Portugal honours TAP founder by renaming Lisbon airport

In the same week that the Portuguese government celebrated ‘recovering’ national airline TAP from privatisation, it has decided to honour TAP’s founder, military hero Humberto Delgado who died because he tried to topple the Salazarian regime.

It is almost exactly 51 years to the day since 59-year-old 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 marked its 50th anniversary last year and was widely covered by the BBC.

As the British news service explained: “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 is that prime minister António Costa has always wanted to redress at least some of the wrongs of the past by putting the murdered general’s name to the capital’s airport.

The reason for this is that in 1944 Delgado was given the job of implementing Transportes Aereos Portugueses, now universally known as TAP.

As Mayor of Lisbon, Costa saw his recommendation put to the government last year and now as leader of the country he has seen the Council of Ministers set a date.

Lisbon’s Portela Airport will thus be renamed on May 15, the anniversary of Delgado’s birth in Torres Novas, in 1906.

The BBC’s predictions last year that “Portugal’s murdered air force hero may finally be winning the popular approval he craved”, will at last come true.

Delgado’s downfall came 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.

As the BBC reported last year, it was not certain the government would agree to Costa’s suggestion – particularly because when he made it, the government was centre-right.

Historians explained that people in Portugal are still divided 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.

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