July 09, 2004
Freedom for Josu Lariz Iriondo
By Marie Trigona
Josu Lariz Iriondo-social activist and Basque political
prisoner-for the first time is getting to know the streets of Buenos
Aires, with a map in hand and plenty of friends to answer questions
about directions. "I was inside for 2 years calm, with no noise, no
traveling and now I have to take busses and deal with the noisy
streets," Josu said jokingly, just a week after he was released from
Argentina's high security international terrorism prison.
On June 18 Federal Judge Claudio Bonadío ordered Josu's release
after spending 18 months imprisoned while facing extradition to
Spain under charges of being a member of the Basque liberation
organization ETA. During the extradition trial on June 8 and 9,
hundreds of Argentines mobilized outside the courthouse to demand
Josu's immediate release and denial of extradition to Spain.
Hundreds of fellow activists came out to pressure the courts and
politicians for the "freedom for Josu and all political prisoners."
Before he was illegally imprisoned in Argentina, Josu lived in
Uruguay for 15 years in exile where he worked as a master chef in
Basque cuisine. He opened a restaurant along with other Basque
friends and married a Uruguayan. Since he exiled in Uruguay, Spain
requested Uruguay to extradite him to be tried by Spanish courts.
The Uruguayan courts denied his extradition in 1992.
However, increasing pressures from Spain led the government to
expel Josu from Uruguay. In November 2002 Josu was arrested by
Uruguayan police, which had special aid from Spanish security forces
and was then kidnapped by the Interpol (international police),
dropped in the Buenos Aires New Berry Airport and sent to prison to
face extradition from Argentina.
Josu recollects how he arrived to Argentina, his two years in
jail and how important it is to act in solidarity with prisoners and
launch campaigns for the release of all political prisoners. Josu
explains: "The Interpol brought me here to Argentina, the Federal
police came to the airport and took me to the international
terrorism prison. It was then I realized I wasn't going to be
immediately taken to Spain. I didn't know anyone here in Argentina.
But from that first day I had a lawyer and a mattress. Solidarity
was from the first day. In the two years I never lacked solidarity.
Being so far away from my country and then Uruguay, I could never
forget the solidarity of the Argentine people."
"We are demanding that Josu is not sent to a Spanish prison, to a
country where Basque people are persecuted and tortured by biased
courts," said Joaquin, an youth activist with the unemployed workers
organization CTD. Currently, in Spain there are more than 700
political prisoners and 4,000 political refugees. The Spanish state
systematically has persecuted Basque people who affirm their right
to sovereignty and independence using tactics of arrests, torture
During the extradition trial, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo
Pérez Esquivel testified that Basque prisoners suffer torture inside
Spanish jails. Federal Judge Claudio Bonadío, in response, said that
Argentina will ask Spain to guarantee that Josu "will not be
tortured." Amnesty International has reported numerous cases of
Basque prisoners being tortured inside Spanish jails. Even the
United Nations has accused Spain of torture. Defense lawyer Eduardo
Soares responded the prosecutor's promise by saying that the Spanish
state is not capable of guaranteeing anything for the Basque people
and that the only way to ensure that Josu is not abused or tortured
by the Spanish state is not to extradite him.
Josu explained that his defense did not think that he was going
to be released. "The judge was really hard, but through the
testimonies of the defense it was clear that the Basque-Spanish
conflict is clearly a political conflict. And that they torture
Basque prisoners in Spain like they do in Iraq and many other
places." Ironically, the trial made it clear that Josu was facing
extradition for political reasons.
The roots to the persecution of the Basque people on the part of
the Spanish and French states traces back for centuries. "For me to
be Basque is to maintain intact and defend our land and sovereignty.
The Spanish state has impeded our freedom for centuries." Josu tells
us that as a child he was prohibited from speaking Basque in school.
During Fransisco Franco's dictatorship the Basque language was made
One of Josu's first acts of resistance was hanging the Goriak
(Basque flag) in the streets of his village during a traditional
festival. However, the end of Franco's rule did not change the
situation for the Basque people who continue to struggle for
independence from Spain and France. Although the Basque language is
no longer illegal, people are systematically banned from reading the
language due to the state's action to shut down newspapers.
Political and labour organizations are also illegal.
During the extradition trial unemployed workers and human rights
groups protested outside the courthouse to support Josu and the
struggle for political prisoners. Unemployed workers, with their
faces covered and sticks in hand created security lines to prevent
cars and police from entering the blockade in front of the
courthouse. Demonstrators made plenty of noise to make sure that the
judge and prosecutor heard the drums and singing from the protestors
inside the courtroom.
Josu said that during the trial he could hear friends protesting
outside the courthouse, he added that hearing hundreds of Argentines
sharing his struggle kept him strong in the difficult and stressful
time. "The other day in the trial I saw everyone inside and outside
the courthouse, people who are struggling for a Basque political
prisoner-I could never forget that," said Josu.
During interviews, unemployed workers made a clear connection
between the struggle in Argentina and oppressed people's struggle in
other parts of the world. "The politics of exploiting and oppressing
people to make more profits and concentrate wealth in the hands of
capitalist powers is part of international politics, its worldwide.
The best way to resist is to unite struggles world wide and back up
activists around the world who are fighting against invasion and
oppression," explained Willy historian and participant in an
unemployed workers organization.
Historically, the struggle for political prisoners has created a
nexus between social activists world wide, going beyond nationality
or ethnicity. The struggle to save Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo
Vanzetti from execution in the US lasted six years before they were
electrocuted in 1927. Working class around the world mobilized tens
of thousands to defend Sacco and Vanzetti, marking the largest
protests seen in history at the time.
The trial was used to repress social protest. The courts
arbitrarily chose the death and robbery in the South Bantree factory
in Massachusetts to launch a repressive campaign against labour
organizers, especially targeting anarchists. Judge Webster Tayer,
who condemned Sacco and Vanzetti to death said, "to be an anarchist
is to be on the side of crime."
"Our protest is to mark how the courts work in function of the
interests of those on top, in function of the capitalist against the
working class," said Gustavo Beliz, a protestor during Josu's trial.
Spain holds a lot of weight in Argentina. Spain is Argentina's
number one capital investor, with the Spanish oil refinery and
company Repsol as the largest foreign company in Argentina.
Josu's release is a victory that reminds us that struggling for
political prisoners is a priority in the struggle for emancipation
against exploitation. For Josu it was surprising that the unemployed
workers came out to struggle for a prisoner from a country that is
so far away. However, unemployed workers made a clear connection.
"We've been persecuted and had arbitrary arrests in the barrios
where we are organized. We've had the support from other
organizations and people from other countries. If we don't defend
ourselves, no one is going to defend us-if we weren't here surely,
our companero Josu would already be in a jail in Spain," said
As Josu walked out of jail, organizers from Argentina's
coordinator for political prisoners were outside to meet with Josu
and celebrate his release. He came out with a Basque flag tied
around his neck, which fellow inmates had written each an
inscription to him. Josu now struggles for refugee status in
Argentina, which would allow him to stay legally here. He would like
to continue working as a cook.
Freedom for all political prisoners!