Da Costa Gomes, Francisco (Portugal)
Francisco da Costa Gomes was president between 1974–76. The successor to the short-lived president Gen. António Spínola, he was appointed by a revolutionary junta established after the April 1974 Carnation Revolution had ended 50 years of right-wing dictatorship of António da Oliveira Salazar. Costa Gomes presided over Portugal’s turbulent transition from dictatorship to democracy, stablilized opposing left and right-wing radical forces while surviving several coups. He finally handed over to a democratically elected president in 1976.
Costa Gomes was born on 30 June 1914 in the northern town of Chaves. The son of an army captain, he attended the Escola de Guerra national military academy in Lisbon before continuing his training at a cavalry school. After graduating with a maths degree from the University of Oporto, Costa Gomes forged a successful career in the Portuguese army from 1931 until he was appointed army chief of staff in 1972 by Salazar’s successor, Marcello Caetano. He served in the colony of Macao in 1949 and was appointed undersecretary of the armed forces in Salazar’s Estado Nuevo regime.
In 1961 Costa Gomes was implicated in a bungled coup against Salazar carried out by an army faction who objected to Portugal’s contentious position in colonial Africa. Sacked, he took the opportunity to advance his studies at the Institute of Military Studies, where he also taught. He resumed his army career in 1964 and the following year served in Mozambique and then Angola where Portugal waged bloody wars with revolutionary guerrilla forces striving for independence. In 1974 Spínola, then Costa Gomes’ second in command, wrote the controversial book Portugal e o Futuro describing his disaffection with Portugal’s colonial wars. As a result, Caetano demanded Costa Gomes and Spínola pledge their support to his rule. On their refusal, both men were sacked in March 1974. The following month the Carnation Revolution led by the Movimento das Forças Armadas (Armed Forces Movement; MFA) ousted the dictatorship. A revolutionary junta appointed Spínola its president with Costa Gomes as his second in command.
The junta restored civil liberties to Portugal. Banned political parties were reinstated, freedom of speech and the press was allowed and Salazar’s PVDE secret police (Polícia de Vigilância e Defesa do Estado) was abolished. In Sept. 1974 Costa Gomes succeeded Spínola as president, the latter proving too right wing for the junta. He inherited a chaotic situation. Portugal was struggling to reinvent itself while different factions pulled in opposite directions and wars in the colonies still raged. Strikes and demonstrations were commonplace. Costa Gomes’ ability to avoid or survive the crises of the first 2 years of fragile transition led to his nickname ‘the cork’. He acted as a conciliatory figure, neutralizing the extremist forces within the country and avoiding civil war. He negotiated with revolutionaries in Angola and Mozambique and helped set in motion their transition to independence. The Portuguese also quitted Timor-Leste.
Spínola’s desire to create an extreme right-wing government led him to attempt a coup in 1975 which the president survived. The other end of the political scale, Costa Gomes prevented a coalition of MFA members and the Partido Comunista Portugués creating a Marxist state on a Soviet model. A constituent election for the provisional government on 25 April 1975, exactly a year after the revolution, was won by the moderate left, the Partido Socialista. Costa Gomes successfully installed a parliamentary democracy and was able to hand over power to the first democratically elected president in 1976, the army chief General Antonio Ramalho Eanes.
Costa Gomes did not stand for president in the first democratic elections due to lack of support and withdrew from Portuguese politics. After leaving government, he was involved in international causes related to peace and the environment. He died in Lisbon on 31 July 2001.