History of Portugal (1974–1986)

History of Portugal (1974–1986)

The causes for the revolution

By 1974, half of Portugal's GDP and the vast majority of its armed forces were engaged in wars in three of Portugal's African colonies. Whereas other European powers had ceded independence to their former African colonies in the late 1950s and 1960s, the Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar had refused to even countenance the option of independence. He had further resisted independence for the province of Goa, first occupied by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, but was powerless to intervene when the Indian army marched in and incorporated the province into India in 1961. Salazar took the unusual step of appealing to the United Nations against the Indian action but was shunned (see Invasion of Goa). Salazar's appointed successor Marcello Caetano continued the costly war in the colonies. By the mid-seventies, Portuguese control of Guinea-Bissau was collapsing rapidly. In Angola and Mozambique, it faced several guerrilla groups. The Soviet backed MPLA in Angola and Frelimo in Mozambique made significant gains. Facing increasing losses in its conscript army led a right-of-centre General Antonio de Spinola to openly criticise the government's colonial policy. This gave expression to a growing rumbling of discontent within the army led by the captains. There is a Portuguese feature film about the 1974 revolution, explicitly mentioning the captains, entitled Capitaes de Abril. It was these men who were to form the backbone of the military revolt against Caetano and his eventual overthrow.

Portugal's right-wing, authoritarian dictatorship had taken root when Salazar assumed the role of Prime Minister having been Minister of Finance since 1926. The regime evolved into a classic fascist dictatorship heavily influenced by the corporatist ideas of Benito Mussolini in Italy. This was evidenced in the formation of the Estado Novo - the new state - and the permanent rule of the governing party. Trade unions were to be vertically integrated into the state machine. By 1974, this lack of democracy in a western European country came under increasing criticism from within and abroad. Amnesty International was formed after the experience of its founder who encountered examples of torture in Portugal.

Salazar's personal ideology was pro-Catholic, anti-Communist and nationalistic. Economic policy was frequently protectionist and mercantilist. One former economics minister has expressed amazement at how little economic integration there was between Portugal and neighbouring Spain. Under EU driven market liberalisation, there has been corporate integration though often seen in Portugal as an economic takeover by Spain. While the two countries on the Iberian peninsula experienced economic growth in the sixties and seventies - largely as a source of low cost labour and tourist destinations - poverty and illiteracy remained high. Portugal experienced high levels of emigration and this remains a feature of the economy today.

The revolution led to an explosion of political activity with sixty political parties active at one point. The Portuguese Communist Party had long operated underground under the leadership of Alvaro Cunhal. Though its electoral support was limited, its position in the trade unions and countryside gave the party huge influence. A combination of this and the country's poverty levels as well as a lack of social and economic development gave impetus to calls for nationalisation. By different estimates, sixty to eighty per cent of the economy was taken over after the revolution. For many on the left in Portugal, the 1974 revolution had overthrown both the dictatorship and those economic forces that had benefited from it. Only in the eighties did the centre-right in Portugal win the argument de-coupling fascism from capitalism and privatising state concerns while maintaining democracy.

The revolution

Two indirect consequences of the Carnation Revolution were a collapse of the economy and dislocation of hundreds of thousands of people who returned from the colonies to Portugal as refugees.

The "retornados"

The "retornados" (from the Portuguese verb "Retornar" to return) are a Portuguese population who fled their overseas colonies after those countries gained independence in 1974. After the military coup of 25th of April of 1974 Portugal faced political turmoil and the colonial army, often highly politicised by the Salazar Regime and the Independence Wars returned home, taking with them much of the European populations of Angola, Mozambique and to a lesser extent in Guinea. The total numbers of these migrants is not clear: they range from 500,000 to 1 million. Some, especially from the military, came into conflict with the new government, and their involvement fed into the right-wing political forces which overthrew the Portuguese transitional government 25 November, 1975. [Kenneth Maxwell. The Making of Portuguese Democracy. Cambridge University Press (1997) ISBN 0521585961] Among these were the Salazarist ELP (Army for Portuguese Liberation) and the Spinola lede and Francoist funded MDLP (Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Portugal). These groups carried out a number of attacks and bombings during the "Hot Summer" of 1975, mostly in the north of Portugal, while the MDLP was in volved in the attempted coup of 11 March. When Spinola and his allies came to power in November, the MDLP disbanded, the ELP continued its campaign.

This term is also applied to Portuguese settlers who fled East Timor in 1975 after it was taken by Indonesian rule.


East Timor was invaded by (US backed) Indonesia in 1975, resulting in an estimated 200,000 civilian casualties. Angola would enter into a decades long civil war became a proxy war for 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. Mozambique, invaded by South Africa, would also enter into a devastating civil war that leave it as one of the poorest nations in the world.


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. Clearly, 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). Fact|date=March 2008

Portugal's per capita GDP had reached 56.4 percent of the EC-12 average in 1974. Post military coup it would collapse and it would only be in 1991 - 16 years later that the GDP as percentage EC-12 average climbed to 54.9 percent. In the longer term the revolution led to democracy and Portugal's economic resurgence due to participation in the European Economic Community since 1985.

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.

Political changes

Portugal's experience with democracy before the Carnation Revolution of 1974 had not been particularly successful. Its First Republic lasted only sixteen years, from 1910 to 1926. Under the republic, parliamentary institutions worked poorly and were soon discredited. Corruption and economic mismanagement were widespread. When a military coup d'état ended the First Republic in 1926, few lamented its passing.


External links

*BBC website article on Portuguese revolution [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/25/newsid_4754000/4754581.stm]
*A huge resource of newspaper articles from across Europe in 1974 and after [http://www.ena.lu/europe/19801986-enlargement-south-single-european/first-anniversary-revolution-carnations-1975.htm]
*EU website [http://www.eu2007.pt/UE/vEN/Bem_Vindo_Portugal/Passado/A_Revolucao_dos_Cravos.htm]
*AFP article on thirtieth anniversary of Portuguese revolution [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmafp/is_200404/ai_kepm454693]
*Portugal Timeline on history website [http://www.portugal.bz/history/second-republic.htm]

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