Portuguese Communist leader fought facism

Alvaro Cunhal, former general secretary and president of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), died June 13 at the age of 91.

“The best homage we can pay to Alvaro Cunhal is to carry on the struggle he led to the last days of his life,” the PCP said in a statement. The PCP said Cunhal always fought for the interests and rights of workers, for a free society, for the welfare of the people and country, for the PCP as the party of all exploited people and for a socialist society.

Active in the PCP for more than 75 years, Cunhal played a leading role in the anti-fascist resistance, the struggle for freedom and democracy, and the revolutionary changes that followed the defeat of the fascist dictatorship in 1974. He served 12 years in prison and worked underground for many years.

Alvaro Cunhal was born in Coimbra in 1913. He began his revolutionary activity as a student at the Law Faculty in Lisbon. He joined the PCP in 1931 and was elected general secretary of the Portuguese Communist Youth Federation in 1935.

Arrested in 1937 and again in 1940 and subjected to torture, Cunhal returned to the struggle as soon as he was released. He was a member of the PCP’s secretariat from 1942 to 1949, when he was arrested again.

To the tribunal deciding his case, he delivered a scathing denunciation of the fascist dictatorship and a sweeping defense of the Party’s policy. He then spent 11 continuous years in fascist jails — eight of them in total isolation.

On Jan. 3, 1960, he escaped from the prison-fort of Peniche, together with a group of high-ranking Communist militants. Once again named to the secretariat, he was elected PCP general secretary in 1961.

After the overthrow of the dictatorship in April 1974, Cunhal served as minister-without-portfolio in successive provisional governments. He was elected deputy to the Constituent Assembly in 1975 and to the Assembly of the Republic six times between 1976 and 1987. He was also a member of the Council of State.

While Cunhal’s oratorical gifts were widely recognized by friend and foe alike, only later in his life did he disclose some of his other extraordinary talents: using a pseudonym, he wrote four best-selling novels and created several celebrated works of engraving and sculpture.