A leftist Abertzale, he has spent all his life being a militant. He has known the tortures of Francoism and of the “democracy”. At 67 years old he is facing a new blow after having been arrested by the French police. He acts with an astonishing serenity, convinced that, “although it seems to the contrary” they are “opening a path to the definitive resolution of the conflict”.
While he waits to find out the real cause for which the Spanish National Court asked for him to be handed over, Jokin Aranalde leads a normal life sharing his personal chores with his political militancy.
You were arrested last Monday in Heleta, how did it happen?
As is my custom, I left the house of a friend with whom I help in the garden until 12:30. I didn’t see anything strange. When I came to a crossing, some 300 metres away, I was aware that there was a car in front and I braked. In a few seconds other cars came from the corners and all of a sudden I was surrounded by ten people in ski-masks who pointed pistols at me. I think they shouted something, but I don’t what. They opened the door of the car and one of them said to me in Spanish “Give me your hand”. I was stunned, and when I became aware I found myself on the ground. Right away two or three of those in ski-masks were on top of me. I could hardly breathe. It was a very violent arrest. They handcuffed me and in a few minutes they put me in another car. It was then that one of them said to me: “Policie Française”.
Didn’t they even ask you to identify yourself?
They didn’t ask me anything. At the beginning I even began to doubt that they were really police. On the way they didn’t say anything, but I thought that, given the spectacular operation, that they must be police. I wasn’t sure until we got to the police station in Bayonne.
At any rate, this hasn’t been your first arrest.
No. The first time I was arrested was in 1967 was by the Guardia Civil in Urkiza. We had been handing out pamphlets. I spent three days in the hands of Losada and Lopez, two of the most well-known torturers of that time. A year later they arrested me again during the state of exception. There were five very hard days. In that time there were massive detentions so that, thanks to such a large amount of people, the interrogations weren’t very long. Afterwards they imprisoned me in Martutene which was also packed. There, the Colonel Jose Lasanta, a military judge, came to see me and told me that there wasn’t any new accusation against me and to return to military service. I still remember perfectly something that he told me: “If we in the military go out onto the streets, we are going to make mincemeat out of everyone.” Later, in 1990, he died in an attack by ETA.
In 2002 you were arrested again together with your niece and her companion. On that occasion you denounced having been “savagely tortured.”
In the times of Franco any kind of brutality could happen with those detained: broken arms, to be hanged for hours… But, without any doubt, the torture that I suffered in 2002 was much worse, more intense. I think that the first day of my arrested they interrogated me without stop for close to 24 hours. I didn’t see anything at any time because blindfolded my eyes. They applied the typical “protocol” to me: the bag, sexual abuse… They have it very studied. It’s a systematized procedure. The people for whom it is difficult to believe, but I can give faith that the torture now is much more violent than in the time of Franco. They cause you more damage mentally and physically and they leave you with more serious effects.
After this arrest you decided to leave to go live in the north of the Basque Country.
Yes. I want to make something clear with respect to this. I am not here for having a pending cause with the Spanish justice system. I came here because, after being tortured, living there became insupportable for me. Neither my body nor my mind could support the possibility that, at any moment, it could happen again. And it’s that they repeated to me: “You are going to come back here and we will go look for you again”. That stayed with me. I couldn’t get it out of my head. The declarations that I made before the police as well as before the judge were exactly the same, that I had nothing to do with the cause that they accused me of. Also, when I told Judge Garzon that I had suffered mistreatment he acted surprised and he snapped at me that I had declared voluntarily. He released me on bail after having paid 12,000 Euros. Curiously, this money was returned to me when I was now living in the north of the Basque Country.
Some of the Spanish media has published, after the group of mediators of the Collective of Basque Political Exiles (EIPK), that you were the object of an arrest order from the Spanish National Court. Were you aware of that?
I found out in April. Like other comrades I went to the Consulate in Bayonne to ask for a passport. In two weeks the telephoned to inform me that because of the arrest order, they couldn’t give me a passport but that if wanted they could give me a safe-conduct pass.
So, you expected that they could arrest you?
The media campaign against me from some parts of the Spanish press made me foretell it. But they have had all these opportunities in these twelve years because I live in Nafarroa Beherea, with complete normality, without hiding, with my family.
So, why do you think they did it just now? Has your being a member of the mediation of the EIPK had an influence?
Yes, it surely had something to do with it. But, even so, I am convinced that main motive for my arrest as well as the other two comrades has been to hide, to cover-up the contribution, that the exiles have made for the resolution of the conflict, because it puts into question the repressive attitude of the two states. They have seen that our proposal is positive and constructive, and they can’t support that. What’s more, there is the fact that it has received much support from political and social agents of different tendencies. Therefore, I think that with this repressive blow they have wanted to cut the important echo that our proposal has achieved. This is the true explanation for our arrests.
The act of June 15th in Biarritz one saw, as never before, the Collective of Exiles…
Well, in the first place I want to say that in the long history of our people there has always existed a collective of exiles. But, adhering ourselves to the new post-Aiete time, and particularly to the petitions coming out of the Conference (which by the way have only been responded to 100% by ETA) and of other sectors of our people, we also have affirmed that the key to changing the stagnant posture of the states is popular pressure. Therefore given that we are a consequence and part of this conflict, we feel obliged to carry out a profound reflection. It has taken us two years, and to our understanding, we have made a totally constructive contribution to the resolution process.
How will the exiles influence this process?
We’ve begun by taking important steps. For example, we decided as a collective to ask for the passport, mainly for two reasons. The first for human motives. In our collective there are people with very serious problems, because of age, illnesses and for very different casuistries. The other reason is to use it politically when and how we consider it convenient. Also, as I have said before, we have also planted our own roadmap, our own contribution to the society of the Basque Country and before the political and social agents and, even, international ones.
In Biarritz, a face was put on the different situations that the exiles suffer. It was evident that they weren’t very well known.
That’s true. It’s really not known. They know that there are people who are exiled or deported, but when you speak of exiles the Basque citizenry only thinks of us who live in the north of the Basque Country. However, you have to know that those of us here are a minority of them. The biggest part of the exiles and deportees are spread out on almost all of the continents. Some have been able to achieve a more or less normal life, but there are also those who live in very difficult and harsh conditions, even in marginality. Also here we have cases of comrades living in very precarious conditions, without pensions for retirement, without documentation.
Among other proposals, and as a first step, you plan to deal with the most serious situations. This must be very complicated…
Yes and no. The problem of the exiles is tremendously complex. But, as we said in our proposal, it is possible to alleviate and channel these serious situations. If they apply the common legality and not that of exception as is custom in our cases, if they abandon the causes opened based on declarations obtained under torture and if they allow mobility with certain legal instruments, they can give an exit to these situations, it’s viable. With a little will they would take a very important step. Unfortunately at this time this will doesn’t exist. Therefore we have to strengthen popular pressure, we are going to put on all the tables and at all levels, also internationally, our proposal. We will develop a systematic labour with the objective put in that our people verify each time with more clarity who really has the desire to maintain the conflict and who is hungry for peace.
The EIPK has manifested that to really resolve the confrontation they must recognize and gather all of the sufferings, among those their own. With this horizon, they have shown themselves disposed to put on the table their truth, the reasons for their political commitment. Sharing this account will be a very complex exercise?
We want to put all of the truth, all of the truths on the table. We are not hiding anything. We said it loudly and clearly in Biarritz “ez dugu lotsarik, ez dugu beldurrik, nor garen zer aitortzeko” (“we don’t have any shame of admitting who and what we are”).
What happened is the patrimony of the Basque Country and it has to be well covered in the act, for that our people need to know the truth in its totality. If this exercise isn’t done, it will repeat what happened with the Spanish transition and this would be the biggest crime that could be done to a people because it leaves them facing a disoriented future. You only have to look at the efforts that some fellow citizens that, even today, are doing searching for remnants in the common graves from the war of 1936 so that the truth can surface. Therefore, this is a transcendental subject. We can’t betray it and for that we will struggle till the end so that the whole truth is known. In this challenge, we are totally open to share with serenity and with all of the parts implicated in the account of what happened and its consequences. I repeat that we don’t want to hide or avoid anything, but our truth must also be made known.
With the petition of the Euro-order against you, they have put, you and two other arrested comrades, at risk of returning to pass from being an exile to a prisoner. The immediate future doesn’t seem very promising…
It’s true. The perspectives are rather dark. But we are conscious of the risk. Although we have planted a proposal that has the potential to facilitate things, seeing the demential manner in which the states deal with this question, the repressive response was to be expected. The reality that we have in front of us is hard, of course it is. Now it is up to us and we are ready to assume it. Evidently we will do everything possible so that this doesn’t happen, and I am sure that we will have a lot of support, but even so the probability of being imprisoned is real.
In Biarritz you marked the path for returning home, but how do you tear down the barriers to achieve it?
With the people, with the Basque citizens of all political and social sensibilities. The people are our guarantee, we’ve already said it. The blows at this moment can darken the path, but they can also illuminate it. If the people confirm that the arguments of those who persist in the blockage become weaker, and that the effort of those who of us who seek a real solution are clearer, they will be convinced and motivated to deal with the state of things among everyone. Now we can be imprisoned but this doesn’t mean that we are losing, but that we are opening the way. Let that be very clear.