April 25: The posthumous award to General Spínola divides Portugal on the 48th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution | International
At the headquarters of the April 25 Association in Lisbon there are carnations in pots and on posters. The most recent celebrates a historical event: “More carnations than dictatorship.” The days of democracy in Portugal surpassed on March 24 those lived in repression. The symbolism has been used to open the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the revolution that on April 25, 1974 buried a colonial war and a long-lasting dictatorship in one fell swoop without adding more violence to the one marked by the regime of Oliveira Salazar and Marcelo Caetano. “A unique action in universal history in which the military carry out a coup against a dictatorship largely supported by other soldiers, facilitate the arrival of democracy and then return to their barracks,” he underlines during an interview at the headquarters of the Vasco Lourenço association, the only survivor of the leadership of the captains’ movement (the other two, Vitor Alves and Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, died in 2011 and 2021).
Celebrating the Carnation Revolution, however, is easier than paying homage to those who conceived and executed it. For years the institutions have skimped on recognizing the officers who carried out the coup, in part because some of them had questionable political trajectories since 1974, such as those of General Spínola or Major Saraiva de Carvalho. One for conspiring and fueling violence from the extreme right and another from the extreme left. “Many then did acts that were considered negative, but I defend that they be recognized for what they did on April 25,” defends Vasco Lourenço. And it is the announcement of a posthumous decoration for Spínola that has fueled the debate and criticism in Portugal on the 48th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, which is celebrated this Monday and is celebrated again with acts open to the public after the limitations imposed by the pandemic in recent times.
Vasco Lourenço drew up a list with some 250 names of soldiers who distinguished themselves by participating in the conspiracy and execution of the coup and who deserved the Order of Liberty, created by the Presidency of the Republic in homage to the Carnation Revolution. Some of them had already been awarded, especially during the mandate as Head of State of Ramalho Eanes, one of the rebel soldiers, who decorated 50 comrades of the coup. The socialist Jorge Sampaio also honored 17 officers and Mário Soares made other institutional nods to the movement. The worst treatment was given under the conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva as president of the Republic. “He hated April 25,” says Vasco Lourenço.
Cavaco Silva weighs the decision to marginalize the great hero of the Carnation Revolution, cavalry captain Salgueiro Maia, revered by the Portuguese because he was heroic on April 25 and discreet thereafter. The officer died of cancer in 1992 after witnessing Cavaco Silva’s refusal to grant him a pension for extraordinary services, which the Head of State granted without problems to members of the repressive police of the dictatorship.
Vasco Lourenço has seen four presidents of the Republic go by until he finds the one most receptive to his demand. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, current head of state, considers that it is time to settle all pending accounts. “He has shown himself willing to decorate those who were missing gradually,” acknowledges Vasco Lourenço. A few weeks ago he distinguished some 30 soldiers and it was announced that in 2024 he would award the Order of Freedom to all the members of the National Salvation Board who did not yet have it. The junta was created and chaired by General Spínola from April 26, 1974 until the first provisional government was formed in May. This board was made up of Admiral Rosa Coutinho, General Francisco da Costa Gomes and Pinheiro de Azevedo, who conspired and supported the military coup, and Diogo Neto, Carlos Galvao de Melo and Jaime Silvério Marques, soldiers who had not encouraged it and who, in In some cases, they aroused suspicion among the captains of April to the point of imprisoning Silvério Marques during the day of the coup.
None of these three appeared on the list of the April 25 Association, but Vasco Lourenço is conciliatory with the will of Rebelo de Sousa. “If the President of the Republic did everything I think, I would be the President of the Republic”, he jokes on an April afternoon that shows that mass tourism has reunited with Lisbon. However, some thirty personalities from Portuguese society have asked Rebelo de Sousa in an open letter to reconsider his decision to award Spínola because, after the liberating coup, “he resorted to violent methods to restore the order demolished on April 25 ”.
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In the text they recall their opposition to freeing the political prisoners of the dictatorship and maintaining the activity of the repressive police of the regime, as well as their participation in the conspiracy of March 11, 1975 to overthrow the Government. “This attempt failed, he fled to Spain and created the MDPL,” they recall. This movement was the main far-right organization that participated in the attack on the headquarters of left-wing organizations during the summer of 1976, a period of great social and political tension that, in Vasco Lourenço’s opinion, placed the country on the brink of collapse. civil war.
“It is one thing to try to pacify Portuguese society under the pretext of 50 years of the Revolution. Another, very different, is to whiten and normalize what is not comparable, ”says Miguel Carvalho, author of the book, in an email When Portugal burned where he investigated the attacks of the far-right terrorist group founded by Spínola in Madrid. The journalist adds that all the protagonists of April 25 “have made mistakes and have had very controversial actions. But, Spínola has been one of the most destabilizing elements of the early days of democracy and always tried to limit it”.
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