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The Movement of the Armed Forces (Portuguese language: Movimento das Forças Armadas - MFA ) was an organisation of lower-ranked left-leaning officers in the Portuguese Armed Forces which was responsible for the Carnation Revolution of 25 April 1974, a military coup in Lisbon which ended the corporatist New State regime (Estado Novo) in Portugal, the Portuguese Colonial War and led to the independence of the Portuguese overseas territories. The MFA instated the National Salvation Junta (Junta de Salvação Nacional) which functioned between 1974 and 1976, following a communiqué of its president, António de Spínola, at 1:30 a.m. on 26 April 1974.

Causes of the revolutionary coup[]

The military-led coup can be described as the necessary means of bringing back democracy to Portugal, ending the unpopular Colonial War where thousands of Portuguese soldiers had been commissioned into military service, and replacing the authoritarian Estado Novo (New State) regime and its secret police which repressed elemental civil liberties and political freedoms. In addition, academics have published works theorizing that the efforts made by the MFA were not in the strict interest of the people of Portugal or its Overseas Provinces, since the movement was initiated not as an attempt to liberate Portugal from the authoritarian Estado Novo regime, but as an attempt of rebellion against the new Military Laws that were to be presented the next year (Decree Law: Decretos-Leis n.os 353, de 13 de Julho de 1973, e 409, de 20 de Agosto).[1][2][3] The Revolution and the whole movement were a way to work against Laws that would reduce military costs and would reformulate the whole Portuguese Military Branch.[4] Younger military academy graduates resented a program introduced by Marcello Caetano whereby militia officers who completed a brief training program and had served in the overseas territories' defensive campaigns, could be commissioned at the same rank as military academy graduates. Caetano's Portuguese Government had begun the program (which included several other reforms) in order to increase the number of officials employed against the African insurgencies, and at the same time cut down military costs to alleviate an already overburdened government budget. MFA's actions both in Portugal and in Portuguese Africa, took Portugal to an abrupt decolonization which not only left millions of Africans starving in the hands of the new Left-Wing regimes but also led to a migration of Portuguese citizens living in Africa to their homeland without the possibility of carrying personal items or any of their gathered money.[5]


The MFA developed in the early 1970s as a movement of Captains (movimento dos capitães), young officers who had been involved in the Colonial War against the separatist movements in the African overseas provinces of Angola, Mozambique, and Portuguese Guinea. What motivated the 'Captains' was, essentially, a desire for back wages and the freedom until then denied to the Portuguese people and the dissatisfaction with the policies followed by the government in relation to the Colonial War and Military Law. The principal aims of the MFA were the immediate completion of the Portuguese Colonial War, retreat from Portuguese Africa, establish free elections and the abolition of the secret police, the PIDE/DGS. The revolution was planned by Vasco Lourenço, Vasco Gonçalves and Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho the chief strategist who directed operations. Salgueiro Maia commanded the troops deployed from the School of Cavalry at Santarém. Most of the officers had leftist sympaties and connections to the Portuguese Communist Party.[6] After a failed initial attempt in March 1974 the coup took place on the morning of 25 April. Within a few hours Lisbon was completely occupied by troops loyal to the MFA. Prime Minister Marcello Caetano handed over power to General António de Spínola. As a consequence of 25 April 1974 the MFA mobilised the army and announced the three 'Ds: Democratisation, Decolonisation and Development.

Transition to democracy[]

The systematic demolition of the old order was inaugurated by the MFA-led Junta de Salvação Nacional. As the pro-communist inspiration of the Junta was becoming increasingly evident, and far-left factions were taking the leading edge of the revolution, the process was halted by the coup of 25 November 1975. This period of social and political unrest which ensued after the 25 April military coup, is known as PREC (Processo Revolucionário Em Curso), where leftist and rightist factions struggled for supremacy within the Portuguese society and political institutions. The moderates eventually won and this prevented post-revolutionary Portugal from becoming a communist or right wing-ruled regime. Finally, the Portuguese legislative election, 1976 took place on 25 April, exactly one year after the previous election, and two years after the Carnation Revolution. These elections could be said to be the definitive end of a period of revolution. Moderate democratic parties received most of the vote. Revolutionary achievements were not discarded, however. The constitution pledged the country to realize socialism. Furthermore, the constitution declared the extensive nationalizations and land seizures of 1975 irreversible (many would be ruled illegal some years later). The military supported these commitments through a pact with the main political parties that guaranteed its guardian rights over the new democracy for four more years.

In 2011 when the Portuguese Republic went bankrupt and requested international financial assistance, Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, one of the chief captains who coordinated and organized the April 1974 military coup - the Carnation Revolution, stated that he wouldn't have made the revolution if he had known what the country would become after it.[7]

See also[]


  1. (Portuguese) Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA). In Infopédia [Em linha]. Porto: Porto Editora, 2003-2009. [Consult. 2009-01-07]. Disponível na www: <URL:$movimento-das-forcas-armadas-(mfa)>.
  2. Movimento das Forças Armadas (1974-1975), Projecto CRiPE- Centro de Estudos em Relações Internacionais, Ciência Política e Estratégia. © José Adelino Maltez. Cópias autorizadas, desde que indicada a origem. Última revisão em: 02-10-2008
  3. (Portuguese) A Guerra Colonial na Guine/Bissau (07 de 07), Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho on the Decree Law, RTP 2 television,
  4. João Bravo da Matta, A Guerra do Ultramar, O Diabo, 14 October 2008, pp.22
  5. Dismantling the Portuguese Empire, Time Magazine (Monday, 7 Jul. 1975)
  6. Stewart Lloyd-Jones, ISCTE (Lisbon), Portugal's history since 1974, "The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP–Partido Comunista Português), which had courted and infiltrated the MFA from the very first days of the revolution, decided that the time was now right for it to seize the initiative. Much of the radical fervour that was unleashed following Spínola's coup attempt was encouraged by the PCP as part of their own agenda to infiltrate the MFA and steer the revolution in their direction.", Centro de Documentação 25 de Abril, University of Coimbra
  7. (Portuguese) «Se soubesse como o País ia ficar, não fazia a revolução», (13 April 2011)

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