General Santos Costa and Portugal’s Dictatorship

The career of Colonel Fernando Santos Costa explodes the myth of Salazar's Portugal as a politically stable country with 'no history'. In charge of Portugal's army for twenty-two years, Santos Costa played a powerful and often unscrupulous role within this dictatorship.

Democracy in today's Portugal largely owes its existence to the revolt which a section of the military launched against the forty-eight-year-old Salazar-Caetano dictatorship on April 25th, 1974. Unlike the major inter-war fascist dictatorships, the authoritarian Portuguese régime succumbed to an internal challenge rather than to foreign invasion or defeat in conventional war. Left-wing junior officers, radicalised by involvement in a gruelling colonial war in Portugal's African possessions, carried out a textbook coup and afterwards experimented with various forms of radical leftism in a turbulent revolutionary period that lasted until the end of 1975.

For observers of the Luso-Hispanic world accustomed to a succession of right-wing takeovers and to occasional brutal counter-revolutions, the behaviour of Portugal's soldiery appeared rather eccentric. Previously the military had been one of the main pillars of a dictatorship that was known for most of its existence as the Estado Novo (New State).

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.