[4][5]

A group of Portuguese officers organised in the Armed Forces Movement (MFA - Movimento das Forças Armadas), including elements who had been fighting the pro-independence guerrillas in the Portuguese empire's territories in Africa,[6] rose to overthrow the fascist and authoritarian Estado Novo regime that had ruled Portugal since the 1920s. Portugal's new regime pledged itself to end the colonial wars and began negotiations with the African independence movements. By the end of 1974, Portuguese troops had been withdrawn from Portuguese Guinea and the latter had become a UN member. This was followed by the independence of Cape Verde, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe and Angola in 1975. The Carnation Revolution in Portugal, also led to Portugal's withdrawal from East Timor in Southeast Asia. These events prompted a mass exodus of Portuguese citizens from Portugal's African territories (mostly from Angola and Mozambique), creating over a million Portuguese destitute refugees — the retornados.[7][8]

Although the regime's political police, PIDE, killed four people before surrendering, the revolution was unusual in that the revolutionaries did not use direct violence to achieve their goals. Holding red carnations (cravos in Portuguese), many people joined revolutionary soldiers on the streets of Lisbon, in apparent joy and audible euphoria.[9] Red is a symbolic color for socialism and communism, which were the main ideological tendencies of many anti-New State insurgents.[10] It was the end of the Estado Novo, the longest authoritarian regime in Western Europe, and the final dissolution of the Portuguese Empire. In the aftermath of the revolution a new constitution was drafted, censorship was formally prohibited, free speech declared, political prisoners were released and the Portuguese overseas territories in Sub-Saharan Africa were immediately given their independence.



In the beginning of the 1970s, the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo ("New State") continued to weigh heavily on the country, after a half-century of rule under the President of the Council of Ministers António de Oliveira Salazar. After the 28th May 1926 coup d'état, Portugal implemented an authoritarian regime of social-Catholic and Integralist inspiration. In 1933, the regime was recast and renamed Estado Novo ("New State"), and Oliveira Salazar was named as President of the Council of Ministers until 1968, when he suffered a stroke following a domestic accident. He was replaced in September by Marcelo Caetano, who served as President of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) until he was deposed on 25 April 1974.

Under the Estado Novo, Portugal's undemocratic government was tolerated by its NATO partners for its anti-communist nature; this attitude changed dramatically during the mid-sixties, under pressure of public opinion and left wing movements rising in Europe. There were formal elections but they were rarely contested — with the opposition using the limited political freedoms allowed during the brief election period to openly protest against the regime, withdrawing their candidates before the election so as not to provide the regime with any legitimacy. In 1958, General Humberto Delgado — a former member of the regime — stood against the regime's presidential candidate, Américo Tomás, and refused to allow his name to be withdrawn from the competition. Tomás won the election, but only amidst claims of widespread electoral fraud that denied Delgado of his 'legitimate' victory. Immediately after this election, Salazar's government abandoned the practice of popularly electing the president, with that task being given thereafter to the regime-loyal National Assembly. During Caetano's time in office, his attempts at minor political reform were obstructed by the important Salazarist elements within the regime (known as the Bunker). The Estado Novo's political police — the PIDE (Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado), later to become DGS (Direcção-Geral de Segurança), and originally the PVDE (Polícia de Vigilância e Defesa do Estado) — persecuted opponents of the regime, who were often tortured, imprisoned or killed.

Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano, overthrown in the Carnation Revolution (Revolução dos Cravos) on 25 April 1974 in Lisbon.

The international context was not favourable to the Portuguese regime. Throughout the war, Portugal had to deal with increasing dissent, arms embargoes and other punitive sanctions imposed by most of the international community. The Cold War was near its peak, and both Western and Eastern-bloc states were supporting the guerrillas in the Portuguese colonies, attempting to bring these under, respectively, American and Soviet influence (see Portuguese Colonial War). The overseas policy of the Portuguese Government and the desire of many overseas residents to remain under Portuguese rule led to an abrupt decolonisation process, which occurred only after the Carnation Revolution of April 1974. Unlike other European colonial powers, Portugal had long-standing and close ties to its African colonies. For the Portuguese ruling regime, the overseas empire was a matter of national interest. In the view of many Portuguese, a colonial empire was necessary to continued national power and influence. In contrast to Britain and France, Portuguese colonial settlers had extensively inter-married and assimilated within the colonies over a period of 400 years. Despite objections in world forums such as the United Nations, Portugal had long maintained that its African colonies were an integral part of Portugal, and felt obliged to militarily defend them against Communist-inspired armed groups, particularly after India's unilateral and forcible annexation of Portuguese exclaves Goa, Daman and Diu (Portuguese India), in 1961 (see Indian Invasion of Goa).

Independence movements started operations in the Overseas Province of Mozambique, Overseas Province of Angola, and Overseas Province of Guinea. Except in Guinea, these armed guerrilla forces were easily contained by Portuguese counterinsurgency forces and home defense militia, despite various arms embargoes against Portugal. Nevertheless, the various conflicts forced the Salazar and subsequent Caetano regimes to spend more of the country's budget on colonial administration and military expenditures, and Portugal soon found itself increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. After Caetano succeeded to the presidency, colonial war became a major cause of dissent and a focus for anti-government forces in Portuguese society. Many left-wing students and anti-war activists were forced to leave the country so they could escape imprisonment and torture by government forces. However, between 1945 and 1974, there were also three generations of militants of the radical right at the Portuguese universities and schools, guided by a revolutionary nationalism partly influenced by the political sub-culture of European neofascism. The core of these radical students' struggle lay in an uncompromising defence of the Portuguese Empire in the days of the authoritarian regime.[11]

Portuguese Air Force's helicopter operating in an African theatre during the Portuguese Colonial War.

By the early 1970s, the Portuguese Colonial War continued to rage on, requiring a steadily increasing budget. The Portuguese military was overstretched and there was no political solution or end in sight. While the human losses were relatively small, the war as whole had already entered its second decade. The Portuguese ruling regime of Estado Novo faced criticism from the international community and was becoming increasingly isolated. It had a profound impact on Portugal — thousands of young men avoided conscription by emigrating illegally, mainly to France and the US. In addition, the other revolutionary Armed Forces Movement (MFA)'s goals were not in the strict interest of the people of Portugal or its Overseas Provinces, since the movement was initiated not only as an attempt to liberate Portugal from the authoritarian Estado Novo regime, but as an attempt of rebellion against the new Military Laws that were to be presented next year.[12][13] The Revolution and the whole movement were also a way to work against Laws that would reduce military costs and would reformulate the whole Portuguese Military Branch (Decree Law: Decretos-Leis n.os 353, de 13 de Julho de 1973, e 409, de 20 de Agosto). Younger military academy graduates resented a program introduced by Marcello Caetano whereby militia officers who completed a brief training program and had served in the overseas territories' defensive campaigns, could be commissioned at the same rank as military academy graduates. As the war in the colonies was becoming increasingly unpopular in Portugal itself with the people becoming weary of war and balking at its ever-rising expense, the military insurgents took advantage of it and got some momentum. Many ethnic Portuguese of the African overseas territories were also increasingly willing to accept independence if their economic status could be preserved. Following the coup d'état in Portugal in 1974, the new left-wing revolutionary government of Portugal began to negotiate with the African pro-independence guerrillas. The new government in Lisbon was disinclined to prop up Portugal's convulsing and by now very expensive empire. All the Portuguese territories in Africa were rapidly granted their independence.

Economically, the regime maintained a policy of corporatism that resulted in the placement of a big part of the Portuguese economy in the hands of a few industrial groups. At the beginning of the 1970s, Portugal's GDP per capita was 40% below the Western European average. However, the economy was growing strongly, especially after the late 1950s, and Portugal co-founded EFTA, the OECD and NATO. In fact, despite the cost of the Colonial war — the Portuguese economy was growing at much faster annual rate than the rest of Western Europe and was averaging an impressive 6% annual growth between 1960 and 1973.


In February 1974, Caetano determined to remove General António Spínola in the face of increasing dissent by Spinola over the promotion of military officers and the direction of Portuguese colonial policy. At this point, several left-wing military officers who opposed the war formed a conspiracy — the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA, "Armed Forces Movement"), to overthrow the government by military coup. The MFA was headed by the majors Vitor Alves and Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho and captain Vasco Lourenço and joined by Salgueiro Maia. The movement was significantly aided by other officers in the Portuguese army who supported Spinola and democratic civil and military reform. Some observers have speculated that Costa Gomes actually led the revolution.

Portuguese Government poster from the mid-70s by artist João Abel Manta

There were two secret signals in the military coup: first the airing by 'Emissores Associados de Lisboa' of the song E Depois do Adeus by Paulo de Carvalho, Portugal's entry in the 6th of April 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, which alerted the rebel captains and soldiers to begin the coup. Next, on 25 April 1974 at 12:20 am, 'Radio Renascença' broadcast Grândola, Vila Morena, a song by Zeca Afonso, a progressive folk singer forbidden on Portuguese radio at the time. This was the signal that the MFA gave to take over strategic points of power in the country and "announced" that the revolution had started and nothing would stop it except "the possibility of a regime's repression".

Six hours later, the Caetano regime relented. Despite repeated appeals from the "captains of April" (of the MFA) on the radio warning the population to stay safe inside their homes, thousands of Portuguese took to the streets, mingling with the military insurgents and supporting them. One of the central points of those gathering was the Lisbon flower market, then richly stocked with carnations, which were in season. Some military insurgents would put these flowers in their gun-barrels, an image which was shown on television around the world. This would be the origin of the name of this "Carnation revolution". Although there were no mass demonstrations by the general population prior to the coup, spontaneous civilian involvement turned the military coup into an event with unexpected popular participation.

Caetano found refuge in the main Lisbon military police station at the Largo do Carmo. This building was surrounded by the MFA, which pressured him to cede power to General Spínola. Both Caetano (the prime minister) and Américo Tomás (the President) fled to Brazil. Caetano spent the rest of his life in Brazil, while Tomás returned to Portugal a few years later.

The revolution was closely watched from neighbouring Spain, where the government and opposition were planning for the succession of Francisco Franco, who died a year later, in 1975.


After the military coup at Lisbon, the power was taken by a military junta, the National Salvation Junta, and Portugal went through a turbulent period, commonly called the Continuing Revolutionary Process (Portuguese: Processo Revolucionário em Curso, or PREC) that lasted until 25 November 1975, marked by constant friction between liberal-democratic forces and leftist/communist political parties.[14] After a year, the first free election was carried out on 25 April 1975 in order to write a new Constitution that would replace the Constitution of 1933 which prevailed during the Estado Novo period. In 1976, another election was held and the first Constitutional government, led by the center-left socialist Mário Soares, assumed office.



Before April 1974, the war in Africa was consuming as much as 40% of the Portuguese budget and there was no sign of a final solution in sight. At a military level, a part of Guinea-Bissau was de facto independent since 1973, but the capital and the major towns were still under Portuguese control. In Angola and Mozambique, independence movements were only active in a few remote countryside areas from where the Portuguese Army had retreated. However, their impending presence and the fact that they wouldn't go away dominated public anxiety.

A direct consequence of the military coup at Lisbon was the sudden withdrawal of Portuguese administrative and military personnel from Portugal's overseas colonies. Hundreds of thousands of other Portuguese citizens — workers, small business people, and farmers (often with deep roots in the former overseas territories) — also returned to Portugal as retornados.

East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and occupied until 1999. There were an estimated 102,800 conflict-related deaths in the period 1974–99 (approximately 18,600 killings and 84,200 'excess' deaths from hunger and illness), the majority of which occurred during the Indonesian occupation.[15].

Angola would enter into a decades-long civil war which involved nations like the Soviet Union, Cuba, South Africa and the United States. Millions of Angolans would die either as a direct consequence of the war or of malnutrition and disease.

After a short period of stability Mozambique would also enter into a devastating civil war that left it as one of the poorest nations in the world. Since the 1990's, its situation improved after the war was over and multi-party elections were held.

After a long period of one-party rule, Guinea-Bissau endured a brief civil war and a difficult transition to civilian rule in the late 1990s.

Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, on the other hand, escaped civil war during the post-independence period, and by the early 1990s had established multi-party political systems.

Macau remained a Portuguese colony until 1999. China took over control at that point, pursuing a 'one country, two systems' economic policy similar to Hong Kong's.

Economic issues

The Portuguese economy had changed significantly by 1973 prior to the revolution, compared with its position in 1961. Total output (GDP at factor cost) had grown by 120 percent in real terms. The pre-revolutionary period was characterized by robust annual growth rates for GDP (6.9 percent), industrial production (9 percent), private consumption (6.5 percent), and gross fixed capital formation (7.8 percent). The revolutionary period itself was characterized by a slowly growing economy whose only impetus was the entering of the European Economic Zone. It never reached pre-revolutionary period growth rates. On the other hand, despite the progress in the 1960s and early 1970s, Portugal at the time of the Revolution was still relatively underdeveloped with poor infrastructure and inefficient agriculture.[16]

However, researchers agree that pre-revolution Portugal increasingly accomplished notable social and economic achievements.[17] After a long period of economic divergence before 1914, the Portuguese economy recovered slightly until 1950, entering thereafter on a path of strong economic convergence with Western Europe. Portuguese economic growth in the period 1950–73 under the Estado Novo regime (and even with the effects of an expensive war effort in African territories against independence guerrilla groups), created an opportunity for real integration with the developed economies of Western Europe. Through emigration, trade, tourism and foreign investment, individuals and firms changed their patterns of production and consumption, bringing about a structural transformation. Simultaneously, the increasing complexity of a growing economy raised new technical and organizational challenges, stimulating the formation of modern professional and management teams.[18][19]

In the agricultural sector, the collective farms, set up in Alentejo after the 1974–75 expropriations due to the leftist military coup of 25 April 1974, proved incapable of modernizing, and their efficiency declined. According to government estimates, about 900,000 hectares (2,200,000 acres) of agricultural land were occupied between April 1974 and December 1975 in the name of land reform; about 32% of the occupations were ruled illegal. In January 1976, the government pledged to restore the illegally occupied land to its owners, and in 1977, it promulgated the Land Reform Review Law. Restoration of illegally occupied land began in 1978.[20][21]

In 1960, at the initiation of Salazar's more outward-looking economic policy, Portugal's per capita GDP was only 38 percent of the EC-12 average; by the end of the Salazar period, in 1968, it had risen to 48 percent; and in 1973, on the eve of the revolution, Portugal's per capita GDP had reached 56.4 percent of the EC-12 average (though the figure is necessarily dampened by the 40% of the budget that went to African wars). In 1975, the year of maximum revolutionary turmoil, Portugal's per capita GDP declined to 52.3 percent of the EC-12 average. Due to the new revolutionary economic policies, oil shocks, recession in Europe, the return of hundreds of thousands of overseas Portuguese from the former overseas provinces, Portugal underwent an economic crisis starting in 1974–75.[22] Convergence of real GDP growth toward the EC average occurred as a result of Portugal's economic resurgence since 1985. In 1991 Portugal's GDP per capita climbed to 54.9 percent of the EC average, exceeding by a fraction the level attained during the worst revolutionary period.[23] After the revolution Portugal's economy would collapse and it took 16 years for the GDP as percentage of the EC-12 average to climb to 54.9 percent again. Portugal had been one of the founding members of EFTA (European Free Trade Association) in 1960. After the fall of the Estado Novo regime and the loss of its overseas territories in 1974 and 1975, Portugal left EFTA and entered into the European Economic Community in 1986.

Freedom Day

Freedom Day on 25 April is a national holiday in Portugal, with both state-sponsored and spontaneous commemorations praising the elemental civil liberties and political freedoms achieved after the revolution.

Some right-wing and non-aligned sectors of the population still regard the developments after the coup d'état, and the revolution itself, as pernicious for the country, including the events which led to thousands of Portuguese destitute refugees who fled from the overseas provinces, and the lengthy civil wars in Angola and Mozambique after their independence.

On the other hand, some of the revolutionaries and left wing partisans were unhappy that the communist and socialist inspiration of the uprising has since been abandoned, especially after the end of land reform, the increase in economic inequalities among the population during the 1990's and the privatization of key sectors of the national economy.

For the most part, moderate or non-aligned political sectors of the population consider that the core objectives of Revolution were achieved.


Originally named after António de Oliveira Salazar, in honour of the Prime-Minister, the 25 de Abril Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril) is an icon of Lisbon.

The construction of the 25 de Abril Bridge began on November 5, 1962. Forty-five months later, the bridge was inaugurated on August 6, 1966 as the Salazar Bridge, after the Estado Novo regime's leader António de Oliveira Salazar. Soon after the Carnation Revolution in 1974, the bridge was renamed the 25 de Abril Bridge, the day the revolution had occurred. A symbol of those times was captured on film, with citizens removing the big brass "Salazar" sign from one of the main pillars of the bridge and painting a provisional "25 de Abril" in its place.

In Portugal, many avenues, squares, and streets are named after the day of the revolution - 25th of April.

See also


  1. ^ "1974: Rebels seize control of Portugal", On This Day, April 25 (BBC), 25 April 1974,, retrieved 2 January 2010 
  2. ^ Birmingham, David, A Concise History of Portugal, p. 184,, "Almost immediately, massive crowds filled the streets, supporting the junior officers, crowds that put carnations in the soldiers' guns, thus helping legitimate and make irreversible the "carnation revolution"." 
  3. ^ (Portuguese) Cronologia: Movimento dos capitães, Centro de Documentação 25 de Abril, University of Coimbra
  4. ^ (Portuguese) Arquivo Electrónico: Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, Centro de Documentação 25 de Abril, University of Coimbra
  5. ^ (Portuguese) A Guerra Colonial na Guine/Bissau (07 de 07), Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho on the Decree Law, RTP 2 television,
  6. ^ Manuel Amaro Bernardo, Guerra, Paz e Fuzilamentos dos Guerrilheiros
  7. ^ Flight from Angola, The Economist (16 August 1975).
  8. ^ Dismantling the Portuguese Empire, Time Magazine (Monday, 7 July 1975).
  9. ^ Cheers, Carnations and Problems, Time Magazine (May. 13, 1974)
  10. ^ Stewart Lloyd-Jones, ISCTE (Lisbon), Portugal's history since 1974, "The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP–Partido Comunista Português), which had courted and infiltrated the MFA from the very first days of the revolution, decided that the time was now right for it to seize the initiative. Much of the radical fervour that was unleashed following Spínola's coup attempt was encouraged by the PCP as part of their own agenda to infiltrate the MFA and steer the revolution in their direction.", Centro de Documentação 25 de Abril, University of Coimbra
  11. ^ A direita radical na Universidade de Coimbra (1945–1974), MARCHI, Riccardo. A direita radical na Universidade de Coimbra (1945-1974). Anál. Social, jul. 2008, nº 188, pp. 551–76. ISSN 0003-2573.
  12. ^ (Portuguese) Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA). In Infopédia [Em linha]. Porto: Porto Editora, 2003-2009. [Consult. 2009-01-07]. Disponível na www: <URL:$movimento-das-forcas-armadas-(mfa)>.
  13. ^ Movimento das Forças Armadas (1974-1975), Projecto CRiPE- Centro de Estudos em Relações Internacionais, Ciência Política e Estratégia. © José Adelino Maltez. Cópias autorizadas, desde que indicada a origem. Última revisão em: 02-10-2008
  14. ^ (Portuguese) ENTREVISTA COM ALPOIM CALVÃO, Centro de Documentação 25 de Abril, University of Coimbra
  15. ^ Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (9 February 2006). "The Profile of Human Rights Violations in Timor-Leste, 1974–1999". A Report to the Commission on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation of Timor-Leste. Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG). 
  16. ^ Haggett, Peter, Encyclopedia of World Geography,,M1 
  17. ^ (in (Portuguese)) Fundação da SEDES — As primeiras motivações, SEDES,,2, "Nos anos 60 e até 1973 teve lugar, provavelmente, o mais rápido período de crescimento económico da nossa História, traduzido na industrialização, na expansão do turismo, no comércio com a EFTA, no desenvolvimento dos sectores financeiros, investimento estrangeiro e grandes projectos de infra-estruturas. Em consequência, os indicadores de rendimentos e consumo acompanham essa evolução, reforçados ainda pelas remessas de emigrantes." 
  18. ^ Sequeira, Tiago Neves (in (Portuguese)) (PDF), Crescrimento Económico no Pós-Guerra: os casos de Espanha, Portugal e Irlanda, University of Beira Interior, 
  19. ^ Leite, Joaquim da Costa (in (Portuguese)), Instituições, Gestão e Crescimento Económico: Portugal, 1950–73, Aveiro University, 
  20. ^ "Portugal", Country Studies (U.S. Library of Congress),, "In the mid-1980s, agricultural productivity was half that of the levels in Greece and Spain and a quarter of the EC average. The land tenure system was polarized between two extremes: small and fragmented family farms in the north and large collective farms in the south that proved incapable of modernizing. The decollectivization of agriculture, which began in modest form in the late 1970s and accelerated in the late 1980s, promised to increase the efficiency of human and land resources in the south during the 1990s." 
  21. ^ "Portugal Agriculture", The Encyclopedia of the Nations, 
  22. ^ Linz, Juan José, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation,,M1 
  23. ^ "Economic Growth and Change", Country Studies (U.S. Library of Congress), 

Further reading

  • Green, Gil. Portugal's Revolution. 99 pages. International Publishers. First Edition, 1976. ISBN 0-7178-0461-5.
  • Barker, Collin. Revolutionary Rehearsals. 266 Pages. Haymarket Books. First Edition, December 1, 2002. ISBN 1931859027.
  • Ferreira, Hugo Gil, and Marshall, Michael William. "Portugal's Revolution: 10 years on". Cambridge University Press, 303 pages, 1986. ISBN 0-521-32204-9

External references

  • George Wright, The Destruction of a Nation: United States Policy Towards Angola Since 1945, ISBN 0-7453-1029-X


External links


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