Arnaldo Otegi at a political rally
|Secretary General Sortu|
2013 – Today
6 July 1958 |
Elgoibar, Basque Country, Spain
|Batasuna, Euskal Herritarrok|
Arnaldo Otegi Mondragón (born 6 July 1958) is a Basque politician, who, in February 2013, was elected as Secretary General of abertzale Basque separatist party Sortu. 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 Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) which is proscribed as a terrorist group. He was one of the key negotiators during the last unsuccessful peace talks in Loiola and Geneva, in 2006.
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. In the 1990s he started his political career and quickly gained prominence within the Basque separatism movement, becoming the leader of Herri Batasuna in 1997 after its whole National Committee was arrested. However the party was declared illegal in 2003 due to its relationship with ETA. In June 2007 he was convicted of "praising terrorism", 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. In May 2012 his sentence was reduced to 6½ years by the Supreme Court of Spain as they found enough evidence to prove his membership, but not his leadership of the terrorist organization.
Otegi was born on 6 July 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. In 1977 he fled to the French Basque Country, after the Spanish authorities discovered his membership of ETA (pm), a separatist organization seeking to establish a Marxist–Leninist Basque state. He was actively involved in several operations and in 1987 the French police arrested him, before allowing him to be extradited to Spain. He was found guilty of taking part in 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.
On leaving prison he decided to change how he would seek Basque independence and so entered politics. In the Basque parliamentary election in 1994 he was the seventh placed candidate on the party list of Herri Batasuna (HB) for Gipuzkoa. HB won six seats at the election with Otegi initially failing to be elected, but, on 27 September 1995, he became a member of the Basque Parliament when he substituted a party colleague.
In November 1997 the Spanish Supreme Court found 23 senior members of Herri Batasuna guilty of collaboration with ETA, jailing them for seven years, and in the resulting power vacuum Joseba Permach and Arnaldo Otegi were chosen to become the new provisional leadership of Herri Batasuna. The sentence was overturned by the Spanish Constitutional Court in 1999. Since then Otegi has been the major spokesman for the movement, first in Herri Batasuna, later in Euskal Herritarrok and finally in Batasuna.
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 12 September 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). These groups worked together under the understanding that "discussions would only take place while there was a total absence of all expressions of violence connected to the conflict".
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, the second in the history of the organization. The conservative Spanish president José María Aznar stated he had authorized direct contacts with ETA and he publicly called ETA a "Movimiento Vasco de Liberación" (Basque liberation movement) instead of the more usual term "terrorist association". He also moved 135 Basque prisoners to prisons closer to the Basque Country. This claim made by the Spanish Government and some Spanish media was refuted by the Basque prisoners' family association Etxerat, which revealed that a similar or higher number of prisoners were being transferred farther away. The Spanish police continued arresting people and the negotiations never got very far.
Meanwhile, in the Basque parliamentary election in 1998, Arnaldo Otegi stood and won as a candidate for Euskal Herritarrok, in the constituency of Gipuzkoa. The Lizarra-Garazi agreements helped give Euskal Herritarrok their best electoral 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 ceasefire, and, in 2000, killed Pedro Antonio Blanco. ETA blamed the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) for not implementing the Lizarra-Garazi agreements, and the PNV blamed ETA. The cessation of the ceasefire was condemned by every signatory to the Lizarra-Garazi agreements with the exception of Herri Batasuna. This refusal to condemn violence brought the agreements to an end.
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. This precedent was then called forth by the Audiencia Nacional concerning the Carmelo Soria case.
In May 2005 Arnaldo Otegi was put on trial for belonging to ETA, but was released after posting bail for €400,000. Shortly afterwards, a Spanish Supreme Court ruling confirmed the 15-month prison sentence against Otegi for "glorifying terrorism" in a case brought against him for a speech he had given in 2003 in commemoration of the killing of a prominent ETA member 25 years previously. He appealed the sentence, but a panel of judges unanimously rejected the appeal. Meanwhile, 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".
On 27 April 2006 he was sentenced to 15 months in prison for the on-going "glorifying terrorism" case. He started serving the sentence on 8 June 2007  and was released from prison in August 2008.
On 16 October 2009, Otegi and several other Basque politicians and activists such as Rafael Díez Usabiaga, were arrested for their involvement in an attempt to rebuild Batasuna during a secret meeting, despite that meeting also leading to ETA's permanent ceasefire. Whilst awaiting sentence he started a hunger strike, on 27 January 2010, but stopped it soon after. 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.
In September 2010 Otegi again faced trial for glorifying terrorism, this time at a November 2004 rally held in the Anoeta Velodrome in San Sebastián. However he was found not guilty by the Spanish National Court, which 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". But in September 2011 Otegi was found guilty of the initial charge, of trying to rebuild Batasuna, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. On 9 May 2012 his sentence was reduced to 6½ years by the Supreme Court of Spain as they found enough evidence to prove his membership, but not his leadership of the organization. He was released on 1 March 2016.
Campaign for release
On 24 March 2015, a campaign for Arnaldo Otegi's release was launched in the European Parliament by Basque musician Fermin Muguruza who read out the "International Declaration to Free Otegi and to bring Basque Political Prisoners home". The declaration has been endorsed by 24 international personalities, including Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and José Mujica.
- Basques from Spain, France launch new ‘independence’ party
- John Carlin Interviews Arnaldo Otegi
- Detenidos los presuntos secuestradores de Luis Abaitua
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- on YouTube (Spanish)
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