In the village of Campo Maior, when Rui Nabeiro was still alive, a monument evocative of his unique journey was erected. It shows a group of 12 men with backpacks on their backs, associating the smuggler’s romantic profile with the entrepreneur’s striking action. It was they who made possible the formation of the successful company: Delta Cafés.
The mark of this desire was well established in Campo Maior, from the second half of the 20th century onwards. Nabeiro turned illegal smuggling into a business activity: the coffee roasting and trading industry. This transformation made it possible for the business to survive even after contraband disappeared.
With the opening of borders, its dynamism also extended to the production of wine, olive oil, food retail, automotive trade, the metalworking industry, among other sectors. Today, Rui Nabeiro’s companies employ four thousand workers. Campo Maior is no longer located in the remote interior of Portugal, to take on an international dimension.
It all started during the Spanish Civil War, in the tricks and cat-and-mouse game with the Spanish carabinieri brigades and the Portuguese Fiscal Guard, when men who dedicated themselves to smuggling made incursions back and forth across the border line, in the middle of the night, covering distances that could reach 60 kilometers and carrying a load that varied between 25 and 40 kilos on their backs. The effort required physically and mentally gifted individuals to transport sweets, chocolates, blue jeans, aspirins and other medicines, perfumes, tobacco, clothes, bacon, pork guts, tires, auto parts, bars and sheets of copper or cattle. And, of course, coffee, the most coveted and “traded” product from Portugal to Spain since the Spanish Civil War.
It was the time of legends and stories of the fantastic. The Spanish sociologist Eusébio Medina Garcia highlighted “Zé Lagarto” in the book he wrote with the title Smuggling in the border of Portugalpublishing an interview with the character who most highlighted the smuggling spirit.
He began his clandestine activity at the age of 16 and was arrested several times. He lasted three days and three nights without eating or drinking, a trait that no one else could be proud of, a feature that Inácio Vitória, a former smuggler from Alandroal, highlighted to PÚBLICO, recognizing his “courage, loyalty and leadership skills”.
Another of the figures that marked the imagination of the border communities, nicknamed “Patalarga”, was also Portuguese and resident in Juromenha. At the end of the 1970s, he crossed the Guadiana in boats that he owned and traveled through the small villages of Olivença, in the company of his 13-year-old son, to sell coffee, towels, images of Nossa Senhora de Fátima, games of checkers and chess. , and even car and truck parts. People had sympathy and trust for him, to the point of providing him with haystacks to sleep.
Always attentive and careful, and counting on the complicity of the oliventinos, he was never arrested by the carabinieri, nor was his goods seized. He left smuggling with the opening of borders and ended his days in 1996, aged 86, guarding a flock of sheep on the banks of the Guadiana River.
There were many of these smugglers, acting on their own and taking risks, that Rui Nabeiro transformed, in a first phase, into hired porters and then into employees of an industry that the smuggling itself produced.
At the age of 91, the greatest reference of all those who, in a given period of history, found in smuggling a means to overcome the lack of alternatives that agriculture did not supply, to guarantee the livelihood of their families, disappears.
The Alentejo writer José Luís Peixoto highlighted in his most recent book, Sunday lunch, an expression by Nabeiro that qualifies his long journey of life: “I will be rich, different from those out there.” Philanthropy was another of the most relevant facets in the life of the creator of Delta Cafés.
Rui Nabeiro’s funeral will take place on Tuesday, the 21st, in Campo Maior. The funeral mass is scheduled for 12:00, followed by a funeral procession to the Campo Maior cemetery, where the businessman will be buried. The day before, at 9:50 am, the funeral ceremonies begin. At this time, a procession will leave Novadelta and pass through several points until it ends at the Mother Church of Campo Maior. The wake starts at 12 pm on Monday.