ETA inmate who divided the PP

Iosu Uribetxeberria Bolinaga was given parole on humanitarian grounds against the wishes of some on the right

ETA prisoner Iosu Uribetxeberria Bolinaga in a hospital in San Sebastián.
ETA prisoner Iosu Uribetxeberria Bolinaga in a hospital in San Sebastián.Ateak Ireki

It was the longest kidnapping in ETA's history. José Antonio Ortega Lara spent nearly one-and-a-half years (532 days) in captivity before 60 police officers stormed a factory basement in northern Spain in July 1997 and found the former prison director cooped up in a nine-by-seven foot windowless room. Mistakenly believing his rescuers were his captors coming to get him, the frail 38-year-old hostage yelled out: "Just kill me once and for all."

 The terrorists had been demanding that the government transfer all ETA inmates to jails in the Basque Country or else they would let Ortega Lara die through starvation.

Ortega Lara's captivity may not have ended then if it wasn't for clues found in documents in the possession of an ETA member who had been arrested by French authorities the previous November.

The conditions Ortega Lara had endured helped the then-Popular Party (PP) government of José María Aznar to win more public support for its continued hardline offensives against the Basque terrorists. The ETA kidnappers had sealed the entrance of the basement by parking a three-ton industrial machine on top. The room only contained a sleeping bag, a chair and a pot.

Bolinaga's release has sparked outrage among ETA victims groups

"It would be good for everyone to see this room. It is like something from a concentration camp," said then-Interior Minister Jaime Mayor Oreja, who 15 years later would emerge as one of the most vocal opponents in the release of one of the terrorists who committed this crime.

On Wednesday, one of the perpetrators of that kidnapping, Iosu Uribetxeberria Bolinaga, was granted conditional parole by a five-member panel of the High Court, which approved his release because he is reportedly terminally ill with kidney cancer.

The panel's four-to-one ruling comes on the heels of a Cabinet decision to grant Uribetxeberria special status to apply for early release on humanitarian grounds.

But the decision has set off outrage by ETA victims groups and caused rifts among Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's ruling Popular Party with Mayor and Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre leading the pact of party challengers to the government's decision.

The kidnaper and murderer has never shown any remorse for his crimes

Also fueling public sentiment against the Cabinet's decision are medical reports provided by the public prosecutor's office suggesting that Uribetxeberria may not be terminally ill.

"This also angers me but the decision had to be made," said a defensive Rajoy this past Monday during a freewheeling television interview with a panel of journalists. "We are talking about a person who weighs 47 kilos and has been in the hospital for 50 days. The law says that no one should have to die in jail."

Uribetxeberria, who had been sentenced to 32 years in prison and is now being treated at a hospital in San Sebastián, publicly thanked his supporters in a video from his hospital room that was released on Thursday.

"A million thanks, Euskal Herria (the Basque region). We have always placed our trust in you," the frail-looking man said.

It was not clear when Uribetxeberria will be allowed to go to his home in Mondragón; doctors said they want to keep him in the hospital for further treatment.

Born in Mondragón, Gipuzkoa in 1955, Uribetxeberria was arrested in 1997. He was put on trial and convicted not only in the Ortega Lara case but also for the 1993 kidnapping of Julio Iglesias Zamora, a Gipuzkoa businessman, and for an attack on a Civil Guard patrol in which two officers were killed.

He belonged to the so-called Goiherri commando unit, of which three other members - Javier Ugarte, José Luis Erostegi and José Miguel Gaztelu - were also convicted in the Ortega Lara kidnapping.

Five months after he was found guilty, Uribetxeberria was put on trial again in the Iglesias Zamora case for which he received an additional 14 years.

At a third trial in July 1999, he was sentenced to 145 years for the attack on the Civil Guard that took place in Oñati, Gipuzkoa on July 14, 1987.

In 2000, Uribetxeberria was convicted and sentenced on weapons charges and crimes related to his membership in the Goiherri unit. In all he was sentenced to 250 statutory years.

When doctors detected cancer in 2005, Uribetxeberria was serving at the Puerto II prison in Cádiz. He was transferred to Nanclares de la Oca in Álava where he could receive treatment, and stayed there until 2009.

In August, his condition deteriorated and he was taken to the San Sebastián hospital where he is currently being treated.

Uribetxeberria has never publicly asked forgiveness for his crimes.

Meanwhile, Ortega Lara, who was once a staunch member of the hardline conservative wing of the PP, left the organization in 2008 in a public protest alongside María San Gil, the party's leader in the Basque Country and a parliament member in Vitoria, who complained that Rajoy's politics were moving toward the center.

Uribetxeberria wasn't the mastermind behind Ortega Lara's kidnapping; he was only considered his jailer who refused to cooperate with authorities following his arrest.

In May 2011, authorities in Irún arrested former ETA leader Ignacio Gracia Arregui, alias Iñaki de Rentería, a week after the Civil Guard had sent a report to the High Court identifying him as the person who had ordered the longest kidnapping in the terrorist organization's history.


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