NOVEMBER – MONTH OF MURDERS OF BASQUE ACTIVISTS

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text only: 12 mins.)

November is a bad month in the memory of many Basque independence supporters, bringing with it the recollection of the violent deaths of two of their most prominent activists, Santi Brouard and Josu Muguruza. Both men were murdered by Spanish assassination and terror squads in which foreign and native fascists, criminals, police and army cooperated under State political direction in attacking the Basque liberation movement and attempting to spread terror among its supporters.

THE MURDERED BASQUE ACTIVISTS

Santi Brouard was killed on the 20th of November 1984 in the Basque city of Bilbo (Bilbao), capital of the province of Bizkaia, one of the four provinces of the nation under Spanish control1. He was a children’s doctor, Deputy Mayor of the city and a member of the leadership of the Basque socialist independentist political party Herri Batasuna.

Santi (abbreviation for Santiago) Brouard was born in Lekeitio in 1919, an important town for the fishing industry in Bizkaia province. Having completing his schooling he went to study medicine at the University of Valladolid, a city in the north-east-central part of the Spanish state, culturally and politically far from his native home. After graduating, Brouard returned to the southern Basque Country and practiced medicine, specialising in paediatrics in the hospital in Basurto Hospital in Bilbo (very near the San Mamés stadium, home ground of the Athletic Bilbao soccer team).

At the age of around 40, Brouard married the poet Teresa Aldamiz, a Filipino woman of Basque descent and the couple had three children. Likely while striving to achieve his children’s educational and cultural needs, Brouard became active in the underground Ikastola movement (offering education through the medium of Euskera, the then banned Basque national language).

In 1974, in his 55th year, after treating a member of the armed Basque liberation organisation ETA, gunshot-wounded by Spanish police, Brouard was forced to flee the Spanish State jurisdiction into the French-administered part of the nation, where many others had settled for their safety from the forces of the Spanish State2. There the refugee met Argala3 and other members of the ETA leadership, the Basque armed socialist national liberation movement and in the early post-Franco years hr collaborated with Argala and others in developing the KAS Alternative, organised around minimum lines of agreement across the Basque nationalist sector, including armed organisations, political parties and collectives and trade unions.

When Brouard felt it was safe to return to the Basque Country he became active in the political aspect of the movement for Basque independence, was one of the founders of EHAS (Basque Socialist Party of the Basque Nation) of which he was elected President in 1978; he was also on the national executive body of Herri Batasuna until the day of his death. For the HB party he stood in the 1979 elections for Mayor, gaining the position of Deputy-Mayor which he held during the term of that office, i.e until 1983 but that year he was elected as a representative on the Bizkaia Provincial Council. It was in that capacity that he was jailed by the Spanish State and in 1984 was elected as Bizkaia representative to the Basque Autonomous Government4.

The jailing in 1983 came about because he joined other Herri Batasuna elected representatives in singing Eusko Gudariak5 during the King’s6 visit to Gernika and in the presence of the Monarch. Juan Carlos had been Franco’s protege from the end of the 1940s and had also acted as head of state for such occasions in place of Franco in the latter’s final years. Gernika had been infamously bombed by the Condor Legion and also strafed by Italian Fascist airplanes, planes and pilots loaned by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to the fascist-military forces led by Franco, in an attack on a civilian population perhaps mostly remembered today through the image of Picasso’s painting Guernica (sic). Franco’s publicity department at first blamed the bombing and conflagration on the antifascist opposition, then apologists later claimed it had been bombed in mistake for another target.

It is unclear what the final judicial sentence was (it was revised by the Supreme Court in 1986) or to how long in jail the accused were sentenced but it seems to have been for a year or less.

Santi Brouard who, despite having been warned of fascists focusing on him, declined to hide or even to lock his clinic door, was murdered on 20th November while working in his clinic by Luis Morcillo and Rafael López Ocaña, killers hired by senior officials within the Spanish Interior Ministry and at least endorsed, if not actually organised, at the highest level of the State.

Josu Muguruza was shot on the same date but five years later (1989) – and in Madrid. He was sitting at a table with Herri Batasuna comrades, planning their participation the following day in the Spanish Parliament, to which they had been elected from the southern Basque Country. For the left Basque independentist party, it was the first time their representatives were to take part in the Spanish Parliament. Muguruza died on the spot in the attack and a comrade Iñaki Esnaola was seriously wounded.

Monument to Josu Muguruza in his native Recalde, completed by unknown artist in 1989. (Image sourced: Internet)

Josu Muguruza was born in 1958 in the Recalde district of Bilbo (Bilbao). Following his schooling he enrolled in university to study teaching but switched to study journalism instead in Lejona (still in the province of Bizkaia). Apparently he had had been reared speaking only Castillian (Spanish) as Euskera (Basque language) was illegal under the Franco dictatorship but he learned the banned language and was an activist in ASK (Socialist Patriotic Committees), an assemblist collective founded in Bizkaia and also in both KAS and Herri Batasuna.

When his girfriend (and later wife) Elena Bartolomé was arrested on suspicion of connection to the armed group ETA, Muguruza, like Brouard and many others, fled to the northern Basque Country (under French administration). Without a need to worry about extradition from the French state in those years, Muguruza was able to lead a fairly normal life, working as a journalist (although he had left his studies before qualifying). During his six years in that part of his homeland, he taught Euskera for AEK (organisation for the promotion of Basque language to adults) in Bayonne, broadcast for local Basque radio station Gure Irratia and, under a pseudonym, reported for the northern Basque Country edition of Egin7 (a Basque patriotic-left newspaper).

It is believed that Muguruza grew to significant political importance among the Basques in the northern Basque Country, both natives and southern country refugees living there and that he was pushing within the movement for negotiations between ETA and the Spanish State.

In early March 1987 the French police arrested Muguruza on foot of extradition request from the Spanish State and hustled him over the border without an opportunity to challenge the process. Having been released towards the end of the year due to the absence of charges against him, he was able to reestablish himself in the southern Basque Country with his wife Elena but in Gastheiz (Vitoria), in the province of Álava. Muguruza went back to work for Egin but this time as Editor-in-chief, rose in the Basque liberation movement with activity in KAS and election to the national executive body of Herri Batasuna, the electoral party of the movement. For some in the know, although publicly in the background, he was considered among the most important of HB’s leaders and was actively pushing for the participation of the party in the electoral system of the Spanish State.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DATE

The killing of both on the same date though some years apart was no accidental coincidence and clearly signalled the ideological source of the murders – though separated by decades, 20th November was the date of the execution of Primo Rivera and also of the death of the dictator General Franco8.

Primo Rivera was founder and leader of the fascist Falange organisation; he had been captured by Republican forces during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War and was executed on 20th November 1936 in Alicante jail. General Franco became the sole leader of the military-fascist coup and later Dictator of the Spanish State for four decades, dying in 1975. Fascists and Far-Right in Spain revere the memory of both men who, although they were rivals, were eventually interred together in the mausoleum of the Valle de los Caídos (“Valley of the Fallen”), which became a shrine for the Fascists and Far Right9, in particular for processions on the 20th of November — and a cause of bitter complaint for Spanish Republicans, members of the Spanish Left and national independentists (for example of the Basque Country and of Catalonia).

The murders of both Basques on the same date indicated the ideological background of the murderers – Spanish fascism. However, the organisations that carried out the murders were of significant difference and status within the Spanish state.

THE MURDERERS — SPANISH PARAPOLICIAL AND FASCIST ORGANISATIONS

As noted above, the murderers of Brouard were hired killers, contracted by high-ranking officials of the Spanish State.

Protest on 18th October 2008 by Askatasuna organistation on 25th Anniversary of the kidnapping, torture and murder of Jose Antonio Losa and Jose Ignacio Zabala, the first victims of GAL. The Spanish National Court had forbidden the commemoration in Tolosa, Guipuzkoa province. The commemorators are being confronted by the Ertzaintza, Basque Government police and at least six protesters were arrested. (Photo credit: EFE/GORKA ESTRADA)

Wikipedia’s account of the Spanish State assassination squad refers to GAL and the Dirty War, with the years of activity of GAL listed as 1983-1987, in total less than five years. However the whole period of Spanish State/ Far-Right terrorist murders lasted 26 years, beginning in 1975 and ending in 1990. The period claimed at least 66 lives10 and many injured. La Triple A (Acción Apolostolica Anti-communista) was active killing (eight murders according to Spanish State list of victims of this kind of terrorism) and injuring from 1975 until 1982, after which it may be said that GAL took over until 1987. GAL shared some of its time with the BVE (Batallón Vasco Español – “Spanish Basque Batallion”), claiming actions (21 murders and at least 10 serious injuries) between 1975 and 1981.

Poster for film about GAL (Image sourced: Internet)

The hitmen were criminals and mercenaries, sometimes from abroad but usually with a right-wing background, for example with the French-Algerian OAS, Italian fascist movement or the Argentine Triple A.

Some of the terror was directed in general at the Left within the Spanish state and some at Catalan independentists but most of the actions by far were aimed at the Basque Left independentists, many of these residing in the northern Basque Country, i.e under French rule. The terror of these parapolicial murders had a number of objectives:

  • eliminating specific antifascist and left activists during the period of the Transition from Dictatorship to “democracy”
  • causing fear and terror to encourage people to vote for the 1977 royalist and unitary state constitution
  • eliminating specific Left Basque independentists, in particular leaders
  • coercing the French Government into handing over Basque fugitives to the Spanish State

GAL was exposed in an invesigation by a Spanish controversial judge Baltasar Garzón11 and by journalists of El Mundo, newspaper of the right-wing conservative Partido Popular in a series starting in 198912. Although the Minister of the Interior, high-ranking police and army officers were convicted of a number of crimes including kidnapping, murder and embezzlement of Government funds (for personal enrichment, paying terror gang operatives and bribes), their actual time served was very short indeed.

The trial of the first of the senior13 State members of the terror operation did not take place until 1996, when the PSOE Minister of the Interior, José Barrionuevo and his Deputy Rafael Vera were tried on charges of funding and directing a number of murders. They were sentenced to ten years each. In 2001 they were pardoned, having served little more than a year in prison. That year Barrionuevo and José Luis Corcuera, his successor as Minister of the Interior, were tried for embezzlement but found not guilty the following year.

In 2000 General Galindo of the Guardia Civil was sentenced to 75 years for kidnapping and murder – of which he served only four, being released on health grounds.

The finger for Señor X, top director of GAL pointed at Felipe González, Prime Minister of the PSOE Government at the time but, though widely believed to be him, he was never even questioned. Earlier this year a CIA document revealed that González was the Señor X but he remains uncharged.

Felipe Gonzalez in more recent years. Gonzalez was head of the social-democratic PSOE, Prime Minister in 1980s and “Senor X”, mastermind of the Spanish State murder and terror squads. He has never even been questioned. (Image sourced: Internet)

The murder of Josu Muguruza, unlike that of Santi Brouard and many others, appears not to have been sanctioned by the Spanish State and was contrary to its interests in a number of ways:

  • Muguruza was to attend the Spanish Parliament for the first time the following day and his murder, including being in the capital of the Spanish State, reflected badly on “Spanish democracy”;
  • The murder stood to weaken those in the Abertzale Left who supported entering the institutions of the Spanish state and strengthened those for whom armed struggle was the main vehicle towards liberation.
  • The Spanish police clamped down on the Triple A in Madrid after Muguruza’s murder and in response the network officially dissolved itself (though not for long).
Poster for what looks like a documentary film about GAL (contains images of what appears to be real people). (Image sourced: Internet)

THE BASQUE ORGANISATIONS

The history of these organisations is one of struggles for unity alongside splits, including the unseating of one political leadership and its replacement by another. Naturally the murdered Basque activists, along with all other prominent Basque activists of the time, played a part in these conflicts.

HASI in Euskera means “to begin” but is also an acronym for Herri Alderdi Sozialista Iraultzailea (People’s Revolutionary Socialist Party) and was considered the political expression of ETA militar (ETA (m)), a split in the armed libertion organisation. Founded in 1977 out of the fusion of the Basque socialist parties EHAS and ES, HASI was one of the founding members of KAS and of Herri Batasuna.

HASI was dissolved in 1992.

KAS began its existence in 1976, in the dying days of the Franco Dictatorship, as the establishment of a minimum democratic platform for unity across the Basque socialist independentist movement, drawing in a variety of Basque socialist and independentist organisations and later, trade unions. Originally supported by a minority of the movement, it began to quickly gain more widespread support. In 1977 the “Alsasua Table” brought together nearly all the relevant players. KAS put together a transitional program for the independence of the Basque nation, including the removal of repressive forces and the Basque people deciding on the future of the nation; this program was revised in 1978. ETA (militar) came to dominate the alliance after the dissolution of ETA (politico-militar) in 1982.

The ETA leader Argala considered implementation of KAS proposals necessary if ETA was to cease armed struggle; in addition the PSOE and PNV proposed watered-down versions of the proposals.

Alternatiba KAS was dissolved in 1992 to be replaced by Alternatiba Democratica in which Herri Batasuna would negotiate on behalf of the Basque nation.

ETA, which arguably Brouard also helped promote, was founded originally in 1959 as an unarmed Basque socialist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Country and Freedom); it became the armed organisation of the Basque socialist independentist movement, with its first victim and also first martyr in 1968. ETA announced a unilateral truce in 2011, disposal of its armament in 2017 and its disbandment and dissolution in 2018. There are over 250 Basque political prisoners who are recognised as serving sentences — often of a number of decades — in prisons dispersed throughout the Spanish and French states for actual or alleged membership of ETA or assisting the organisation14. The Spanish State insists the prisoners must express regret for their past actions to gain any degree of relaxation of their prison conditions or release on parole.

Although EPPK, the coordinating organisation of ETA prisoners continues in nominal existence, ETA does not exist at least since 2018, arguably since even earlier.

Herri Batasuna, to which Santi Brouard belonged and helped build, as did Josu Muguruza, registered as a political party in 1981 but had been in existence, arising out of KAS, since 1978. The party, like KAS, was a coalition of different strands.

It became the majority party of the Basque socialist independentist movement and performed well in elections but was outlawed by the Spanish State as were a number of its replacement formations, one of the effects thereof being to disqualify them from standing in elections. Its remnants today are to be found in the EH Bildu and Sortu political parties. Although changed from revolutionary socialist independentist to social-democratic nationalist but continuing to advocate for an independent Basque nation, they are arguably the only organisational survivors of the years of the Spanish State’s terrorist war against the Basque liberation movement.

Outside of the influence of the ‘official’ leadership of the movement a number of new Abertzale Left organisations exist which would claim to be continuing the original trajectory of the Abertzale Left (or perhaps to be improving upon it) such as Amnistia15, Ikasle Abertzaleak16, Jarki and Jardun, the latter seeking to act as a coordinator for the movement as a whole. In addition there are a number of autonomous collectives of various types, often focused on specific aspects such as the environment, anti-racism and anti-fascism, etc.

A FIGHT OVER THE MARTYRS’ MEMORY

Monument to Santi Brouard with placards bearing images of both martyrs and Basque flag, Ametzola Park, Bilbao, Nov 2017 (Image sourced: Internet)

Today there exists a three-cornered fight over the memory of the Basque martyrs since 196817. What is now becoming known as the “oficialista” leadership of the Abertzale Left and its “dissident” opposition both commemorate the murders of those Basque martyrs, including of course those of Muguruza and Brouard. But they rarely do so together and on occasion the oficialistas have commemorated them alongside victims of ETA18.

A woman dances the aurresku, an honour dance, in front of projections of the images of Brouard and Muguruza, Bilbao November 2014. (Image sourced: Internet)

The third party to the struggle is the Spanish State, which claims that any commemoration of those martyrs is, in essence, enaltecimiento del terrorismo — “exaltation of terrorism” and, while it does not always intervene, the possibility is always present of judicial prohibition, police action or subsequent charges under “anti-terror” legislation.

Historical memory is a political battleground.

In 2009 the Ertzaintza, police of the Basque ‘Autonomous’ Government, remove banner that declares that Brouard and Muguruza were murdered by the PSOE (Image sourced: Internet)
Ignoring protest of Tasio Erikizia, a leader of the Abertzale Left, the Ertzainza, police of the Basque ‘Autonomous’ Government, remove banner that declares that Brouard and Muguruza were murdered by the PSOE. This took place during a 2009 commemoration in Bilbao of the Spanish State murders of Brouard and Muguruza (Image sourced: Internet)

End.

FOOTNOTES

1The three northern provinces are under the control of the French State, which shares a border with the Spanish State.

2The Spanish State was under the dictatorship of General Franco, which it had been since the victory of his military-fascist forces in a coup against the Popular Front Government and the ensuing Spanish Anti-Fascist War (1936-1939).

3Nom de guerre of Jose Miguel Berañan Ordeñana, leading theoretician and activist of ETA, also murdered by GAL in the northern Basque Country by bomb under his car in December 1978, which makes December too a month of sad recollection for Basque independentists.

4A semi-autonomous body under the 1977 Spanish Constitution, composed of three of the four southern provinces of the Basque nation. It has traditionally been dominated by representatives of the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) with representation of the Basque socialist independentists either in second place or in third (after the Spanish social-democratic PSE).

5“Basque Soldiers”, national anthem of the Basque independentist movement, similar in theme to The Soldiers’ Song/ Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem.

6Juan Carlos was a protege of Franco, swore allegiance to the fascist State and, due to the Dictator’s declining health often presided over or attended functions in the role of head of state. Contrary to some versions of history, Juan Carlos was foisted upon the citizens of the Spanish state as part of a new Constitution in 1977, in turn part of the “Transition” of the State and accompanied by much violence and threats of the reimposition of a dictatorship. Though rejected in the Basque Country, the Constitution was accepted by a majority of the Spanish state electorate with the support of two of the main opposition parties (and their allied trade unions), the Partido Comunista de España and the Partido Socialista Obrero de España, the latter now one of two main parties of government in the Spanish state. Surrounded by controversy and allegations of financial corruption, Juan Carlos abdicated in June 2014 in favour of his son Felipe (now Felipe VI of Spain) and in August 2020 left the state, reportedly ahead of investigations that would lead to charges of financial corruption. The former King is reported to be living in luxury in the United Arab Emirates from which historically any extradition request to the Spanish State has failed.

7A bilingual Basque daily newspaper. In 1998, following many accusations of representing ETA in journalism, Egin was closed by Baltazar Garzón, the much-loved by liberals Judge of the Spanish National Court, with the mantra that “everything is ETA”. However, on appeal the newspaper was absolved of any connection with ETA but that was in 1989, over a decade later, when it was beyond possibility of reopening. The space was filled for many of those years by GARA, which is still in operation. A similar fate was that of Egunkaria, the first all-Euskera daily newspaper in the world – except that some of its managers were also tortured – all also absolved years later.

8Spanish fascists like to use dates as their signature – GAL killed “Argala” (José Miguel Beñaran Ordeñana) on 21st December 1978, the same date in 1973 in which the Basque armed organisation ETA had assassinated Admiral Carrero Blanco, the Spanish Prime Minister in Madrid.

9On 24th October last year 1919, the long-promised (by the PSOE) removal of the remains of both from the mausoleum at last took place, Spanish TV covering the occasion in a style reminiscent to a State funeral. It had been ordered by the PSOE-Podemos-Unida coalition government.

10This does not include ETA fighters or their associates killed during shootouts with the police, summary execution of prisoners taken by police or deaths in police custody, including cases of torture.

11Controversial in a number of ways: beloved by many Spanish and European liberals for ordering the exhumation of a mass grave of victims of the Anti-Fascist War and seeking the extradition of Pinochet for crimes of mass murder, he was also the directing judge in raids on Basque independentist activists whose 5-day incommunicado detentions he authorised and whose denunciations of torture to obtain “confessions” by the victims he ignored or accused them of their visible signs being self-inflicted. He is also infamous for his quoted remark that “Everything is ETA”, i.e that even perfectly legal organisations and activities of the pro-independence movement are organically linked to the armed liberation organisation, justifying the banning of organisations, closure of media agencies and social venues.

12According to their summary report on line (see Sources) these included “thousands of days of investigation, requiring more than 5,000 hours of journeys in Europe, Africa, America and Asia …. with 300 encounters with protagonists directly implicated ….”

13Some lower-level Guardia Civil officers were tried in 1991 and apparently paid money to keep quiet.

14A very small number of those have publicly dissented from the organisation’s leadership.

15Formerly Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (ATA – Amnesty And Freedom) but its full name now is Amnistiaren Aldeko eta Errepresioaren Aurkako Mugimendua (Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression).

16Students’ Union of the Basque Country, over which the ‘official leadership” has lost control to the “dissidents”.

17All Basques who are not diehard Spanish unionists commemorate the Basque martyrs who fell in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War but the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) stops there while the Basque socialist independentist movement includes those who died fighting against Franco’s following repression. Accordingly the date of Gudari Eguna (Day of the Basque Soldier) for the PNV is October 28th while for the socialist independentist movement it is 27th September.

18In 2017 and again in 2018, Julen Mendoza, member of EH Bildu and Mayor of Errenteria participated in honouring the memory of the armed Guardia Civil killed by ETA in the area and this year in November the Basque Parliament, with the agreement of EH Bildu, commemorated the murder of Santi Brouard along with a number of elected representatives killed by ETA.

SOURCES

Wikipedia summary of Santi Brouard’s life in Castillian (the English version is very sparse): https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santiago_Brouard

Wikipedia entry on HASI: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herri_Alderdi_Sozialista_Iraultzailea

Summary report of El Mundo journalists’ investigation: https://www.elmundo.es/nacional/gal/investigacion/principal.html

Smaller convicted police fish accuse Government of running GAL: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/madrid-sues-over-dirty-war-claims-1567483.html

GAL and Spanish State involvement: https://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/12/world/death-squad-killings-of-basques-was-spain-s-government-the-mastermind.html

GAL and “hush money”: https://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/04/world/spain-is-haunted-by-basque-death-squad-scandal.html

More on GAL from Left-wing perspective: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/1998/10/spa-o22.html

Very brief summary of corruption allegations against Juan Carlos while he was King of Spain: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/spain-s-scandal-stricken-king-juan-carlos-is-in-uae/1944728

Article on extradition requests from the UAE to the Spanish State (interesting about UAE extradition requests generally): https://www.detainedindubai.org/post/2015/06/21/uae-initiated-extradition-requests-in-spain-abroad

Three accused of killing Santi Brouard found not guilty: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/gal-verdict-concludes-investigation-into-spanish-dirty-war-crimes-1.36410

Basque Parliament commemorating Santi Brouard but with “victims of ETA”: https://www.diariovasco.com/politica/suma-homenaje-parlamento-20201119110344-nt.html?ref=https:%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

Triple A: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_A_(Espa%C3%B1a)

Batallón Vasco Espanol (BVE): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batall%C3%B3n_Vasco_Espa%C3%B1ol

Spanish fascist “skin” groups Bases Autónomas: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bases_Aut%C3%B3nomas

Statistics on right-wing murders in the Spanish State 1919-2007: https://www.lavanguardia.com/local/valencia/20160122/301590754877/crimenes-de-odio-mapa-miquel-ramos-david-bou.html

1995-2016: http://www.movimientocontralaintolerancia.com/html/admin/verNoticia.asp?cod=1260&esBusq=True

One thought on “NOVEMBER – MONTH OF MURDERS OF BASQUE ACTIVISTS

  1. Pingback: BASQUES MARK THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF THE BURGOS MILITARY TRIALS – rebelbreeze

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