Portugal's Carnation Revolution through the eyes of a coup leader

Portugal's Carnation Revolution through the eyes of a coup leader
Copyright REUTERS
Copyright REUTERS
By Euronews
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It was one of the most important days in Portugal's recent history, when four decades of authoritarian rule would abruptly end.


It was one of the most important days in Portugal's recent history.

April 25, 1974, the day of the Carnation Revolution, when four decades of authoritarian rule would abruptly end.

The coup had been a work in progress for several months, led by a group of military officers who opposed the Estado Novo (New State) fascist regime led by dictator Marcello Caetano. They became known as The April Captains, and their group the Armed Forces Movement.

Vasco Lourenço was one of them.

He told Euronews how the team decided to take action during a meeting in Cascais, a city west of Lisbon, on March 5 — a little more than a month before the operation.

“Our first decision of that meeting was to take action. That was the day we decided the military coup was the way to go,” says 76-year-old Lourenço.

“Our second decision was to make sure the military coup would be preceded by a political project. So we immediately named a commission to write a political program.

“Our third decision was to choose two Generals who would lead. After taking action, we needed two people to take leadership, so we chose General Costa Gomes and General Spínola.”

Much of the planning took place overseas across Portugal’s African colonies: Angola, Guinea Bissau and Mozambique.

But somehow the regime sensed something was underway.

A few weeks before the coup, Vasco Lourenço and other military officers were sent far from the Portugese capital to the Azores, an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic Ocean.

The April Captains were forced to make changes: They replaced Lourenço as the leading coordinator.

He had no choice but to follow the coup through a radio, during what they called "Operation Historical Turning Point".

“In truth, I experienced some of the most desperate moments of my life at that time,” says Lourenço.

“I would walk three steps back and forth. Some steps here, some steps there, and all I could ask myself was ‘Did we make it? Did we make it?’

“And suddenly the music on the radio stops and I can hear that soon-to-become-famous message that started with ‘This is the Movement of Armed Forces speaking’.

“I jump, I burst with joy because I believe we made it and I scream: ‘We won, we won’.”

Six hours after it began, Caetano resigned and thousands of people flooded the streets in support. Jubilant flower vendors handed out carnations and insurgents inserted them in the barrels of their guns. The revolution was complete.


Another year of political turmoil would follow before the first free election is held and true democratic reforms introduced, but the bloodless coup remains an immense source of pride for the country and for the April Captains.

“I sometimes refer to something that a poet, I don't know who, once said,” says Lourenço.

"To feel accomplished, a man must do three things throughout his life: write a book, make a child and plant a tree.

“And I usually say I've done all those three things, but I feel more accomplished than that, because, apart from those things I also took part in the events of April 25th of 1974.”

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