The latest attempt by the far left to seize control of events in Portugal appears to have failed.
The latest attempt by the far left to seize control of events in Portugal appears to have failed. A revolt by a group of military police yesterday was swiftly crushed by troops loyal to President Costa Gomes.
But this has done nothing to end the state of total confusion in Portugal, which at present has no effective government. The sixth provisional government since the revolution of last year, which is headed by Admiral Pinheiro do Azevedo, announced a week ago that it was suspending its operations unless the military leadership could guarantee it support; and the military are totally divided among themselves.
The struggle for power inside Portugal has been going on ever since April 25th, 1974. On that day, a military group calling itself " The Armed Forces Movement" overthrew the nearly fifty-year-old dictatorship founded by Dr. Salazar continued by his successor Marcello Caetano. General Antonio de Spinola, a distinguished officer who had been Governor of Portuguese Guinea and Deputy Chief of Staff, and was dismissed from that post after publishing a controversial book, was installed as Head of State. He led a Junta of National Salvation -- a group of senior officers -- and installed a left-centre mainly civilian government.
In their new-found freedom, Portuguese workers came out in a series of strikes. At the same time, the Communists Party, whose leader, Alvaro Cunhal had returned from more than ten years exile in Eastern Europe, was consolidating its power at local level. The government resigned, and was replaced by a new one headed by Colonel Vasco dos Santos Goncalves. like its predecessor, the Cabinet included Socialists, Communists, and representatives of the left-centre Democratic Popular Party.
Elections had been promised within a year of the revolution, and were originally fixed for April 12th of this year. But a month before that, there was an apparent counter-coup, in which it was alleged that General Spinola was involved. (General Spinola had resigned the Presidency in September 1974, and been replaced by General Francisco do Costa Gomes but was still in Portugal. After the coup, he sought refuge in Brazil).
The elections were eventually held on April 25th. Three parties, the Christian Democrats and two left-wing groups, were banned from taking part. The main contenders were the Socialists, the Communists and the Popular Democrats. There were nine smaller parties, including four of the extreme left.
The result was a clear victory for the Socialist Party, headed by Dr. Mario Soares, followed by the Popular Democrats. The Communists came a long way third . But General Goncalves decided not to reconstruct his Cabinet, in which the Socialists were clearly under-represented in the light of their standing in the country. Three months later, the Socialists and Popular Democrats resigned from the government, and a new was formed, made up largely of pro-Communist officers and civilians.
In the meantime, the struggle between the rival power groups continued. Communist printers took over the long-established pro-Socialist newspaper Republica, and the government closed it down. This brought protests not only from the Socialists but from abroad, against the threat to the freedom of the press. Communists also occupied the premises of the Catholic radio station, Radio Renascenca, until the Armed Forces Movement took it over. Hostility, particularly in the conservative north of Portugal, built up into a series of clashes between Catholic workers and Communists. Communist party premises came under attack, and at one particularly stormy meeting, the Communist leader, Dr. Cunhal, had to be rescued by troops.
One of the Chief complicating factors in the Portuguese political situation has been the attitude of the armed forces themselves. Originally, in the "Armed Forces Movement" they were, in public at least, united behind the revolution. But splits have since appeared between different units; some, particularly the Lisbon garrison, have strongly favoured the left. Soldiers have taken to the streets in demonstrators themselves. The government in power cannot necessarily rely on them to restore order. Yet another factor in the situation is the existence of the security force, COPCON, under the command of General Otelo de Carvalho. He has been extremely influential in recent months, but was stripped of his command after yesterday's uprising.
The latest government upheaval came at the end of August, when the Supreme Revolutionary Council (which had replaced the Junta of National Salvation) finally removed General Goncalves, who had become more obviously pro-Communist, and replaced him with the non-party Admiral Azevedo. The Admiral formed another coalition government which technically is still in office; though it in turn has found it impossible to govern Portugal
SYNOPSIS: General Antonio de Spinola was the hero of the 1974 revolution in Portugal and first President of the new regime. he lasted five months in office and finally went into exile in Brazil. His Prime Minister, Colonel Goncalves, survived more than a year at the head of increasingly left-dominated governments.
The Communist Party was well organised, under its leader, Alvaro Cunhal, who returned from Eastern Europe after the revolution. It began to consolidate in the confusion that reigned in Portugal, but could never quite seize power.
It was the Socialist leader Dr. Mario Soares, who emerged the victor when elections were held last April. But popular support did not ensure him any more influence in the government.
By this time, Portugal was in a state of almost chronic disorder. Troops were called out to break up this demonstration by Maoists neat Lisbon, who were demanding the release of political prisoners.
The Communists, who had come under attack by right-wing crowds, decided to show the flag at a big rally at Alcobaca.
Crowds outside started to hurl stones at the doors. The Communists Charged into the street to disperse them. Dr. Cunhal was trapped inside by the fighting for four trapped inside by the fighting for four hours until he was rescued by troops.
Catholic workers in the conservative north were the most militant against the Communists. The Catholics were particularly incensed by Communist seizure of a Catholic radio station.
Communist printers also occupied the premises of the independent pro-Socialist newspaper Republica. The government closed it down. This brought protests not only from the Socialists, but also from abroad, as a threat to the freedom of the press. There was a long dispute, the paper was temporarily restarted and eventually taken over by the printers again.
Cross-currents in the straight political struggle have been provided by General Otelo Carvalho and his security police, COPCON. He was an extremely influential figure until his dismissal in yesterday's abortive coup.
And the armed forces themselves have taken a direct part in demonstrations. They cannot necessarily be relied on by the government in office to restore order. The most revolutionary elements have been those stations in and around Lisbon.
It is against this background the President Costa Gomes...who succeeded President Spinola...has had to try to find a cabinet was demoted at this meeting of senior officers of the Armed Forces Movement, and Admiral Pinheiro de Azevedo put in his place. But the Admiral has found that he can not govern without the support of the military, who themselves are totally divided. So he has suspended operations, and after yesterday's attempted left-wing coup, Lisbon is now under martial law.