We stopped first in Peniche, an old Portuguese port village that huddles up against a fort – from the days when Portugal looked farther abroad than most other countries and knew where from whence the danger would come. On vacation from the sunbaked Sahara where the dry air tussles the camels’ fur and the goats bleat toward the towering minarets that prick the sky, I was anxious for an immediate change of scenery. This meant the ocean – to stand and look across the endless expanse of water, smell the salt air and hear the seagulls screeching. To feel the cleansing winds purge me of the claustrophobia of the sand and the heat of the blanketing sun; of the grime and the misery.
We parked our little car and marched resolutely into the old well-preserved fort that stood atop the cliffs as a silent sentinel, as it always had, looking out over the Atlantic. Passing the gangway and entering into the keep I was surprised to find at its center a newer building. Standing three stories high, the building was rectangular and white-washed in austerity; its cracked window panes and rusted bars glared in sinister malevolence out over the ocean.
I approached the entrance, which had a large black sign that said “museum” hung above black-painted steel doors. Inside were artifacts from the history of the town from times when the fort had been used to defend a deep-water port; a picture gallery and other locally produced relics. However the second and third floor had been preserved as a memorial to the more than 3000 people who had lived and sometimes died in that infernal place for the length of the Portuguese dictatorship. I stood for a moment in front of the central cell – a torture chamber to subdue not only through physical pain but through the psychological damage of those forced to listen. The place still had the tragic pall of hate. I turned, looking through the bars out past the walls of the fort to the ocean beyond. Freedom, frivolity, so close away that the imprisoned could probably have heard the beachgoers during those dark years.
I kept walking and emerged into a large room only to be faced with a greater surprise still. The room was a public memorial to the Portuguese Communist Party – presented in glowing terms as freedom fighters and seekers of liberty. Whose liberty? I asked myself. Of course their own, the imprisoned naturally strive to be free; but certainly not the freedom of others. At the very same time this horrible place had been persecuting people for being communists, far east across the continent the same was happening but on a much larger scale; not in the hundreds of thousands but in the millions. What vision did the imprisoned – those communists of old – have for Portugal? If theirs had been the vision of the Soviet Union, Cuba, Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Mao’s China – they were in fact living it, just not the way they’d hoped.
Two approaches of how to use violence to organize and maintain control over society, varying only in degrees and scrapping with each other over membership.
Yet there it was, a memorial to a great evil. My question is simple – and natural. Where are the glowing memorials for the classical liberals who fight not for the right to control others but to set ourselves (and by extension all people) free? Where are the glowing eulogies of our heroes; where are the statues of Lysander Spooner, of Ayn Rand, of Henry Hazlitt, of Friedrich Hayek? Who is explaining that the advance of western society has depended upon the tireless and unrecognized work of these men and women?
I left the fort and continued on, through the old town enjoying the liberty of the ocean and the freedom that western ideas of liberty brought to Portugal; yet I was troubled. Somebody must set the record straight in that little beach town in northern Portugal; else God forbid history could repeat itself, as it has so often in the past.
Joel D. Hirst is a novelist, author of “The Lieutenant of San Porfirio” and its Spanish version “El Teniente de San Porfirio”; as well as the upcoming sequel “The Burning of San Porfirio”.
The reason for that memorial stems from the fact that the most charismatic leader of the Communist Party (Álvaro Cunhal) was imprisoned there and was able to make a spectacular prison break. Portugal still has a debt towards communism as it was one of the most organized force that fought the dictatorship and helped bring it down. Nowadays the “fight” has its arena in the voting ballots and the current government is supported by a coalition of three parties, being the Communist Party on of them. Though I didn’t vote for them, I rather have a pluralist government than extremes alternating in power, like Republicans and Democrats in the US.
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