Spanish Judge Requests Extradition of former ETA Militant in Venezuela

Caracas, Venezuela (VA) – A Spanish judge has moved to request the official extradition of former ETA militant, Iñaki de Juana Chaos, after the Spanish Embassy in Caracas reported that he is currently residing in Venezuela.

Described as a “fugitive” from justice by Spanish magistrates, De Juana served 21 years in a Spanish jail after being convicted in 1987 for murdering 25 people in a string of gun and bomb attacks in Madrid throughout the 1980s.

The attacks were carried out during De Juana’s time as a chief commander with the armed Basque independence movement ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna – Basque Homeland and Freedom) which is officially classified as a “terrorist” organisation in Spain.

Victims of the attacks were almost exclusively police and army personnel, earning De Juana Chaos an original sentence of 3000 years in prison. His early release was initially planned for 2004 but was prolonged by Spain’s Public Prosecution which claimed that he had made “terrorist threats” in opinion letters published by a Basque newspaper.

He was handed down another 12 year sentence in 2006 for “defending” ETA but was eventually released in 2008 following a hunger strike that lasted more than a hundred days. His release was violently opposed by the Spanish rightwing opposition “People’s Party” which returned to power in 2011 and currently governs Spain.

Now Spanish magistrates want the former militant extradited from Venezuela to face trial for a separate incident in which he is alleged to have “glorified terrorism” at a political act held on August 2, 2008 by a pro-amnesty movement for ETA political prisoners.

Although absent from the event, De Juana is alleged to have sent a letter to organisers which finished with the Basque phrase “Aurrera Bolie”.

The phrase roughly translates to “kick the ball forward” and was first used in connection to ETA by chief militant Domingo Iturbe Abasolo, who allegedly signed all letters with the expression.

Spanish authorities have interpreted the use of the phrase as a call for the continuation of the armed struggle for Basque self-determination and maintain that the “crime” carries a potential one to two year jail sentence.

“(It’s) a crime which publicly justifies terrorist acts by himself and others and which at the same time intensifies the pain of the victims and their families,” said Judge Eloy Velasco, responsible for Spain’s recent petition to the Venezuelan government.

But De Juana has denied writing the letter and Spanish authorities admit that they do not have a copy in their possession.

Madrid’s latest international arrest request in relation to the incident follows an unsuccessful petition in 2009 to have the former militant extradited from Northern Ireland where he moved the year following his release.

The request prompted a backlash from human rights organisations in the country and sparked an online petition against the extradition which was signed by MEPs, activists and human rights attorneys, who accused Spanish magistrates of trying to orchestrate a “hate campaign” against the militant and of fabricating charges in order to “keep him in jail”.

According to recent reports, De Juana has been living in the Venezuelan Caribbean town of Chichiriviche since going into hiding in 2010 whilst appealing the extradition order in Norther Ireland. He was originally spotted in the Venezuelan coastal town in May last year alongside his partner and two year old child. The sighting prompted the Spanish courts to petition Interpol for confirmation of De Juana’s whereabouts.

The latest request to Miraflores for his apprehension was made under the remit of a 1990 Spain-Venezuela extradition treaty which can be applied to those wanted for crimes which carry more than a two year sentence.

It is likely that the petition will put further pressure on the already strained relations between Madrid and the Venezuelan government, which has charged its Spanish counterpart of interventionism and neo-colonialism.

Spain’s ambassador to Caracas was briefly recalled to Madrid earlier in April this year as a result of ongoing diplomatic altercations.

Over the last fifteen years the Bolivarian government has been accused of “harbouring” a number of terrorist activists from a plethora of organisations including ETA, Hezbollah and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

Nonetheless, detractors have been unable to provide proof linking Caracas to any organised terrorist networks. In contrast, the government has been credited with having played an instrumental role in advancing the historic ongoing peace talks currently taking place between the Colombian government and the FARC in Cuba.

The South American nation, which embarked on its self-proclaimed “Bolivarian revolution” in 1998, has long been a hub for leftwing political refugees experiencing persecution in other parts of the world.

In 2009, the Venezuelan Supreme Court denied a request by the Spanish government for the extradition of ETA activist, Iñaki Etxeberria. It has yet to issue an official response to Madrid’s latest extradition request.

Basque Country. Image Source: Iker Merodio, Flickr, Creative Commons

Basque Country.
Image Source: Iker Merodio, Flickr, Creative Commons

ETA announced that it would cease its armed activity in 2011 but the Spanish government has been slow in responding to its peace proposal.

This article was written by Rachael Boothroyd for venezuelanalysis.com