Recollections of the 25th April revolution

“It was apparent to me that sooner or later there would be significant changes in Portuguese government policies as far back as 1971 when I was serving overseas in the Colonial Wars for Independence in Guinea Bissau,” says João Silva de Sousa, who still believes that despite the social and economic upheavals that followed the Revolution, April 25th had been worth it in terms of political freedoms won. 

At that time the country was being run by Salazar’s successor Marcello Caetano and João Sousa, a young military conscript, recalls having read a book by Caetano who, seeing Portugal’s isolation world-wide, was in favour of moderating the regime, ending the colonial wars and granting the colonies independence as well as setting up a British-style Commonwealth.

In addition, the international context was not favourable to Marcello Caetano’s government as both Western states and Russia supported the guerrillas in the colonial wars for their own interests against the Portuguese. 

“We knew that the vast majority of civil and military society, including influential figures, wanted this change to come and it was known and even discussed within certain circles that an anti-regime movement existed within the military, from generals down to brigadiers, who were preparing and expecting such an eventuality and it was just a question of time,” said João Silva de Sousa.

Indeed this dissent from the military included General António Spinola, who Marcello Caetano was forced to remove in February 1974 because of the general’s disagreement over the promotion of military officers and the direction of Portuguese colonial policy.  

There was also mounting pressure for change outside the country, from Portugal’s NATO partners from the mid to late 1960s onwards.

“On the evening of the 24th April I and other students at the university were informed that something was afoot for the following day,” said João Silva de Sousa.

“I remember being at home and was preparing to go off to work at Cascais at 7am when I heard the news on the radio that people should stay indoors and not go onto the streets.”

Even so he, in common with many people, ventured out with his wife and tried to go around and see what was happening: “But the area around the Baixa and Carmo was completely sealed off by military forces and armoured cars. Despite that I remember the throngs of ordinary people later mixing with the military. There were simply too many of them to prevent it.”

Looking back João Silva de Sousa thinks that although the revolution was predictable, it was nevertheless amazing to see how the military had seized power from the ministries without a shot being fired.

“That day I was filled with hopes and expectations for the future. As a socialist I believe many good things came out of the Carnation Revolution, despite the instability and chaos that ensued, such as freedom of speech, the right to vote, free political parties, and the liberation of political prisoners from the prisons.”

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