José Miguel Beñaran Ordeñana

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José Miguel Beñaran Ordeñana

José Miguel Beñaran Ordeñana (1949 – 21 December 1978) was a Basque activist and a key figure in the political evolution of the Basque separatist organization Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA). Often known by his nom de guerre Argala (Slim), he took part in the so called Operation Ogre, which consisted in the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco, Franco's Prime Minister, in 1973. Five years later, he was in turn assassinated by a car bomb in Anglet, France by a group directed by far right members inside the Spanish Navy (including an official of the SECED secret service and another of the Naval military intelligence agency, Servicio de Inteligencia Naval and the other belonging to the Alto Estado Mayor). This group reportedly received assistance from people such as former OAS member Jean Pierre Cherid, former Triple A Argentine member José María Boccardo and Italian neofascist Mario Ricci, member of Avanguardia Nazionale.[1]

Biography[edit]

He was born in Arrigorriaga, in Biscay, close to the industrialized Bilbao, but not far from Arratia, a Valley with a typical Basque style of life. His mother, Felicidad Ordeñana Uriarte, was from Arantzazu. She was a Basque speaker, but only spoke Spanish at home. His father Pablo Beñaran Ormazabal was from Arrigorriaga, Basque nationalist, he could not speak Basque, even though his father was a Basque speaker. They had four children: Jose Miguel (1949), Maite (1951), Iñaki (1952) and Pablo (1955).

He lived in two very different environments: The Francoist school and the Basque nationalist home. Worker's strikes and police repression in the mid-1960s led to his class system-related concerns. He began studying Marxist theories at a young age.

Basque nationalism grew strong in the 1960s. Basque language schools, festivals, Basque popular lessons... Jose Miguel Beñaran joined this movement enthusiastically. In 1968, he joined ETA, together with some other friends. He begun studying engineering, but he quit before finishing his studies and began working in a bank. He then began studying human sciences.

In one moment he had been very dubious about leaving the organization, as both parents were ill, his work, his studies, in 1970 his father died. But in May 1970, at the age of 21, the police got his name and needed to escape.

Secrecy[edit]

He went to Oñati and a family gave him shelter there. He took the nickname Iñaki and lived there and in some other parts during some years.

In 1969, almost ETA's complete directive board was arrested in Bilbao and Cantabria, and different discussions began inside the organization. At the meeting held in Itsasu the organization split into three different groups: ETA V, ETA VI and Celulas Rojas.

At that time, Argala was member of the organization's cultural branch, the Cultural Front. He did not attend the meeting held in Itsasu, the Itsasu Assembly, and at first he hang onto the Cultural Front within ETA VI. In December 1970, the Process of Burgos took place. On December 2, ETA V kidnapped in Donostia the German consul Behil. ETA VI organized Operación Botella, an operation to help escape some prisoners. Argala joined the operation and they dug a hole right to the prison. When they were under the building, they failed to succeed, since they had to escape when they saw that they could not break a wall.

Argala joined ETA V in January 1971. They were a small group that made their ideology very clear. Argala helped militants like Txomin Iturbe and Eustakio Mendizabal build a theory based on Marxist theories,[2] but stressing Basque national values. He spent some time in Paris undertaking organizing tasks and then he went back to Biscay as leader of the Cultural Front. His lived his life between the towns of Eibar and Elgoibar.

However, the fact that he was involved in the Cultural Front did not mean that he was not taking part in the Military Front. On 30 September 1971, he participated in the assault of Banco de Vizcaya together with Eustakio Mendizabal and some other members. They got 10 million pesetas.

In 1971, ETA began setting up hideouts in Madrid, where they could contact some other left-wing groups, with a view to establishing an anonymous and safe rearguard and, should there be any chances, in order to create a local armed organization in Madrid. Argala made many trips to the Francoist state's capital. They shelved the idea of creating a local armed group in the short term, and instead began to consider staging attacks themselves in Madrid. It was here that Argala made his first contacts with Alfonso Sastre and Eva Forest.

First actions[edit]

On 19 January 1972, an ETA group formed by Txomin Iturbe, Mikel Lujua, Tomas Perez Revilla and Argala, kidnapped the businessman Lorenzo Zabala Suinaga in Abadiño, Biscay. The workers of the company Precicontrol were on strike, and some of them in hunger strike in the church of Eibar, including some friends of Argala. ETA wanted to support labour conditions and turned their attention to the workers' demands. They declared that if the company's management didn't meet the latter's claims, they would kill Zabala on 28 January. Finally, workers' requirements were met and Zabala was freed on 22 January.

In October 1972, ETA V organized an assembly trying to make clear which was each faction's position and to try to unite them again in a single organization. The meeting was meant to be in Hasparren, in the Northern Basque Country. Argala and some other members of the Cultural Front, decided not to cross the Spanish-French border on the grounds of lack of safety. Actually, the Guardia Civil seized the group Argala was supposed to join and opened fire. Jonan Aranguren Iharra was killed and the rest of the group managed to escape. Missing a meeting was considered a breach of discipline, so Argala and Wilson were stripped of all responsibilities in the organization. The assembly issued a ban to live in Southern Basque Country and to make any politically related work against the two militants.

As a result, Argala and Wilson had to live in Madrid. They already had information about Luis Carrero Blanco and they were considering kidnapping him in exchange for the freedom of all the Basque activists in prison. They planned it, more militants joined them in Madrid and by May 1973 everything was ready. Nevertheless, they had some problems and the kidnapping was delayed. Later on the ETA member Eustakio Mendizabal, aka "Txikia", was killed in Algorta and then, the direction of the organization decided to delay the abduction. From that moment on, the group working in Madrid was called the Txikia Command. Argala was also given permission to meet his family.

Carrero Blanco was appointed prime minister of the Spanish government and took more security measures. When the commando saw they would have difficulties to kidnap Carrero Blanco they tried to kidnap the Secretary of Trade Alberto Ullastres, but he was away when a cell formed by ETA members came up in his house on 7 November.

Since they had difficulties reaching to and abducting Carrero Blanco, they began planning an execution instead in the so-called Operación Ogro. The Commando Txikia also was considering other options: killing Manuel Fraga, killing Alfredo Semprún and making a hole in a wall in the prison of Segovia to help escape anti-Franco prisoners. On 25 September, they assaulted an arm-store and they scattered propaganda of an invented revolutionary group. On 20 December 1973, stationed in Madrid, the cell triggered the bomb that went off on the street under the car of the Spanish dictator's right-hand man, who died minutes later. Argala was the only ETA member able to identify the mysterious man who gave Carrero Blanco's schedule and itinerary to ETA.

1978 assassination[edit]

He was arrested several times in the French Basque Country between 1975 and 1977, and confined to different French regions by French authorities. However, he was released and by 1978 he lived in Anglet. By then Argala was a charismatic leader of ETA (m), with the PNV historic figure Telesforo Monzon calling him in the Txiberta talks, where a possible Basque nationalist collaboration was discussed and eventually ruled out. However, the Spanish home office was targeting him and tracked him down, as declared by mercenaries who were being used to execute the Government's policy in the French Basque Country. According to "Leonidas", a former member of the Spanish Army involved in the bombing against Argala, "the explosives came from a North American base. I don't remember exactly whether they were from Torrejón de Ardoz or Rota, but I do know that the Americans did not know what they would be used for. It was a personal favor to Pedro el Marino" (referring to Pedro Martínez, who provided the explosives). Responsibility for Argala's assassination was claimed by the Batallón Vasco Español (BVE). According to Leonidas, however, "BVE, ATE [sic] and Triple A are only acronyms", used to suit each situation.[1]

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