20 Years After Revolution, Portugal Proud Of Democracy

TWENTY years after their 1974 revolution opened the way for democracy and an end to colonialist wars in Africa, the charismatic leftists who seized power have faded into the background and Portugal has turned from Africa to Europe.

The Marxists who nationalized Portugal's banks and large companies have given way to free-market economists who are busy selling them off - in some cases to their former owners.

Shaky left-wing coalition governments have ceded to nine years of stable rule by the center-right Social Democrat Party of Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva, which commands a majority in parliament.

``The Portugal we dreamed about is not quite this one,'' says Col. Vitor Alves, one of the Army officers who organized a successful coup on April 25, 1974. ``There is one point that was fundamental for us, and that has obviously been achieved,'' he says. ``Today Portugal has a political democracy that is as good or as bad as that of France or the United States.''

A catchy song on a late-night radio show was the signal that sent rebel tanks into Lisbon to end nearly half a century of right-wing dictatorship. The old regime crumbled with little resistance. The wars in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau came to a sudden halt, and by the end of 1975, all of Portugal's African colonies had achieved independence.

The new authorities in Lisbon then turned their attention to Europe. Moderate Socialists and Social Democrats won a power struggle with Communists seeking alignment with Moscow, and in 1977 Portugal applied for membership in the European Community (now called the European Union).

Since Portugal joined the EC in 1986, Prime Minister Cavaco has used $12 billion of aid from Brussels to help modernize and liberalize the economy; build roads, schools, and hospitals; and raise living standards.

Spain's return to democracy and 1986 entry to the EC helped overcome centuries of distrust and forge new ties between the neighboring states.

President Mario Soares, who founded the opposition Socialist Party, is one of the few political survivors of the heady days of the revolution. But Dr. Soares will retire from politics when his second consecutive presidential term expires in 1996.

``There are some things that aren't right yet,'' says Major Saraiva de Carvalho, highlighting Portugal's growing unemployment and the large number of people who still lack proper housing, health care, and education. ``But I am hopeful that in the future we will get there.''

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