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Intervju med Juana Chaos

april 1, 2009

 

Följande intervju gjordes den 1 April i tidningen Irish Times av den kända konfliktjournalisten Paddy Woodworth. Den fetmarkerade texten är markerad av Baskien Information. Läs mer om fallet här.

 

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”IT IS not Iñaki de Juana Chaos’s killings in the Basque nationalist cause alone which single him out as an object of outrage in Spain, and make his extradition case one of the hottest stories in the country.

 

De Juana’s grimly defiant demeanour in Spanish courts, his refusal to express the slightest compassion for his victims and, above all, some repugnant and widely publicised statements he is alleged to have made while in prison, have all combined to enable hostile media to make him a monster in the eyes of many Spaniards.

 

On meeting de Juana (53) informally in a Republican bar in Belfast last week, and later in his lawyers’ office, he presents a very different image to the one-dimensional hard man, the ”cold narcissist” described by prison psychiatrists. His face shows the strain of his history and his hunger strikes, yet he seems wiry, fit and very alert. He is no Prince Charming, but he is affable and exhibits a sense of humour, though he stonewalls at difficult questions.

 

One must remember, of course, that he is currently facing extradition to Spain on terrorist-related charges which could send him back to prison for a long time. Also, that the main interview takes place in the presence of a legal adviser, who several times attempts to rule sensitive issues out of order.

 

To understand why de Juana is in Belfast today, we need to go back to 2005, when the news broke that he was due for early release. This unleashed a wave of furious media, political and public protest. He had served only 18 years of a 3,000-year sentence. But the same law which permitted, in theory, such an extraordinary punishment, limited actual prison terms to 30 years, and offered substantial remission for work and study

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His release was delayed by bringing further charges against him, which he contested with the longest hunger strikes ever undertaken by an Eta prisoner. Despite force-feeding, he was on the verge of death for weeks in 2007 until he reached a short-lived agreement with the authorities. When they finally had no legal option but to release him last August, he travelled to Dublin the next day.

 

He came here, he told me, because a series of threats to himself and his wife, Irati Aranzabal, whom he had married in prison, would have made their life in the Basque Country impossible. Immediately, we are in the ”Through the Looking Glass” world of Basque politics – for many Basques it is Eta’s violent intimidation that makes life impossible.

 

He says he intended to travel on to Latin America to do some writing – he has already published a memoir and a novel. But the Spanish embassy here denied him a passport, to which he says he was entitled.

 

”I moved to Belfast while trying to resolve the passport situation,” he says. ”And while there I found out that a Spanish court was investigating a letter I am alleged to have written.” This letter was reportedly read out in his absence at a celebration of his release by supporters in San Sebastián. It concludes with a Basque phrase, Aurrera bolie! Literally translated, it means ”Forward with the ball!” The Spanish court says that it was commonly used by a 1980s Eta leader, and argues that de Juana was inciting support for new terrorist actions.

 

”When I learned of the investigation,” de Juana continues, ”I asked my lawyers to write to the court expressing my willingness to either make a written statement, or speak directly to a visiting Spanish magistrate here.

But instead the court is seeking my extradition. I have appeared before the Belfast court as required, and am strictly following the restrictions now imposed upon me here [ he reports to the police daily, and must observe an 11-hour nightly curfew], waiting for justice to take its course.”

 

Justice is not going his way right now. The Belfast judge, while not expressing any opinion on his guilt or innocence, ruled last month that the alleged offence is indeed extraditable. He will have an opportunity to present further arguments to the same judge in May, and says he will appeal to the House of Lords if the case goes against him. ”But if they order me to return to Spain, I will go.”

 

Since he denies writing the letter, how does he feel about his comrades reading it out in his name? ”To judge them for that, I would have to know what actually happened, and I don’t. Neither does the Spanish judge. No original of the letter has been produced in court. We only know of its existence through a single press clipping.” How does he respond to a Spanish newspaper report that Eta had wanted him to acknowledge the letter as his own, because to deny its authenticity might appear to be a rejection of militant action? His legal adviser intervenes, but he replies anyway.

 

This is a media fabrication. I am no longer a member of Eta, and so Eta cannot instruct me to do or not do anything.” The Spanish media, he says, blame him for ”half of the ills of Spain”. He accuses Spanish politicians and judges of manufacturing charges to keep him in prison after he has done his time.

 

I was convicted, I served my sentence,” he says repeatedly. ”And when I was due for release, the then minister of justice, López Aguilar, said publicly that he wanted the judges to construct new charges against me.”

 

The centre-left government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is indeed under huge pressure from the conservative opposition, which sees an election bonanza in the de Juana issue.

 

Some sectors of Spanish public opinion seem to have great difficulty in grasping that even convicted terrorists are entitled to due legal process. International observers, including a UN human rights rapporteur, have expressed concern over Spain’s handling of terrorist suspects.

 

When the new charges were brought against de Juana in 2006, about ambiguous comments he had made in two articles, the trial judge himself wanted to throw them out. Respected legal commentators like Bonifacio de la Cuadra in El País said they had no basis except ”political and media hysteria”. Yet he was finally sentenced to another 13 years in jail on these charges, reduced to three years by the supreme court while he was on hunger strike.

 

I put it to de Juana that he is at least partly the author of his own misfortunes. For example, after Eta killed a conservative councillor and his wife in cold blood, he allegedly wrote a letter that declared: ”Their tears are our smiles and we will end up roaring laughing. With this action, I don’t need to eat for a month.” Surely he understands the gross offence and hurt such statements cause to victims and their relatives? His legal adviser tries to call a halt, claiming that he could still be prosecuted for these words in Spain, and he answers circumspectly.

 

These reports are part of the media campaign against me. To respond would be to give them credibility.” Later, he relents a little and says that the phrases were ”torn out of context and stuck together from a private letter of several pages”. He adds that attempts to prosecute him for them have already failed in the Spanish courts. But he refuses repeatedly to comment on the phrases themselves, arguing that they are 15 years old and were publicised illegally.

He denies anything other than casual contact with Sinn Féin members. When I get into a cab, I often find the driver has also been in prison, so we have something in common.” Yet his passport application gave his Dublin contact address as that of the wife of James Monaghan, the senior Republican implicated in the Colombia Three case.

 

This is pure coincidence, he says, adding that he got the address from a Basque friend who studied Irish with the owner, who agreed to let him use it for convenience. ”I have never met Mr Monaghan. I never knew who he was until the story broke in the papers.” He says he still has too little English to comment on Irish politics, including the recent resurgence in dissident Republican violence, except to say that ”the Irish people should settle their differences in peace and through negotiation”. Should not Eta, then, also abandon its current violent campaign? He will not reply directly, but says that, if the Spanish government took the same approach to the Basque conflict as London took to Northern Ireland, and recognised the right of self-determination, things would improve. ”If the Basque Country could freely decide its own future, the conflict would” – he pauses – ”no longer be a conflict.”

 

Given his own experience of death threats, does he have any sympathy for the many Basques who are under constant threat from Eta? ”In a conflict, everyone suffers. I do not want another mother to have to mourn another son in our country.” Would it not then, at the very least, be helpful both to his own situation and to his victims if he could now express some regret or remorse for his own actions? He gives an exasperated sigh. ”I must repeat: I was convicted, I served my sentence, the past is the past. I want to live in the present, remake my life with my wife, and look to the future. What I feel or don’t feel, my experiences, form part of that past, which I don’t want to discuss in public.”

”If the Basque Country could freely decide its own future, the conflict would no longer be a conflict”

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