Portuguese military crisis -- blowing in from Spain?

There is an old Portuguese saying that no good wind or happy marriage ever comes from Spain. It is a typical proverb of a small country forever mistrustful of its much bigger neighbor. It is equally true, however, that whenever there are problems in Spain, trouble soon comes to Portugal.

The latest military and political crisis in Spain is no exception. In Spain a dispute between Social Democrats and Christian Democrats in the ruling Center Democratic Union (UCD) brought about the fall of Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez. The Spanish Defense Ministry was forced to reassure a nation nervously mindful of the military uprising that sparked the 1936-1939 Civil War that the military had not put any pressure on the government.

In Portugal, Prime Minister Francisco Pinto Balsemao is facing growing opposition within his own Social Democratic Party (PSD), and the disagreement is threatening the stability of the ruling Democratic Alliance formed by the PSD, the Christian Democrats (CDS), and the Monarchists.

Just like Mr. Suarez, the liberal Mr. Balsemao is being criticized by his own right wing for being too weak and ineffective, and the military is taking advantage of the ruling party's disarray to flex its muscles.

At this moment the military in Portugal basically means the country's soldier-president, Antonio Ramalho Eanes. President Eanes, a four-star general, has promised to give up his military post as chief of staff of the armed forces by the end of February. The promise was a token gesture to those who have waited nearly seven years since the 1974 revolution for Portugal to become a full parliamentary democracy, free of all military controls.

The trouble is that General Eanes is turning the military establishment upside down in his hurry to place loyal officers in key positions in the armed forces hierarchy before he steps off the military stage.

Conservatives in the Army are in a huff over General Eanes's appointment as the new Army chief of staff -- a man many consider only a part-time soldier.

The new Army chief, Gen. Amadeu Garcia dos Santos, was formerly head of President Eanes's military household.He was in charge of communications during the April 25, 1974, coup that overthrew the former rightist dictatorship. But he was known more for his business interests than his fighting record and was promoted to the rank of general without completing the usual staff college course, largely as a reward for his political loyalty.

A number of senior Army officers turned down offers to serve on General Garcia dos Santos's staff, and he had to fill the main posts with highly controversial former police officers who were sacked in a dispute with the former right-wing government last year. The traditional right saw the appointment of the new Army chief and his choice of assistants as a challenge to the new government and are furious that the prime minister did not make any public protest.

The Navy and the Air Force know they are coming up for the next leadership changes, and the Air Force, the smallest and traditionally most conservative branch of the armed forces, is showing particular signs of restlessness.

The overhaul of the military hierarchy is partly a way for President Eanes to hand out rewards to those who stuck faithfully to his cause in the difficult period before his reelection as head of state last Dec. 7. But the changes also raise questions about how much power the civilians will have over the armed forces when parliament revises the Constitution and puts the military under direct government control for the first time.

When General Eanes is forced to give up the presidency in 1986 at the end of his second term, the armed forces will still be led by the men he named, according to some right-wing critics. The President has yet to name his own replacement as chief of staff of the armed forces, but, as he is quick to point out, he will remain commander in chief as head of state. All in all, the Portuguese military's long-awaited return to barracks still seems a long way of f.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Portuguese military crisis -- blowing in from Spain?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today