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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).

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