Forgiving the unforgiveable

A decade after murdering Juan María Jáuregui, Luis Carrasco met the politician's wife in a groundbreaking attempt at reconciliation

Luis Gómez
Maixabel Lasa, with a photo of herself and her late husband.
Maixabel Lasa, with a photo of herself and her late husband.Julián Rojas

Luis María Carrasco Asenguinolaza first tried to kill Juan María Jáuregui, the former civil governor of the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, in a bar in Tolosa, but was foiled by the presence of some people there who knew the terrorist. He did not know Carrasco, nor did he need to: as a member of ETA his job was to obey orders, which in this case meant killing someone. He located his victim once again a few days later, this time in another bar, close to the town's frontón, or Basque pelota court. This time there were no obstacles. Jáuregui was shot twice in the back, while his wife, Maixabel Lasa, waited for him to come home for lunch. On July 29, 2000, Carrasco became a killer, and Maixabel Lasa a widow. Eleven years later, the two would meet.

Carrasco was captured, and sentenced to 39 years in prison by the High Court in 2004, along with his two accomplices in the murder. In 2010, he would take part in a pilot program dubbed "restorative meetings" between victims and ETA prisoners set up by the Basque regional government, which at that time was headed by the Socialist Party's Patxi López. Maixabel Lasa was the director general of the office set up to help victims of terrorism. Carrasco was among the first prisoners to ask to meet with a relative of his victim. Maixabel accepted his request. This would be the first such encounter.

Luis Carrasco has since written about his reasons for wanting to meet Maixabel in Los ojos del otro (or, The other's eyes), which has just been published, with a prologue by Esther Pascual Rodríguez, who arranged the 13 other similar meetings, until Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy canceled the initiative. Carrasco says his inclusion in the program was a result of his having already begun what he calls his "ethical cleansing." He describes the process: "It was essential to listen to her. To be able to be with the family of the victim of an attack that I had participated in directly [...] To have the chance to hear her impressions and her statement allowed me to rationally re-evaluate the many ethical and emotional questions I had, as well as to approach a reality that I had long eluded, but that was always there, although for a time I had managed to avoid it, and that I had done everything possible to not see [...] The meeting was a lesson, and decisive in my particular process of change; it was a milestone."

It was essential to listen to her, to be with a victim of an attack by me"

The meeting took place on Thursday, May 26, 2011 in a small room in the Nanclares de Oca prison in Álava province, an institution that has pioneered the rehabilitation of ETA prisoners. Maixabel entered the room. The two shook hands and looked each other in the eyes. "I paid a lot of attention to his gestures, to his face," Maixabel told EL PAÍS in an interview earlier this year. "He seemed to be much more nervous than me. I suppose that is logical because I hadn't done anybody any harm. I went to see the person who caused me more pain than anybody else, but I was calm."

Carrasco remembers the encounter differently: "The person who was going to lead the meeting told me that the family was prepared to meet me. This helped clear up the fear that had gripped me until that moment, which was that she wouldn't want to meet, a decision that would have been frustrating, but that I would have understood [...] The meeting finally took place and was, I have to admit, very difficult emotionally for me [...] I was afraid, and had many doubts, I was not sure how I would react to the situation."

Maixabel admitted later that she had attended the meeting "because I knew that this was somebody who had begun a process of facing up to what they had done, and now rejected his former actions and condemned them. I knew that he had nothing to gain in terms of a reduced sentence by what he was now doing, that there was nothing in it for him."

Carrasco explains: "I attended with just one objective: to ask her forgiveness, and that of all those who had suffered because of me. Forgiveness for having caused a great injustice, for having been responsible for the death of her husband, for being responsible for her suffering, for being responsible for having destroyed her shared life, her shared dreams, for being responsible for having prevented them both from sharing the happy times they planned for the future, for being responsible for having robbed them of thousands of possibilities that they would now never enjoy, for being responsible for having ended everything that her life might have been, and that now would never be."

I went to see the person who caused me more pain than anyone else, but I was calm"

Maixabel didn't know her husband's killer. She had not seen his face during the trial. She had no idea what he looked like. She didn't want to see his photograph. When she finally met Carrasco, she asked him if he knew her husband. "I wanted to know why he had killed him. He told me that he didn't know him, that he had been given an order and he had carried it out. He knew nothing about him or his life. He didn't know that he had been in jail, that he had once belonged to ETA, that he had been a member of the Communist Party, or that he had testified against General Galindo

[one of the men who organized the dirty war against ETA in the late 1970s]. He didn't even know that we had a daughter. He knew absolutely nothing: either personal or professional."

Carrasco says that the minutes leading up to the meeting were almost unbearable. "In a few moments I knew that she would appear, and that she would sit down in front of me. And I was going to have to talk to her from a position of shame and regret, aware of the tragic situation that I had created for myself, aware of the failure of my own life, a life that many years before had begun down a road to nowhere, dedicated to the service of a stubborn and stupid delirium that while it lasted did nothing but harm and caused pain and suffering."

Maixabel says she was particularly moved by Carrasco's admission that he felt there was no longer any good in him.

Carrasco says that in jail he had had to face up to the toughest realities about his life and his actions: "It has taken years of thinking and introspection to reach this point, to have become the person I am. I have had to redefine myself and abandon the fanatical, sectarian logic that I had blindly plunged into; I had to learn to hate all that I had been and that I never wanted to be again. They were very tough years, a process of evolution that was often interrupted, until I was able to cleanse myself by accepting my guilt, my responsibility, and by facing up to the need to ask forgiveness."

And so the prisoner asked to be forgiven for having done something unforgiveable. And the widow thanked him, hugged him, and said she was prepared to meet him again.

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