Born in the Azores, at the height of Salazar’s fascist dictatorship, Amaral broke ranks with his conservative family background when he went to study law in Coimbra in 1964 and got involved with the student union movement, a front for the underground Portuguese Communist Party (PCP). After national service, he became secretary-general of the Oporto Metalworkers’ Union, until 1974, when the 25 April “revolution of the carnations” brought a bloodless end to the dictatorship.
Amaral was a cabinet aide in several of the provisional governments that preceded his election to parliament in 1976. Although the PCP’s electoral fortunes dwindled, Amaral held his seat time after time and was deputy speaker of the Assembly by 2002, when the party deselected him for speaking his mind too freely. During his career as an MP, he had the distinction of being the very first communist to sit in NATO’s parliamentary assembly.
He also headed, from 1989 up to his death, the municipal assembly of Lisbon. Even after his left-wing coalition lost the Lisbon elections in 2001, the capital’s councillors still chose the witty, snappily dressed, workaholic and heretical communist to chair their debates. His heresy was straightforward: after the collapse of the Eastern bloc, and the retirement of veteran PCP leader Alvaro Cunhal, Amaral was one of the most prominent “renewalists” - renovadores - in his party.
These PCP stalwarts argued that the “democratic centralist” structures that held the party together as the backbone of the resistance to the dictatorship were now past their sell-by date. Amaral often outraged the party hierarchy by using the public media to argue for open and free debate within and around the PCP, “a party that has a future as well as a past”, as he put it.
Of his most prominent comrades in the renewal tendency, Luis Sá died of cancer (as has Amaral); Edgar Correia and Carlos Luis Figueira were brutally expelled; Carlos Brito was suspended. Amaral, who had given so much to the PCP, stuck with it even when it dropped him from the parliamentary ticket last year, absurdly accusing him of disloyalty for having questioned the leadership’s hostility towards the Socialist Party. It would have been a public relations disaster for the PCP to have expelled such a popular figure.
Even after his death, the leadership sent a bland telegram of condolence to the family of “the citizen João Amaral” - not the comrade, the tireless fighter, the sparkling parliamentarian - and none of the PCP leaders turned up at his wake. Amaral’s widow, Luisa Gueifão, arrived at the PCP headquarters shortly after his funeral, with her four sons and her sister-in-law, to hand back their party cards.
- João António Gonçalves do Amaral, politician: born Angra do Heroísmo, Azores, 7 December 1943; died Lisbon, 10 January 2003.