See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

The Disputed Reputation of Portugal's Former Political Police Chief

Major Silva Pais, the last director of Portugal's repressive PIDE police force – operative during the country's “New State” period – has been implicated in a play, in the 1965 assassination of democratic opposition politician General Humberto Delgado.

As Global Voices reported in May 2011, a criminal case is currently underway by Pais’ nephews against the author of the play A Filha Rebelde (The Maverick Daughter) and the directors of the National Theatre D. Maria II, who staged it in 2007.

General Humberto Delgado

Identity card of the director of PIDE. Image from the public domain

Identity card of the director of PIDE. Image from the public domain

Delgado broke with the Portuguese national-Catholic regime, enrolling in the 1958 presidential election which was called by dictatorial then Prime Minister Salazar. Surprisingly announced as a “universal vote”, in reality only the literate could vote and illiteracy at the time in the country was overwhelming.

Electoral fraud at the time was common too – even the dead “voted”. However, the “universal vote” was, to Salazar, an expression of mere consent and did not provide realistic options for voters.

Delgado presented himself as a candidate and the campaign was vicious. He was prohibited from holding demonstrations, rallies, and parades, and was prevented from coming into contact with the general public.

Allegedly beaten at the polls, the general left the country, denouncing the result as fraud. The PIDE was instructed to kidnap him outside the country, and eventually beat him to death in Spain, staging an accidental shooting. Though there was not an official version, the pattern of events was eventually clarified in court in 1981. A later trial to ascertain Silva Pais’ involvement in Delgado's death was never completed, as Pais died before the verdict was delivered.

On the blog Cantigueiro, Samuel remembers [pt]:

o assassino Silva Pais estava a ser julgado exactamente pela participação nesses crimes [assassinatos de Humberto Delgado e secretária], quando morreu de causas naturais seis meses antes de ser lida a sentença.

The killer Silva Pais was being judged specifically for [his] involvement in these crimes [the assassination of Humberto Delgado and his secretary], when he died of natural causes six months before the verdict was read.

The nephews of Major Pais insist that the play (focused on their uncle's daughter) is deeply offensive to the memory of their uncle, saying: “three lines of the play suggest that [Major Silva Pais is] linked to the murders”.

Their request for compensation of 30,000 euros from the theatre directors and the playwright has been in court since May 2011, with a verdict due in late July.

Violation of human rights?

The whole controversy, it could be argued, fits well in a country where the very translation of the official European Convention is flawed: the word “reputation” is mistaken in the Portuguese version as meaning “honor”. The mere existence of the court process may be in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Wall in Aljube jail with the names of the men and women murdered by the PIDE, some by direct order from Silva Pais. Photo by Daniel Jota, shared in a Facebook group in solidarity with the defendants in criminal proceedings against 'The Maverick Daughter'.

Wall in Aljube jail with the names of the men and women murdered by the PIDE, some by direct order from Silva Pais. Photo by Daniel Jota, shared in a Facebook group in solidarity with the defendants in criminal proceedings against 'The Maverick Daughter'.

Rosa Delgado, a researcher, points to the possibility of opening up here “an extremely serious precedent” [pt] in Portuguese democracy. There are also those claiming (including the author of this post) that the court proceedings undertaken by the Portuguese public court are in violation of Articles 17 and 46 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Data is missing on the issue, both in the press and in the blogosphere. For example, was there confirmed indictment or a charge by a judge to take the debate to trial?

Protests and controversy

There has been plenty of protest regarding the issue. The civic movement ‘Não apaguem a memória‘ (Do not to erase the memory) [pt] recalls:

As atrocidades infligidas aos opositores, por inspectores e agentes sob a alçada de Silva Pais, enchem milhões de páginas no Arquivo da Torre do Tombo [arquivo histórico central],

The atrocities inflicted on opponents, by inspectors and agents under the guidance of Silva Pais, fill millions of pages in the archives of Torre do Tombo [the Portuguese National Archive of the Tower of the Tomb]
Picture from the play 'The Maverick Daughter' exhibited in the National Theatre D.Maria II (TNDM II) in 2007. Copyright Margarida Dias, TNDM II.

Picture from the play 'The Maverick Daughter' exhibited in the National Theatre D.Maria II (TNDM II) in 2007. Copyright Margarida Dias, TNDM II.

In Caligrafias ìberes Rosario Duarte da Costa stresses [pt] the seriousness of censoring the former director of the National Theatre, a man of culture and a university professor, who lost his directorate during this legal process and because of it (a fact that was not reported in the mainstream media).

Determined, Margarida Belchior says [pt] in À Beira Rio:

Confio que seja feita justiça, para já no tribunal, (…) e em muitas outras dimensões da nossa vida e actividades colectivas: reedição do livro, levar a peça novamente à cena (…)

I trust there will be justice at least in court for now, (…) and in many other dimensions of our life and collective activities: reprinting the book, taking the play back to the stage (…)

On the blog Portugal dos Pequeninos (Portugal of the Little), João Gonçalves reproduces [pt] an article by the media critic Cintra Torres (from the newspaper Público):

Correcto será defender, em primeiro lugar, os direitos de quem exprime opiniões para nós detestáveis ou factos para nós desagradáveis.

The correct thing to do would be, in the first place, to defend the rights of those who express opinions that are hateful for us or facts we consider unpleasant.

On the blog Porta da Loja (Door of the shop) Jose says [pt] with authority:

O que a peça de teatro pretende é imputar factos concretos que podem ser falsos e que nada autoriza se publiquem ou imputem porque as pessoas visadas estão vivas e são da família do difamado.

The play aims to impute concrete facts that may be false and nothing authorizes them to be published or charged because the people concerned are alive and are relatives of the slandered.

So too, thinks the average Portuguese lawyer. But does it make sense to question the involvement of the former director in an operation undertaken by the “police” that himself ruled alone?

On Contra Ordem (Against Order) [pt], Kritis believes:

Está (…) prejudicada a defesa do bom nome do director geral de uma organização declarada criminosa por texto legal. Estão todos errados, portanto.

the protection of the reputation of the main director of an organization declared criminal by legal proceedings has been damaged. Therefore, they are all wrong.

And stresses:

(…) a humilhação da submissão de um autor teatral à escumalha da reinserção social, (…) os absurdos de se ser interrogado (…) sem defensor e por assistentes sociais asininas, (…) o absurdo (…) que se traduz na transferência para debate e decisão penal de uma tarefa que é da crítica literária.

(…) The humiliation of a playwright's submission to the scum of the probation, (…) the nonsense of being interrogated (…) without access to a defence lawyer, (…) the absurdity (…) which turns a task of literary criticism into a matter of criminal order and debate.

The resistance shown through this case, to the (binding) criteria of the European Court on freedom of expression, creation, research and awareness has raised serious issues in Portugal; many are waiting to see how they resolve.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site