Companion to East Timor - Carnation Revolution

Carnation Revolution

Portugal had joined the European Free Trade Association in 1959. As a condition of joining, it had until 1974 (fifteen years) to liberalise its tariff restrictions. Wealthy Portuguese conglomerates that focused on the European market were rethinking the merits of retaining the African colonies. The move towards integration with Europe was being hamstrung by the effort of sustaining its colonial wars, which had broken out in 1961 in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau. Portugal, the poorest state in Western Europe, remained a close US ally. Its Atlantic islands gave it a strategic influence over the central and south Atlantic sea lanes, which were militarily important, and the Cape sea lanes, which were vital to the tankers that carried most of Europe's oil supplies from the Middle East. Portugal was the preferred abode of some ex-Nazis, former dictators such as Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, and exiled monarchs such as Umberto II of Italy and Infante Juan of Spain.

In 1968, Salazar was incapacitated by a stroke. He was succeeded by Marcello Caetano, who proved unable to alleviate Portugal's economic problems or to win its wars with liberation movements in its African colonies. Portugal's population of eight million was deploying 282,000 troops to fight in colonial territories that were more than 22 times the size of Portugal itself. A US intelligence assessment of the likelihood of success was grim. It said that the outlook was 'continued stalemate: the rebels cannot oust the Portuguese and the Portuguese can contain but not eliminate the rebels.' There was considerable resentment in 1973 when the Caetano dictatorship commissioned militia officers for service in the colonial wars. In February 1974, General Antonio de Spinola, respected by Portuguese troops fighting in its colonial wars, argued in his book 'Portugal and the Future' that there could be no military solution to the wars. This action put him on a collision course with Caetano's leadership. On 25 April 1974, a group of military officers known as the Armed Forces Movement deposed Caetano in what would be known as the Revolution of the Carnations. They disbanded the paramilitary forces, eliminated censorship and abolished the secret police, who were found to have kept files on an estimated three million people (almost 40% of the population). They installed Spinola as president and began negotiating with the African liberation movements. They issued a decree that committed Portugal to a decolonisation process. Spinola resigned from the presidency five months later due to his opposition to rapid independence for the colonies without free referendums.