Revolution and reaction during PREC
For many, it is a very peaceful revolutionary process. For those who live this episode, are very troubled times that mark a summer that lasts much more than the warm months of the season
Thousands of posters invaded Lisbon. The call was for a protest supporting General Spínola. It was lived intensely the aftermath of the April 25th, and the most conservative sector of the Portuguese society decided to organized a protest on September 28th of 1974, supporting the then President of the Republic. In the place of the lips, it was read: silent majority. Strongly visual, but apparently silent.
On its hand, Movimento Democrático Português – Comissão Democrática Eleitoral (MDP-CDE) spread its version of these posters, in an attempt to demobilize the people. These posters showed Spínola with a threatening look and it a swastika in his chest, inverting the manifestation’s name to “sinister majority”.
The reaction of the military forces
Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, from COPCON (a military command structure for the Portuguese mainland), and Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) react. Barricades are assembled at the entrance of Lisbon, and all cars are searched, in the continuous search for weapons.
On the morning of the 28th, MFA held the control of the situation, and the protest by Maioria Silenciosa was stopped by popular action. Everything indicated that the majority would have to remain in silence.
At the same time, COPCON military made several arrests of former rulers of Estado Novo, bankers, businessmen and individuals supposedly linked to the protest’s organization.
Two days after, the bullfight in favor of Liga dos Combatentes [The Combatants’ League], done in Campo Pequeno, in Lisbon, had changed the public course of the tensions between General Spínola and the MFA. The arena, full and composed by sectors traditionally more linked to the right-wing, applauded the President of the Republic, screaming “Portugal, Portugal, Portugal”. During the intermission, however, the Prime-Minister Vasco Gonçalves, belonging to the military group close to PCP, was booed and insulted.
Between applauses and booings to the President and the Prime-Minister, respectively, one of the chavaliers show the sign of the «silent majority», such as the evening newspaper A Capitalreports. But tensions didn’t stop here. At the exit from the bullfight arena, violent confrontations burst between Spínola’s supporters and several counter protesters.
Spínola and MFA: The affirmation of a new disagreement
Tensions between General Spínola and MFA became publicly evident. The greatest divergence point? The decolonization process: even though Spínola recognized the colonies’ right to self-determination, he advocated the realization of referendums, something that wasn’t part of MFA’s program. Additionally, Spínola saw his powers increasingly more limited, once he hadn’t any control over the provisory government.
After the failure of September 28th, the strong-arm between the two sides intensified. Spínola tries, in vain, convoking state of emergency in the Lisbon region, with the aim of putting an end to the popular barricades assembled. Besides, he projected a NATO military intervention, justified according to the scenario of sectors related to PCP seizing power.
In the morning of the 29th, the minister of Defense, Firmino Miguel, interrupts the meeting between Junta de Salvação Nacional and the Coordinator Commission of MFA, proclaiming the «existence of convulsions» in the Southern margin of the Tagus, including also «blood shed». However, Costa Gomes decides to see the fact with his own eyes. After a helicopter ride, Costa Gomes comes back, stating that Firmino Miguel’s reports didn’t correspond to the truth. Spínola’s plans end up failed.
Before the complete defeat, Spínola declares his resignation as President of the Republic, before a room full with counselors and journalists, live in television and in radio stations.
The content of the General’s speech was, however, far from being pacific. The President’s words – who considered “inviable the building of a democracy over this systematic assault to the foundations of structures and institutions by political groups which ideological essence offends the most elementary concept of freedom, in flagrant distortion of the spirit of the 25th of April” – were called as “apocalyptical” and “catastrophists”. Costa Gomes himself even commented: “If I had pictured that the speech would had that tone, that would had never been aired!”.
Spínola retired to his residency and Costa Gomes was nominated as the new President of the Republic by Junta de Salvação Nacional. The General even asked for political exile next to the Spanish Embassy in Lisbon, but it was denied by General Franco.
Nevertheless, Spínola would prove himself as obstinate. On March 11th, 1975, he intents against COPCON and the Portuguese extreme-left faction, with an attack to the Regiment of Light Artillery (RAL1), in Lisbon. Fate or not, the General’s plane came out, once again, failed.
Chronologically, it is possible to divide the post-25th of April period in two key-moments: the events until March 11 and the events after that coup attempt – the famous “Verão Quente” [Hot Summer].