Tribute to Othello Saraiva de Carvalho

Image: Tiff Ng


The military strategist who coordinated the outbreak of the Carnation Revolution was a great man, an extraordinary destiny

We have received news of the death of Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, the military strategist who coordinated the outbreak of the Carnation Revolution, or the overthrow of Salazarism. Salazar had already died, but the dictatorship that he established and maintained with an iron fist for decades persisted.

It was a movement of young army captains, who lived through the bad experience of the colonial war and developed democratic tendencies. Forced to serve in the African colonies of Portuguese imperialism, they soon realized that their mission was to kill blacks. By that time, it had become customary for young people who reached the age of compulsory military service to leave Portugal and come to Brazil, or other places, so that they would not learn such a hard task.

Otelo participated in the preparations for the 25th of April and, thanks to his superior competence and leadership ability, he drew up the plan to take power in a single day, and without spilling blood. The password was given by a historic choice, the radio transmission of the song “Grândola, vila morena”, by Zeca Afonso. where it was possible to do democratic propaganda, resulting in several arrests. In the recording made by the composer, one can clearly hear the feet moving in unison in the collective march. In addition, the lyrics exalt the equality and fraternity that prevail among the peasants of Alentejo. It was not chosen by chance, therefore.

To the astonishment of the world, the young captains took power to overthrow the dictatorship, but they had no ambition to keep or exercise it. Theorists even today discuss such a strange decision. But there are those who think that it is not exclusive to the Carnation Revolution: neither was the objective of May 68 to seize power, nor was that of Occupy in New York. It's a bit like theorists want to force every uprising to be dazzled by power.

After that, and the advances that took place everywhere, leaving behind half a century of a puritanical and moralistic dictatorship, which paralyzed and immobilized the country, there were libertarian explosions on several levels. For example, the entire city of Lisbon was graffitied, generating controversy – such was the legitimate need for expression, despite the size and such a long period of repression. After some time, it was decided to “clean up” the city, and leave only one block with the original graffiti, as if it were a historic monument.

Almost everyone was satisfied and accommodated with the return to order and the gradual re-establishment of the democratic process, with the creation of parties and unions, negotiation of wages, the end of censorship, etc. Perhaps not so much the harmed. But the growing acceptance of the curtailment of the social conquests made in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow is less defensible. Otelo was one who walked, with a small group, towards a socialist radicalization that, it seems, ended up leading to violent actions. Arrested and prosecuted, he received a guilty verdict along with a lengthy prison term. He, the ultimate hero of the 25th of April!

A few years later, and partly in response to the public appeal of the highly respected Portuguese intellectual Agostinho da Silva, the government decided to grant him a pardon.

Leaving prison, Othello went to relax in Paris, just in time to attend the celebration of the date of April 25, in a civic session at the Center Georges Pompidou, or Beaubourg. He was quiet in the middle of the audience when he was detected by the chairman of the board that directed the work, Eduardo Lourenço, who greeted him and, addressing himself partly to him and partly to those present, told his trajectory and the saga of the Portuguese revolution. It was exciting.

Eduardo Lourenço asked him to stand up, so that everyone could see him, and applaud him. I can't say to what extent those present, French and others, knew his history – but it is to be believed that they did, in view of the ovation that followed. He just smiled, and he continued to smile after the session was over and everyone scrambled to shake his hand.

A great man, an extraordinary destiny.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).


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