The Assault on Santa Maria

21 January 2023

Henrique Galvão, accompanied by elements of the Iberian Revolutionary Liberation Directory, takes the ‘Santa Maria’ ship, which was then off the Caribbean, on another regular trip to Miami. On board are more than 600 passengers, some Americans. In the U.S., John F. Kennedy had been sworn in as President two days ago. “Operation Dulcinea” was underway: the ship was diverted from its route, making only one stop in Saint Lucia to leave the wounded. In Lisbon, Salazar asks the allies for help to locate the ship, claiming it was an act of piracy. American and British vessels launch into the sea in search of the ship.

But the attitude of the allies changes after the first official statement coming from the ‘Santa Maria’: “On behalf of the National Independent Liberation Board presided by General Humberto Delgado president, also elected, of the Portuguese Republic, fraudulently private of his rights. Salazar government, i seem to occupied with forces my command as first part liberated from the national territory the ship “Santa Maria”, then brief combat at 1.45 a.m.” will say Henrique Galvão in a telegram dated January 24, 2010. The first official communiqué, adding that they call for “not only support of all governments and truly free peoples of the free world, but also political recognition”, declaring open hostilities against “salazar’s titanic government”.

The ‘Santa Maria’ is now called ‘Holy Liberty’. It is sighted on 25 January and is flown regularly, without any sign of hostility. Kennedy will say that some caution is needed, invoking the welfare of passengers. The Americans are calling for the hostages to be released, suggesting Brazil as a starting point. Galvão makes a waiting time: in Brazil, the political conditions were not yet met to make him feel safe. This will happen only with the inauguration of Jânio Quadros, who, in a message sent on February 1st, guarantees Galvão political asylum. The next day, the ship docked in Recife and passengers began to disembark. The kidnapping of Santa Maria was coming to an end.

During these days, Portugal made news in the world. In the January 29 edition, of the British newspaper “Observer” was published excerpts from Galvão’s 1947 report on working conditions in Angola, under the title “only the dead escape forced labour”, and writes that “Salazar (…) must be furious. Portugal is in the news and that’s the last thing he’d want.”

Image: Illustration Portugueza, marking the return of Paquete to Lisbon


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