Portuguese Communist Octávio Pato dead at 73

The end came at 73 for Octávio Pato, the long time nº 2 of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and the very stuff the legend of this party is made of. He had been sick for some time and cancer got the best of him.

Pato started working at 14 on a shoe factory. He also played soccer on the juvenile league for Benfica (and remained an unconditional Benfica supporter throughout). He was a bright, restless kid and soon got into troubles. He made contact with a group of intellectuals and artists of "neo-realismo" (the portuguese version of jdanovite socialist realism) in his native town of Vila Franca de Xira. He adheres to the Communist Youth Federation at 15 and soon begins his career as a revolutionary professional. Still a teenager, he is active on the organization of the strikes of 1944 (and this is as tough an assignment as you can get). His brother Carlos was murdered in prison in these days, along with Alfredo Dinis (Alex) and the cream of the class fighters of that generation.

In 1945 he plunges in clandestinity, controlling and organizing the youth and student branches of the PCP. In 1947, he is also in charge of the Lisboa regional organization, the party newspaper "Avante" and the clandestine typographies. Joins the Central Committee. "Melo" is his nom-de-guerre.

Arrest came in December 1961. He was beaten and tortured continuously. He endured 11 and then another 7 days standing sleepless, suffered a syncope and near death experience. Was kept incommunicado for 4 months. He didn't spoke a word to his captors, not even his name to begin with. But he did make a speech on his trial, in 1962, and this is one of the most vile episodes of portuguese fascism.

The fascist political police - PIDE - was something of a state within the state. They had their own courts so to speak (the infamous plenary courts), with only a thin veneer of civilian procedure. Pato was defended by his long time friend, the social-democrat Mário Soares (President of the republic in the 80's). Pato makes a political speech in his defense. He says he is proud to belong to the PCP and states his belief in marxism-leninism. Reminds the judges of his imprisoned wife and sons, of his murdered comrades. He says his judgment is a attempt on the rights of citizenship inscribed in the constitution of the very fascist state, the principles of the UN and the Declaration of the Rights of Men. He qualifies the regime as an executive at the service of the monopolists and the latifundia. Criticizes the country belonging to NATO. Advocates independence for the colonies and praises de Soviet Union. At one point, the masters of the show just couldn't stand it anymore. Police agents started beating him up with clubs right on his accused stand, in front of the judges. Soares screamed in protest at the bar. To no avail. Pato was evacuated from the court and his sentence was read to him in his cell: 8 years in prison that could be adjourned (fascist political sentences were open-ended).

Pato got out of jail in 1970 and plunged again in clandestinity in 1972. At the time of the April 74 revolution, he was effectively directing all the party apparatus in the interior. Married four times, father to five, his clandestine life never gave him a quiet minute for the joys of parenthood. Unable to bare the rigors of prison and clandestinity, his second wife committed suicide in 1970.

Octávio Pato was not a hero and certainly not a martyr. He was an affable man, blue-eyed, sharp mind, dare-devil. One hell of a relentless spirit. He had the body language of the brave and the free. He was made of the right stuff and tempered to perfection. Breaking point, if any: unknown.

And yet, the truth is that this man has been a long-time rightist. Krutchovite since the 50's. Loyal soviet hack. Revisionist to the bone. He was really on the very core of the tragedy of the PCP. I love these guys, and yet they were so wrong.

João Paulo Monteiro