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Early life and career
Delgado was born in Brogueira, Torres Novas. He was the son of Joaquim Delgado and wife Maria do Ó Pereira and had three younger sisters, Deolinda, Aida and Lídia. He began his military career by joining Colégio Militar in 1916. He became the Director of the Secretariado Nacional de Aeronáutica Civil (National Secretariat of Civil Aeronautics), General-Commander of the Legião Portuguesa, Deputy National Commissar of the Mocidade Portuguesa and Procurator to the Corporative Chamber.
Although initially a staunch supporter of the right-wing dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, and the youngest general in Portuguese history, his passage as a Military Attaché and Aeronautic Attaché to the Portuguese Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 1952 pushed him into the defence of democratic ideals, and inspired him to run as the democratic opposition's candidate for the Portuguese presidency in 1958.
As incumbent president Craveiro Lopes had been coerced to resign by Salazar, Delgado faced naval minister and staunch conservative Américo Tomás in the 1958 presidential election. Delgado campaigned vigorously, even though he faced nearly impossible odds. In a famous interview on 10 May 1958, in the Chave d'Ouro café, when asked what would be his attitude towards Salazar, Delgado made one of the most famous quotations in Portuguese politics: "Obviamente, demito-o!" ("Obviously, I'll sack him!") He was well aware that the president's power to remove the prime minister from office was essentially the only check on Salazar's power. His outspoken attitude earned him the epithet of "General sem Medo" ("Fearless General"). Nevertheless, Delgado was ultimately credited with only around 25% of the votes, with 52.6% in favor of Tomás. Most neutral observers believed that Delgado would have won had the election been conducted honestly, and that he only lost due to massive ballot-box stuffing for Tomás by the PIDE. Nonetheless, Salazar was frightened enough that he transferred election of the president to the legislature, which was firmly controlled by the regime.
Exile and opposition
In 1964, he founded the Portuguese National Liberation Front in Rome, stating in public that the only solution to end the Estado Novo would be by a military coup, while many others advocated a national uprising approach.
Delgado and his Brazilian secretary, Arajaryr Moreira de Campos, were murdered on 13 February 1965, after being lured into an ambush by the regime's secret police (PIDE) near the border town of Olivenza, while trying to enter Portugal clandestinely. The official version was that Delgado was killed in self-defence, but he was not even armed when he was shot, and his secretary was strangled. Their bodies were found only about two months later, near the Spanish village of Villanueva del Fresno.
It was Casimiro Monteiro, a PIDE agent, who shot and killed General Delgado, and strangled his Brazilan secretary (Monteiro was also involved in the killing of Eduardo Mondlane, founder of Frelimo, Mozambique's Liberation Movement). Salazar, who approved the operation, when was told about the killings, said simply, "Uma maçada" ("Such a bother"). He later appeared on national television claiming to be ignorant of the political police's involvement and blaming quarrels between opposition forces for the event.
Some historians claim that the Spanish authorities knew about the involvement of the Portuguese secret police and staged the finding of the decomposing corpses by two local boys.
In 1990, Humberto Delgado was posthumously promoted to Marshal of the Portuguese Air Force , the only person to hold this rank. An avenue in Lisbon was named after him and his body was moved to the National Pantheon alongside some former Portuguese presidents.
Marriage and offspring
Married to Maria Iva Theriaga Leitão Tavares de Andrade, born around 1910, he had three children:
- Humberto Ivo de Andrade da Silva Delgado, born at São Sebastião da Pedreira, Lisbon, on 24 November 1933, airline pilot for TAP Portugal (Portuguese Aerial Transportation).
- Iva Humberta de Andrade da Silva Delgado, who always championed her father's cause, unmarried and without issue.
- Maria Humberta de Andrade da Silva Delgado, unmarried and without issue.
- His identity card, shown on the Portuguese documentary "Crónica do Século", has this name.
- "Under the Eucalyptus Trees - TIME". www.time.com. 14 May 1965. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
- Rodrigo de Magalhães e Menezes Ortigão de Oliveira - A Família Ramalho Ortigão, Author's Edition, 1st Edition, Porto, 2000