Portugal revives the legend of Sá Carneiro 40 years later

Correspondent in Lisbon



40 years ago, on December 4, when Porto was going to celebrate a crucial event next to the Colosseum, the history of Portugal took a turn in a black moment. Francisco Sá Carneiro, founder of the PSD Conservatives, he held the portfolio of prime minister since January 1980, with only four days left to startle with the five shots that riddled John Lennon … and that night he never reached his destination because his flight from Lisbon crashed less than a minute after taking off.

Only two years had passed since the assassination of Aldo Moro, the man who was able to save Italy from the top of the Christian Democrats, and Europe was shaking to the sound of punk and social convulsions.

Homicide? Accident? Attempt? The truth never came to light and the collective trauma nested in Portuguese lands like a sad political fado. That is where the legend of Sá Carneiro was born, today vindicated with all honors in the midst of these difficult times of pandemic.

The current PSD, perhaps a shadow of the one that was under the erratic mandate of the controversial Rui Rio and nostalgic for the coherence of Passos Coelho, joins the minority CDS to organize a mass-tribute to his immeasurable figure in the Estrela Basilica, in Lisbon, and the tributes spread throughout Portugal from north to south.

It is the elongated profile of a visionary politician, contemporary to the core and who saw thorns where others bet on roses. “We still live in a semi-democracy or in a guarded democracy,” he said to the derision of those who wanted to move forward with its parallel reality. And it was not for less in that Lusitania after the Carnation Revolution, that stirred the Portuguese essence on April 25, 1974 and, at that time, it had not translated into total stability.

Francisco Sá Carneiro, of a Spanish mother, had five children with Isabel Ferreira, but perished on the fateful flight accompanied by his then-partner, the Danish Snu Abecassis, founder of the main publishing house on the other side of the border, Don Quixote, where today she publishes his books the greatest living glory of Portuguese letters, Antonio Lobo Antunes.

Four decades later, the unknowns remain in the air, especially in Porto, a city where your footprints are palpable as soon as anyone steps foot at the Sá Carneiro Airport. Nor can it be forgotten that a statue worships him in the square that bears his name, in the central district of Bonfim. And now that the historic Café Majestic on Rua Santa Catarina has closed (due to the crisis unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic) the afternoons will be a bit more melancholic in this city that looks proudly at the D. Luis I Bridge to seek answers to an endless enigma: the one that hides behind the questions that the Portuguese have asked themselves during all these years: why? Who decided that Sá Carneiro should leave this world? Or maybe it was nobody and everything fell apart without the possibility of going back? What has to happen for the truth to emerge at once? Is it that nobody has inherited the clairvoyance of their political postulates?

Marked a generation

Justice points in one direction, parliamentary investigations in another. And that restaurant called Escondidinho on Rua Passos Manuel was left without receiving Sá Carneiro and Abecassis to preside over a table of five people that could not witness a private appointment with decisive overtones towards public projection.

The former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in the Passos Coelho Government, Francisco Almeida Leite, excitedly recalls for ABC the historical significance of Sá Carneiro: “It marked a whole generation, like mine from the 70s, but continues to mark the younger generations.

«He was a free spirit in the so-called Liberal Wing, before 1974, and after April 25 he was essential to prevent the new democratic regime from being lost to the extreme left and the communists “, Almeida Leite acknowledges before explaining:” He was fundamental in the new constitution of 1976 and then in the elections of 1979. He died too soon and in circumstances yet to be explained, at a time when he still had much to give. to the country. There was very little investigation and committees in Parliament that came to nothing.

‘His idea about Portugal was an alternative to the socialists and communists. He brought the center right to power, without complexes. Together with Cavaco Silva and Passos Coelho, he represents the great reference of the center-right in Portugal… even after being dead. But it was, and is, unique.

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