Lisbon airport to be renamed in honour of murdered air force hero

Lisbon’s Portela airport may soon be renamed “Aeroporto Humberto Delgado” in honour of the highly-decorated air force general who died because he tried to topple the Salazarian regime.

It is exactly 50 years ago today that 59-year-old Humberto Delgado was beaten to death by Portuguese secret police, almost certainly acting in the interests if not direct orders of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.

A book commemorating the assassination marks the anniversary and has been widely covered today (Friday) by the BBC.

As the British news service points out: “It was the most notorious political crime in Portugal’s modern history, and 50 years on no-one has ever gone to jail for it”.

Nor are they likely to as all involved are now certainly dead.

But the ray of sunshine in the dismal story of political intrigue is that Socialist mayor and leader of the party António Costa now wants to redress at least some of the wrongs of the past by putting the murdered general’s name to the capital’s airport.

“Portugal’s murdered air force hero may finally be winning the popular approval he craved”, writes the BBC.

Certainly, Lisbon’s municipal executive (where Socialists are in a majority) support the plan which now passes to the government for ratification.

Delgado became a marked man in 1958 when he declared his candidacy in the presidential elections.

He was asked what he would do with Salazar if he became president, and said the words for which he became famous: “Obviously, I will sack him”.

Salazar outwitted his opponent however, ensuring that he lost not only the elections but an abortive military coup some years later.

And then Delgado was duped into a meeting with what he thought were “revolutionary Portuguese officers”.

The PIDE officers were nothing of the kind – and Delgado’s decomposing body was discovered two months later in a eucalyptus grove in the Spanish Extremadura, 3 kms from the border with Portugal.

Intriguingly, Delgado’s choice as the airport’s namesake comes because he was given the job in 1944 of implementing Transportes Aéreos Portugueses – better known today as TAP, which now stands poised to be sold off to the highest bidder.

It is also not certain that the government will agree to Costa’s suggestion. Historians explain that people are still divided in Portugal over Salazar’s legacy “according to political preferences”.

“The left argues it’s a terrible legacy, whereas the right says Salazar made mistakes but was not bad overall”, Pedro Lains, professor of economic history at Lisbon University told the BBC.

Thus we wait and see.

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