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From a Portuguese Prison

In response to:

Portugal Under Pressure from the May 29, 1975 issue

To the Editors:

I have received two letters from General Kaúlza de Arriaga, a member of the Portuguese government under the late Dr. Salazar (Under Secretary of State for Air) and former commander in chief in Mozambique. General Kaúlza de Arriaga has been held in jail in Portugal since September 28, 1974. He had written me earlier (July 9, 1975) but his letter did not reach me. A second letter (August 14, 1975) enclosing extensive documentation was later forwarded anonymously. Both letters question matters of fact and interpretation in my articles on Portugal in The New York Review (April 17, 1975 and May 29, 1975).

The most important issue should be stated at the outset because it is fundamental to the whole controversy. General Kaúlza de Arriaga has been held for over a year now without charge or legal process. His long and arbitrary imprisonment clearly violates basic human rights. The present Portuguese prime minister, Admiral Pinheiro de Azevedo, in his speech announcing the formation of the sixth provisional government (September 14, 1975), listed among the short-term goals of his administration “To ensure that all political detainees, civilian and military, will be brought to trial within a maximum period of time to be laid down.” On October 3, Mário Soares, in response to a question at a meeting organized by the Catholic Institute for International Relations at Chatham House in London, said he had made it a condition of Socialist participation in the sixth government that “all political prisoners should either be charged or released within one month of the government’s inauguration.” Regrettably Admiral Azevedo made no mention of the issue of political detainees in his report to the nation on October 13.

The issue of political prisoners in Portugal only becomes more acute with delay and their position more precarious against the background of the general breakdown of institutions. Several disturbing departures from law and procedure in recent criminal cases transformed them into contests between “bourgeois” and “popular” justice. Many of those held in prison, including General Kaúlza de Arriaga, appear to be under military jurisdiction. But it is sad that several of the leading figures in the Socialist party, such as Mário Soares and Salgado Zenha, whose antifascist records rest preeminently on their action as lawyers in defense of political prisoners and the right to habeas corpus during the Salazar regime, have been quiet in the face of these injustices. Salgado Zenha was minister of justice in the first through the fourth provisional governments (May 15, 1974, to August 8, 1975)—governments in which Soares was also a leading member.

There are obviously other issues at stake; the 1,200 to 1,500 prisoners involved include former members of the political police, as well as alleged participants in the counterrevolutionary intentonas of September 28, 1974, and March 11, 1975. But there is no excuse for the denial of due process to these prisoners. Moreover, if the denial of human rights in Chile, for example, is to be effectively criticized then there is a special obligation to see human rights upheld in Portugal. “Revolutionary justice” no less than counterrevolutionary repression are but other words for the exercise of arbitrary power and are harbingers of tyranny. The Portuguese socialists in particular, who have skillfully exploited the issue of freedom of the press and of religion in the cases of Republica and Radio Renascença, have proved far less sensitive to the no less fundamental but much less popular issue of human rights for alleged “fascists.”

The circumstances surrounding General Kaúlza de Arriaga’s letters thus remain extremely sensitive ones. The more so because on November 1 it was announced that special military courts were being established to try those involved in the March 11 episode, as well as the former secret policemen. The judicial inadequacies of these tribunals are blatant (“Uma Análise Jurídica,” Expresso, November 8, 1975, page 15). Apparently a decree establishing a special court for those allegedly involved in the events of September 27-28, 1974 is expected shortly. General Kaúlza de Arriaga has never been charged with any crime and imprisonment is no proof of guilt. But it is clear from public statements by the head of COPCON, General Carvalho, on whose orders presumably General Arriaga was detained, and from the official report on the September 28 events, that it was in connection with this alleged intentona that Kaúlza de Arriaga was imprisoned. (Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, Cinco Meses Mudaram Portugal, Portugália Editora, Lisbon, pp. 39-42; “Relatório,” published in full in Textos históricos da Revolução, Diabril Editora, Lisbon, pp. 152-200.)

Some of the points raised in General Arriaga’s letters bear directly on the circumstances surrounding his arrest. Obviously neither the rights or wrongs of individual actions during the last days of the Caetano regime or of the events leading up to September 28 can be resolved here. Nonetheless, although the General’s letters were addressed to me privately I think it incumbent on me to make public the General’s specific denials of several allegations in my articles, while reserving the right to respond in more detail at a more propitious time. I would, however, also draw attention to the letter from General Vernon Walters, deputy director of the CIA, concerning my article which is relevant to the facts in dispute (New York Review, August 7).

General Kaúlza de Arriaga writes:

Your article in The New York Review of Books on May 29, 1975, under the title “Portugal Under Pressure” contains many errors of fact and, where it refers to me, totally false statements and insinuations are made in it, some of which are very serious. Among the latter, the following stand out:

a) The statement that I was brought to the US in 1969 to meet with General William Westmoreland.

The insinuation that this was to receive his suggestions on the strategy and tactics for the Portuguese Armed Forces in Mozambique and that from this meeting resulted Operation Gordian Knot and a strategic hamlet program.

The statement that General Westmoreland and I were the progenitors of both the operation and the so-called strategic hamlet program.

b) The statement that I met General Vernon Walters in Portugal in the summer of 1974.

The insinuation that such a meeting was for conspiratorial purposes.

c) The statement that as one of the group surrounding former President Tomás, I participated in “planning the overthrow of the dangerous liberal Caetano,” and also “intended to get rid of Generals Spínola and Costa Gomes.”

The statement that in December 1973 I informed my “friends in US, Spanish, and Brazilian intelligence of such intentions, at least as far as the overthrow of Caetano was concerned.”

d) The statement that I was a “board member of Petrangol…which is a subsidiary of Belgium Petrofina and Espirito Santo interests.”

With regard to these statements and insinuations, the truth is as follows:

a) I did visit the US in the spring of 1969 and on one occasion at that time I met with General Westmoreland. However, no reference of any kind was made by him or by me about the strategy or tactics of the Portuguese Armed Forces in Mozambique. General Westmoreland never had anything to do, whether directly or indirectly, with Operation Gordian Knot, which was in effect carried out, or with the strategic system of hamlets, which were never fortified.

b) I do not know if General Walters was in Portugal in the summer of 1974, but it is a matter of fact that I did not meet with him or have any contact with him, directly or indirectly. It should be obvious, therefore, that we have never had any meeting for a conspiratorial purpose.

c) I did not belong to any “group” surrounding or connected with Admiral Tomás.

d) I never informed any intelligence or other services whatsoever of the US, Spain, Brazil, or any other country, of intentions to overthrow Caetano and get rid of General Spínola and Costa Gomes.

e) I was never a board member of Petrangol nor did I serve in this concern in any capacity whatsoever.

Kenneth Maxwell

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