This isn’t the first time (you’ll find our earlier articles below), and we imagine it won’t be the last, where we cover a topic that is, to our minds, extremely important in the contemporary history of the Basques.
We’re referring to the tour Lehendakari Aguirre took between August and November 1942 to the New World, visiting Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Chile.
Lehendakari Aguirre had just arrived to his exile in the New World after an extraordinary escape through the heart of Nazi-controlled Europe and after having lived in Berlin itself (we recommend this artículo, and the book, by Inglo Niebel about his escape). He moved to New York, where, alongside his duties as Lehendakari, he also worked as professor of European History at Columbia University. All this, his escape, his post at Columbia, was thanks to Philippine-born Basque patriot, Manuel de Ynchausti.
The position of the Basque Government, now in exile and led by the Lehendakari, was that of total support for the Allies. This support also meant, as far as possible, the fight against the totalitarianism that was represented by Axis forces. That commitment to the Allies was more than a simple declaration: the Basques who fought against Franco took an active role in that struggle. This was seen in the resistance to be found on both sides of the Pyrenees, as well as wherever Basques could be found in the world. This was especially true in Latin America, where the Axis had a great deal of support, from other totalitarian governments, from German and Italian emigrants, and from the Spaniards who support Franco’s totalitarian regime.
The young Lehendakari had gained significant prestige throughout the world thanks mainly to how his government responded during the Spanish Civil War. He was respectful of human rights, and the barbarity of the bombing of Guernica had acted as a way of projecting the true image of what was happening in the part of the Land of the Basques not controlled by Franco.
That’s why the US Government helped him organize a tour of Latin American countries that fall. The “official” goal was to offer a series of conferences at universities in those countries, explaining what had happened to the Basque Country during and after the war.
But there was a second, silent goal. On the one hand, to connect with the authorities and peoples of these countries, to bring them over to the Allied cause; on the other, was the no less important goal of creating a network of Basques who would work for the Allies: the Basque Intelligence Service in South America (we recommend you read the work of David Mota Zurdo, Unidos en la lucha contra el Eje. El Gobierno Vasco, las agencias de información estadounidenses y el tour propagandístico de José Antonio Aguirre por Latinoamérica de 1942)
Both goals were achieved in spades.
The Lehendakari in Lima
We recall this tour on August 30th because that was when the Lehendakari reached Peru. Originally, this part of the visit was not planned. The schedule change was due to the Basque-descendant community of Peru, especially the members of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu in Lima, founded in 1612. They managed to schedule a 12-hour layover that had a huge impact on the Basque community Peru; an impact that can still be felt today.
That 12-hour layover in Lima became a marathon of receptions and meetings for the Lehendakari:
- He was received by President Manuel Prado Ugarteche, descendant of a renowned Basque family. It was he who led the countries of Latin America to support the Allies, and it was his commitment with democracy that was fundamental in having the nations of Latin America take to the anti-fascist side.
- He was received by the members of the Peruvian Congress and Senate.
- He was treated as a guest of honor at the University of San Marcos, the oldest university in the Americas.
- He gave a take which was broadcast on Peruvian National Radio.
- He was given a dinner at the Club Nacional.
That voyage, that tour overall, was not easy. Diplomats from Axis powers, and especially from Franco’s illegitimate government, did everything they could to stop it or boycott it. Indeed, one day before the President of Peru was to receive Lehendakari Aguirre, that is, Saturday, August 29, Franco’s ambassador in Lima, Basque Pablo de Churruca y Dotres, met with him, undoubtedly to try to prevent him receiving the Lehendakari.
On the same day, August 29, in a meeting of the Congress of the Republic of Peru, there was a debate about the arrival of the Lehendakari and his reach as a leader committed to freedom and democracy.
As we said in an earlier article:
“To understand the reasons why Lima went all-out to receive the Lehendakari, please read the debate that took place in the Congress of Peru. It shows the esteem José Antonio de Aguirre y Lecube was held to by all democrats. It was high enough to be immune to the lies told by the Spanish fascists and their South American friends, who did exist, against him.
This image of him as a statesman was forged with his integrity and his commitment to freedom, democracy, and social justice. But it was cemented by the immense network of “friends of the Basques” that was set up worldwide and thus able to fight the lies of the fascists.”
The Act of the Congress of Peru about the Lehendakari’s visit
Last year, we brought you a transcription of that congressional session, which is a part of the archives of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aranzazu in Lima.
On this occasion, we can offer you the minutes of that session on August 29, the part referring to the Lehendakari’s visit, and articles published in El Peruano and other media about said visit. This is all thanks to the kindness and incredible service of the Congress of Perú, and its staff in the Library, especially Ms. María Jesús Pacheco Rivera, who was kind enough to send us a scan of all this documentation.
Thanks to these notarized documents, we can remember the views and opinions those members of the Peruvian parliament (among whom were many Basque-descendants and the members of the Brotherhood of Aranzazu of Lima) had of Lehendakari Aguirre.
We get the impression that this 80th anniversary will “sneak by” in the collective memory of our country, which is so prone to forgetting the best of us, and so prone to forgetting these events which were so important in the history of our nation.
So, from the Basque Country and from Peru, thanks to the collaboration of the Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea, we remember.
Articles about the Lehendakari’s visit archived at the Library of Congress of PeruNoticias en el Congreso de Peru sobre la visita lehendakari Aguirre 1942
Act of Congress of Peru with the debate about the visit of Lehendakari AguirreActa del Congreso peruano 29 de agosto de 1942 debate visita lehendakari Aguirre