The World

Tomorrow never comes

DAVID BAIRD July 24 1978
The World

Tomorrow never comes

DAVID BAIRD July 24 1978

Tomorrow never comes

The World


Tomatoes are flourishing on what was once Afonso the lawyer’s private airstrip. He and his friends used to land there for a day’s shooting, but after Portugal’s April, 1974,coup,absentee landlord Afonso himself became a target and local workers seized his estate. Today it forms part of the 10.500-acre Muralha Daco collective farm in the Alentejo, a region of wheat fields and cork oaks, blinding sunlight and glaring poverty.

Those tomatoes indicate that some things, at least, have changed. But Carlos Goes, who helped to organize the new cooperative, is disillusioned. Four years have gone by talking and doing nothing, he says. “There was a chance to make a better life

but these bloody people, all they do is make politics.”

His disenchantment is shared by many Portuguese who hoped for a brave new world after the dizzy days of the Revolution of the Carnations that ended 50 years of dictatorship. But the revolutionary fervor has died. As General Ramalho Eanes this month starts his third year in the presidential palace, the average Portuguese worries chiefly about how to pay his way

with inflation at near to 30 per cent and heavy unemployment. Even the Alentejo. a centre of Communist strength and violent confrontation a short time ago, has calmed down.

in a country with 35 per cent of its nine million population on the land and which has to import half its food—Canada has helped out with a $15-million wheat grant—agriculture is a critical issue. But farm pay is $ 135 a month, methods are often antiquated, land is underdeveloped, and both private farmers and co-operatives complain they cannot get vital credit. Not only that. This year many farmers were supplied with useless seed, so the harvest is expected to be almost as bad as last year’s disaster.

Such blunders, coupled with the problem of placating Portugal’s radicals while pursuing conservative policies to w'in foreign investment, demand fast footwork on the part of a prime minister. But so far Mario Soares, a powerful orator and wily tactician, has proved equal to the task and a recent poll by Expresso, the leading Lisbon weekly, showed him way out ahead of his rivals in the leadership stakes.

Among the other contenders are the sincere but stodgy law' professor Diogo Freitas do Amaral, who leads Soares’ coalition partners—the Centre Democrats— and. a more likely candidate, the forceful Francisco Sa Carneiro. just restored as leader of the Social Democrats. Alvaro Cunhal. whose Communist party came close to seizing power by military intervention after the revolution, has been outflanked. though he retains potentially disruptive control of the unions.

Despite the political posturing, some progress has been made. Soares has engineered $800 million in credits to set against a balance of payments deficit up 50 per cent in the first four months of this year on last year’s $1.4 billion: tourists are returning in large numbers; and most of the refugees from Portugal’s two former African colonies. Angola and Mozambique, have

found niches.

But local and foreign investors are holding oiT and an austerity program has yet to make a dent in inflation. Taxis, phone calls, cigarettes and beer all w'ent up recently and, at the equivalent of $3 a gallon. Portuguese gasoline is the most expensive in Europe. “We have the worst of both worlds,” says Lisbon businessman Ernani Rodriquez. “We’re a capitalist country with a socialist system.”

Across the country, wall slogans reflect this confusion: “Fascism will not return!” “Viva Salazar!” (the country’s former dictator). They mirror, too. renewed stirrings of old-style reaction w hich prompted the recent passing of an anti-fascism law that could, say opponents, itself be used by oppressive forces.

One man stands above all this, the president. So little given to smiling that he has been dubbed the man with the slowest teeth in the West. Eanes says little and when he does speak not everyone can understand his pronounced regional accent. But his quiet demeanor has given him a dignified appeal and no one can so far fault his dedication to duty.

A firm supporter of NATO, which is helping to arm and train the Portuguese army. Eanes has been influential in de-politicizing the military and exorcising old stalwarts of the 1974 coup, such as Major Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho—an extreme leftist candidate for the presidency—and ex-junta leader Admiral Rosa Coutinho, the Red Admiral.

Furthermore Eanes has so far resisted mounting pressure to take more power into his own hands. He talks frequently with his prime minister and is chiefly preoccupied w ith forging new ties wfith Portugal’s former African colonies where he once served.

Portugal still has considerable commercial interests, plus an estimated 300 citizens

in jail in Angola. And it is also suggested that it may have an important mediating role which would lead to the departure of a major Washington worry—the Cubans.

If that suggestion is true it would be good news for Portugal as well as the West. It is hard for many Portuguese to accept that their empire is gone and—as Lisbon with its monuments to past greatness languishes in the sun—even the optimists have to search for hopeful signs. A new role abroad would help to restore a sense of purpose and might keep at home some of the young Portuguese who traditionally have sought fortune in Canada and elsewhere. In the fields around Afonso’s old airstrip—to say nothing of industry in this tired and tiny land—rejuvenation is urgently needed. DAVID BAIRD