Militão Bessa Ribeiro
(Murça, 13-08-1896 – Lisbon, 02-01-1950)
Born in Murça, Militão Bessa Ribeiro began his political militancy in Brazil, to where he had emigrated at the age of 13, and where he worked as a cashier trainee and textile worker. He was also a trade union leader, played football for Vasco da Gama and was a member of the Communist Party of Brazil.
In the early 1930s, he was considered “undesirable” and repatriated to Portugal to be handed over to the Portuguese police. He managed to escape, and then he joined the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP). He was arrested in July 1934, accused of being a member of the International Red Assistance. Incarcerated in the Prison of Aljube of Porto, he was sentenced by the Special Military Court, in April 1935, to twelve months in the prison of Peniche, where he remained for far longer than his sentence. In Peniche, he was accused of insubordination after participating in a prisoners’ fight, and then he was transferred, in June 1935, to the Fortress of Angra do Heroísmo, in the Azores. In October 1936, he was part of the group of prisoners that inaugurated the Concentration Camp of Tarrafal, in Cape Verde, where he was a member of the leading body of the Communist Prisoner’s Organisation in Tarrafal. In July 1940, he was released after amnesty. Militão Ribeiro participated in the reorganisation of the PCP, joining the Secretariat in 1941. He was involved in the organisation of the strike movement of 1942 until he was arrested again, in November of that same year, and sent to the Prison of Aljube, in Lisbon, for enquiries. On 5 April 1944, he was sentenced to four years in prison and sent back to Tarrafal, being released at the end of 1945, as a result of a new amnesty.
In November 1946, he was elected for the Central Committee and, once again, for the Secretariat of the PCP. In March 1949, Militão Ribeiro was arrested in a clandestine house in Luso. Accused of being a member of “the secret subversive organisation called ‘the Portuguese Communist Party'”, he went through the prisons of the International and State Defence Police (PIDE) in Porto until he was transferred, on 10 May 1949, to the Lisbon Penitentiary.
Deeply weakened by the successive arrests, abuse, illness and lack of medical care, an infectious lung disease would be fatal to him. Gravely ill, he was placed in strict isolation for nine months, and abandoned, without medical assistance worthy of the name, to an announced death. In some letters he wrote in prison two months before his death, he accused the PIDE of “poisoning” him. The hunger strike that he had begun in protest against the prison regime did not, however, deter the authorities, and so he died in prison, in 1950, at the age of 54.