As another Basque national is arrested in London it is clear the Spanish Government is pursuing a strategy aimed at breaking international support for self determination in the Basque Country. The James Connolly Society are currently supporting Benat Atorrasagasti, a political prisoner being held in prison in Edinburgh. In the Basque Country the situation of political prisoners remains a huge issue and the Spanish Governments continued mistreatment of Basque political prisoners is a disgrace. Basque political prisoner Josu Uribetxeberria was found to have cancer while being held in the Leon prison. Seven years ago he had it as well. However, the prognosis this time is very serious now that the illness of the prisoner from Arrasate has spread. He has been able to return to the Basque Country, but the Spanish government is still holding him prisoner at the Donostia Hospital. In the following interview Josu shows he is conscious of what is waiting for him, but he accepts it with dignity, waiting for Madrid to show the same attitude.
Before anything, how are you physically? How has the evolution of your illness been in the past two weeks?
I’ve always been strong psychologically and this helps physically in these situations, especially when I have the support of the Basque Country. I feel proud to count on the support of a people whose bases are equality and solidarity.
I know that the evolution of my illness is very serious. From playing sports to almost not being able to walk, but I am prepared to confront it and enjoy with my people and those close to me, even if it is for only four days.
And your spirits, what do you hold to after receiving a diagnosis like that?
With all the good will I am receiving each moment, I have enough spirits to give away. I hold on to my memories because I have had a very full life. I was very lucky to be born in the Basque Country. With the diagnosis I am looking to the support of my family and friends and also to enjoy every day. Small things but they are worth gold: walking, exercising, writing… Eating is also wonderful.
The doctors in Leon admitted that the evolution of the illness could be very quick. Your brother Jabi indicated clearly that you don’t want to go from the hospital to prison and from prison to the hospital… What is your position if the government continues to not release you?
I am going step by step. I’ve put myself in the hands of the doctors with complete confidence. My brother explained it very well. I only ask for a fair and decent treatment, look, just what is in the law, even though they apply it according to their interests. I’m not getting into that game.
I’ll submit to the exams that the doctors decide, but, not if they want to attempt risky tests (that could kill me or leave me paraplegic) I don’t think it is too much to ask for them to release me under supervision. I’ll come to the hospital on the days established by the doctors. If they deny my release, it will be a very hard decision for me but I won’t have any other option than to go on a hunger strike. In my situation, I don’t think it would last very long. If the hatred goes to that extreme, my option will be to die with dignity.
Coming back to the Basque Country has been a small step forward?
A small step and a phenomenal joy.
How do you spend your days in your room? What do you do and what do you think about?
I fill the day with things that I have always done although the space is smaller. There are always limitations but I don’t rule out things that are good for my health. I also carry with me the memories of my life. They can’t take that away from me!
Looking back, do you blame the illness on the treatment you received in prison? What conditions did you have in prison?
It’s not worth it to begin to look for who has the blame. It is true that prison conditions are not the most adequate to cure an illness, even less with the attitude they have towards us. Always thinking how to bother us: dispersion, the 176/2006 Doctrine, maintaining gravely ill prisoners… Like I said before, the conditions are hard but I am stubborn and they know that about me. Now to see what happens and I hope to be up for it.
How have these 7 years gone by? Have you always had in your mind the fear of a relapse?
I continued to do the normal things. Those that I like the best, sure. I’ve always had in my head the possibility that my illness would reappear, but I am very disciplined and an athlete. So, my priority has been to deal with it in the best way possible, taking care of my health in all aspects, of course.
How do you see the shows of support in the streets, what sensation does that produce?
Every day I read the newspapers, I’m on television and also those who come to visit me tell me things. I receive regards and support from the part of everyone. In this aspect I feel full, loved. Thank you friends!
Some of the media have made more of an emphasis on the accusations that led to your imprisonment than in the gravity of your current situation. Do you think this situation will make it more difficult for the Spanish government to apply the law and release you?
I don’t think one should mix those things. According to their law, I am in prison. Now I am seriously ill and according to their laws I have the right to be released on parole. It’s not that much to ask. My time is ending; I just want to pass it with dignity.
Do you hope that the drama of your case could be a point of inflection in the situation of the other thirteen ill prisoners, or do you think that the Spanish government will stay the same?
You never lose hope. Time will tell. The question is that every day the Spanish government is showing their hatred and that they are willing to take cruelty to the extreme. You don’t fix things with this, on the contrary. What are they seeking? More suffering? That isn’t the way. I hope that my case will be the last and that they obtain the release of the other Basque political prisoners who are sick like me so that they have the opportunity to live.
Since you were sent to prison in 1997 you’ve known about two frustrated processes and this current new scenario completely unknown and new. What expectations do you have now? Do you think that the objectives will be achieved?
I believe in the Abertzale Left because they are the ones taking unilateral steps on a good path without waiting for those on the other side. On the contrary that in previous attempts I would have liked them to incorporate themselves on this path, but… they have already shown that they will only move according to their interests.
I’d like to point out that at the beginning I had my doubts about if the leadership of EA would be capable of confronting the pressure they were going to receive. I don’t believe at all in the leadership of the EAJ-PNV but I do in the people who make up their base. We’ve always lived together daily, in spite of our differences. But we enjoy the same language, the same athletes and also playing sports together. The same at work, on vacations, having drinks and many other things.
We continue to be a people, a Basque-speaking people because we are Basque speakers. Everyone with their own ideas but with respect and tolerance. Not leaving out anyone but firmly defending our rights as persons and as a people and having dialogue everywhere.
Let everyone do their little part but all together. The objectives are clear. It is in our hands to achieve it with daily work in this direction. This is the way. Aurrera bolie! [move the ball forward]
If you had a victim of ETA in front of you, of those who are against your release, would you like to say something to them?
What could I tell them…? That not understanding ourselves doesn’t help. That’s not the way. To the victims of ETA I’d tell them that talking helps; not to shut down the path, that some minimums exist in which we can agree on and it would have to start there to consolidate this path. Everyone with their ideas but in respect and tolerance to achieve, at least, coexisting together.