Correspondent in Lisbon
Portugal will never forget its ‘Captain of April’, Othello Saraiva de Carvalho, who died this Sunday, July 25, at the Lisbon Military Hospital. His life is forever linked to the historical April 25, 1974, the day that Portugal managed to leave behind the darkness of the longest dictatorship in Europe and open the doors of democracy. And it would not have been the same at all without the most emblematic captain of the Portuguese Army, without his contribution so that the neighboring country could turn the page with the atypical Carnation Revolution.
His was the coordination of the military operations, which he directed with a pacifist approach while ‘Grândola, vila morena’, by José Afonso, sounded insistently on the radio, and the tanks were adorned with red flowers as a sign of concord. It was the breeding ground for Mario Soares leave exile and return to Lisbon, it was the seed of the transition to the Portuguese, very different from the Spanish.
For this reason, Saraiva de Carvalho earned the nickname of ‘Captain of April’, a crucial figure in the future of contemporary Portugal, capable of arousing the consensus that other political vicissitudes are impossible to obtain.
A figure who had begun to carve out his role when he was mobilized as artillery captain in Angola back in 1961, in that war that so marked the Portuguese and whose hell permeated the writing of Lobo Antunes.
Don Otelo’s mind remained lucid in those hours of confusion from the bloodless revolutionary outbreak, a contribution to the Portuguese in this type of event. Since then, he has been seen as an example to follow not only in the Armed Forces, but also in civil society.
He was a member of the Council of the Revolution and deputy commander of COPCON (Operational Command of the Continent). And his political scope could have been much broadened if his attendance in the first presidential elections, in 1976, had had a different color.
A 15-year sentence
His candidacy seemed to have a huge popular pull, but was ultimately defeated by Ramalho Eanes. However, he was also persecuted by the controversy because he was accused of being in charge of the Popular Forces April 25, an opaque organization that was pointed out as responsible for several terrorist acts in the 70s and 80s. He always denied any connection , but the fact is that he was imprisoned.
The shadow of a 15-year sentence weighed on his head, but he was released when he had a decade to go in prison. His defense came in the form of words that raised blisters in his day: «I had announced that I was going to be head of the list of Popular Unity Force in the legislative elections of October 1984. The Communist Party was not willing to suffer another defeat, as it had already happened in the presidential elections of ’76, when they were defeated by me for second place. I got 17% of the votes, while he stayed at 7% ».
The controversy continued with other statements, in which he said: “I never had anyone killed. I feel real horror at any murder. To liquidate a human being is, for me, something deeply painful and I cannot imagine that anyone can do it.
An amnesty exonerated him in 1996 and, five years later, he achieved total acquittal, despite criticism from some social and political sectors.