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The Carnation Revolution (Portuguese, Revolução dos Cravos) was a bloodless left-leaning revolution started on April 25, 1974, in Lisbon, Portugal, that effectively changed the Portuguese regime from an authoritarian dictatorship to a liberal democracy at the end of a two-year process of a communist dominated military administration.
"Bloodless" must be qualified: government forces killed four people before surrendering. However, this revolution is peculiar in that the revolutionaries did not use direct violence to achieve their goals. The population, holding red carnations, convinced the regime soldiers not to resist. The soldiers easily changed their bullets for flowers. It was the end of the Estado Novo, the longest dictatorship in Western Europe.
Freedom Day on April 25 is one of the major holidays in Portugal, usually a day of celebration and joy, though some right-wing sectors of population still regard the developments after the coup d'état as pernicious for the country. On the other hand, some of the military leaders lament that the leftist inspiration of the uprising has since been abandoned.
The carnation is the symbol of this revolution, since soldiers put these flowers in their guns, in what came to symbolise the absence of violence for changing the regime in Portugal—a regime that had been one of the longest rightist dictatorships of the 20th century, though easily overshadowed by some of the leftist ones.
There were two secret signals in the revolution: first the airing of the song E depois do adeus by Paulo de Carvalho , which alerted the rebel captains and soldiers to start the revolution; and then Grândola, Vila Morena, confirmed the actions and "announced" that the revolution had started and nothing would stop it except "the possiblity of a regime's repression".
In the beginning of the 1970s, the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo continued to weigh heavily on the country, after a half-century of rule under António de Oliveira Salazar. After the military coup of May 28, 1926, Portugal implemented an authoritarian regime of fascist inspiration. In 1933, the regime was recast, self-named Estado Novo ("New State"), and Oliveira Salazar came to control the country until 1968, when he was incapacitated. Marcello Caetano replaced him, and led the country until he was deposed on April 25, 1974.
Under the rule of the Estado Novo, Portugal was always considered a dictatorship, whether by the opposition, by foreign observers, or even by the regime leaders themselves. There were formal elections, but these were always contested by the opposition, who always accused the government of electoral fraud and for disrespecting its duty to remain impartial.
During Caetano's reign, attempts at political reform were annihilated by the inertia of the regime, and especially by the omnipotence of the secret military police. 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 Vigilancia e Defesa do Estado) — persecuted opponents of the regime.
The Estado Novo chose to occupy Portugal's colonies beyond the 1960s essentially because the maintenaince of a colonial empire was part of the historical vision of the regime's ideologues. Despite contestations in world forums such as the United Nations, Portugal maintained a policy of force. It felt obliged to militarily defend its colonies against independence groups in Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique. The regime was aging, seemingly lethargic in a world that was undergoing great cultural and intellectual change.
People in the African colonies — Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe — active players in the decolonisation movement, were in revolt since the start of the 1960s, and forced the regime to invest more and more energy in a vain war of pacification. As Portugal aimed to keep a stronghold on the rest of its colonial empire, such a war contrasted the actions of most European colonial powers, who were seeking to decolonise altogether.
Young people driven by the draft, and the officers engaged in this war, were themselves confronted by the impasse in which the regime was engaged. The colonial war was becoming fertile ground for the revolution, due to the dissensions that it created in civil and military society.
Economically, the regime maintained a policy of Corporatism that resulted in the placement of the Portuguese market in the hands of a few industrial groups. The war in Africa cost the Portuguese state almost 40% of its annual budget throughout most of the conflict; this also contributed significantly to the impoverishment of the Portuguese economy. Until the 1960s the country remained substantially poor, which stimulated emigration.
In February 1974, Caetano was obliged by the old guard to remove General António Spínola and his underlings as the General tried to change the direction of Portuguese colonial policy, which had become too expensive. The divisions of the powerful elite became visible, at which point a mysterious Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) ("Movement of Armed Forces"), headed by Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, chose to lead a revolution. This movement was borne in secrecy in 1973 through the conspiracy of some army officers of leftist tendencies who had been radicalized by the breakdown of the colonial war. Some say that actually Francisco da Costa Gomes lead the revolution.
On April 25, 1974 at 12:45 am, the national radio broadcast Grândola, Vila Morena, a revolutionary song by José Afonso. This was the signal that the MFA gave to take over strategic points of power in the country. Six hours later, the dictatorial regime caved.
Despite repeated appeals from the "captains of April" (of the MFA) on the radio inciting the population to stay home, thousands of Portuguese descended on the streets, mixing themselves with the military insurgents. One of the central points of those gathering was the march of flowers in Lisbon, then richly stocked with carnations, which were in season. Some military insurgents would put these flowers in the cannons of their guns; this would be the origin of the name of this "bloodless revolution".
Caetano found refuge in the main Lisbon military police station. This building was surrounded by the MFA, which pressured him to cede power to General Spínola. Caetano was then immediately exiled in Brazil.
The revolution in Portugal initiated the process which Political Scientist Samuel P. Huntington theorised, called the "third wave of democratisation;" a process of democratisation which then spread to Greece, Spain and Latin America.
Soon after the 25th, political prisoners were liberated from the Prisão de Caxias. Exiled opposition political leaders returned to the country in the following days. One week later, May 1st was legally celebrated in the streets for the first time in many years. In Lisbon, about 500,000 people joined this occasion.
Portugal went through a turbulent period that lasted two years, marked by the fight between the right and the left. After a year, constitutional elections were realized, and a parliamentary democracy was established. The colonial war ended and the African colonies began to gain independence by the end of 1975.
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