Disintegrating Portugal: An Interview with Mário Soares

Mário Soares
Mário Soares; drawing by David Levine

Lisbon, September

Civil war is at the gates. It is encircling Portugal in a siege that may last some weeks or some months, nobody knows, and its avoidance is an enterprise in which nobody here believes any more. Chaos reigns unchecked, anarchy is complete, confusion endless. Every day, events take an unexpected turn, each one more senseless than the last. The only thing that shows some stability is the incapacity on all sides, nurtured on presumption, mental insecurity, ideological void, while power fritters away in the frightened hands that have seized it. The hands, usually, of whoever happens to be on the top at the moment or whoever is crazier than the others.

Officially, power is still in the hands of the MFA, the Armed Forces Movement which overthrew the fascist regime and started the process that here goes by the name of revolution. But, the MFA, until lately compact and united, has started to reveal all its fractures. To put it mildly, one might say it reveals three main trends: Vasco Gonçalves’s communist one, Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho’s radical-minded one, and Ernesto Melo Antunes’s moderate one. To state things exactly, one ought to say it is carved up into as many different factions as there are generals, colonels, and captains. The only voice that has been raised to denounce the confusion and invoke responsibility is Melo Antunes’s in his “Document of the Nine,” but it doesn’t seem to have served any purpose since fears of a bloodbath have increased rather than diminished.

The army no longer exists, you might say. Even the state no longer exists. Refugees occupy banks, priests organize risings, soldiers refuse to serve. They shout, for instance, that they won’t go to Angola unless they are given a paper, witnessed by a notary public, insuring them against receiving even the slightest scratch out there. Politicians are increasingly set aside. To take any kind of action (and they do attempt to) they must rely on the support of the army, obtained in semi-clandestine meetings, Every politician has his own man in the army: Cunhal has Gonçalves, Soares has Melo Antunes, the Maoists have Otelo de Carvalho. Who supports the other groups is not known. What is well known is that the most violent struggle is taking place between the Socialists and the Communists. It’s for them there will be bloodshed.

Of the constituent assembly resulting from the elections, still at work, nobody speaks. What use is it? Who is expected to respect its decisions? One only has to consider the fact that Otelo de Carvalho has let some dangerous extremists out of jail after having had them arrested and now visits them in secret to study Marxism. Realism is dead, surrealism reigns. Something happened in this country more than a year ago that made history go on a drunken binge and wander into surrealism. Or into a…

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