Portuguese American Journal

Viva! Portuguese nation celebrates 50 years of democracy and freedom! – Portugal

Portugal celebrates today the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution (Revolução dos Cravos), the nation’s “Freedom Day,” when a military coup ended the Estado Novo authoritarian regime, led by Antonio Oliveira Salazar, Europe’s longest-lived dictatorship and 13 years of colonial wars in Africa.

On April 25, 1974, some 200 to 300 officers calling themselves the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas; MFA), led by General António Spinola and General Francisco da Costa Gomes, and other prominent civilian and military leaders, planned and implemented the coup.

Backed by idealist young military captains, the rebellion quickly turned into a popular uprising joined by jubilant crowds. The military officers opposed the regime’s colonial wars in Africa and the lack of political freedoms at home. The coup was largely bloodless and involved a broad range of individuals, organized groups, and civil society.

The rebellion, also known as the April 25th Revolution, is one of the most significant events in Portuguese history, also named the “Carnation Revolution” after the crowds held red carnations as a symbol of the bloodless military takeover that brought democracy and civil liberties to the Portuguese people.

In 1974, more than half of Portugal’s government budget was spent with the military engaged in wars in three of Portugal’s colonies in Africa. Under the newly established democratic rule, a swift decolonization program was implemented granting independence to Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Cape Verde Islands, Sao Tome and Principe, and Angola.

After the military takeover, ruling Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano was overthrown and forced into exile in Brazil. António  Spinola took charge of a Provisional Government, immediately restoring civil liberties that held democratic general elections, leading the country to a swift transition to democracy. Hundreds of political prisoners were released.

A new Constitution was drafted and approved in 1976 establishing a democratic and pluralist political system, enshrining basic human rights, and setting out the principles of the rule of law and separation of powers. Over the next decades, a stable multi-party system was established.

The new Constitution, widely supported by the Portuguese people, led to Portugal’s first free elections under universal suffrage exactly one year later, replacing the authoritarian Constitution of the Estado Novo regime established in 1933.

It established a presidential system of government with a prime minister and a unicameral parliament. The constitution also guaranteed freedom of expression, association, and religion, as well as the right to education, equal rights for women, health, and social security. Helping to consolidate the country’s transition to democracy, it has since been amended several times to reflect changing political and social circumstances.

Following the transition to democracy, in 1980, the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores became autonomous self-governed regions. In 1986, Portugal became a member of the European Union and has since evolved as a modern democratic state where the Portuguese population (10,632,069) enjoys many civil liberties.

Since 1974, the 25th of April Carnation Revolution has been celebrated with a national holiday programmed with official political and cultural events nationwide and across the world. To this day, the 25th April Revolution is a source of pride in Portugal, where the anniversary is called “Freedom Day”.

Carolina Matos/ Editor

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