Date Added: 2009-04-24
Date Modified: 2009-05-27
Carnations for the Portuguese Empire
document 6 of 20
Carnations for the Portuguese Empire
by Cornet Joyce
24 April 2009
Early in Portugal’s trailblazing career as a seaborne empire, she sent a fleet and land forces to the East with the intent of controlling the spice trade. Over the first decade or so, the returns to the treasury exceeded the naval and military cost. For the next four and a half centuries, the ambitious enterprise drained the country’s resources with little success at protecting her colonial possessions from the British or even from the Arabs, the Persians and the Indians. From a place of prominence among nations she sank to a position of insolvency and backwardness derided by her own former Brazilian colonists. The navy and army moved decisively to topple the monarchy and the power of the Church in 1910 but years of turmoil ensued, and in 1925 a Portuguese general imitated the Fascist March on Rome with a March on Lisbon and the Portuguese New State was born, its recurring theme: Cross and Sword.
Portugal’s former colony Brazil, in the meantime, saw a succession of wavering leftish presidents come and go. In 1961, Joăo Goulart succeeded to the office and two years afterward achieved sweeping power by referendum. Tension mounted between the president and the generals. On March 13th, 1964, Goulart boldly committed to land and other reforms including rent contol and the nationalization of oil refineries. On the 19th, a “march of families for god and freedom” hit the streets. On the 25th, sailors of the Brazilian navy moved vigorously to support the reforms, establishing an assembly at the metalworkers’ union hall. Marines sent against the sailors instead joined them When the leaders were finally arrested, Goulart quickly pardoned them. On March 30th, the president spoke to a gathering of army sergeants and asked for their support for the reforms; the generals could see where the wind was blowing and, on the following day they launched a coup. They ruled Brazil for the next 21 years.
The remaining Portuguese possessions were more and more difficult to hold onto. In 1956, rebellion erupted in Portuguese Guinea; in 1961, the last Portuguese colony on the Indian subcontinent was seized by India; anticolonial armed struggle opened in Angola and in 1964, in Mozambique too. The last great jewels of the Portuguese empire were in jeopardy and the New State desperately held on. The struggle sent the already impoverished country into even worse straits and the morale of the military into a tailspin. When the aged dictator Salazar died, his successor responded to the bleak situation with modest reforms but Portuguese troops continued to be sent off to battle against Revolution. Grumbling within the military grew and spread up the chain of command.
The time came when the soldiers of Portugal concluded that Revolution was not their country’s problem but the answer to her problems. Grumbling turned to planning and , shortly after midnight on April 25th, 1974, a radio broadcast of the banned song Grandola Vila Morena called the troops to action. Where the movement in the Brazilian navy and army had been stamped out before it could organize, the Portuguese Armed Forces Movement launched a lightning strike that brought down the decades-old dictatorship and the centuries-old empire with little bloodshed. Troops ordered to move against them joined with them, as did the overwhelming mass of the people. Soldiers stuffed carnations into the barrels of their rifles, giving birth to the proud legend of the Carnation Revolution; and political forces “counted guns” to determine the outcome of disputes but didn’t shoot.
The Carnation Revolution fell far short of a Revolutionary utopia, of course: The socialist party, with Revolutionary Democracy in full bloom, could hardly imagine anything more exciting than socialist politicians fairly elected; the communist party, with workers’ councils springing up, could offer nothing more engaging than the customary dictatorship over the proletariat. So Portugal, after a brief episode as the nightmare of world capitalism, settled into a normal capitalist life. Still, few empires end in such a glorious manner.
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