Humberto Delgado

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Humberto Delgado

Born(1906-05-15)May 15, 1906
Torres Novas, Portugal
DiedFebruary 13, 1965(1965-02-13) (aged 58)
Known forTrying to overthrow the Salazar Regime

Humberto da Silva Delgado, ComC, GCA, GOA, ComA, OA, ComSE, GCL, OIP, CBE (Portuguese pronunciation: [ũˈbɛɾtu dɛɫˈɡadu]; 15 May 1906 – 13 February 1965) was a General of the Portuguese Air Force and politician.

Early life and military career[edit]

Delgado was born in Brogueira, Torres Novas. He was the son of Joaquim Delgado and Maria do Ó Pereira and had three younger sisters, Deolinda, Aida and Lídia.

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 regime, 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. Marcelo Caetano, who was his friend during this time, later would describe Delgado as an "exalted person" and a man who "wore his heart on his sleeve".[1]

He published an 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, in 1941.[2] However, with time his sympathies leaned towards the Allies. He came to the Azores islands during World War II, by the occasion of the Portuguese-British Agreement.[3]

Presidential elections of 1958[edit]

His passage as a Military Attaché and Aeronautic Attaché to the Portuguese Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 1952 pushed his ideology in a liberal democratic direction, and inspired him to run as the democratic opposition's candidate for the Portuguese presidency in 1958.[4]

According to the testimony of Marshal Costa Gomes, Humberto Delgado decided to apply for the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic because he failed to be appointed director of the NATO Defense College. Humberto Delgado missed the much-desired appointment due to his chronic lack of sense which made him gain the dislike of the British Admiral Sir Michael Maynard Denny, former Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet. According to Costa Gomes´testimonial, Humberto Delgado could not resist joking with the Admiral by constantly pulling the abundant hair the British Admiral had coming out of his ears. The British Admiral detested these jokes from Delgado and vetoed his appointment. Costa Gomes had warned Delgado several times that those bad taste jokes would cost him his much-desired appointment, but Delgado replied that he knew it but he just could not help doing it. Costa Gomes classifies Delgado as a very smart man but with "a screw loose". Episodes like this have earned Delgado the epithet of "General sem juizo" (The senseless general).[5]

As incumbent president Craveiro Lopes had been coerced by Salazar into standing down after only one term, Delgado faced archconservative naval minister Américo Tomás, the regime's candidate, 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 less than 25% of the votes, with 76.4% in favor of Tomás.[6] 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 worried enough that he transferred election of the president to the legislature, which was firmly controlled by the regime.

Exile and opposition (1958–1965)[edit]

Delgado was expelled from the Portuguese military, and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy before going into exile, spending much of it in Brazil and later in Algeria, as a guest of Ben Bella. During the period of his exile in Brazil was supported by Maria Pia de Saxe-Coburgo e Bragança, whom he addressed as "the Princess" or "the Duchess", she who helped monetarily and even offered him one of their residences in Rome for the General could return to Europe.[7]

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.


National Honours[edit]

Foreign Honours[edit]

Other recognitions[edit]

Sculpture of Humberto Delgado (Porto)

In 1990, Humberto Delgado was posthumously promoted to Marshal of the Portuguese Air Force,[10] the only person to hold this rank posthumously. The square where the main entrance of Lisbon Zoo is located is named after him. In 2016 the main airport of Lisbon was renamed to honour him. Delgado's mortal remains were translated to the National Pantheon at 5 October 1990, following a decision of the Assembly of the Republic.

In February 2015, on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, the Câmara Municipal de Lisboa proposed the Portela Lisboa airport should be renamed in his honor. The government accepted the proposal and on May 15, 2016, the airport was renamed for Delgado.[11]

Marriage and offspring[edit]

Delgado was married to Maria Iva Theriaga Leitão Tavares de Andrade (1908-2014), they had three children:[12]

  • Humberto Iva 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.
  • Maria Humberta de Andrade da Silva Delgado.

Popular culture references[edit]


In 1966, German film writer and director André Libik created a 45' documentary about Delgado's assassination in the series "Political Murders" produced by West Berlin's TV station SFB. The film was completed and aired shortly after the Portuguese revolution of April 25, 1974.


  1. ^ Caetano, Marcello, Minhas Memórias de Salazar, Lisboa, Editorial Verbo, 1977
  2. ^ 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.”
  3. ^ Delgado, Frederico Rosa, Humberto Delgado – Biografia do General Sem Medo, Lisboa, Esfera dos Livros, 2008
  4. ^ "Under the Eucalyptus Trees – TIME". 14 May 1965. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
  5. ^ Cruzeiro - Centro de Documentação 25 de Abril da Universidade de Coimbra, Maria Manuela (2014). Costa Gomes - O Último Marechal. Lisboa: D. Quixote. ISBN 9789722055185.
  6. ^ "Portugal > History and Events > Date Table > Second Republic". Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  7. ^ SERTÓRIO, Manuel; Humberto Delgado: 70 Cartas Inéditas - A luta contra o Fascismo no exílio. Praça do Livro, Lisboa (1978).
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "CIDADÃOS NACIONAIS AGRACIADOS COM ORDENS PORTUGUESAS - Página Oficial das Ordens Honoríficas Portuguesas". (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  9. ^ a b c "CIDADÃOS NACIONAIS AGRACIADOS COM ORDENS ESTRANGEIRAS - Página Oficial das Ordens Honoríficas Portuguesas". (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  10. ^ "Portugal >People > Politicians". Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  11. ^ "Lisbon airport renamed in tribute to Portugal's 'General sem medo'". Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  12. ^ Rodrigo de Magalhães e Menezes Ortigão de Oliveira – A Família Ramalho Ortigão, Author's Edition, 1st Edition, Porto, 2000

Oscar Cardoso PIDE Agent

External links[edit]