There were celebrations in the Basque Country and among solidarity activists around the world on March 1 as Basque political prisoner Arnaldo Otegi was released from a Spanish jail after more than six years
There were celebrations in the Basque Country and among solidarity activists around the world on March 1 as Basque political prisoner Arnaldo Otegi was released from a Spanish jail after more than six years.
Otegi has been a leader of the Basque liberation movement and an advocate of a shift towards relying on peaceful means of struggle.
However, the Spanish state criminalises all expressions of support for Basque independence, equating even peaceful campaigning on the issue with terrorism. Already, Spanish authorities have sought to restrict rallies welcoming Otegi’s release from prison.
Spain holds hundreds of Basque political prisoners in its jail — using its controversial policy of «dispersion» to place them in jails far from the Basque Country and family and friends.
An international campaign had called on Spain to release Otegi. A statement released last year calling for the activist’s freedom was signed by well-known personalities around the world, including Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire and former Latin American presidents Jose Pepe Mujica, Fernando Lugo and Manuel Zelaya.
In October 2009, 10 central leaders of the Basque pro-independence movement, including Otegi, were arrested as they met to discuss a new peace initiative. Five of them were jailed.
Despite such provocations, ETA declared a permanent ceasefire in 2011 and began disarming in 2014. A new pro-independence party committed to peaceful means, Sortu, was registered in 2013, reaching high levels of support across the Basque Country.
Below is a speech Otegi gave to supporters on his release from jail, translated by ‘Basque peace process’.
Gora Euskal Herria askatuta!
Some say that there are no political prisoners in the Spanish state, they say it with relish, some say it with animosity, but you just have to check all the cameras recording us to know that political prisoners do actually exist in the Spanish State.
All these cameras are never there when social prisoners leave this prison, the cameras are never there when immigrants are expelled from these prisons, there are not this many cameras when humble and working people are evicted from their homes.
So what we say is, for those of us who are Marxists, facts are those that are contrasted with reality, and the reality is that all these cameras wouldn’t be here, if they didn’t know that today, as on many other occasions, a political prisoner leaves a Spanish prison.
Six, five years ago, they tried and jailed us for making a bet for peace. And I want to congratulate all of you, for having sustained that bet above all provocations, indeed peace is the way, but in that way our commitment has to be taken to the end and that’s what I intend to do with all of you.
When we were put in jail, we were imprisoned as Basques and as Basques we come out. As pro-independence we were imprisoned and pro-independence we come out. And as socialists we were imprisoned and as socialists we leave.
So all I want to say to sum up, because I know that there is much curiosity about this issue is, the best Lehendakari (President of Basque Government), the best mayor, is the people!