Carnation Revolution

Carnation Revolution

The Carnation Revolution ( _pt. Revolução dos Cravos) was an almost bloodless military-led pro-democratic coup d'état, started on April 25, 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 dispute between left and right wing political forces.

Inspired by the pro-independence revolutionary guerrillas they had been fighting in Portuguese empire's territories in Africa, a group of Portuguese officers organised in the Armed Forces Movement rose to overthrow the fascist/authoritarian "Estado Novo" regime that had ruled Portugal since the 1920s.

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. The population, holding red carnations ("cravos" in Portuguese), convinced the regime soldiers not to resist. The soldiers readily swapped their bullets for flowers. It was the end of the "Estado Novo", the longest authoritarian regime in Western Europe.


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 President of the Council of Ministers António de Oliveira Salazar. After the military coup of May 28, 1926, 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 by Marcelo Caetano in September who served as President of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) until he was deposed on April 25, 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, before 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.The International context was not favourable to the Portuguese regime. The Cold War was near its peak, and both Capitalist and Communist-bloc nations were supporting the guerrillas in the Portuguese colonies, attempting to bring these under, respectively, American and Soviet influence (see Portuguese Colonial War). The intransigence of the regime and the desire of many colonial residents to remain under Portuguese rule led to a delayed decolonisation process, in the case of Angola and Mozambique, nearly 20 years.

Unlike other European colonial powers, Portugal had long-standing and close ties to its African colonies. 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 colony 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, in 1961 (see Operation Vijay).

Independence movements in the African colonies — Mozambique, Angola, Portuguese Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Cape Verde — all eventually manifested some form of armed guerrilla resistance. Except in Portuguese 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 students and anti-war activists were forced to leave the country so they could escape imprisonment and torture by government forces.

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. 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. It was rapidly catching up with its wealthier neighbours in Europe. It would take almost 20 years for Portugal to reach the same level of parity of GDP compared to its Western European neighbours as it had prior to the revolution.


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 Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho 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.

There were two secret signals in the military coup: first the airing 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 April 25, 1974 at 12:15 am, the national radio 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 inciting the population to stay at home, thousands of Portuguese descended on the streets, mixing themselves with the military insurgents. 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". To clarify the above context, this was not a popular revolution but a military coup- there were no mass demonstrations by the general population prior to the coup.

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.

The aftermath of the revolution

After the military coup at Lisbon, Portugal went through a turbulent period, commonly called the "Continuing Revolutionary Process" (Portuguese: Processo Revolucionário em Curso, or PREC) that lasted until November 25, 1975, marked by constant friction between liberal democratic forces and communist ones. After a year, the first free election was carried out on April 25, 1975 in order to write a new Constitution that would replace the Constitution of 1933 that ruled the country for the reign of the Estado Novo. In 1976, another election was held and the first Constitutional government, led by 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 as an estimated 102,800 conflict-related deaths in the period 1974-1999, (approximately 18,600 killings and 84,200 'excess' deaths from hunger and illness), the majority of which occurred during the Indonesian occupation. [cite web |author=Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group |title=The Profile of Human Rights Violations in Timor-Leste, 1974-1999 |work=A Report to the Commission on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation of Timor-Leste |publisher=Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) |date=9 February 2006 |url=] .

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.

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 Principe, 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, pursuing an agreement with the United Kingdom on Hong Kong, did not want to complicate matters.

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 following period was characterized by a slowly growing economy that only impetus has been the entering of the European Economic zone. It has never reached pre-revolutionary period growth rates.

In the agricultural sector, the collective farms set up in Alentejo after the 1974-75 expropriations due to the leftist military coup of 25th 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.

Portugal's per capita GDP had reached 56.4 percent of the EC-12 average in 1974. After the military coup it would collapse and it took 16 years for the GDP as percentage of the EC-12 average to climb to 54.9 percent again. A slightly higher level than had existed prior to the revolution. 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's economic resurgence would be helped by its entry into the European Economic Community in 1985.

In the longer term the military coup eventually led to democracy and the fulfilment of the criteria needed to join the European Community (now the European Union) as a member-state.

Freedom Day

Freedom Day on April 25 is a national holiday in Portugal, with official and some popular commemorations, though some right-wing and apolitical sectors of the population still regard the developments after the "coup d'état" as pernicious for the country. On the other hand, some of the military leaders are unhappy that the leftist inspiration of the uprising has since been abandoned.

External references

* George Wright, "The Destruction of a Nation: United States Policy Towards Angola Since 1945", ISBN 0-7453-1029-X
* [ Phil Mailer, "Portugal - The Impossible Revolution?"] (All sixteen Chapters and the Introduction by Maurice Brinton)

ee also

* Timeline of the Carnation Revolution
* Estado Novo (Brazil)
* Portuguese Colonial War


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-10: 1931859027.



* The Carnation Revolution ("Cravos de Abril", 1976) – historical documentary, b/w and color 16 mm, 40 min, by Ricardo Costa, portraying the revolutionary events from 24 April 1974 up the 1st of May, illustrated by the French cartoonist Siné. Find [ information] in french.
* [ Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal] - U.S./Portugal 1977, 16mm, b/w and color, 85 min, by [ Robert Krammer] and [ Philip Spinelli] .

* Capitães de Abril ("April's Captains", 1997 fiction feature film), by Maria de Medeiros.

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