Portuguese pay tribute to Catarina Eufémia, icon of resistance against Estado Novo regime

A young harvester from the Alentejo region, Eufémia was murdered by a lieutenant of the National Guard during a protest for higher wages on May 19, 1954 at the age of 26

May 26, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Catarina Eufémia - Portugal
Rally at Baleizao to pay homage to Catarina Eufémia. (Photo: Portuguese Communist Party)

On May 23, Sunday, progressive sections in Portugal paid tribute to Catarina Eufémia, who is regarded as an icon of the Portuguese working class. A young harvester from Alentejo, Eufémia was murdered by a lieutenant of the National Guard during a protest on May 19, 1954 at the age of 26. Since then, she has been regarded as a symbol of the workers’ resistance against the repressive Estado Novo regime in Portugal. On Sunday, people in Baleizao in the municipaltity of Beja, honored her memory under the leadership of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP).

Eufémia was shot dead by Lieutenant Carrajola in Beja while she and 13 other women harvesters were agitating for an increase of two escudo in their daily pay.

Since the middle of the 1940s, peasants in the Alentejo region had been organizing struggles, demanding better working conditions. Many of these mobilizations were repressed by the Estado Novo (New State 1933-1974) regime of António Salazar, which also carried out a purge of communists.

The Estado Novo regime was notorious for the repression of civil liberties and political freedom. It also violently repressed independence movements in various Portuguese colonies. The Carnation Revolution of 1974 brought an end to the Estado Novo regime. 

The revolution started as a coup organized by a section of army officers, the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), in Lisbon on April 25, 1974, and swiftly received mass support and was joined by popular mobilizations on the streets. Civilians greeted the ‘rebel’ soldiers in the peaceful resistance with carnations. The revolution was thus memorialized as the Carnation Revolution and is celebrated every year on April 25 as Freedom Day in Portugal. The revolution marks an important milestone in Portuguese political history and in the history of the modern world since it not only brought down the authoritarian regime in Portugal, but also paved the way for the independence of many of the Portuguese colonies in Africa.

While addressing the gathering at Baleizao on Sunday, PCP secretary general Jeronimo de Sousa said, “Catarina Eufémia is a symbol of the struggle of our people and the [struggle of the] combative agricultural proletariat of Alentejo for bread and freedom.”

“We pay tribute to Catarina and in this tribute, we commemorate all the comrades killed by fascism. We evoke Catarina and it is the prospect of the realization of Agrarian Reform that remains alive in the horizon of our struggle – that great dream that generations and generations of agricultural workers aspired to see realized with their long struggle!”