In July of 1937, the President of the Basque Government went into exile after the bombings of Durango, Gernika, and the fall of Bilbao, just one year into the Spanish Civil War. During the civil war there were Basque Delegations in Baiona, Madrid, and Barcelona, and by 1938, there were more than fifty different Basque organizations in Barcelona. With the military fall of Catalonia, the Basque Government-in-exile moved its operation to Paris, where between 1936 and 1939 Rafael Picavea had created an information network in favor of the Basques and the republican cause, including the publication of the newspaper Euzko Deya beginning in November 1936. Delegates worked diligently to get the support of the political leaders and Catholic elite in Europe and in the Americas. The Lehendakari, or President, Dr. José Antonio de Aguirre, escaped to Barcelona and eventually to Paris, while he and his officers organized the exile of over 150,000 Basques, including approximately 30,000 orphans and children traveling without their parents. None were ever admitted into the United States.
War refugees from Nafarroa, Gipuzkoa, Araba, Bizkaia and other areas in Spain began fleeing to Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina. In 1938, a Basque Government Delegate Commission visited several of the established Basque Centers spread throughout the Americas in order to investigate the possibilities of the euskal etxeak being used as official reception centers for the coming immigration. Numerous Basques in South America volunteered their services and their homes. Latin America attracted Basque intellectuals and educated professionals because they could use their Spanish language skills and transfer to other careers much more easily than they would be able to in North America, Australia, or other European countries. Already established Basque communities also provided information and knowledge for migration networks to their relatives and friends. This reinforced relations between the government-in-exile and the diaspora because many of the political officials were now in these communities abroad and were able to mobilize people at the Centers to aid other refugees and to collect financial contributions for the main office in Paris.
Basques Bulletin of Delegation in NY.
The same cannot be said for the United States west coast Basque communities. In 1937, the Basque Government Delegate to the United States, Ramón de la Sota, visited Boise, Idaho in order to open communications with the Basque community and to attempt to raise money for the Basque war effort. Though many Basques attended events to hear news from the Basque Country, he was unable to create enough interest for financial support. In a 1938 letter to Basque Government-in-exile Lehendakari Aguirre, the other Basque Government Delegate to the United States, Antón de Irala, wrote in regards to the Basques of Idaho, “there is a lack of national consciousness... and their mentality in regards to patriotism is American” (author translation from Koldo San Sebastián 1991:236). However, they did create Delegations of the Basque Government-in-exile in several different countries in Europe, South America, and in the United States, in New York City. Once this Basque Government–in-exile Delegation was established in Manhattan in 1938, the New York community had their own direct link to homeland political institutions.
It is not surprising that many people in the United States were confused with the politics of post-civil-war Spain. There were three elected governments representing the people: the Government of the Spanish Republic representing all of Spain but not the Basque and Catalan provinces; the Government of Euzkadi representing the now autonomous Basque provinces of Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa; and the Government of Catalonia (whose President Lluís Companys had been executed) representing the now autonomous provinces of Catalonia, and each went into exile by the end of the war in 1939. In addition to the Government of Euzkadi, the Spanish Republican Government and the Government of Catalonia also had representatives in New York that maintained relations with the New York Basque community. The Basque Delegation tried to distance itself from the Government of the Spanish Republic in order to create their own identity among United States politicians and the elite in New York, as well as among the existing New York Basque population. The Basque Government-in-exile utilized its base in New York as its central office for its relations with the United States government, and later with the United Nations.
The Basque Government-in-exile established its offices in the New Weston Hotel and later in the Hotel Elyseé, both in Manhattan. The initial Delegates were Antón de Irala e Irala, Manuel de la Sota y Aburto, Ramón de la Sota Mac Mahon, José Urresti, Juan Aramburu and Eustacio Arrítola, later came Jesús de Galíndez, Jon Bilbao, Jon Oñatibia, and Cipriano Larrañaga. With the help of the existing Centro Vasco-Americano, and especially of C.V.A. President Valentín Aguirre, they created a list of names and addresses of people that would likely be interested and able to help in the Basque cause. By February they had two hundred and seventy-one Basques in New York that had donated money and “subscribed” to pledge a contribution each month. Amounts ranged from Magdalena Goyarrola’s twenty-five cents monthly, to Paulino Urtiaga’s three dollars per month. They also had created a list of nineteen donors from Reno, Nevada and twenty-four from Elko, Nevada. Manuel Maria de Ynchausti, a wealthy Basque nationalist and recent temporary immigrant to White Plains, New York, also funded several thousand dollars to the Basque Delegation. In the early years, the Delegation’s main efforts were focused on the Catholic community of intellectuals and clergy with the hopes of influencing their policies and attitudes toward the Franco dictatorship and against the propaganda branding Basques as anti-Catholic and communist. The United States Catholic Church had been an intervening factor in not allowing Basque refugee children into the United States.
After Manuel de la Sota and Antón de Irala toured the western United States meeting Basques, they decided to send Jon Bilbao to Boise, Idaho to open a sub-delegation in March 1940, even though just a few years earlier it had been determined that there was no significant political interest among the Boise area Basques. Bilbao had recently finished a Master’s degree at Columbia University and was enthusiastic about the Boise possibilities. However, because of the lack of interest in homeland politics from the Idaho Basque community, the Boise office closed after only a few months, and Jon Bilbao went on to Berkeley, California to begin his studies toward a Ph.D.. New York remained the only office of the Basque Delegation in the United States.
In Europe, Lehendakari Aguirre had left Paris for Belgium and a family visit in May of 1940, and was consequently trapped when Hitler’s troops invaded the Low Countries. Aguirre obtained a false passport from the Panamanian consulate in Antwerp, Belgium and disguised himself as “Dr. Álvarez Lastra”. He determined that his best hiding place from the Germans would be right in Berlin where they would never suspect him living and he hid there from January to April 1941. He managed to travel from Berlin to Göteburg, Sweden and to get himself, his wife Maria Zabala, and their two children aboard a cargo ship headed for Rio de Janeiro, where they arrived in August 1941. They continued on to Uruguay where he was able to safely reveal his true identity. The United States State Department received and approved a petition asking for a special visa for President Aguirre in 1941, and from South America the Aguirre Zabala family traveled to New York, where they were given permanent resident visas and arrangements had been made for a special lecturer’s position at Columbia University in Manhattan.
|NY dancers in street with Galindez and Onatibia.|
When the C.V.A. President, Antonio Elorriaga, announced at the October 1941 meeting that the Basque President José Antonio Aguirre would be arriving in New York, Valentín Aguirre (no relation) proposed a “magnificent reception” in his honor. The C.V.A. membership voted to send the Basque President (as he crossed the ocean on a ship) a cablegram of welcome to New York on behalf of all the Basques of the community, and they began organizing a welcoming banquet for November. A small committee of honored members greeted the Aguirres upon their arrival to White Plains, and the Manuel Maria de Ynchausti family residence including; Valentín Aguirre, Antonio Elorriaga, Juan Zabal, Alberto Uriarte, Florencio Laucirica, Marcelo Bilbao, Juan Betanzos, Julian Basterrechea, Santi Lazcano, and Marcelino Larrazabal. They presented his wife a bouquet of flowers and they named José Antonio Aguirre as an Honorary Member of the Centro Vasco.
The Basque Delegation dealt with many diverse situations and accepted all of the political issues that the Centro Vasco-Americano wanted to avoid. They created lists of supporters in the United States with the intention to obtain financial aid for the Spanish Civil War victims. They responded to Basques from various regions of the world asking for Basque Government assistance in obtaining special visas to enter the United States. In 1940, the Ciudad Trujillo (later renamed to Santo Domingo) in the Dominican Republic wrote a letter to the C.V.A. asking for economic help, and the directors passed it on to the Basque Delegation. In 1940 when the C.V.A. received two letters asking for help for two political exiles, President Antonio Elorriaga responded that those persons should direct their letters to the Basque Government delegation because according to the society’s by-laws, the C.V.A. did not get involved in politics. Therefore, many of the requests that were originally sent to the Centro Vasco, were eventually passed on to the Basque Delegation. One of the roles of the delegates was educational and to inform the Basque community regarding current events in the homeland. Manuel de la Sota, one of Delegates, agreed to offer himself to the C.V.A. for four consecutive Saturday conferences of presentations regarding the history of the Basque Country. During September 1942, Antón de Irala was also invited to give conferences to the Basque community at the 48 Cherry Street euskal etxea.
The Basque Delegation published its own bulletin for the public: Basques. Bulletin of the Basque Delegation in the USA. The first issue was released in March 1943, and the bulletin ran six issues until August 1944. The articles tried to inform readers about the misinterpretations and omissions by the American press regarding current events in Spain and regarding Spanish military and political institutions. Every issue was published in perfect English and began with an editorial by Manuel de la Sota. Bulletins varied in length from eight to twenty-three pages and were distributed to the New York Basque community, to Catholic elite and influential lay and clergy, and to academics and journalists. Most articles concerned foreign policy issues, the history of the Basque Country, and attempts to educate the readers about the Basque point of view regarding the Franco dictatorship. Attempting to influence the Catholic clergy, the November 1943, Issue #5 was devoted to religion and the Basque people. The articles gave the names and information surrounding the executions of Basque priests in Spain, the relationship of Basques to the Catholic Church, and explained how the Basque fueros had already established a separation of Church and state by the XIV century. Issue #6 was devoted to law, the fueros, and the future of Basque democracy, and the information demonstrated the Basques’ historical commitment to democratic values.
Additional Basque Delegations
The United States and Argentine Basque Delegations were officially the first and second in the Americas. There were also South American Basque Delegations in Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Though there is not sufficient space here to describe all of the delegations, those of Argentina and Mexico were especially significant. The Argentine offices were established with the arrival of four delegates in November 1938 under the leadership of Ramón de Aldasoro. They traveled the country to collaborate with the Basque communities, to organize fundraisers for the civilian victims of the war, and to meet with the local media. By May of 1939 Euzko Deya had resumed publication- now from Buenos Aires- and eventually had contributing correspondents in fifteen different countries. The Basque Delegation in Argentina also worked to raise money to buy necessary items for Basque war prisoners in Euskal Herria. Aldasoro labored with the established Basques to successfully lobby the Argentine President to accept thousands of Basque refugees into Argentina. The publishing house of “Ekin” was established in 1942, which would eventually publish more than 150 different titles regarding Basque studies. The American Institute of Basque Studies was founded in 1943 and their journal, Bulletin of the American Institute of Basque Studies commenced in 1950. After the visit of the Lehendakari Aguirre, ten new Basque Centers were established in Argentina.
President Cárdenas of Mexico declared his support for the Spanish republic immediately after the Spanish military rebellion and even sent military aid to the republican forces during the war. Mexico also received an estimated 20,000 republican refugees, including children and orphans that were evacuated from the Pyrenees war zones to Morelia. The Basque Delegation was established in January 1939 with Francisco de Belausteguigoitia and later Telesforo de Monzón, and was active with periodical publications and spreading information regarding current events in Euskal Herria and in other Basque communities around the world. Basques created the Commission of Basque Culture in 1942, and also several of the political parties had their own separate representation in the Mexican capital city. In 1946, the Spanish republican Cortes, the legislative branch-in-exile, met in session in Mexico City.
Jesús de Galíndez and the United Nations
In Baiona in 1945, the Basque Consultative Council gathered political and labor leaders to pledge their support for the ongoing clandestine efforts against Franco, and to coordinate a strategy for the resistance and to keep the government-in-exile informed about movements in the Basque Country. In the same year, representatives of fifty countries had met in San Francisco, California at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter. It was signed on June 26, 1945, and the United Nations officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, when the Charter was ratified by a majority of the participants. The Basque Government Delegation in New York lobbied and was successful in assuring the United Nations’ refusal of Spain as a member. In 1945, the PNV led government had created the Organización de Servicios, the Organization of Services, which worked as an information network to direct reports to the United States government. Anton de Irala worked for the Basque Delegation in New York (and also at Columbia University) and for the United States State Department, attempting to influence the United States government support for the republican government.
Jesús de Galíndez was a Spanish Civil War exile who was caught and imprisoned in a German concentration camp in France, from which he escaped. He later lived in the Dominican Republic as a Delegate of the Basque Government-in-exile during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. His experiences in the Dominican Republic with the Trujillo government led to his interest in the Dominican government and his Ph.D. dissertation investigated the corruption of that regime. He was requested by the Lehendakari Aguirre to move to the United States in order to serve in the Basque Delegation in New York City, and when he arrived in 1949 he was appointed as the Basque Government observer to the United Nations. During this time period he also taught courses at Columbia University, where he was simultaneously a Ph.D. student.
However, in November 1950, the United Nations lifted its diplomatic embargo adopted in 1946 against Spain as a punishment to the Franco regime and its Fascist leanings during WWII. In 1951, Spanish Ambassador José Felix de Lequerica y Erquiza, originally of Bilbao and now working for the Spanish Government, presented his credentials to President Truman. Jesús de Galíndez and Lehendakari Aguirre presented a case to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1952, protesting Franco’s request for admission to the UN. They noted: the closure of the Basque University created by the Basque Government in 1936 under the terms of the Statute of Autonomy of 1936; Guardia Civil military police occupation of libraries and social and cultural associations; the mass burnings of books published in Euskera; elimination of all use of Euskera in all school whether public or private and even the rural areas where most families did not speak any but Euskera; prohibition of the use of Euskera in all public gatherings and in all publications, on the radio; suppression of Basque cultural societies, including the Society for Basque Studies-Eusko Ikaskuntza, and of the Academy for the Basque Language; prohibition of the use of Euskera in all religious publications and in the celebration of all masses and any other religious ceremonies; a Decree requiring the translation into Spanish of all Basque names in civil registries and of all other official documents; the prohibition of the use of all Basque proper names in baptismal and other official documents; a directive ordering the removal of all inscriptions in Euskera from tombstones and all funerary markers (Clark 1979:137).
However, it was the beginning of the Cold War, and the United States was no longer listening to the Basques. Spain had more to offer in the way of a fight against communism, and the Basque lobby was losing effectiveness against the world wide Catholic Church and the advisors in the U.S. State Department, who favored staunch and sure anti-communism regardless of it being a dictatorship. The negotiations for a military and economic agreement between Spain and the United States began in 1952 and was it signed and adopted in 1953 under the Eisenhower administration.
Galíndez continued as a lobbyist at the United Nations and as a Ph.D. student preparing to submit and defend his dissertation at Columbia University in 1956. Several Basques interviewed in New York remember that he often mentioned that he received death threat notes because of his involvement and study of the repressive Trujillo government of the Dominican Republic. In March 1956, after finishing his university lecture for a night course he taught, he walked through the campus grounds and he descended down the stairs of the street entrance to the New York subway -and then was never seen again, alive or dead. Over the decades, several conspiracy theories have been argued by various groups asserting that he knew too much about the Trujillo government and that before he could publish his dissertation mercenaries of the Dominican Republic kidnapped and murdered him. Others believe Galíndez knew too much about the United States government’s involvement and aid to Trujillo, as well as U.S. espionage details he had learned from the Organization of Basque Intelligence, and that the United States government had him kidnapped and killed. Others even speculate that Galíndez was a United States government spy, working to gather information on the Basques. To this day, the case has not been solved.
For decades, Basque politicians have been received by the Basque American community of New York, and in all of my fieldwork I have never found one example of a politician from the Basque Country being denied access to the membership. The Centro Vasco-Americano and the Euzko-Etxea have participated institutionally and financially, and also acted as agents of international foreign policy through their relationships with the Basque Government-in-exile, and continue to do so today with the current government of the Basque Autonomous Community.
Earlier versions published in:
Totoricagüena, Gloria.2003. New York Basques: A Cosmopolitan Experience. Serie Urazandi. Vitoria-Gasteiz: Gobierno Vasco.
The Basque Diaspora: Migration and Transnationalism. Reno: Center for Basque Studies Textbook Series. Forthcoming 2004.
Aguirre, José Antonio. Veinte años de gestión del Gobierno Vasco (1936-1956). Durango: Leopoldo Zugaza.
Dupla, Antonio. 1992. Presencia Vasca en America 1492-1992: Una mirada crítica. San Sebastián-Donostia: Tercera Prensa- Hirugarren Prentsa, S.L.
San Sebastián, Koldo. 1991. The Basque Archives: Vascos en Estados Unidos (1939\-1943). Donostia-San Sebastián: Editorial Txertoa.
Totoricagüena, Gloria.2003. New York Basques: A Cosmopolitan Experience. Serie Urazandi. Vitoria-Gasteiz: Gobierno Vasco.
The Basque Diaspora: Migration and Transnationalism. Reno: Center for Basque Studies. Textbook Series. Forthcoming 2004.
Tusell, Javier, and Alicia Alted. 1991. “The Government of the Spanish Republic in Exile: (1939-1977)”, in Governments-in-Exile in Contemporary World Politics. Edited by Yossi Shain. London: Routledge. Pp. 145-165.