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Spinola, António de (1910–1996)

Portuguese military officer and first president of Portugal's Provisional Government (April–September 1974) following the April 1974 revolution. António de Spinola was born in Estremoz, Portugal, on 11 April 1910. He entered the army after graduating from the Colégio Militar (Military College) in 1928. He served in the Portuguese intervention forces in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and accompanied the German Army as an observer on the Eastern Front during World War II.

During 1961–1963 Spinola served in the beginning stages of the Angolan nationalist insurgency. By 1968 he was named commanding general and high commissioner of Guinea-Bissau, where the Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde was gaining strength, thanks in part to Soviet support. Despite the innovative counterinsurgency tactics that he employed in Guinea with moderate success, he became convinced of the ultimate futility of Portugal's African wars, which were consuming the lion's share of Portugal's resources. Furthermore, he was disillusioned by dictator Marcelo Caetano's refusal to allow any negotiations with the insurgents. It was during his time in Guinea that Spinola's charisma and outspokenness made an impression on the younger generation of officers who later would topple Caetano.

Upon his return from Africa in 1973, Spinola was named chief of staff of the armed forces. In February 1974, without government approval, he published his influential book Portugal and the Future. It called for liberalization and democratization at home and an immediate political solution to end the anticolonial wars in Africa. The book became a best-seller and heralded the end of Caetano's Estado Novo (New State). In April 1974 a group of young officers known as the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), many of whom had served under Spinola, toppled Caetano in a nearly bloodless coup and established the Second Republic. They first named Spinola head of the Junta of National Salvation and then provisional president of Portugal.

Spinola and the officers of the MFA disagreed, however, about the extent to which the coup should entail substantial social change and especially about how quickly and thoroughly Portugal should divest itself of its colonies. Spinola envisioned a gradual withdrawal and possibly a Portuguese federation to replace the empire. The more radical leaders of the MFA wanted unequivocal and immediate withdrawal of all troops. Spinola resigned in September 1974, and the next year he conspired with conservatives to overthrow the government but was forced into temporary exile. Following his departure, the establishment of the republic, and decolonization, some of Portugal's former colonies—especially Angola—attracted increased Soviet, Cuban, and American involvement. Spinola died in Lisbon on 13 August 1996.

Eric W. Frith


Further Reading
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Maxwell, Kenneth. The Making of Portuguese Democracy. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.; Spinola, Antonio de. Portugal and the Future. Johannesburg: Perskor, 1974.
 

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