Arnaldo Otegi

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Arnaldo Otegi
Arnaldo Otegi.jpg
Arnaldo Otegi at a political rally
Secretary General Sortu
In office
2013 – Today
Personal details
Born (1958-07-06) 6 July 1958 (age 56)
Elgoibar, Basque Country, Spain
Political party Batasuna
Other political
Euskal Herritarrok
Residence Basque Country
* Batasuna declared illegal by the Spanish courts

Arnaldo Otegi Mondragón (born 6 July 1958) is a Basque politician, currently in prison, he was elected as Secretary General of abertzale Basque separatist party Sortu in february 2013.[1] He has been a member of the Basque parliament for both Herri Batasuna and Euskal Herritarrok. These two parties and Batasuna were banned in 2003 for having links to ETA. He was one of the key negotiators during the last unsuccessful peace talks in Loiola and Geneva, in 2006.[2] He has been one of the leading figures in Batasuna's change of strategy and ETA's end.[3] He is currently in prison accused of trying to re-organize Batasuna.[4]

Before joining politics he had been convicted of being an ETA member and taking part in several actions, amongst which was the kidnapping of the Basque entrepreneur Luis Abaitúa.[5] In the 1990s he started his political career and he quickly gained prominence within the Basque separatism movement, and became the leader of Batasuna after the whole National Committee of Herri Batasuna was arrested. However the party was declared illegal in 2003 due to its relationship with ETA.[6] In June 2007 he was convicted of "praising terrorism",[7][8] imprisoned, and then released from prison in August the following year. In October 2009 he was arrested for attempting to put Batasuna back together, and was given a ten-year sentence.[9] In May 2012 his sentence was reduced to 6½ years by the Supreme Court of Spain when they decided that he was not part of ETA.[10]

He remains an important figure within the Basque separatist movement.


Otegi was born on July 6, 1958 in Elgoibar, (Gipuzkoa), in what later would become the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (Spain). He holds a university degree in philosophy and literature, is married and a father of two children.

He was a militant of the abertzale left movement from a young age.[11] In 1977 he escaped to the Northern Basque Country (the French Basque Country), after his membership of ETA (pm),[11] a separatist organization seeking to establish a Marxist-Leninist Basque state, became known. He was actively involved in several operations and in 1987 the French police arrested him and he was extradited to Spain. He was found guilty of the kidnapping of the Basque entrepreneur Luis Abaitua and was sentenced to six years in prison. He spent three years imprisoned and was released in 1990.[11]

He decided to change the approach through which he would effect the change he desired and so entered politics. In the Basque parliamentary election, 1994 he was the seventh placed candidate in Gipuzkoa on the party list of Herri Batasuna (HB), a pro-Basque independence party linked to ETA[citation needed]. HB won six seats at the election with Otegi initially failing to be elected but on September 27, 1995 he became an MP when he substituted a party colleague.

In November 1997 the Spanish Supreme Court found several senior members of Herri Batasuna guilty of collaboration with ETA and convicted them to a seven-year prison sentence, and in the resulting power vacuum Joseba Permach and Arnaldo Otegi were chosen to fill the new provisional leadership of Herri Batasuna. The sentence was overturned by the Spanish Constitutional Court in 1999.[12] Since then he has been the major spokesman for the movement, first in Herri Batasuna, later in Euskal Herritarrok and finally in Batasuna.[11]

Lizarra-Garazi Agreements[edit]

Otegi played a key role in the formulation of what would be known as the Lizarra-Garazi Agreements or "Declaration of Estella-Lizarra". This agreement was signed on September 12, 1998 in Estella-Lizarra by every political party linked to Basque nationalism in the Southern Basque Country and Ezker Batua (EB), the Basque branch of the Spanish Izquierda Unida (United Left).[13] The only way for all these groups to work together was under the condition that "discussions would only take place while there was a total absence of all expressions of violence connected to the conflict".[13]

This agreement proposed a common position on the defence of Basque self-determination. In the chapter "Keys to the resolution" it says:

"A resolution will not involve any specific impositions, will respect the plurality of Basque society, will place every project on equal terms, will deepen democracy in the sense of giving to the citizens of the Basque Country the last word on the shaping of their future, and that their decision should be respected by the countries involved. The Basque Country should have the final word and the decision."

ETA declared an "indefinite ceasefire" four days later,[14] the second in the history of the organization. The conservative Spanish president José María Aznar admitted having authorized direct contacts with ETA[15] and he publicly called ETA a "Movimiento Vasco de Liberación" (Basque liberation movement), leaving aside the mainly used "terrorist association".[16] He moved 135 Basque prisoners to prisons in the Basque Country, one of the main demands ETA had made since the beginning of the prisoner dispersion policy.[17] Nevertheless, the Spanish police continued arresting people and the negotiations never got very far.

Meanwhile, in the Basque parliamentary election, 1998, Arnaldo Otegi was a candidate for the party Euskal Herritarrok, which had replaced Herri Batasuna, representing the region of Gipuzkoa. The Lizarra-Garazi agreements helped give Euskal Herritarrok their best results in ten years, and they became the third-largest political party in Basque Country and the adjacent region of Navarre. This popularity in terms of votes was reversed when in 1999 ETA decided to end the cease-fire, and in 2000 killed Pedro Antonio Blanco. ETA blamed the PNV for not fulfilling the Lizarra-Garazi agreements, and the PNV blamed ETA. The cessation of the cease-fire was condemned by every signatory to the Lizarra-Garazi agreements except Herri Batasuna. This refusal to condemn brought the agreements to an end.

Recent trials[edit]

Interview with Arnaldo Otegi (English subtitles)

In August 2000, a senior Basque court accused him of "glorifying terrorism", after he allegedly shouted "Gora Euskadi ta Askatasuna!" in France. However, the Spanish Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) closed the case, stating that crimes such as "glorifying terrorism" could not be pursued if committed abroad.[18][19] This precedent was then called forth by the Audiencia Nacional concerning the Carmelo Soria case.[20]

In May 2005 Arnaldo Otegi was put on trial for belonging to ETA, but was released after posting a bail for €400,000. He was arrested again the next year, only three days after ETA called off its "ceasefire". Shortly afterwards, a Spanish Supreme Court ruling confirmed the 15-month prison sentence against Otegi for "glorifying terrorism",[21] [1] from 2003. He appealed the sentence, but a panel of judges unanimously rejected the appeal. In November 2005, Otegi was sentenced to a year in prison, on charges of slander against King Juan Carlos during a 2003 news conference. Otegi had then stated that the King was the "chief of the Spanish army, that's to say, the person responsible for the torturers, who favour torture and impose his monarchic regime on our people through torture and violence".[22]

On April 27, 2006 he was sentenced to 15 months in prison for glorifying terrorism in a speech he gave in 2003 in commemoration of the killing of a prominent ETA member 25 years ago. He started serving the sentence on June 8, 2007 [21] and was released from prison in August 2008.

2009 arrest to the present moment[edit]

On October 16, 2009, Otegi, was arrested for his involvement in attempting to reform Batasuna during a secret meeting, along with other Basque politicians and activists such as Rafael Díez Usabiaga, despite the meeting leading to an ETA ceasefire.[9] Whilst awaiting sentence he started a hunger strike, on January 27, 2010, but stopped it soon after.[23] In March 2010 the Spanish court sentenced Otegi to two years in jail for "glorifying terrorism" in a speech he gave in 2005 in which he compared a jailed ETA member to Nelson Mandela. He was also barred from holding public office for sixteen years.[24]

In September 2010 Otegi again faced trial for glorifying terrorism, this time at a November 2004 rally held in the Anoeta Velodrome in San Sebastian. He was found not guilty by the Spanish National Audience, who ruled that Otegi did not praise ETA, but was defending "peaceful coexistence and the need for a process of dialogue and negotiation in order to resolve the conflict in a non-violent and democratic way".[25] But Otegi was found guilty of the initial charge, the reformation of Batasuna, in September 2011, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment.[9][26] On 9 May 2012 his sentence was reduced to 6½ years by the Supreme Court of Spain because he was found not to be part of ETA.[10] He is currently serving this sentence.


  1. ^ Basques from Spain, France launch new ‘independence’ party
  2. ^ John Carlin Interviews Arnaldo Otegi
  3. ^ "The independentist strategy is incompatible with armed violence"
  4. ^ Judicial auto in Spanish (PDF)
  5. ^ Detenidos los presuntos secuestradores de Luis Abaitua
  6. ^ Goodman, Al (17 March 2003). "Basque independence party banned". CNN. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  7. ^ Goodman, Al (June 8, 2007). "Spain arrests ETA-linked lawmaker". CNN. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  8. ^ Judicial auto in Spanish (PDF)
  9. ^ a b c "Engaging ETA". Irish Times. September 19, 2011. Retrieved 13 October 2011. 
  10. ^ a b "El Supremo rebaja la condena de Otegi..."., 9th May 2012. Retrieved 13/8/14.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  11. ^ a b c d Murua, Imanol (2010). Loiolako Hegiak. Elkar. p. 42. ISBN 978-84-9783-824-5. 
  12. ^ [ Basque leaders freed]
  13. ^ a b Acuerdo de Lizarra, Especial El Mundo, El Mundo(Spanish)
  14. ^ ETA declara una tregua indefinida, El Mundo(Spanish)
  15. ^ Aznar confirma la reunión entre el Gobierno y ETA hace tres semanas (7th June, 1999), El Mundo(Spanish)
  16. ^ Video: Aznar contactos con ETA on YouTube (Spanish)
  17. ^ El Gobierno de Aznar acercó a 135 presos de ETA antes del diálogo, El País(Spanish)
  18. ^ El Supremo no actuará contra Otegi porque vitoreó a ETA fuera de España, El País, 28 May 2002 (Spanish)
  19. ^ "Terror Case Thrown Out". The New York Times. 28 May 2002. Retrieved 2007-10-28. 
  20. ^ Archivan el caso del asesinato de Carmelo Soria en Chile por el precedente de Otegi, El País, 31 May 2002 (Spanish)
  21. ^ a b Basque leader arrested in Spain, BBC News, 8 June 2007 (English)
  22. ^ Basque convicted for king insult, BBC News, 4 November 2005 (English)
  23. ^ "Otegi and Diez to be tried for 'Bateragune case'". EITB. 27 June 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  24. ^ "Spain jails Basque separatist leader Arnaldo Otegi". BBC News. 2 March 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  25. ^ "Arnaldo Otegi found not guilty of glorifying ETA at Anoeta rally". EITB. 12 September 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  26. ^ "Spanish Basque activist Arnaldo Otegi jailed". BBC News, 16th September 2011. Retrieved 2/8/14.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)

External links[edit]