This article was translated by John R. Bopp
When Lehendakari Aguirre started his tour of Latin America in 1942, it was hard to imagine a worse situation for the defenders of Freedom and Democracy for the world and especially for the Basques. On that long journey, he visited Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Chile.
It can’t be said that things were easy for that president of a small country without territory or statehood. With the Basque Country south of the Pyrenees under the bootheel of Franco, and north of the Pyrenees under the control of the Nazis, right in the middle of the Second World War, things were not looking good for democracies. Under those difficult circumstances, Lehendakari Aguirre started a tour through countries where Basques had the greatest presence in the Americas, hoping to obtain institutional support, and desiring to contact with the Basque Community of those countries.
That tour was an unabashed success, and marked a turning point for the Basques in the Americas, and the extraordinary image of the Basque Government in those lands, for decades. This was due to two main reasons.
On the one hand, it was thanks to the prestige of that government headed by Aguirre, which during the harsh Spanish Civil War had earned, the hard way, the credit of democrats and the defenders of human principles during war. Moreover, the tragedy in Guernica, destroyed by Nazi and fascist planes on the orders of Franco, gave enormous international reach to the Cause of the Basque People.
On the other hand, the presence and position of the Basque Community in those countries was key. Those Basques, whose families had participated in the building of those New World nations, had enough influence and ability to open the doors of parliaments and presidential offices in the New World republics wide for this young Basque president who had shown that the defense of ideas can be done starting with the defense of the dignity of people. Those Basques were also fundamental in getting tens of thousands of refugees who were fleeing from the monster of fascism a home and a place to rebuild their lives.
Lehendakari Aguirre’s influence and prestige, both politically and popularly among the Basque community, were also given a baptism by fire on that first visit, which would later be followed by others, though there would have been even more but for the economic difficulties that government had working in exile its entire existence. In any case, his presence, his visits, were morale, energy, and zeal boosters for the Basques in the New World. But that first visit, with the memory of the Francoist victory still fresh, and under the pressure of that global war against fascist totalitarianism, was essential and warmly received.
For example, the Basques in Chile decided to pay homage to the Lehendakari on that visit in an extraordinary way. That managed to get a «cirque» in the Andes, at 3,615 m / 11,975 ft named after the oldest people in Europe: Euzkadi. That fact, already amazing, is even more so given that that mountain is the only one in Chile to be named after a foreign country. This is an example of what we’re talking about: the prestige of the Lehendakari in those countries, of the importance of his arrival for the Basques, and the influence of those Basques.
In Peru, he was received as in everywhere else, with the honors of a Head of State. The President of Peru who received him was Manuel Prado Ugarteche, the descendant of a renown Basque family and the leader who led all the countries of Latin America to support the Allies, and whose commitment to democracy was fundamental for getting those nations to align with the anti-fascist side.
Aguirre’s influence in Peru was powerful. In addition to being received as a President, he was received in the chambers of representatives and senators in Congress, and was treated as a guest of honor at the University of San Marcos, the oldest in the Americas, as well as being invited to the Club Nacional. The presence and message of the Lehendakari marked and influenced an important part of the Basque-Peruvian Community in ways that are still felt today.
This was felt in an especially intense way among the members of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Arantzazu in Lima, the first institution of Basques in the Americas that we know of. In honor of the 2017 75th anniversary of the visit, the Brotherhood and the Arantzazu Euzko Etxea in Lima, the Basque Center promoted by that Brotherhood, held a series of events to remember that transcendental event.
Now, to honor the 76th anniversary, they’ve decided to publish a video of an interview with the Lehendakari taped in Buenos Aires, and a statement broadcast over the radio in Chile. Both recordings, in 1955 and 1957, have been preserved by the Euzko Etxea of Santiago, Chile, and ceded to the one in Lima, so commemorate the events held in 2017.
Our regular readers will already know how we feel about and support Aguirre’s ideas, and that we consider him one of the patriots who’s done the most for the Cause of the Basque People since Sabino Arana set the process of building the Basque nation in motion.
That’s why, for his historical importance, and for the currentness his message still holds, we collect them all here.