On September 5, 1923, in the Department of Lima, Francisco Igartua Rovira was born.  This Peruvian of Basque descent, whose father was born at the Berotegi farm in the Goribar neighborhood of Oñati, was on his way to becoming one of the most important and distinguished journalists in Peru, and a role model of journalism that is committed to the principles of that office and of the free press.

His life was not easy.  At the age of 22, in 1944, having worked in his profession for just a year, he was jailed for his criticism of the government at the time, and from then on, his visits to prison, or indeed exile, peppered his life.

Yes, his life was not easy, but it was the one he wanted to live.  It was the one he chose.  For most of us, it’s hard to imagine what would drive a person to make decisions knowing that they would cause serious problems to people in power.  In the case of Paco Igartua, it was his unshakable belief that as a journalist, he had an inescapable commitment with society.  That commitment was to tell the truth without bending to threats or the siren songs that power, all powers, use to silence those who would dig up their skeletons.

Última portada de la Revista Oiga
Cover of the last edition of ‘Oiga’ Magazine

The greatest work Pablo Igartua carried out in the field of journalism was the founding of Oiga Magazine.  After starting publication in 1948, it was closed by decree and economic asphyxiation numerous times, until 1995, when it was finally drowned out by “tax harassment” by the dictatorial Fujimori government, and said goodbye to its readers.  It was closed because of its commitment to freedom, justice, and human rights.

In the last edition, Oiga published one final editorial, signed, as is logical, by Igartua himself, and explaining the reasons that were causing the magazine to close up shop.

As we’ve mentioned in an earlier article, which we dedicated to this journalist and his work, Paco Igartua had, and maintained, a strong connection with the land of his father.  He not only visited frequently, he was also committed to solving its problems, and actively participated in the activities of the Basque Diaspora.

Paco Igartua y el Lehendakari Ardanza. Congreso Mundial de Colectividades Vascas: (1995)
Paco Igartua and Lehendakari Ardanza. World Congress of Basque Collectivities: (1995)

He took part in the first two World Congresses of Basque Collectivities, at the express invitation of the Lehendakari himself.  There, he made important contributions, and was responsible for taking the minutes of those congresses.

As we recalled in that article, he was in charge of writing the declarations of support for the several peace processes that coincided with the World Congresses.  He never got to see the Peace in the Basque Country that he so longed for, but there is no doubt he contributed to its finally coming.

His amazing ability to understand the “Basque conflict” is summed up in this paragraph from a 2002 interview:

Without the ETA, the Basque Country would be able to face the regular attacks of the Spanish, and the rights of our people would be recognized around the world.  But with the ETA, the opinion of the world is turned against us.  I believe the members of the ETA are the victims of their own violence.  And that is very serious, as we could end up finding ourselves before a vicious cycle.

He was a man in whom we can highlight: his commitment to the land of his birth; his commitment to the land of his ancestry; his commitment to spreading the reality and history of the Basques in Peru; his commitment to journalism; and his commitment to his principles.

Then, we asked ourselves if we would be able to preserve the memory of this illustrious person in the history of our Nation and of Peru.  And, recalling how we Basques have a certain tendency to forget those of “ours” who have made such large contributions to society, we wondered if perhaps the same happened in Peru.

Today, on his birthday, we’re bringing you two articles from Peru written by those who knew him well.  And after reading them, we get the impression that that tendency to forget is not a “virtue” that is exclusive to the Basques.

We’ll leave you with the two articles we’ve received from Peru.

One is by journalist Tulio Arévalo van Oordt, who, in addition to his long and brilliant career, is a board member and press officer for the Limako Arantzazu  Euzko Etxea – Lima Basque Center.

The other is from an old friend to the blog, Lino Bolaños Baldasari.  This poet, singer-songwriter, author, and now director of the newly-reopened Oiga Magazine at the hands of the old friends and current admirers of the work and commitment of Paco Igartua.  We say he’s an old and admired friend because, when he visited the Basque Country, he gave us a song about the Bombing of Guernica, which we recorded for our readers here on the blog, under the Tree of Basque Freedoms.


En el Perú de hoy falta la voz de ‘Paco’ Igartua 

Tulio Arévalo van Oordt

Tulio Arevalo van OordtTulio Arévalo van Oordt has a degree in Communication Sciences from the University of San Martín de Porres, in Lima, Peru.  With almost three decades dedicated to journalism, he has been the head writer at Oiga magazine, collaborator with the Arte Actual magazine, editor at Vivir Bien and Magaly TeVe magazines, columnist for the newspapers La Razón and Panorama Cajamarquino.  He has also been a reporter, journalism producer, and general producer of news programs at the leading Peruvian television broadcasters, as well as the producer and presenter of radio programs.  He has also held several posts in different bodies of the Nation of Peru, such as communications and image consultant.  A university professor and independent journalist, he is one of the leading voices defending the right to free press and free speech in Peru.  He is currently a committee member and press director at the Limako Arantzazu  Euzko Etxea – Lima Basque Center.

With just a month after the celebration of the bicentennial of the independence of Peru, we recall a man who was one of the bravest and most seasoned defenders of free speech and free press in Peru: Francisco ‘Paco’ Igartua, who would have turned 98 years old this month, having spent most of those years in journalism, the only job he knew how to make a living with.  It’s a job he carried out passionately starting in 1943, first on the pages of the newspapers Jornada and La Prensa, and then in an endearing magazine called Oiga, which he founded in 1948.  Over the years, the magazine became a legend in the world of Peruvian printed media, and Igartua became a role model for journalism in Peru.

I remember the editorials written by “Paco” Igartua singed and even burned the political class of Peru, as well as the civil servants and high-level authorities, such as the Ministers of State or Mayors.  His opinion columns were loaded with wit, clear, on-point, precise, and became case studies on how to use le mot juste to call a spade a spade, for better or for worse.  The analysis, the complaints, and the reports published on those pages became subjects of national interest, and marked the journalistic agenda of the Peruvian media.

That initial Oiga from 1948 only lasted a few weeks.  It was closed immediately by the government of General Manuel Odría.  His harsh criticism against the dictatorship was enough to land Igartua in prison.  That’s where he got his tenacious and unwavering defense of the freedom of the press and his democratic principles and values.

Paradoxically, the competition for Oiga was another magazine founded by “Paco” Igartua, Caretas, in 1950.  As the news director of this weekly newspaper, he was exiled to Panama.  However, he managed to return from exile in hiding, and took “refuge” at the old facilities of El Comercio.  He was the only journalist in the world to take refuge at the headquarters of a newspaper, and he was even able to have his order of expulsion revoked.

After that anecdote, Oiga was re-launched in 1962 and in 1974, when another dictator again deported him, this time to Mexico.  His crime was protesting against the confiscation of newspapers and the regulations imposed upon the press by General Juan Velasco.

Seventeen years after he left, the Peruvian press, with a few honorable exceptions, seems to have forgotten the legacy of Francisco Igartua.  Now there is a surfeit of information merchants, who chase after succulent state publicity in exchange for a good salary.  Those who have forgotten the responsibility that journalism has to point out the bad and call it so, to denounce corruption and not turn away as if nothing were wrong.  They have forgotten impartiality, and only censure that which goes against their own interests.

Now, when Peru is going through some of its darkest times, it is a good idea to recall this Bible verse: “‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.  When I say to a wicked person, “You will surely die,” and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.  But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself’” (Ezekiel 3:17-19 NIV)

This verse perfectly sums up the responsibility of the press.  It is to be a watchtower, ever vigilant, drawing attention to that which is bad.  Otherwise, it is an accomplice, and guilty.  And it cannot be said that Oiga or Igaruta ever covered their eyes when it came time to call things out for what they were.  It’s not for nothing that the last issue of the magazine came out in 1995, without having bent to the will of the interests of the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori.  The magazine fought on, alone, defending the freedom of the press, with its director tilting at windmills, backed by his writers who were followed day and night by Dinfo agents (the Directorate of Information at the Ministry of the Interior, where more than one reported had a file with his or her name on it, detailing everything done, as I was told years later by an army colonel who had once been its director).

But there was no money for that last issue of Oiga.  The printer would no longer grant credit; the issue had to be paid in cash.  “Paco” turned to one of his closest friends to pay for the printing.  Paintor Fernando de Szyzlo sold one of the paintings that adorned his living room, one of those works of art that the artists paints and says, “This one I’m not selling.”  But Szyszlo shared Igartua’s principles and values in the defense of freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

In today’s Peru, with the threat of a communist takeover or a coup d’état, with state advertising being cut, the big media outlets are still softening their tone, like the flailing of a person who’s drowning, trying to save themselves.  They have forgotten that telling the truth and pointing out what is bad is not something to be negotiated or for which one should receive a bit more.  They have forgotten, as the Apostle Paul said in one of his letters to Timothy, that the worker is worthy of his salary.  How greatly do we need the voice of “Paco” Igartua, and his editorials, and his voice.


 

Francisco Igartua Rovira

Lino Bolaños Baldassari

 

Lino Bolaños Baldasari
Lino Bolaños Baldasari

On this day ninety-eight years ago, Paco Igartua Rovira was born in the Province of Huarochirí.

That beautiful Huarochirí, which gave birth to the most beautiful Andean myths, collected by Father Francisco de Ávila in 1598, saw the birth of a man who would leave his mark on the history of journalism in Peru.

Paco Igartua said that the Andean feeling had marked him deeply, and had determined his way of thinking and acting, just like Francisco de Ávila, the other Paco I just mentioned.

That 16th-century coherent compilation is considered the Quechua Bible, and shares the story of Koniraya who, in love with the beautiful Kavaillaca, follows her from the Andes to the sea.  She never turned around to see him, so, at the beginning, he introduced himself as a beggar, even though he was a splendid god.

In the same way, Paco Igartua, with his Peruvian poncho, chased the truth that is constantly changing, ephemeral, and unreachable, just like whenever anyone chases after an ideal that transcends our precarious existence.

Paco founded a magazine that got him chased down by dictatorships, exiled, and in trouble with powerful people.  Oiga magazine is the go-to source for anyone who wants to know the history of Peru in the 20th century.

In the story of Koniraya, he gives Kavillaca an eggfruit in which he has left his sperm to eat.  Then, she becomes pregnant with a boy without knowing who the father is.

Likewise, Paco Igartua left a profound mark: a child he could never reach because, as in the Andean myth, she turned into an islet, off the coast of Pachacámac.

I met Paco in 1978 when, penniless, he was telling my father he was going to re-launch Oiga.  I remember the first issues from that era.

I remember how it returned to the Times magazine format.

It was a delight to read Oiga, as it contained articles where there was room for reflection.  And it stood out from the other media, which were more inclined towards entertainment than Oiga was.  The commitment to the truth and to the values of democracy made it repeatedly suffer the whims of the many tyrannies that have devastated our nation.

And today, on this day, we again remember that last issue of Oiga, drowned by the Fujimori dictatorship for its critical and independent position, denouncing its macabre plans to stay in power.

Until now, Oiga magazine is a reminder, like those monumental islands that stand unscathed by time, of that undeniable drive Paco Igartua had to find the best Peru for all Peruvians.  That’s why we have the commitment to keep him alive, beyond the vicissitudes of time and the indifference of humanity.