The Carnation Revolution: Celeste Caeiro
Saraiva de Carvalho, the military man who led the coup that brought down Salazar’s dictatorship, has died in Portugal this week. But his story would have been very different if it had not been for a cafeteria worker who with her gesture changed the history of her country. She is Celeste Caeiro.
April 25, 1974 seemed like a day like any other in Portugal, a country that had not held elections since 1925. But the dictatorial regime of Salazar, succeeded by Marcello Caetano, was about to collapse thanks to the carnations of Celeste Caeiro, a humble worker in a Lisbon café.
Arriving at her workplace, she discovered that that day was anything but normal: during the previous night, there had been a military uprising against the Portuguese dictatorial regime; the soldiers had occupied strategic points in the country, such as ports and airports, and had asked the population to stay at home. The captain Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho led the operation.
Seeing that the situation could become critical, the manager of the café sent home all his workers with a request: since the situation made it impossible to celebrate the anniversary of the café as they had planned, he asked his employees to take home with them the carnations they had purchased for the celebration.
Caeiro, however, ignored the warning of her boss and her friends. Instead of heading home, she decided to take the subway towards the centre of Lisbon, to the well-known Plaça de Rossío, to be able to observe how the events were evolving.
The day flowers replaced weapons
Full of curiosity, she approached a soldier to ask him what was going on, and he asked her for a cigarette. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any, so she thought of buying him something to eat, but due to the coup, all the nearby shops and restaurants were closed. Therefore, she gave him the only thing she had at the time: a carnation.
The soldier did not hesitate to place the carnation in the hole of the rifle he was carrying, symbolizing the unwillingness to fire his weapon. Then the rest of the soldiers in the squad followed the example of the first soldier, and as Caeiro handed them the carnations she had, they were placed in the same way.
Ironically, this gesture spread like wildfire through the square and across the city, making visible the intention of the revolutionaries not to fire their weapons. Once the government of the regime surrendered, the carnations ended up becoming the symbol of the revolution and the reason for its name.
The absence of recognition for Celeste Caeiro
Many times we tend to focus on the most beautiful and positive parts of stories, but it’s also worth acknowledging the negative ones. In this case, the absence of recognition that Caeiro has suffered throughout her life.
Despite having given name to the revolution that changed the course of her country, Caeiro is still unknown to many of her countrymen. Instead of receiving tributes, she still survives with the minimum pension of 370 euros, which is largely spent on the rent of her flat. This situation should make us think about the treatment we sometimes give to those who give everything without asking for anything in return.
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Throughout our education we have learnt great people that have marked history