One night in late October, military officers gathered in a restaurant here to talk about politics and the state of the nation. It was the kind of meeting that used to send a nervous ripple through the Portuguese capital, especially since among them were many of the officers who, on similar nights eight years ago, plotted the coup that turned the country on its head.
But this dinner was to say goodbye--to each other and, in the view of some, to their hopes that the revolution they began in 1974 would turn Portugal into a democratic workers' paradise and ultimately a socialist state.
In a brief, tearful ceremony the next day, the 18-member Council of the Revolution, the self-appointed, supreme military oversight committee that had stood between Portugal and full democracy, formally dissolved itself and turned its powers over to the elected civilian government.
It was what the officers always promised they would do, once the civilians were capable of running things themselves. But while the soldiers have returned to barracks, they are, in the words of one of their number, "a little sad" at the way things have turned out.
"We look at the problems we had seven years ago, and they are the same problems now."
Public opinion polls here show deep concern over the ability of the political parties to solve worsening economic problems. The center-right government of Prime Minister Francisco Pinto Balsemao is working steadily to dismantle many of the key components of the "workers' state" that the captains set out to create.
The former African colonies of Angola and Mozambique, which they had vowed to liberate from a 10-year colonial war, are free but still fighting -- now with their own internal opposition and foreign powers. And the captains, who in 1974 began their plotting over what they considered an unfair military promotion system, say they are still sidelined by a conservative military hierarchy that now has branded them forever as radicals.
Although still young men, they are part of history here now, titular heroes of the revolution but with little to do, and little to say about a process that is now out of their hands.
Although they say they are unequivocally out of politics, and forbidden under military regulations to speak to the press for attribution, the officers now have formed the April 25 Organization, named for the date of the 1974 coup, through which they say they will heighten political awareness and education in the barracks, if not in the streets.
In private conversations, they warn that another coup is possible here, next time from the right, if Portugal's economic situation does not improve within the next two years or so.
Their job, one young officer said, is to guard against "anyone with dictatorial ambitions."
Another officer, outside the revolutionary group, notes that despite their popular support at the time, the young coup-makers were never a majority within the Portuguese military. Right now, he and others said, they number about one-fifth of the total 6,000 officers. He said the senior officers mistrust them for the power they once exercised, and the newer, younger officers "don't want to get involved."
Leading civilian politicians say the fears and complaints of the young officers are more sour grapes than substance. They say, with little public disagreement, that if few outside Portugal noticed the council's passing, fewer still inside the country will mourn it.
"The revolution disappeared, and so things have to change," Premier Balsemao said in an interview. "We have achieved political maturity. We were under the umbrella of the military, represented by the Council of the Revolution. The armed forces were a sort of parallel structure, and that's not real democracy."
Socialist opposition leader Mario Soares, who reportedly extracted a substantial political price for support of the constitutional revisions last summer, said his party also wanted "to get the military out of politics. They didn't belong inside a democracy." Since the first post-revolutionary government, led by Soares, was elected here under military auspices in 1977, the council has served as both supreme power and scapegoat for warring political groups.
Following the 1974 overthrow of the right-wing dictatorship were two years of tumult and threatened Communist takeover. "Moderates" among the coup-makers reasserted control in late 1975 and began the transition toward full democracy.
But always implicit in the movement, and quickly made constitutionally explicit, was the insistence on a Portugal dedicated to its workers, and the eventual transformation to a classless state. Incorporated into law were the "irreversible" nationalizations of most of Portugal's private enterprise, and the guarantees of job security.
In 1976, on the eve of the first democratic elections, the council was established both to safeguard these provisions and to organize, in one central body, the somewhat chaotic voice of the military in national politics.
The 18-member council was headed by Portuguese President Antonio Ramalho Eanes, an Army general handpicked by the "moderates" in 1975. It served both as presidential adviser and as a separate "government" for the armed forces with decision-making power over military regulations and appointments. More important, the council was the unquestioned interpreter of the 1976 constitution, with the power to nullify any law passed by parliament.
"We had made a pact with the parties," said Vitor Alves, who was the council's spokesman. "We asked them to decide when the council should end." Another of the young officers, bitter over the short shrift he and others now feel they are being given by the politicians, said that in the years after the coup the parties "couldn't survive on their own, so we agreed to stay until the civilians could handle it. They wanted us."
Resentment grew among generals and colonels who disagreed with the aims of the revolution but found themselves taking orders from captains and majors in the movement -- a situation institutionalized by the establishment of the council. The resentful prudently kept their mouths shut.
By 1980, no one wanted the young officers any more. But the council's dismemberment became tied to other political conflicts. The officers insist that they never had "made war against the government," as one put it. Interventions through the council focused on constitutional limits of private enterprise in the nationalized business and industrial sectors, and the labor code.
Four times between 1979 and 1982, the council refused to allow alterations of laws that the now-ruling conservatives said were necessary to attract investment and promote growth.
The politicians themselves disagreed over these same issues. "They could have done away with the council two years ago," Alves said. But "it has been a scapegoat for political forces jockeying for power. Many of the political fights that would have occurred, and been over and done with, did not take place because we were the lightning rod for conflict. We took the heat."
Although they insist they no longer have a political role to play outside the barracks, not all the officers are happy with their anonymity. Maj. Ernesto de Melo Antunes, considered an intellectual author of the politics of the revolution, is expected to be named ambassador to UNESCO. Few have posts of note.
Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho -- often referred to here as the "mad major" -- who headed the security force, ran for office during the last elections on a minor leftist ticket and lost. Still a major, he has a minor bureaucratic post.
One of their number says that the senior officers are taking their vengeance, keeping them from promotions and out of important jobs in Portugal's NATO component. Portugal's NATO commanders "say we have to have a record clean of 'contacts' like the East Germans and the Chinese we talked to during the revolution. At that time, we talked with everybody. They are afraid of us for other reasons, but use this as an excuse."
"So many captains," he said of the once-young officers, "and now nobody knows them."