If there were any doubts that the Carnation Revolution, which ushered in the Third Portuguese Republic, was a military movement, it is perhaps enough to consider the first three Presidents of the Republic after April 25, 1974. The first was General António de Spínola; the second General Francisco da Costa Gomes; and the third General António Ramalho Eanes. They were all Generals.
Eanes is unique in one respect. When he left office at age 51 after two terms as President of the Republic, he was still younger than any other democratically elected President taking office for the first time. Yet at the time of the Carnation Revolution, he was a serving officer in Angola, unknown to anyone except his professional colleagues in the army.
From June 1974 to June 1976, he progressed in rank from Major to General, and also became President of the Republic at the age of 41. How had this rapid promotion happened? How had this unknown young man captured the votes of the majority of Portuguese who were voting in a Presidential election for the first time in the new Republic?
The young Eanes
António was born in Castelo Branco in 1935 into the family of a civil construction contractor, Manuel dos Santos Eanes. He had two older sisters and one younger brother, each of whom was educated in a profession. The sisters qualified in teaching or commerce, and young João in civil engineering. Their parents merit respect for the education they made available to their children, and they also inculcated values of honesty and honour.
When he failed a year at the Liceu of Castelo Branco in 1947, 12-year-old António had a memorable lesson from his father. He was told that many other boys of his age would be working from dawn till dusk, earning for the family, but he, on the other hand, had the privilege of an education, and his father would not support a slacker. The boy took heed and, when he left school, his marks averaged 80%.
With his quiet, introspective and disciplined personality, he had dreamt of becoming a priest or a doctor, but António eventually chose a career in the army because it seemed the quickest way to become financially independent. He said: “I wanted to escape small-town life. For a 17-year-old, the military life holds attraction. My education was also nationalist, which contributed to my choice. But I never joined the Mocidade Portuguesa.”
Service in the army
António Eanes joined the army in 1952, finishing his cadet course in 1957 as Second Lieutenant. Posted to Mafra, he qualified as a physical training instructor. On his first overseas posting to Goa in 1958, he was captivated by the different lifestyle.
Spending two years there as the sole Portuguese in a unit of Goans, he discovered another culture, and echoed the words of the great Afonso de Albuquerque that no power can continue unless it is rooted in men’s hearts. When the Indian invasion happened in December 1961, he volunteered to return to Goa, but his offer was not taken up.
Now Captain Eanes, in 1962 he was posted to Macau, where Portuguese and Chinese lived parallel lives, so different from Goa. He made a friend of Lieutenant Arnaldo Matos, whom he admired for his disciplined and demanding way with his men. His next overseas posting was to Mozambique, where he spent nearly three years.
He later admitted that commanding men in action was difficult, and the experience had a lasting effect on him.
Eanes was very interested in human nature and studied the first three years of a Psychology course at the ISPA (Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada) in Lisbon. When he was in Guiné in 1970, serving under General Spínola, this psychological knowledge together with his personal qualities of good sense and equilibrium made him the ideal candidate to run the Broadcasting and Press Service, and Spínola later decorated him for his efforts.
Much later, in 1978, it was Eanes as President of the Republic who oversaw the re-integration of the disgraced General Spínola into the Portuguese armed forces.
Also in 1970, on October 28 at Palácio de Queluz, he made what he calls the best decision of his personal life when he married Maria Manuela Duarte Neto de Portugal. They have two sons, Manuel António born in 1972 and Miguel born in 1974.
With her tranquility and spiritual peace, Maria Manuela accompanied Eanes on all of his engagements as President. In their photographs, she always looks radiantly happy, and has undoubtedly been an immense support to her husband.
It is a matter of great regret to Eanes that his father had died in 1970 and never knew these grandchildren. “My father never knew his grandsons. His death is one of the great sadnesses in my life. One’s parents are so important in one’s life, but strangely, after a certain age, this importance grows and, when they are alive, we scarcely realise how decisive they are.”
In March 1973, he was promoted to the rank of Major, and he was one of the 400 regular army officer co-signatories who protested about the promotion of militia officers. He took part in the preparatory meetings of the Captains of April before he was posted to Angola in February 1974. The reports of his commanding officers were uniform in their enthusiastic commendations. The army hierarchy had high hopes for this officer who would soon exceed even their greatest expectations.
After the Revolution
In June 1974, two months after the Carnation Revolution, Eanes was summoned from Angola to Lisbon, where the then President General Spínola appointed him as Director of Programmes, and soon afterwards President of the Administrative Council of RTP (Rádio e Televisão de Portugal). He admits that he had little training for this work but was supported by his professional colleagues at the station. He must have done something right because in November of 1974, he was promoted to Lt Colonel.
The attempted coup of March 11, 1975 (by his former commander General Spínola) brought a crisis. Eanes decided to carry the normal daytime schedule on the television network in order not to provoke further reactions in Lisbon. It was suspected that he was acting out of loyalty to his former commander, especially since his brother-in-law was also a supporter of the attempted coup. Eanes immediately resigned his position at RTP, demanding an enquiry, and refusing any further assignment until his name was cleared.
The Junta de Salvação Nacional was abolished after this attempted coup, and replaced by the powerful Conselho da Revolução, which was a combination of the extinct Junta da Salvação Nacional and the Conselho do Estado. The Conselho da Revolução comprised the President, Chief of the Armed Forces and his deputy, chiefs of the army, navy and air force and 14 other military officers. This Conselho was abolished in 1982, and its wide powers devolved onto the Conselho do Estado, Tribunal Constitutional and the Assembleia da República.
In the summer of 1975, Eanes answered the call of President Costa Gomes to take command of and disband the army’s Fifth Division, a hotbed of leftist revolutionary propaganda, and he was a signatory of the Documento dos Nove, in which senior officers proposed a political route different from the pro-soviet model.
November 25, 1975
There was another attempted coup d’état on November 25, this time by leftist army units, including the élite parachutists. Eanes later said of the attempted coup that “November 25 was the most important moment in my professional life” and, under the guidance of President Costa Gomes, Eanes directed the forces of order to suppress the rising. It was easy for him to identify his friends among the rebels, but personally very difficult to imprison them.
This event proved to be the first time that Eanes appeared on the public stage, the hardened soldier in combat fatigues and darkened glasses, and he earned public support by his actions at this time. Two days later, he was promoted to General, and made Chief of the Army, and was now a member of the Conselho da Revolução.
Part 2 of this article will be published in next week’s edition.
By Lynne Booker