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Interview with a Basque militant
Political repression in the Basque Country

Rubén Sánchez is a Basque citizen prosecuted in the operation against ‘Askapena’, an organisation which promotes international solidarity among peoples of the world. He was released under bail of 10.000 euros and is awaiting trial, whilst the remaining five detainees arrested on the same day, 28th September 2010, are still in prison. Rubén shares with us in this interview his point of view regarding the operation against Askapena and the reality of Euskal Herria, the Basque Country.

29 November 2010 | - : European Union Torture

Beatriz Morales Bastos: Ruben: What is Askapena?

Ruben Sanchez: Askapena is a Basque internationalist organisation founded in 1987 with the twofold objective of solidarity towards other peoples fighting for socialism and sovereignty, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, the indigenous communities of AbyaYala (Zapatistas, Mapuche, Aymara, Guaraní...), Palestine, Sahara, and to allow these and other peoples to get to know the Basque people and their fight for self-determination and socialism. For this purpose, we collaborate with Friends of Euskal Herria, which has more than 30 groups, mainly in Europe [1].

Beatriz Morales Bastos: Did you think you could be arrested?

Ruben Sanchez: It was highly possible. In recent months, Askapena has been the target of attacks and criminalisation in numerous media of Spain, Colombia, Chile... We have been wantonly accused of such absurd things as instructing guerrilla techniques to the mapuche, finding sanctuaries for ETA in Bolivia or Venezuela, having links with the FARC... All these media intoxications come from police leaks and their objective is to prepare society for when the raids take place and thus shape public opinion [2].
On the other hand, criminalisation of international solidarity has also increased around the world. There are numerous examples in Palestine, Colombia, Chechenia, Afghanistan, Euskal Herria, etc, with people dead and in prison for denouncing imperialist states...

Beatriz Morales Bastos: According to the National High Court of Spain, you provide the network for ETA’s international members. How do you respond to this charge?

Ruben Sanchez: We are not a clandestine organisation. We have worked in the public eye since 1987. There are hundreds of organisations and thousands of people in Euskal Herria and all over the world which are familiar with our work at first hand; none of these people could say members of Askapena are members of ETA. Anyone can visit our web, or attend the numerous public events we carry out in our villages, or meet our brigaders in the countries we visit around the world.

Beatriz Morales Bastos: So how do you explain the operation against Askapena?

Ruben Sanchez: There may be people unaware of the violation of human, civil and political rights in Euskal Herria by the Spanish and French states, and who have only heard of ETA... In the last 10 years, hundreds of members of social and political organisations have been arrested for belonging to ETA, without this being true, newspapers closed and declared illegal political parties, youth organisations, prisoner rights’ platforms, people’s representatives... In Euskal Herria, ordinary people can be militants of ETA without knowing it. The police may visit you at home and say you are accused of belonging to ETA. From that moment, the antiterrorist laws are applied and you can be arrested for 5 days, which can be prolonged to 5 more days, with the obvious risk of torture, following which period you appear before a judge and a public prosecutor of the National High Court, which is a special political court inherited from the days of Franco to combat, amongst other matters, the struggle of the Basque people.

Beatriz Morales Bastos: How did your arrest occur? Were you tortured?

Ruben Sanchez: I have not been tortured, which on the other hand, proves the fallacy of the government’s theory that all ETA detainees follow a manual of instructions to denounce tortures and which is not applied by Basques when they are arrested by the French state... Besides, why would a Basque say he or she has been tortured and sign a declaration incriminating himself or herself? This implies a long-term imprisonment.
The police arrived at 1:30 am, approximately 10 entered my house, which they inspected until 4:30 am, and then we went to the garage where they inspected my partner’s car. That was the worse moment, leaving my partner with the house in such a mess and our two children of 6 months and 2 years of age. After two hours in the Gasteiz police station, I was taken by car, with my eyes covered, to a central police station in Madrid. We were in solitary confinement without knowing who or why we had been arrested until we appeared before the judge

Beatriz Morales Bastos: Is torture widely practiced against political prisoners in the Spanish state?

Ruben Sanchez: I have many reasons to know it exists. I have friends that have been tortured, and that is enough for me. There has not been one single year without torture in the history of the Spanish state, neither during the years of Franco, nor during the last 30 years of “Spanish democracy”. This has been documented by the United Nations, Amnesty International and different human rights organisations.
Recently, ’euskal memoria’ has documented and published the figures relating to the repression of the state against the Basque people. In the period between 1959 (when ETA was founded) and 2009, there have been 465 deaths following police or paramilitary operations, 50.000 people arrested for political motives, 10.000 of which denounced torture and 7.000 were imprisoned. In addition, there are 2.500 in exile. South Euskal Herria has only 2.7 million inhabitants; if you extrapolate these figures to a population such as that of France, the political detainees would be one million and almost 250.000 people tortured. Jon Anza, the last person to die (in France) in ‘strange’ circumstances, disappeared in 2009.

Beatriz Morales Bastos: How do you explain that a country like the Spanish State, a member of the European Union, is acting in this way?

Ruben Sanchez : I have seen a video of Izquierda Castellana in which a member of the organisation explained this to a foreign journalist: Can you imagine Hitler had not died in 1945 and carried on ruling in Germany till he died in his bed in 1975, and before dying he had designed a transition to democracy (with a king appointed by him )? As Franco said before he died, he left everything ‘tied up and well tied up’.
No-one or anything was ever questioned – neither the police, nor the army, nor the judiciary, nor the politicians; there has been no Nuremberg for any Spanish fascist. Everyone who had been a fascist was suddenly a democrat. At schools in Spain, they explain the Spanish civil war as a war ‘among brothers’, between the Left and the Right, and not the result of a fascist military coup against a democratic government, nor do they explain there were nearly 300.000 victims in prisons and concentration camps after the war. There has been no ‘mea culpa’ regarding fascism by the Spanish state, in part because the PSOE and the PCE became legal in exchange for ‘turning the page over’ and not questioning the fascists. This was the price of the model ‘Spanish transition’ which we prefer to call “democratic treason”.

Beatriz Morales Bastos: What outcome do you see to the long conflict between the Basques and the Spanish State? Do you think peace is possible in the near future?

Ruben Sanchez: We know that ETA has declared a unilateral truce of no offensive operations; we also know that the Left that fight for Independence have decided, after lengthy discussions, to use exclusively political, and strictly not violent, means.

But the Spanish State has not abandoned a ‘military victory’, with all its fronts active: the fight against ETA, the fight against what judge Garzón calls ‘the ETA circle’, such as the operation against Askapena, EKIN (which coordinates the different political organisations and social movements) and SEGI (organisation of the socialist youth that fight for Independence), torture, extra punishment for Basque prisoners, more than 725 prisoners scattered all over Spanish and French prisons (even in violation of legislation), seriously ill prisoners, laws changed to extend completed sentences (after 30 years in prison), solitary confinement (the Basque lawyer Arantxa Zulueta has been in confinement since she was arrested last March and started a hunger strike last week in protest), humiliating behaviour to relatives...

Beatriz Morales Bastos: You do not seem too optimistic...

Ruben Sanchez: I have described the situation as it stands today, but I am sure there will be light tomorrow, especially because I think there is a social majority which desires the end of the conflict in a just and democratic way; day by day, these people will bring the end nearer.

Beatriz Morales Bastos: What are your hopes for the Basque Country?

Ruben Sanchez: In the medium term, I imagine a country recognised by the Spanish and French states: a people within Europe which has the right to freely decide its own future, a country where historically confronted sensibilities fight out their differences politically and with equal opportunities, where the wounds of all victims close without winners or losers.

In the long term, I trust that the political project in which I believe, a Basque state which moves towards socialism, receives more and more support and that, along with other peoples of the world, we can prevent capitalism from destroying the planet and the peoples who inhabit it.

Beatriz Morales Bastos: Have you, in conclusion, a message that you would like to convey?

Ruben Sanchez: Before we finish, I would like to send a message to all the people of the Left who read this interview and doubt our sincerity, to the people that believe the world should be built from values other than ferocious capitalism: in the Basque country, in the last 50 years, there have been generations fighting not only for the right of self determination, but also for socialism. Their fight, our fight, is genuine and good not only for our survival as a people, but also for the struggle of humanity against the egoism, destruction and annihilation capitalism represents. We are friends, we are comrades.

Beatriz Morales Bastos: Thank you very much for the interview.

Translated from Spanish by C. L (29.11.2010)

Link to the original in Spanish (26.11.2010):

[2Las ‘embajadas’de ETA” (“The ‘embassies’ of ETA”) El País 1st June 2008.
El país, el tonto y el lápiz” (“El País, the fool and the pencil”).
Denuncia de las amenazas de muerte recibidas por un brigadista de Askapena” (“Brigader of Askapena receives death threats”).

All the versions of this article:
- La represión política en el País Vasco