Portugal, 1975

Siege of the São Bento Palace in 1975, image by Miranda Castela, Parliamentary Historical Archive/Portugal
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By AFRANIO CATANI*

Walking through an insurgent Lisbon in November 1975

At this moment, much is being said about Portugal's April 25, 1974, that is, about the Portuguese military movement that put an end to 48 years of the longest-running dictatorship in Europe until then. It was the so-called Carnation Revolution, with people taking to the streets with red carnations in their lapels and also placing them in the mouths of tank cannons and rifles that the military carried.

I do not intend to make major analyzes about the 25th of April here. In any case, I will only try to report, in quick ink, what I observed 19 months later in Lisbon, at a time of great political and cultural turmoil.

I was 22 years old and had just graduated in Public Administration from the São Paulo School of Business Administration at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (EAESP/FGV), in July 1975. The Public Administration course was free at the time – today it is no longer ; in fact, it is quite expensive – as we were on scholarships from the government of the State of São Paulo. To maintain the scholarship we had to take at least three subjects per semester and obtain at least a 6,0 (six) average.

Until the second half of 1975 I had never traveled by plane, as at the time it was considered a luxury. We were in the midst of a military dictatorship in Brazil and some friends had already been arrested and/or called to testify at the DOPS. I was approved to study for a master's degree in Social Sciences (sociology) at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at USP, and I was due to begin my studies in March 1976.

Responding to the invitation of a former professor with whom I had worked as a research assistant to stay in France for a while, I purchased a flight ticket through Varig for US$ 1.354,00 with the following itinerary, with open dates: São Paulo/ Paris/ London/ Rome/ Geneva/ Zurich/ Paris/ Madrid/ Lisbon/ Rabat/ São Paulo. In addition, he carried in his pockets a notebook with addresses of hostels and cheap boarding houses and 600 dollars in cash. travelers checks – times were definitely different.

I wrote the itinerary almost in its entirety, over three months, with the exception of Rabat; To this day, unfortunately, I don't know Morocco. But I can explain: arriving in Lisbon on November 18, 1975, I came across a political-cultural turmoil that I had never experienced: the political climate was torrid, with leafleting, marches, protests, rallies, poetry readings, staging of scenes of theatrical plays in the middle of the street…I was amazed!

However, first of all, I had to face something more prosaic: where to stay. It was not possible to find an available place in the city. I had a list with more than ten addresses and…nothing. Already discouraged, I tried Pensão Restauradores, which was on the top floor of a building in Praça dos Restauradores, in Baixa, next to Praça do Rossio. The owner, a short and chubby man, over 70 years old, immediately said there was no room.

When I was waiting for the elevator to leave, he called me back and said that if I wanted, I could stay for a few days in a room without a window (426) that was occupied by Manoel, an employee who was on vacation in Beira Alta and would be back in a few days. The price was ridiculous and I agreed immediately. He explained to me that he was housing me because government officials visited hotels and guesthouses and, noticing the existence of vacant rooms, accommodated the Portuguese who returned from Africa, due to the debacle of the Portuguese colonial empire.

Apparently, it was government law and the owners were obliged to accept it. There weren't enough rooms for everyone who returned and the old man didn't want to receive such guests, whose stays would be paid for by the State, “who knows when!”. I stayed from the 18th to the 20th in Manuel's room and, on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd, I was transferred to 403, with a window and a small bathroom.

At that moment it was almost impossible not to take to the streets. Portugal had already experienced at least five provisional governments, it was almost on the brink of a civil war, the leftists did not understand each other and the agitation was wonderful. One of the slogans was shouted everywhere: “The people don’t want fascists in power!” The marches left Parque Eduardo VII, went down Avenida da Liberdade, passed through Praça dos Restauradores and Rossio and ended up concentrating in Praça do Comércio.

There were also demonstrations in front of the Belém Palace, where the National Salvation Board was housed. A few days after my arrival, in a large popular gathering, with their fists in the air, the people sang vigorously: “We will win/We will win/With the weapons/That we have in our hands!”

I accompanied everything I could and carried bottles of water and at least two other bottles of green wine. I bought lots of books in Lisbon, and for 20 escudos, on November 20, 1975, works by Reich, Althusser, Poulantzas, French historians and, in particular, the third edition, printed on August 7, 1974, by An education for the Liberty, by Paulo Freire.

The 74-page booklet brings together four texts by the Brazilian educator: “Role of Education in Humanization”, “Education for Awareness – Conversation with Paulo Freire”, “The Process of Political Literacy” and “Doctrinal Principles of a Libertarian Education”, in addition to a list of the author's publications, who was exiled and prohibited from returning to Brazil.

There was great tension throughout Lisbon and on the day I left the country, Sunday night, November 23, 1975, I had great difficulty getting to the airport, as buses were running slowly and taxis were full. Manuel, with whom I talked a lot, went out on the street looking for a taxi and got one, as long as I agreed to share it with two other passengers; I accepted right away.

The airport was in an uproar and full of armed soldiers. I managed to do check in at the Varig counter and tried to get to the exchange counter, as I still had shields in my wallet. Impossible: a big guy was pushing me towards the departure lounge with the barrel of his submachine gun or something similar and that was the end of the conversation. I ended up with about 30 green banknotes worth 20 escudos which were worth, in Portugal at the time, a few nights at the Pensão Restauradores or several small books by Paulo Freire or even fresh bottles of green wine.

Only later did the passengers on flight RG 85-23-35 (Varig), bound for Congonhas Airport, São Paulo, Brazil, learn that on that day the star of Colonel Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, one of those responsible for preparing the operations plan for the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), the left-wing movement that overthrew the Portuguese dictatorship (1974-1926) in 1974, after almost five decades.

In the following days he was removed from all the positions he held, including effective command of the Continental Operational Command (COPCON). But this is another story.

I use articles by João Pereira Coutinho and Ruy Castro, authors with whom I don't always agree – but, in this case, I believe they hit the nail on the head –, published in Folha de S. Paulo on April 21, 2024 (respectively “Was the party beautiful, man?” and “In the first days of the 25th of April Lisbon experienced the Carnival of freedom”) to express the moment and relevance of the 25th of April and the political transformations experienced by Portugal

João Pereira Coutinho writes that “Between 1974 and 1975, Portugal oscillated between radicalism of the opposite direction: an attempted coup by the extreme right in March 1975, an attempted coup by the extreme left in November of the same year”.

Ruy Castro, in turn, says that November 1975 marked the end of the Carnation Revolution. “But Portugal did not return to being the country of the living dead, of men in gray and women in black, without young people on the streets, bled by backwardness, illiteracy and the colonial war, before the 25th of April. A civilized center regime was installed which, with free elections and reasonable alternations, maintained power for the following decades, generating stability, dynamism and progress.”

Anyway, that's my modest testimony. The fact is that when I left the Varig flight, in Congonhas, I returned to a country governed by a general, in a military dictatorship in which torture, censorship and fear were partners in everyday life. Thinking that hours before I found myself in a social space where freedom set the tone and returning to a gray and violent Brazil, I couldn't help but remember HG Wells and the Time Machine.[1]

*Afranio Catani is a retired senior professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. He is currently a visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus..

Note


[1] I would like to thank Almerindo Janela Afonso (University of Minho) and Ricardo Antunes (Unicamp) for exchanging ideas on the topic of this article.


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