INTO SPANISH JAIL AFTER THREE YEARS FREE FROM FRENCH JAIL

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 mins.)

Basque independentist militant Itxaso Zaldua was arrested on Tuesday in Hernani, in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa and according to media is to be charged with complicity in the killing of a senior right-wing politician in 2001. She has spent only three years at liberty in the southern Basque Country after nearly twelve in a French jail and is now back in custody pending trial. Her arrest has been denounced by both wings of the Basque pro-independence movement but from different perspectives.

           As according to the bilingual GARA newspaper Zaldua was not held incommunicado, i.e without access to friends and relations, lawyer or doctor of choice, it is not likely that she will be tortured. Until a few years ago the use of a variety of types of torture during the five-day incommunicado period under the “anti-terror” (sic) laws was the rule rather than the exception. However, all detainees charged under the terrorism laws of the Spanish State are always taken to Madrid for interrogation by the Guardia Civil and then for court appearance, the distance from their homes placing an additional burden on friends, relatives and supporters (it is 450 km from Hernani). Some of those will be given temporary accommodation and support by Madrid organisations in solidarity.

TWELVE YEARS IN JAIL

          Back in April 2005 Itxaso Zaldua was arrested in the Lannemezan area of the Occitan region of the French state, along with her comrade José Segurola Querejeta. They were charged with membership of ATAKA (sub-structure of the armed Basque resistance organisation ETA), of which she was accused of leading and duly convicted and jailed in the French system (which also disperses political prisoners to jails throughout the territory).

Zaldua was released in 2017 and right-wing Spanish unionist organisations including the “Association of Victims of Terrorism”, many of their members relatives of Spanish police or military, complained at the traditional honouring reception she received upon her return home from French jail. Zaldua walked hand-in-hand with her young daughter down a street with well-wishers on both sides cheering, was presented with a floral bouquet, two women danced the aurresku (honour dance) before here and another shouted the irrintzi, the high-pitched yodeling cry reputed to have been a battle-cry (see embedded video) and the Eusko Gudariak (“Basque Soldiers”, similar to the Irish “Soldiers’ Song”) was sung by all.

https://www.vozpopuli.com/espana/instituciones-permiten-homenaje-etarra-Itxaso-Zaldua-yihadista_0_1057095289.html (apologies for the use of video from a right-wing source but it was the only one I was able to access).

2017-08-23, Hernani. Itsaso, euskal preso politikoa aske, ongi etorria.
23-08-2017, Hernani. Itsaso, presa politica vasca libre, recibimiento.

“TIME TO BE EMPTYING THE JAILS, NOT FILLING THEM”

          The “official” Basque independentist movement responded quickly to the ex-prisoner’s new arrest: the Sare organisation convened a demonstration in Hernani the same afternoon demanding Zaldua’s release and the trade union works committee of her place of employed also denounced her arrest. The official movement’s political party EH Bildu (headed by Arnaldo Otegi), issued a statement that “It is time to be emptying the jails, not filling them,” a reference to the nearly 250 Basque political prisoners still in jail.

2020-07-21, Demonstration Tuesday afternoon in Hernani in protest at arrest of Itxaso Zaldua in the town earlier that day.
(Photo sourced: Naiz.info)

The party’s statement called the arrest “another obstacle in the path chosen by this nation towards peace, coexistence and freedom; a path which, cost whatever it may, we are determined to follow”.

However the ‘dissident’ organisation Amnistia (Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression), which also condemned the arrest, issued a statement declaring that “There will be no peace until the reasons that are at base of the conflict are resolved and until all the militants who are punished as a consequence of said conflict are free.

Both organisations called the people to action, with EH Bildu referring to “the participation and activation of Basque society” and Amnistia in contrast stating that “the working class need to organize”.

“THEY WANT TO HUMILIATE THE BASQUE COUNTRY”

          The Basque organisation ETA ended its armed struggle in 2012 as part of a unilateral bid for a peace process of the movement under the leadership of Arnaldo Otegi. However, a peace process requires the participation of at least both antagonists and the Spanish State has shown no interest in negotiation. Whatever one may say about such processes in Ireland or in South Africa, the resistance organisations in those countries ensured the freedom of their imprisoned members before they signed up to the deal. This was not so in the Basque case.

It is no doubt difficult for observers to understand why the Spanish State is now pursuing an ex-prisoner for alleged complicity in an assassination nineteen years ago when State has gained not only the ETA’s abandonment of armed struggle but even its dissolution. Nor is there any sign that Zaldua is a sympathiser of the “dissident” movement; the statements in her support from across the “official” movement and the speed of response is in stark contrast to the “officials’” response to the hunger and thirst strike of political prisoner Patxi Ruiz in May. Ruiz had denounced the “official” leadership some years ago and been expelled from the collective that leadership controls (and which precipitated the resignations of another four Basque prisoners in solidarity).

Ironically, it is the assessment of the “dissident” Amnistia which seems correct: “This arrest, like other previous ones, shows that the States (i.e French and Spanish) want to humiliate the Basque Country. By means of life sentences against a specific against a specific model of resistance, they want to intimidate the new generations that join the struggle.”

Itxaso Zaldua, photographed a year after her release from 12 years in French jails.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

DIFFERENT PATHS

          Whatever the eventual outcome of the judicial process against Zaldua in the no-jury National Court in Madrid, it is clear that the struggle against the Spanish State is far from finished in the southern Basque Country, though its armed stage seems over at least for the present.

The “official” leadership has been following an electoral path and quoting the support of external political figures such as Bertie Ahern, Gerry Adams, Kofi Anan, Tony Blair and Brian Currin of South Africa.

In the Euskadi regional government elections on Sunday in the southern Basque Country, the “official” party led by Otegi, EH Bildu, as expected came in second. The PNV, the Basque Nationalist Party, came in first and the PSE, Basque version of the Spanish unionist PSOE, in third place. Despite periodic approaches by the EH Bildu leadership, the PNV will govern the three provinces either in coalition with the PSE or in “confidence and supply” agreement with the party.

Even if EH Bildu in years to come were able to reach first place in Euskadi regional elections, what of the other region, Nafarroa? And the three northern provinces of the Basque Country, under French rule? And, even with an eventual majority in all seven provinces, if the Spanish State were still to deny independence, as it does with an independentist majority in Catalonia, what then?

Over to the Amnistia movement, which advocates street power: “If we are to achieve peace, it will come from the full implementation of total amnesty, with the unconditional release of prisoners, refugees and political deportees, with the expulsion of the occupation forces and with the overcoming of the reasons that pushed so many people to fight. That will be the only guarantee to end arrests like today and other similar repressive actions.”

That seems a realistic enough assessment. But as to how to achieve their objectives against the opposition of the Spanish and French states, neither section of the Basque independentist movement seems to have an answer.

End.

Workmates of Itxaso Zaldua at company CAF Besain demand her release.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

SOURCES:

Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression statement: https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/index.php/es/articulo/ante-la-detencion-de-itxaso-zaldua

Report on-line GARA (naiz): https://www.naiz.eus/en/actualidad/noticia/20200721/detienen-a-la-expresa-itxaso-zaldua-en-hernani

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