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Early life and military career
He began his military career by joining the Colégio Militar, in Lisbon, which he attended from 1916 to 1922. He participated in the 28 May 1926 revolution that overthrew the I Republic and created the Military Dictatorship, which would pave the way to the New State. He would be a loyal supporter of the regimen, it was said that he was "an admirer and admired by Salazar", becoming 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. He would be the youngest general in Portuguese history.
He published a violent anti-democratic book, Da Pulhice do 'Homo Sapiens'' in 1933, which attacked both the "crooks monarchy" and the "bandits republic" in his subtitle. Delgado wrote in praise of Adolf Hitler, which he considered as a genius and an example of human possibilities in the fields of politics, diplomacy, social organization and military.
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" or literally "General without fear"). 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.
After being lured into an ambush by the regime's secret police (PIDE) near the border town of Olivenza, Delgado and his Brazilian secretary, Arajaryr Moreira de Campos, were murdered on 13 February 1965 while trying to clandestinely enter Portugal. The official version claimed that Delgado was shot and killed in self-defence despite Delgado being unarmed and his secretary strangled. Their bodies were found some two months later, near the Spanish village of Villanueva del Fresno.
Casimiro Monteiro, a PIDE agent, shot and killed General Delgado, and strangled his secretary de Campos (Monteiro was also involved in the killing of Eduardo Mondlane, founder of Frelimo, Mozambique's Liberation Movement). Salazar, who approved the assassination, when told of the killings, said simply, "Uma maçada" ("Such a bother"). Later appearing on national television Salazar claimed ignorance of the secret police's involvement and blamed quarreling opposition forces for the killings.
Some historians claim that the Spanish authorities knew of the Portuguese secret police's involvement and staged the decomposing corpses' discovery 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. The square where the main entrance of Lisbon Zoo is located is named after him and his body was moved to the National Pantheon alongside some former Portuguese presidents.
Marriage and offspring
Delgado was married to Maria Iva Theriaga Leitão Tavares de Andrade (born around 1910), they 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.
Popular culture references
- The 2012 Bruno de Almeida-directed film Operação Outono is a political thriller about the killing of General Delgado. Delgado is played by American actor John Ventimiglia.
- His identity card, shown on the Portuguese documentary "Crónica do Século", has this name.
- Revista AR, Nº 44, June 1941. Delgado wrote: “O ex-cabo, ex-pintor, o homem que não nasceu em leito de renda amolecedor que passará à História como uma revelação genial das possibilidades humanas no campo político, diplomático, social, civil e militar, quando a vontade de um ideal se junta a audácia, a valentia, a virilidade numa palavra.”
- "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