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Portugal revolution veterans feel betrayed by crisis

Published on 25/04/2011

LISBON--Veterans of Portugal's Carnation Revolution which ushered in democracy almost 40 years ago feel betrayed as the country, one of the poorest in the European Union, seeks a giant international bailout.

ISBON–Veterans of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution which ushered in democracy almost 40 years ago feel betrayed as the country, one of the poorest in the European Union, seeks a giant international bailout.

“If I had known, I would not have staged the revolution,” said Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, the strategist behind the April 25, 1974 military coup which changed the regime from an authoritarian dictatorship to a democracy.

Despite bringing in sweeping social, economic and political changes, the revolution “has not achieved its objectives”, said the 74-year-old retired colonel — fondly referred to by his countrymen as “Otelo”.

Portugal is appealing for a foreign bailout for the third time since 1974. The European Union and International Monetary Fund aid package is expected to total 80 billion euros ($116 billion) but comes with tough conditions.

The EU and the IMF have each warned that Lisbon will have to implement more public spending cuts, tax rises and far-reaching privatisations to secure its bailout. Otelo deplored the current state of affairs.

“These people, who lived for 48 years under a fascist and military dictatorship, deserve better than two million Portuguese living in poverty,” the Lusa news agency quoted him as saying.

Heavily indebted and with an average family income of 9,000 euros annually, Portugal is one of Europe’s stragglers, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The government of outgoing Prime Minister Jose Socrates adopted a series of very unpopular spending cuts, tax hikes and economic reforms to get public deficit back down to the EU norm of 3.0 percent of Gross Domestic Product by 2012.

This year, it was supposed to be reduced to 4.6 percent but in 2010, the deficit blew out to 8.6 percent of GDP, way over the 7.3 percent target.

That proved to be the last straw for markets demanding ever higher rates of interest from Lisbon to hand over fresh cash to cover its maturing debt.

Portugal has to repay some 5.0 billion euros in debt by June 15 and most analysts believe it must have the EU-IMF rescue loans agreed by then if it is to make the payment and so avoid default.

The IMF meanwhile estimates that unemployment will continue to rise to 12.4 percent next year.

Otelo said that if the current state of affairs had existed at the time of the coup, “I would have resigned from the army … and done what the youth are doing today, I would have gone abroad”.

Mario Tome, Otelo’s former comrade in arms, said with a laugh: “That would have been a shame but the revolution would have happened anyway.”

The 70-year-old said the revolution was justified even if only for ending unpopular wars in Portugal’s African colonies.

“Those who waited so long and expected so much of April 25 are disappointed but people are also responsible for what happened,” Tome added.

The hopes that the coup fuelled are still present in Lisbon’s old quarter with graffiti proclaiming “April Forever”, and exhorting people to remember the “values” of the revolution.

But singer Luis Cilia, who took part in the uprising against the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar and his successor, said “the disappointment is tremendous. ”

One can say that Portugal has a glorious future behind it,” said Cilia, who lived in exile in France for a long time.

Economist Sergio Ribeiro, a former member of the European parliament and a member of the central committee of Portugal’s communist party, was more upbeat.

“Thirty-seven years, that’s nothing in our history,” he said, adding: “It’s true the carnations are wilting but they bloom again every spring!”

alc/ach/ga/gk /AFP/Expatica