Operation Dulcinea: conception and shoestring preparations

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Chapter 3 Operation Dulcinea: conception and shoestring preparations

The Iberian Revolutionary Directorate of Liberation (DRIL)

Henrique Galvão arrived in Venezuela in November 1959. In Caracas he soon realised that the various Portuguese and Spanish exile groups there, in opposition to the regimes of Salazar (Portugal) and Franco (Spain), required coordination under a single organisation if effective political action was to be achieved. There was much rhetorical talk of “propaganda and bombings and assassinations”1 but very little actually being done.
The idea of an alliance among Iberian political exiles made sense in view of the similarities between the regimes in Lisbon and Madrid as well as the financial and manpower difficulties faced by both groups. Such a union would also constitute a vehicle of expression for “every current of democratic thought on the Iberian Peninsula.”
The Portuguese exiles were loosely gathered in the Junta Patriótica Portuguesa (Portuguese Patriotic Council), which enjoyed a degree of support from Accion Democratica, the party of Venezuela’s president Rómulo Betancourt. Following the lead of Galvão some of the members of the Junta Patriótica broke away and assembled around the Movimento Nacional Independente (Independent National Movement) (MNI) led by General Humberto Delgado in Brazil and represented in Venezuela by Galvão. Of the Spanish exiles only the Union of Spanish Combatants – under the leadership of Jorge Sotomayor, an ex-navy officer and veteran of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) – answered Galvão’s call for unification. Sotomayor’s group was, according to Galvão, “the least numerous and the poorest but with active connections in Europe.”3 The alliance of the two groups led to the formation of the Directório Revolucionário Ibérico de Libertação (Iberian Revolutionary Directorate of Liberation) (DRIL) in January 1960.
Galvão – a decided anti-Marxist – was opposed to the admission of communists to DRIL. This caused immediate tension since some of its members either had direct links with Communism or were inspired by Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba. The latter, for example, was the case of Jose Velo Mosquera, DRIL’s main ideologist and personally acquainted with Latin America’s foremost Marxist, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.4 Galvão seems to have had his way. According to one of his associates, Camilo Mortágua, at least in its first year of existence DRIL had no links with the Castro government5 or any other Marxist regime.
DRIL contained a double command structure: a general management and a general operational command. The former never actually materialised whilst the latter was co-headed by Galvão and Sotomayor. The two men were responsible for any action over Portuguese and Spanish territories including ships and airplanes.
During 1960 DRIL, associated with the Basque separatist organisation ETA, carried out various bombings in Madrid and other Spanish cities that led the CIA to classify it as a terrorist organisation. This sort of action, regarded by Delgado as “isolated terrorist activities”7, did not appear effective against the Iberian regimes. It reflected the absence of a practical plan suited to the particular circumstances inherent in the opposition to Salazar and Franco.
Two major obstacles confronted DRIL: lack of financial means and manpower. In addition there was the geographic distance separating the organisation from its targets (an ocean between them). These three factors required the conception of an armed rebellion that was original, cost effective, and capable of taking the fight to the Lisbon-Madrid alliance.

The Salazar – Franco Alliance

Luso-Hispanic relations, under Salazar and Franco, befitted the former’s famous depiction of Portugal and Spain as “two brothers, each possessing his own home in the Peninsula.”8 Age-old cultural, geographic and historical ties were complemented by fundamental similarities between the regimes in Lisbon and Madrid. Both were authoritarian, corporative, strongly influenced by Catholicism, bureaucratic and imperialist in their foreign policies.9 All this made for a natural alliance.
The Salazar government had supported Franco’s Nationalists from the outset of the Spanish Civil War, stopping short of “actual participation” in the conflict.10 It appears the Portuguese had calculated that, whether by “Spanish intervention or contagion”, the New State “would not survive a Republican victory”.11 It was vital, therefore, that Nationalist forces gained power in the neighbouring country so as to arrest the spread of Iberian communism12 that, if left unchecked, would certainly consume the smaller country in the Peninsula.
In 1938 Portugal officially recognised the Franco government.13 A year later the relationship between the two Iberian regimes was consolidated in the Treaty of Friendship and Non-Aggression (commonly known as the Iberian Pact). Both countries pledged themselves “to protect each other’s territory and frontiers” and to refrain from joining “any fact or alliance involving aggression against each other.”14 This agreement was verbally reinforced in 1942 with the formation of the Iberian Bloc, which aimed at the coordination of Portuguese and Spanish foreign policies. In 1956 the Salazar-Franco association was expanded into a formal mutual defence treaty.15
World criticism of the Spanish and Portuguese governments, in the 1950s, had isolated them. The Iberian regimes were perceived as “fascist” relics from the 1930s, out of context with the current times. Franco – never forgiven for his defeat of the Republican forces – faced the opprobrium of postwar international opinion, heavily tilted towards the Left, whilst Salazar’s refusal to grant independence to Portugal’s overseas territories incurred severe worldwide criticism. Ostracism of the two regimes may have tightened the bond between them. Iberian relations were as solid in 1961 as they had been in 1939 in spite of Madrid’s dissociation from its neighbour’s unpopular colonial policy.16 DRIL was to be a microcosmic reflection of the broader Salazar-Franco association, a sort of response to the Iberian Pact.17

Conception of Operation Dulcinea

In Galvão’s opinion18, opposition to Salazar and Franco would have to operate at two levels. At home, through surprise military action that would trigger a popular revolt. Internationally, by engaging, a hitherto indifferent international public opinion towards Iberian politics. Here the emphasis was on the attention of western democracies that Galvão had unsuccessfully tried to draw through newspaper articles19, and which he felt was crucial to DRIL’s mission. A meeting with Jânio Quadros – candidate for the presidency in Brazil – in April 1960 was to stimulate Galvão in his search for a way to initiate hostilities against Salazar. During this encounter Quadros had promised Galvão – should he win the presidential election in October – the support of Brazil in “all that might be necessary” 20 in the fight against Salazar. This promise was to prove a crucial factor in the months ahead after Quadros did indeed become Brazil’s next president. But for now, uppermost in Galvão’s mind was the search for a form of action with enough political and emotional power to pierce the apparent invulnerability of the Salazar/Franco apparatus.
In June 1960 an article in the morning paper, that Galvão was reading, triggered the conception of an audacious idea. It reported the arrival at La Guaira – the port for Caracas – of the Portuguese luxury liner Santa Maria as part of her monthly trip from Lisbon to Port Everglades in Florida. In legal terms a ship is considered a territorial part of its country of registry. An attack on the vessel was therefore tantamount to an attack on any geographical location in Portugal. The rationale was simple: since DRIL could not go to Iberia let it come floating to DRIL. What is more an operation of this kind was bound to draw international attention. Galvão let the idea germinate in his mind for a few weeks before communicating it to his Spanish counterpart at DRIL.
The concept was uncomplicated, radical, and aimed at placing opposition to Salazar and Franco on the front page of the world’s press. It consisted in seizing either a Portuguese or Spanish ship, calling at La Guaira, using the age-old piracy method only for political instead of financial gain. Violence would be restricted to a minimum. Once in rebel hands the ship would serve as an instrument for a political action as yet undefined. This was to be known as Operation Dulcinea – after Dulcinea del Toboso, Quixote’s fair lady in Miguel de Cervantes’ seventeenth century classic work. Galvão’s choice of code name was meant to be emblematic of the romantic dimension of the operation and does indeed, as shall be seen later, reveal the quixotic nature of the entire project. But for now there was the question of singling out the most suitable conveyance for the operation.

The Santa Maria: chosen target

Initially the plan involved the seizure of three passenger ships flying Portuguese and Spanish flags. This ambitious idea was abandoned, ostensibly, due to lack of funds. DRIL did not possess the necessary – according to Galvão – fifty thousand dollars to execute an operation of such dimensions. Once agreed on the seizure of a single vessel the Portuguese liner Santa Maria became the obvious choice. She was luxurious, faster than average, likely to carry a substantial number of American passengers (which should induce US involvement), and state-owned. In addition, the ship called regularly at La Guaira on a monthly basis, making her availability an extra reason for the enterprise. It has also been suggested – most plausibly since more Spanish ships called at La Guaira than Portuguese – that the choice of the Santa Maria reflected the option to challenge Salazar, instead of Franco, fearing the response of the latter might involve military violence. 21 This may be partially true.
What is certain is that the choice of a Portuguese ship reveals the predominance of Galvão within DRIL. His assertive personality, coupled with an intense preoccupation with Salazar, was to tilt Dulcinea away from its Spanish element. For him the real target was never Franco but Salazar. Opting for a Portuguese liner was, after all, equivalent to an attack on Portugal not Spain.
The Santa Maria, built by Cockerill-Ougree Shipyard (Belgium), had been introduced in September 1953 and was property of the state sponsored Companhia Colonial de Navegação (Colonial Navigation Company) (CCN). The ship’s main service took her from Lisbon to the Caribbean and on to Port Everglades in Florida. With a crew of 370 and capacity for 1078 passengers, the 20 906-ton vessel was air-conditioned and had an impressive service speed of 20 knots.22 The Santa Maria and her sister Vera Cruz were part of a new generation of liners constituting the pride of CCN’s transatlantic fleet. They were luxurious, fast, and trying to compete with the ever-growing numbers of commercial airlines flying across the Atlantic.

Operation Dulcinea: a two-phase plan

Operation Dulcinea was structured in two phases. The first entailed the seizure and occupation of the Santa Maria. Galvão and his men were to board the liner – as paying passengers – at La Guaira and Curaçao, and seize her the moment she entered the international waters of the Caribbean. Once in control of the ship the insurrectionists would cease communications with the outside world and secretly sail towards the Spanish-held island of Fernando Pó – off the West African coast – initiating the next phase of the operation. This second half of the enterprise was by far the most ambitious and, despite the insistence of Galvão on its feasibility23, hard to view as more than a theoretical exercise. It consisted in the capture of Fernando Pó from where the rebels would – with the support of local populations – take over Spanish Guinea and from there gain a foothold in Angola. Once occupying a portion of Portuguese territory the rebels were to form a government and unleash a general uprising in Angola, Mozambique, and Portugal itself (with the cooperation of opposition forces sympathetic to DRIL).
The weakness of the second half of the operation is striking. It relied heavily on a generalised support of the majority of the local populations as well as on abstract factors such as “surprise” and “audacity”. Galvão was aware of how pivotal this reliance on outside elements was but claims the viability of the project was borne out by thorough study and organisation.24 Yet scant attention was given to the possibility of resolute military resistance on the part of Lisbon or Madrid. Subsequent events during the nationalist uprising in Angola, in March 1961 – discussed in chapter ten – revealed widespread military and civilian loyalty to Salazar’s New State. Had it reached Africa, Operation Dulcinea would have little, if any, chance of success.
Crossing the Atlantic required 8 days of absolute secrecy. The Santa Maria was expected in Miami within 3 days of leaving Curacao. Galvão estimated two extra days of undetected sailing could be gained by claiming engine trouble (to the ship’s agents in Florida) and false rumours concerning the Santa Maria’s whereabouts. When, on the sixth day into the south Atlantic, a general search were launched the rebels should be within striking distance of their African objective.

Operation Dulcinea: aims

Dulcinea had various goals. With the seizure of the Santa Maria the rebels expected to capture world attention and thus expose the Iberian regimes to “the searing glare of unfavourable publicity.”26 The sheer originality and audacity of the operation was certain to galvanise international media and provide DRIL with a platform from which to disseminate their message globally. By directing world attention to the negative aspects of Salazar and Franco rule a public awareness would be created – particularly in America, Britain, France, and Germany – that might disrupt any support given to Lisbon /Madrid. Dulcinea would thus train the international spotlight not only on Salazar and Franco but also on those western governments contributing to their political survival.27 Hence the plight of the Portuguese and Spanish opposition, once within the public conscience, would translate into a situation whereby governments would have to account – before their own constituencies – for any links with the Iberian regimes.
Operation Dulcinea also aimed at rekindling the hopes of the Portuguese and Spanish peoples and to prepare them for the impending democratic uprising. The notion of vulnerability, created by the damage inflicted on the Salazar/ Franco regimes would revitalise the despondent Iberian masses and motivate them into united action. Galvão seems to have believed that Dulcinea could overcome the deep differences among the various opposition groups. A rather ambitious proposition in the face of, for example, a decided rejection of DRIL by the Portuguese and Spanish Communist parties.

Activating Dulcinea

Having completed the plan for the operation DRIL now had to find the means to implement it. The activation of Dulcinea required the gathering of information and its study; procurement of financial backing; and the recruitment of operational personnel. Galvão and his companions began by searching for detailed information on the topography and functionality of the Santa Maria.
H.L.Boulton & Co. (agents in Caracas for the Santa Maria) had unknowingly facilitated DRIL’s work by supplying plans of the ship – which were closely studied – and visitors’ passes giving access to the liner. Hence on each of her monthly stops at La Guaira Galvão and other members of DRIL visited the Santa Maria. Through these visits it was established that the ship did not store any arms nor carry PIDE agents (International Police for the Defense of the State). More significantly Galvão came away convinced that whoever controlled the uppermost deck controlled the Santa Maria since it was accessed by only six ladders which could be easily defended should a counter attack by the crew take place.
CCN agencies throughout the world placed exact scale models of their ships in their display windows. Caracas was no exception. Late at night Galvão and his companions would examine the miniature Santa Maria in her agents’ show window. In addition, during December 1960 a woman28 was infiltrated into the Santa Maria as a telephone operator providing information concerning the communication system of the ship and the positions of the crew. With the gathering of information and its study concluded it was time to move on to the next step of the operation: the recruitment of personnel.
Initially Galvão estimated that a hundred men were required to carry out Dulcinea. Once on African soil these would constitute the “officer corps” in the “Army of liberation”29 which would overthrow the regime in Lisbon. However, financial difficulties did not permit such high numbers of personnel. In effect twenty-six people were ultimately recruited of which twenty-four boarded the Santa Maria on 20 January 1961.
A training camp was set up in the Venezuelan countryside about 130 kilometers from the capital. Here the recruits received the necessary training in the utmost secrecy. Of the 24 personnel only 10 were fully aware of the scope of the operation. The remaining fourteen were kept in the dark. In fact even General Delgado – contrary to his 1964 autobiography30 as well as press reports at the time of the hijacking – was kept only partially informed. According to Camilo Mortágua31, Delgado was only told about Dulcinea by means of a telegram sent from Curaçao before Galvão boarded the Santa Maria. It is evident that the relationship between the two men was not the idyllic association projected at the time Dulcinea was carried out. This aspect calls for further investigation since it illuminates the personalities of Galvão and Delgado as well as their involvement in the assault on the Santa Maria. We shall thus return to this topic at a later juncture.
The Spaniard Jorge Sotomayor (52) was selected as chief-of-staff. His contribution was vital since no one else – out of the twenty-six men – had naval experience and thus the capability of running a ship. Other Spaniards involved were José Velo Mosquera (a.k.a. “Professor Velo”) (45); Vitor Velo Perez (son of Velo Mosquera) (17); Augustin Romara Rojo (nephew of the Republican General Rojo, one of the main figures of the Spanish Civil war) (40); Fermin Suarez Fernandez (46); Francisco Rico Leal (44); Luis Fernandez Ackerman (21); Manuel Perez Rodriguez (38); Basilio Losada (29); José Perez Martinez (44); Manuel Mazo Bravo (30) and Junqueira de Ambia (45).
The Portuguese contingent included – besides Galvão – José da Cunha Ramos (18); Camilo Tavares Mortágua (27); Luis Manuel Mota de Oliveira (35); António de Almeida Frutuoso (26); Graciano Marques Esparrinha (?); Jorge Pestana de Barros (?); Filipe Aleixo Viegas (45); José Frias de Oliveira (?); Júlio Ferreira de Andrade (34); Joaquim Manuel da Silva Paiva (35); Júlio Rodrigues (19); Miguel Urbano Rodrigues (?); Leonardo (33); Vitor da Cunha Rego (?); Júlio Rodrigues (19) and the Venezuelan Rafael Ojeda Henriques (?).32
Of the four basic advantages of Dulcinea – surprise, shock, originality and financial viability – the last one proved to be a major hurdle. An estimated minimum budget of $30 000 was to be scaled down to a mere $6 000. This was due to various factors: the– already mentioned – divisions among Portuguese and Spanish exiles; the general superficial nature of opposition politics which opted for talk rather than action and thus did not translate into financial support; and the fact that Galvão’s anti-communism prevented him from accepting any financial aid from the Soviet Union. Rocha33 refers to Galvão’s position as a refusal to contract any debts carrying ideological interest. In the end a skeletal budget was raised with contributions from Portuguese and Spanish immigrants as well as from DRIL members.
Galvão’s steadfast refusal to compromise with Moscow and its agents translated not only in a heavily reduced budget but most probably jeopardised any possibility of a revolution in Portugal. Concurrently with financial difficulties DRIL also faced opposition from other political organisations. This was the case, particularly, of the PCP’s disapproval of any form of “opposition by direct action”34 which, it argued, would serve only to bring further oppression from the Salazar regime. Since the Communist network were the best suited for an uprising in Portugal it is doubtful that, without PCP cooperation, Dulcinea could attain any level of success in its revolutionary aims.
The inception of the operation was first set for 14 October 1960. It would be postponed three times mainly owing to lack of financial backing. According to Galvão just four days before the first set date they were still short of $2000.35 Again, on 15 November and 20 December, Dulcinea would be delayed for much the same reasons as before. Finally, on 20 January 1961, Galvão and his men were ready to board the Santa Maria.

Preface vi
1 The historical context: Portugal 1910-33
2 From Sidonist to Salazarist and beyond 1895-1959
3 Operation Dulcinea: conception and shoestring preparations
4 The Santa Maria vanishes
5 The search for the missing liner
6 Operation Dulcinea, 26-28 January
7 Negotiations
8 Debarkation
9 The end of the affair
10 Impact and implications
11 In the wake of the Santa Maria 1961-75

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