Jean Claude Larronde
Jean-Claude Larronde (Bayonne, 1946) is an attorney emeritus with the Bayonne Bar Association.  He has a PhD from the University of Bordeaux in Law, diplomat for the Institute of Political Studies in Bordeaux, with a degree in History from the University of Pau.  From 1972, when he defended his thesis on the birth of Basque nationalism in the works of Sabino Arana Goiri, he has been deeply interested in the modern history of the Basque Country, and more specifically, in the history of Basque nationalism, on both sides of the Bidassoa

Luis de Guezala, historiador
Luis de Guezala has a PhD in History and a Masters in Archiving from the University of the Basque Country.  He curates the Uzturre Journal Archives at the Library of Nationalism at the Sabino Arana Foundation.

In this latest entry in our series dedicated to the bicentennial of the independence of the New World republics, we’re going to cover a topic that is doubly interesting and which, we’re sure, is going to be just a bit controversial: the position taken by the earliest Basque nationalism, specifically by its founder, Sabino de Arana Goiri, regarding colonialism and the wars of independence of Cuba and the Philippines.

Before starting, we would like to thank Dr. Jean-Claude Larronde and Dr. Luis de Guezala for taking time out of their busy schedules to make this video, as well as the facilities given us by the Sabino Arana Foundation.

We find this topic very interesting, because it also encompasses Spain’s final attempts to keep its last great colonies: Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.

Moreover, as we said in the introduction to this series, these wars against the Cuban and Philippine revolutionaries were the first time young Southern Basque men were forced to go, after the abolition of the fueros by force at the end of the last Carlist war.

Only the sons of the families that were able to pay enough money to buy out their military service, or whose families had fought against Carlism, granting them that privilege, escaped those slaughterhouses.

It’s also interesting because, unlike what happened in Spain and in most of Europe, the Basque nationalist movement showed, from its very beginnings, a radical opposition to colonialism and a favorable position towards the independence of the last colonies Spain managed to keep hold of, with bullets.  It went so far that Sabino Arana was even tried and jailed for that.

His anticolonialism vehemently defended the rights of peoples to govern themselves, without having to deal with the imposition of faraway governments.  This position was based on the idea that there are no races, cultures, or ideologies that are superior and that innately have the right to govern or subject other peoples or races.


The charity of European nations has reached such a high degree of intensity that it is no longer content being exercised within those nations, but now must also make sacrifices to civilize men of color.  Hence the conquest of the Americas by the Spaniards and the other conquests led by the white race.  If there is a country whose possessions are promising, or which has agricultural or mineral wealth, or which has maritime or strategic advantages… There they are sent with a pair of gunboats to plant and hoist the national flag.  If the native person protests, he is shot down, which, as they do not have cannons or repeating rifles, is easy to do.  And the invaders see themselves as such good teachers that they must instruct the country’s locals on the elements of culture, so that when he understand how to exploit the mines, or cultivate the fields, or build ports and establish industries, he looks around and sees his family extinct and his home usurped, and he looks at himself and sees that human dignity belongs to the white race and he has been reduced to the condition of a brute. (…)”
Sabino de Arana,
Bizkaitarra, nº 4, 17-Dec-1893.

He vehemently opposed the presence of the Boers and the British in South Africa, and the presence of Spanish troops in the Rif during its attempt to maintain Spanish colonial presence in northern Africa.

The image of Sabino Arana as created by Spanish nationalism

Earlier, we said that we were sure this article would be a bit controversial.  We’re so sure of that because it goes against the “simplified and caricaturesque image of Sabino Arana that has been fabricated by the defenders of Spain and, we must also say, by some sectors of the Basque left,” as Dr. Larrone comments during the video.

Rarely is it so clear as in the case of Sabino Arana, this attempt to disparage and discredit a political ideology or thought based on tangential aspects, statements taken out of context, or even full-out lies.  His thoughts on many subjects were the predominant ones in his day.  But of all the politicians and intellectuals of that age, he is the only one who has some of his 19th-century ideas analyzed through the prism of the 21st century.  And it is these decontextualized ideas, and only these, that are used to describe him and to discredit the Basque nationalist ideology.

For example, no one judges the works and thoughts of Cánovas del Castillo for his opinions on blacks.  But the “whole” of Arana is judged on his descriptions of the Spanish.

This is the base used by Spanish nationalism, including its “Academia”, to create an image of Sabino Arana.  Everything is valid to disparage him, because his greatest sin wasn’t that he was racist, or misogynist, or conservative.  His greatest sin, for the Spanish nationalists, was that he was an “enemy of Spain.”

Politicians, historians, and fiercely Spanish nationalist armchair philosophers who have created this twisted image of Arana to this day still follow the same principles that led the judge at his trial to find him guilty of “the crime of attacking the integrity of the Spanish nation”:

“…The law states that the summary must be given impartially by the Judge and that there must be no argument that might influence the jury’s deliberation.  That is why I say that it is useless, or at least extremely difficult, for the Judge to follow this provision of the law.  This is a social matter, a patriotic matter: must it be that the Judge not be Spanish?  Even if the law so dictated, I would not obey it in this point…”

This could be seen in 1907, with Miguel de Unamuno, who was an intellectual rival of Arana’s.  The former was presented by Spanish nationalism as the “open and universalist” antithesis of the latter; that is to say, a good Basque-Spaniard.  Unamuno was presented as a universal Basque, an intellectual capable of understanding that the future of our country would mean the disappearance of the “Basque differential” and its full integration into the “models of modernity” that were Spain and France.

So, in 1907, Miguel de Unamuno described Sabino Arana thus, four years after the latter’s death:

The same thing has happened in my Basque land… In that poetry, I rocked the dreams of my adolescence, and in it that unique man, that poet, called Sabino Arana, for whom the time of full recognition has yet to arrive, rocked them.  In Madrid, in that horrible Madrid whose spokesmen encoded and encompassed all Spanish incomprehension, he was taken as a joke or in anger.  He was disdained without ever being known, or he was insulted.  None of those embittered writers who ever wrote anything about him knew his work and even less his spirit.  And Sabino Arana, that fervent soul who is related to Rizal, was compared to him, and like Rizal, died misunderstood by his supporters and by the others.
And like the filibuster Rizal, Arana was also called filibuster, or something similar”

114 years after that text, it would seem that the time for Sabino Arana has still not arrived.  That might be because we pay too much attention to that judge’s supporters, for whom “being Spanish” was more important than “serving justice”.

Arana’s crime was teaching the Basques that they are a people with a right to decide their own future; that they were not damned to disappear, that their destiny was to build Euzkadi, the Land of the Basques.  He was so afraid of being “the last Basque”, with his commitment and hard work, that he ended up becoming “the first” of the Basques who was determined to create a Basque homeland.

We proudly recognize that we are his followers, and that we are also determined, determined to see his hour finally come, and along with it, the hour for our country.

We’ll leave you with the video of Drs. Jean Claude Larronde and Luis de Guezala speaking of Sabino de Arana’s anticolonialism.

As a complement to this video, we’ll also leave you with an article Luis de Guezala wrote in 2010, analyzing the controversial affair of Arana’s telegram congratulating the president of the US on the independence of Cuba.

Sabino Arana. An anticolonialist leader
(Video with subtitles in English*)

*We would like to thank John R. Bopp, who is in charge of the English-language version of this blog, for his excellent work adding the subtitles to this video.

Sabino de Arana’s congratulations on the independence of Cuba meant time in jail, despite being an elected official and gravely ill

Luis de Guezala
(Deia, June 3, 2010)

The ever greater attempts to develop the first Basque nationalist movement, led by Sabino Arana since the 1890s always had the Spanish authorities on guard.  Political organizations were made illegal, newspapers and offices closed, and of course assaults, arrests, fines, and prison sentences were the Spanish administration’s reaction to the earliest Basque nationalism, which was pacifist and never went outside the legal lines established by the corrupt ruling political system.

Police and legal pressure on the first Basque nationalists reached the point that they began to doubt the viability of their project.  A simple welcoming text to the crew of the Argentine sailing school ship President Sarmiento on behalf of the Basque nationalist councilmen in the City of Bilbao was excuse enough for them to be suspended as such by the “Civil Governor”.

This official reasoned the suspension of the eleven Basque nationalists elected by the people of Bilbao thus: “Congratulating a foreign nation on behalf of a party or a fraction that uses the adjective ‘nationalist’ without adding ‘Spanish’ attacks the Constitution, one and indivisible, which does not allow for any partial denominations of the several regions that make up the State.”

After so much hard work to get into the elections within the rules established by that fraudulent, tyrannical political system run by large Spanish parties that shared power, Sabino de Arana, after the suspension, was regretful, believing that in the end it would have been better to be treated like the anarchists, who were not allowed to run in the elections.

The Basque people were on their way to their complete disappearance as such, in that political context, without any apparent reaction to the process of assimilation and “Spanishification” that the authorities were carrying out.  Arana saw no solution, towards the end of his life, with little strength and few resources, to withstand the overwhelming superiority of a Spanish nationalism that was building a State in which the Basques would have no recognition or place as such.

Aid from the United States

One of the initiatives taken to prevent what seemed inevitable was to turn to aid or intervention from abroad, from a power that, not too long before, had finished off the Spaniards’ imperialist dreams, freeing the last few overseas colonies: the United States of America.

To celebrate the recognition of Cuban independence on the part of the US Government, on May 24, 1902, Sabino de Arana addressed President Theodore Roosevelt with the following words:
In the name of the Basque Nationalist Party, I congratulate you, a very noble federation that you lead that was able to free itself of slavery, on the independence of Cuba.  You are an example of magnanimity, culture, justice, and liberty that your powerful States give that is unknown in history and inimitable by European powers, especially the Latin ones.  If Europe copied the United States, the Basque nation, its oldest people who enjoyed freedom under a constitution that was worthy of praise, would be free.”

Telegrama de Sabino de Arana, del 24 de mayo de 1902, dirigido al presidente de los USA Theodore Roosevelt. Nunca se envió y le costó a Sabino Arana la inmediata «prisión provisional sin fianza alguna» por «delito de ataques a la integridad de la Nación Española»
Telegram from Sabino de Arana on May 24, 1902, addressing US President Theodore Roosevelt.  It was never sent, and it cost Sabino Arana immediate preventive jail time without bail for the crime of “attacking the integrity of the Spanish Nation”

The telegram never reached its destination, because the officer who was supposed to send it from the telegraph office withheld it and forwarded it to the Civil Government, whence it was sent to the Court of First Instance in Bilbao, which, when not able to locate Arana in Bilbao, required the Court in Gernika to locate him in Sukarrieta.  This is how the Spanish Administration in Biscay reacted when someone congratulated another for the independence of Cuba.

When interrogated by Judge Mauro Santiago Portero on May 30, Sabino de Arana admitted having written the telegram, so the magistrate decreed “provisional prison without bail” for the crime of “attacking the integrity of the Spanish Nation”.  When the Judge made this decree, the fact that the prisoner was gravely ill–he would die the following year–and the fact that he was an elected official in the Biscay Parliament were irrelevant.  A greeting such as that seemed to be the gateway to more terrible crimes.  And thus Arana was jailed at Larrinaga Prison.

From prison, the leader of Basque nationalism held on to his initial idea of seeking help from abroad, and on June 10, he had another telegram sent to the telegraph office, this time to now congratulate the Queen of England on the end of the war in South Africa.

9,000 signatures

However, his health was declining, and it was made even worse by his imprisonment.  So, on July 19, his attorneys requested bail.  They collected 9,000 signatures petitioning the Spanish Government for his freedom, but on October 14, the Council of Ministers presided over by Práxedes Mateo Sagasta denied the request.  At that meeting, the incredibly unhumanitarian sentences “the tranquility of Spain is worth the life of one man” and “it would be better for him if he died in jail” were stated.

So, finally, on November 7,1902, the trial against Sabino de Arana began, in which he was defended by Attorneys Daniel de Irujo, the father of Manuel de Irujo, who would be the Minister of Justice in the Second Republic, and Teodoro de Agirre, the father of José Antonio, who would become the first Lehendakari.  So many people were in attendance that even the district attorney, Hipólito Valdés, who was not exactly a man with great presence, had problems getting into the room.

After again admitting his authorship, Arana answered the judge’s questions, justifying the text of his telegram by highlighting that the Latin European powers, Spain and France, had been “the least generous and greatest haters of Freedom and Justice, as is proven by their History.”  This received applause from the audience, so the judge, Fermín Moscoso, reacted by ordering the civil guards and ushers to arrest anyone who again showed support for the defendant.

The district attorney concluded his arguments by threatening Biscay with losing “the rest of its privileges,” restating the “unity” of the Spanish state.  These arguments held little sway over the jury, so the next day, Judge Moscoso seemed to have made the decision to give a speech, which could at least be considered noteworthy when coming from a presiding judge: “Mr. Moscos begins by stating his disgust at the duty the law obliges him to fulfill to summarize what has been stated by the sources.  He states that in his opinion the summaries are completely useless.  No one, he adds, prohibits me from having my own opinion on this matter.  The law states that the summary must be given impartially by the Judge and that there must be no argument that might influence the jury’s deliberation.  That is why I say that it is useless, or at least extremely difficult, for the Judge to follow this provision of the law.  This is a social matter, a patriotic matter: must it be that the Judge not be Spanish?  Even if the law so dictated, I would not obey it in this point.”

No comments.  We just wonder to what point the thoughts states by Mr. Moscoso have continued thriving in our times, and what effect they have had on Justice in Spain in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Spanish-style justice

However, since the members of the jury were Basques, Sabino de Arana y Goirí was finally found not guilty.  Not that there was much time to celebrate, as he would die a year later.  Foreseeing a new arrest, he took refuge in the Northern Basque Country.  That’s where he spent his last years, in prison, and in exile.

Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom heard the Basques’ petitions for aid and justice.  In that, Arana’s telegrams for freedom were a complete failure.

But the unjust arrest, jailing, and trial that he had to live through because of that initiative consolidated Arana as the leader of Basque nationalism, helping him gain the sympathy of many Basques who were not part of the political movement, and giving him the chance to publicly defend his thoughts, setting an example with his honesty and willingness to sacrifice.

For the Spanish justice system, it was just another trial.  But for the Basques, Sabino de Arana y Goirí went down in history as their first national hero.

The bicentennial of the independence of the New World Republics series is a project of the Euskadi Munduan Association, the Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea, the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aránzazu of Lima, and the Editorial Archive of Oiga Magazine.

We would like to thank the Sabino Arana Foundation for their collaboration in this article.

Sabino Arana Fundazioa

Last Updated on Jul 15, 2022 by About Basque Country

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