April 25, 1974. The carnation revolution hour by hour
April 25, 1974 is a pivotal date in Portugal's history. It signifies the start of the Carnation Revolution, which ultimately brought down the authoritarian regime and paved the way for a new era of democracy two years later.
The Portuguese context in the 1970s
Portugal had been living under a dictatorship since 1926. The country was ruled by the Estado Novo, a conservative and nationalist regime that relied on the army and a political police force. It was headed by Marcelo Caetano, who succeeded Salazar.
Portugal, in 1974, had a low economic status compared to other European nations, and its society was characterized by moral conservatism and restricted freedoms for its citizens. The country was also embroiled in colonial conflicts in Angola, which was a Portuguese colony, as well as facing revolts for independence in Mozambique and its other colonies.
Simultaneously, Portugal was experiencing significant emigration due to poverty and military obligations, resulting in a depletion of the country's human resources.
As a result, officers and non-commissioned officers appealed to Marcelo Caetano for a political resolution to the colonial wars.
However, the ruling regime rejected any compromises, prompting some officers to form the Armed Forces Movement (MFA) in 1973. The MFA would go on to play a significant role in the Carnation Revolution.
"Portugal and the Future," a publication authored by António de Spínola, Vice-Chief of the Armed Forces, was made public in February 1974. The publication marked Spínola's opposition to the then-current government.
April 25, 1974 hour by hour
On April 25th, the Armed Forces Movement initiated a series of operations to depose the dictatorial regime, taking control of key strategic locations throughout the country.
Within a matter of hours, the regime fell, prompting Marcelo Caetano to resign and transfer power to the Junta de Salvação Nacional (JSN), led by Spínola. In his leadership role, Spínola promised to return power to civilians after the holding of free and fair elections.
Shortly thereafter, the military troops began to mobilize: those stationed in Santarém made their way to Lisbon, while troops located in Figueira da Foz, Lisbon, Mafra, Tomar, Vendas Novas, Viseu, and other locations strategically positioned themselves around their targets.
25 April at 03:00AM : Lisbon and Porto airports were shut down, and flights were redirected to Spain. The MFA gained control over RCP and RTP radio stations, as well as the primary transmitters. Additionally, the MFA took control of the military region headquarters in Oporto.
25 April at 4:15AM : The existing regime responded by directing the forces stationed in Braga to launch an attack on Oporto with the aim of regaining control of the military headquarters.
April 25 at 4:26AM: Speaking on the national Portuguese radio, the MFA urged citizens to remain in their homes, while advising medical personnel to report to hospitals as usual. Soldiers who were on duty were also advised to avoid confrontations with MFA troops.
April 25 at 5:00AM :The Portuguese political police, known as PIDE, advised Marcelo Caetano to make his way promptly to the headquarters of the GNR (Guarda Nacional Republicana).
April 25 at 05:30AM : MFA troops gained control of several strategic locations, including the Ministry of the Army, the Lisbon City Council, the Bank of Portugal, and the police offices of the PSP.
April 25 at 07:00AM : Upon hearing the MFA message instructing them to remain indoors, the Portuguese population defied the order and took to the streets, joining forces with the insurgent military.
April 25 at 09:00AM : The frigate "Gago Coutinho" was instructed to halt in front of Terreiro do Paço (Trade Square in Lisbon) and initiate a counterattack, but failed to follow through with the order.
April 25 at 10:00AM : Celeste Caeiro attempted to distribute her carnations at various restaurants in Lisbon, but found that they were all closed. She then decided to offer the flowers to the soldiers who were occupying the streets. The soldiers, in a peaceful gesture, placed the carnations in the barrels of their rifles.
Within hours, demonstrations erupted in the streets of Lisbon and other cities throughout the country. Thousands of people joined in the protests, showing their support for the military and protesting against the dictatorship. The crowds sang, danced, and waved Portuguese flags, creating an atmosphere of celebration and hope.
April 25 at 4:30PM : The ultimatum issued to Marcelo Caetano has come to an end. Spinola goes to the GNR headquarters and receives his resignation. Caetano is taken away in an armored car and will be exiled.
April 25 at 11:30PM : The members of the JSN (Junta de Salvação Nacional) appear on television (RTP) and promise to return power to civilians after free elections are held.
The years following April 25, 1974
Portugal quickly recognized the right to self-determination for its colonies in 1974. Guinea-Bissau declared its independence followed by Mozambique, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, and Angola.
However, divisions arose within Portugal between the MFA, which wanted a radical revolution, and the socialists, who aimed for a more moderate approach. The country was rocked by numerous strikes, occupations of large landowners' lands, and attempted coups.
It wasn't until the adoption of the current Portuguese Constitution on April 2, 1976, and the election of Ramalho Eanes that the situation stabilized.