A new entry in our series on the bicentennial of the independence of the New World republics

Paco Igartua con "Bobby Kennedy"


Francisco Igartua Rovira, “Paco” Igartua, was a Peruvian journalist of Basque descent and conscience, who founded, directed, and gave his soul to Oiga magazine, which, even today, many years after its final closure, is still a reference in Peruvian journalism and society.

You can find out more about Paco Igartua and his work as a journalist, and as a Basque, in the article we wrote about him.  You can find out more about ‘Oiga’ magazine, his most important work as a journalist, in the article we wrote on the 70th anniversary of the first issue.
In the photo, Paco Igartua with Bobby Kennedy

On this day 73 years ago, November 8, 1948, the first issue of Oiga magazine was published.  This periodical, which has become a reference (and almost a myth) in the journalism of Peru, was created and directed by Basque-Peruvian journalist Francisco “Paco” Igartua.

The commitment this Peruvian, and Basque, felt to his principles and his conscience got him thrown in jail, exiled, and politically persecuted, which finally ended up with the magazine’s closures (there were more than one) and his ruin.  Shutting down the magazine and ruining the life of Paco Igartua was finally achieved by dictator Alberto Fujimori.  Nowadays, the Oiga brand is owned by the Bedoya Bazán family and the Oiga Journalistic Publishing House.

We “discovered” Francisco Igartua Rovira thanks to his participation in the First Congress on Basque Communities, where he explained to those present, Basques from all over the world, that the first grouping of Basques in the New World was the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu of Lima, founded in 1621 “by the noble gentlemen who reside in that City of the Kings of Peru, originally from the Lordship of Biscay and the Province of Gipuzkoa and their descendants, and of those originally from the Province of Álava, the Kingdom of Navarre ,and the four Towns on the coast of the Mountain…”  You may remember we mentioned this in an article on which Basque territories are the ones south of the Pyrenees which has become one of the most read articles on the blog.

Because, in addition to being a great journalist, Paco Igartua was a committed Basque who pushed for the creation of a Basque center in Lima (one of the first to be recognized by the Basque Government) and who attended the first congresses of Basque Communities as a guest of the Lehendakari himself.

Those who follow us know that we have a close relationship with the Oiga Journalistic Publishing House, as well as with the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu of Lima and with the Basque Center it gave rise to: Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea.

For all these reasons, we thought it was the perfect moment to publish another entry in our series on the bicentennial of the independence of the New World republics with an article Paco Igartua wrote about the Basques’ participation in the history of Peru.  The article was originally published on Euskomedia by Eusko Ikaskuntza in 2003.  We can’t cite this website without again highlighting the extraordinary value it has for sharing the culture and the reality of the Basques.

Publishing this text on such an important day in the biography of Paco Igartua, and in Peruvian journalism, seems to us to be a good homage to man and his work.  Moreover, the article offers us excellent insight into the important role the Basques have played in the history of Peru, not just throughout its lengthy colonial period, but also in the creation and development of the independent Republic of Peru.

It is quite striking that of the nine Peruvian leaders who accompanied Bolívar and Sucre in the battles that won the countries of South America their independence (Junín and Ayacucho), five were of Basque descent.  To them, we must also add Bolívar himself, making for 6 of 11.  That is an absurdly disproportionate number in comparison with the Basque population in that part of the world.

There is no doubt that one of the things this series is best helping us with is to be more aware of how this small country of ours has left a deep and lasting mark on the history of a whole continent.

Traces of the Basques in the History of Peru

Francisco Igartua

Hipólito Unanue
A well-known figure of those first years of the Republic was Hipólito Unanue, a prestigious intellectual and medical researcher, originally from the port of Mutriku, Gipuzkoa

While the presence of the Basques was great during the Conquest and Viceroyalty of Peru, it was also noticeable, and very strongly so, in the formation of the Republic of Peru.  Thus, of the new leaders of Peru who accompanied Bolívar and Sucre in the battles that secured in the independence of the New World republics (Junín and Ayacucho), five were of Basque origin (La Mar y Cortázar, Gamarra, Salaverry, Vivanco, and Orbegozo).  And the most respectable, most collected, most lucid, and therefore most selfless person to appear or to succeed in politics was a Basque-Creole, Hipólito Unanue, a prestigious medical researcher from Mutriku.  He participated at the First Constitutional Congress (a congress which began with a mass led by Deacon Echague and by his secretary, Francisco Javier Mariátegui, one of the stars of parliament in those very first years) of the nascent republic with strict serenity; but Unanue cannot be pigeonholed as a Congressman: he was a sage, a representative of the Enlightenment in that aristocratized society in Lima, who was extolled thanks to the support he received from the powerful Landaburu families.  However, his secularized liberalism did not, as historian Jorge Basadre points out, distance him from the hardy faith of his forebears, and in his memoirs “Mi Retiro”, he writes: “amidst all those convulsions (of science and philosophy) in which I consider myself an atom roaming amongst the immenseness of nature, a strong religious sentiment lifts me ever towards God; and I experience an unknown breath of safety and grandeur.”

That open spirit, spiritually refined, led Unanue, along with other Basque descendants like him (José María Egaña and José Javier Baquíjano) to found a “Philharmonic Academy” in 1787, which, when inspired by the Sociedad Bascongada de Amigos del País, they would go on to transform into the “Sociedad Amantes del País”, which would publish the journal Mercurio Peruano, which would become the embryo of civic awareness in the Peru that was developing and in Peruvian sciences and letters.  Also in the years of the Viceroyalty, Unanue founded Verdadero Perú and Nuevo Día del Perú, giving proof of how he was creating the idea of Peru as an independent country in his mind.  Though the idea wasn’t an explosion of emotion, it evolved slowly in his thoughts from a reformist position, of Peruvians and Spaniards living together, to inevitable independence.  He was there when it was declared, and he was the Minister of the Interior for San Martín, who said, “old most honorable and most virtuous Unanue was one of the consolations I have had in the time of my uncomfortable administration.”  However, Unanue was closer to Bolívar, won over by the intellectual brilliance of the Libertador and by the idea of one community of all Latin America peoples.

If Hipólito Unanue stood out as a virtuous and enlightened councilor to the new republic, other Basque descendants did so as well, such as the abovementioned Mariátegui, in politics and in parliament.  Such is the case of Manuel Salazar y Baquíjano and of Manuel Lorenzo de Vidaurre, a strong and contradictory character, a prototype of the Basque character, who was also there among the supporters of Bolívar in those decisive first hours of anarchy that followed San Martín’s withdrawal.  But in those fiery and messy times, power in theory came only from the people.  Popular will was pure fiction.  The power was held by the armies and the soldiers were the ones setting the country’s political agenda.   And in that terrain, Basques were abundant and noteworthy.  For example, the five victorious Basque-Peruvian generals at Junín and Ayacucho were presidents of Peru; to them we must also add General Rufino Echenique, who was also president during the first stages of the Republic.  Echenique was originally from the Baztán Valley in Navarre.

Not all, however, will high-level officials at headquarters; indeed, none of them were regulars at the salons of Lima due only to their political or military rank.  And some of them were better known for their pen than for their sword.  Such is the case of the unfortunate Colonel Juan de Berindoaga, who was a minister for Tagle (the second fleeting president) and one of those who indecisively stayed at the port in El Callao along with the rich aristocrats of Lima who first joined the independence movement with fervor but then, when they felt abandoned by the whims of history, reacted against the outbreak of anarchy and the uprising of the “plebes” and took refuge at the port next to the fort that the royalist Rodil had not surrendered.  In these circumstances, Colonel Berindoaga found himself obligated to write for the royalist newspapers El Desengaño and El Triunfo del Callao.  The result of this indecisiveness was that when he was captured in a small boat on his way to a Chilean ship to seek asylum, he was tried and hanged in Lima’s Main Square, along with another opponent of Bolívar’s.  The bodies were left on public display for the whole day.  Another of the officials who opposed Bolívar, Manuel de Aristizabal, and the Colombians who accompanied him, also ended up hanged in the square, and his body lies in rest in the Pantheon of the Founders of Peru, alongside those of Iturregui, Arriz, Cortazar, Ugalde, and some other Basques.

El Puerto del Callao a principios del siglo XIX Fuente: Archivo Fotográfico del Diario el Comercio (Lima)
The Port of Callao at the beginning of the 19th century
Source: Photo Archives of ‘El Comercio” (Lima)

José de la Mar y Cortazar (who was Basque on his mother’s and father’s sides), another soldier who was brave to the point of recklessness in battle, and who was victorious at Junín and Ayacucho, did not feel up to leading a civilian life and, however, was elected by Congress to be the President of Peru when Bolívar retired.  Lacking ambition, but clean, well educated, and not particularly astute, he believed it was his duty to let Congress govern while he organized an army to lay the border of Peru and Colombia.  That expedition was a disaster, and he ended up betrayed by his comrade-in-arms, Gamarra, and was exiled to Costa Rica.  There he died in the company of his superb horse, his pet (a goat) and six black slaves who carried his coffin to his grave.

Before La Mar died, as a childless widower, abandoned in Cartago, Costa Rica, he got married to his cousin by blood Ángela Elizalde, who he never knew in the Biblical sense, which meant that when he died, she was dressed in white, like a virgin.

In a letter to Vidaurre, replying to his insistence that he assume the presidency, La Mar depicted himself as “having to do goo for humanity … I’m not capable of it … It is doom, it is a horrible commitment that would demand resources to take on such a task; and it is not fair that I abuse this misconception to hurt Peru, to hurt myself; it is, therefore, the worst misfortune for me, when in order to not be obstinate, or something worse, I should go to Lima, as I am already preparing to do, sure that I shall lose the esteem that some honorable men have of me, that has penetrated the right sentiments in my heart.”

In this very candid confession, he depicts the good and refined soul of a man who was so shy as to be depressed, but decisive in knowing he had to fulfill what he believed was his duty, a duty that was thrust upon him.

Regarding José de la Mar y Cortazar by Jorge Basadre, the most lucid historian of Peru, there was this brief and beautiful image: “The war he launched into was unsuccessful.  Nevertheless, next to the turbulence and sin that reigned afterwards, his figure, purified by misfortune and exile, was aggrandized.  And his glory has remained free of zeal and jealousy, of passionate followers or detractors, a pallid glory that suggests respect and perhaps even piety.”  And I add, who knows, not so much the last part but yes about the lesson of civic pulchritude.

Agustín Gamarra, ambitious, bold, unscrupulous, a politician with well-defined goals, fired his friend to his face and made himself (rather than being made) president, based on intrigues, alliances, and betrayals.  But that wasn’t just Mr. Gamarra.  At his side, organizing, ordering, imposing, was his wife, Francisca Zubiaga, daughter, according to Basadre, of a “Spanish merchant of Biscayan origin and a lady from Cuzco.”  Others make the father out to be a soldier, but Basadre’s opinion is more trustworthy, as it falls more in line with typical Basque activities in the Americas.

Francisca Zubiaga (1803-1835) Autor desconocido. Museo arqueólogo de Historia del Peru
Francisca Zubiaga (1803-1835)
Artist unknown. Archaeological Museum of History of Peru

Mrs. Francisca Zubiaga, “La Mariscala (The Marshall)”, was quite a character, showing similarities, thanks to her imposing personality, to Catherine the Great, but, on the other hand, her adventurous life also has similarities with another Basque woman who became famous in Peru, Catalina de Erauso, the “Lieutenant Nun”.  There are so many similarities with the latter that Francisca’s opponents, vicious haters, put on a play at the theater to denigrate her, titled La Monja Alférez.  The hint was so unsubtle that the theater was closed and the producers and actors arrested.

But the theme of these two women who started out as nuns and came to dress and act like men is such a large topic that it deserves its own chapter.

From that time we’ve been discussing, there are many Basque figures that are incomparable in the history of Peru.  Among them were two other victors at Junín and Ayacucho who represented the youth’s desire for political renewal at different stages.  The first was Felipe Santiago Salaverry, a young, impetuous adventurer (who fought in the war of independence at the age of 14), who stirred up the rebellious spirit of the people at fired them up to fight for a new Peru.  However, so much Peruvian fervor caused him to have to face up to those wanted to reunify Bolivia and Peru.  The result was defeat and his (historical and romantic) firing squad death, which turned the Salaverry name into a symbol for national renewal.  The other who would soon after awake the same anti-conformism in the youth was Manuel Ignacio de Vivanco Iturralde.  And elegant and educated aristocrat, his flag was “regeneration,” for power to be held by those who were capable and educated.  It was an echo of the youthful reformism of Salaverry.

In the 20th century, the traces of the Basques in Peru can still be found, including in five of its presidents who had Basque surnames.  Some of them were very well aware of where they were from, while others simply knew, and others had no idea.  These included Nicolás de Piérola, whose origins are known to be Navarrese; Augusto B. Leguía, who is known to be Basque thanks to his surnames, Leguía and Salcedo; Manuel Odría, whose family is known to have come from Azpeitia and who was inseparable from a trio of Basque singers in his free time; Fernando Belaúnde, who was aware of his roots; and Juan Velasco, who apparently was not.

It can be seen in this summary that the traces of the Basques in Peru who emigrated there has declined, and lately, there are many who have returned to the prosperous Basque Country.

Header image: Battle of Ayacucho. by Martín Tovar y Tovar (1827—1902)


The Bicentennial of the Independence of the New World Republics series is a project of the Euskadi Munduan Assocaition, the Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea, the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aránzazu of Lima, and the Editorial Archives of Oiga Magazine.

Last Updated on Sep 5, 2022 by About Basque Country

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