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The Ertzaintza, in English "Public Guard" or "People's Guard", is the police force of the Basque Countrymarker, one of the autonomous communities of Spain. An Ertzaintza member is an ertzaina.



The origins of the current Ertzaintza, as a police force of the part of the Basque Country under Spanish jurisdiction, can be traced back to the old municipal militias, which were popular organizations at the service of local bodies, created to satisfy the need for public safety. But it was not until the 19th century when the almost permanent police corps of a professional nature were created.

It was a response to the banditry caused by the continuous social and political upheaval occurring from the end of the 18th century and well into the 19th. The decisive argument for its configuration was the First Carlist War, when the "Miqueletes" of Biscay and Guipuzcoamarker and the "Miñones" of Alavamarker commenced their activities.

Once the urgencies of the war were overcome, the Spanish government attempted to recover the functions carried out by these regional forces and transfer them to the Civil Guard, which was created in 1844. Nevertheless, due to difficulties encountered when recruiting forces for this corps in the Basque provinces, plus the pressure posed by the other regional Governments, the very same regional forces were able to more or less carry on with their task.

After Carlist Wars

After the end of the Second Carlist War (1876), the Spanish government wished to curtail the regional autonomy. The Basque police forces had to adapt to this new centralist tendency, and these changes mostly manifested themselves in a reduction of personnel & operational capabilities

When the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed in 1931, political activity surged and so did the Basque claim to re-establish regional liberties that had been abolished in 1876. Thus, various projects for the Autonomy Statute were promoted.

On October 1, 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, the Basque Statute of Autonomy come into force, leading to the establishment of an autonomous government with actual authority over the provinces of Biscay and Guipuzcoa.One of the priorities of the new government was the re-establishment of public order.

The Basque Interior Minister Telesforo Monzón set up several institutions, such as the International Police Force, the Maritime Police and the Public Order Body. Their main task was the creation of a police force named Ertzaña (a Basque neologism for "People care"), with on foot and motorised corps (Igiletua), totalling joint forces of around 1,500 agents. Its headquarters were in Bilbao, at the Ibaigane Palace (currently the headquarters of Athletic Bilbao).

When the war on the Basque front concluded, the Ertzaña was dissolved, and Franco's Nationalist regime pretended that this institution had never existed in the first place.

Having allied themselves with the losing Republican side, Biscay and Guipuzcoa were considered "traitor provinces" and most of their autonomy was annulled.However, since at the outbreak of the civil war Alava and Navarremarker had thrown their lot in with the Nationalists, the Miñones and Miqueletes continued on duty, with assignments such as traffic patrols and custody of the regional institutions.

During Transition

After the Spanish transition to democracy, the autonomous Basque Government was restored. Its government once again took up the spirit of the Ertzaña of 1936 to design, in 1980, the new autonomous police force of the Basque Country, the Ertzaintza (a more grammatical form). Previously, a Royal Decree re-established the "Forales" and the "Miqueletes" in Biscay and Guipuzcoa and gave a new configuration to the "Miñones" corps in Alava. These institutions were incorporated into the new Basque Police Force.

Because Navarremarker, during the events surrounding Spain's 1978 Constitution, ended up with the status of Autonomous Community and was not lumped in with the Basque autonomous community and its police force (Policía Foral) remains independent of the Ertzaintza.


The first officers were members of the Basque Nationalist Party. Although the law required that Ertzaintza officials had to be previous members of the Spanish army or the State police forces, this was often ignored.

new police force, made up of Basque citizens, developed in an organized manner from 1982, and was progressively deployed starting from the countryside towards the cities.


The Basque Country has one of the highest ratios of police agents to population. Ertzaintza has taken the range of roles of the National Police and the Civil Guard.
, seventeen classes of agents have graduated from the Police Academy of the Basque Country, in Arkaute (Alava).

The Ertzaintza is currently a full-range police force, but for border watch.The state polices have decreased their numbers in the Basque Country. Combating ETA and pressuring non-violent Basque nationalist organisations is also part of their remit.

Currently, the Ertzaintza counts on a staff of 7,500 agents, framed within four divisions, each of them specialized in a series of specific police tasks, and supported by the corresponding complementary services.
  • Beltzak - ("The Blacks") are the black-dressed riot police.
  • Berrozi - Erzaintza Special Forces
  • AVCS ("Attaches to the Vice Councilorship of Security")


  • Urban Security
  • Urban Security, operative
  • Urban Security, rural patrol
  • Traffic Unit
  • Traffic Unit, motorcyclist patrol
  • Mobile Squad, Mountain Rescue Unit
  • Mobile Squad, Diving Rescue Unit
  • Mobile Squad, Anti Riots
  • UDE, Bomb Disposal Unit
  • Berrozi: bodyguard, intervention and subsoil
  • Helicopters Unit
  • Canine Operation Group
  • Drugs Group
  • Computer Offences Group
  • Personal Protection Group: bodyguards, gender violence, etc.
  • Intelligence Group
  • Gambling and Shows Group

Problems with ETA and controversies

Ertzaintza is not accepted by ETA and Batasuna, who deride it as zipaioak, ("Sepoys", an indigenous force serving the colonial power). As Ertzaintza took a more relevant role in the fight against ETA, it has become a target for them. It was soon infiltrated by ETA members. In the areas where support for ETA is higher, ertzainas are forced to reside elsewhere and commute to work.Fourteen ertzainas have been killed or injured by ETA, sometimes being specifically targeted.

The Spanish government has had reservations about Ertzaintza. Spanish parties have often accused the Basque Home Office (always held by the Basque Nationalist Party) of being soft on the fight against ETA and its supporting party Batasuna. Two police officers of Ertzanintza said that former nationalist governement give them orders to do not act against ETA members and its social enviroment. Because of infiltration , Ertzaintza is not allowed by the Spanish Home Ministry to access the Interpolmarker intelligence network.

Lack of communication has occasionally led to shootings among police forces.

Some sources had unveiled a basque-nationalist-backed complot against the 2009 elected governement of Patxi López who has said that Ertzaintza has to be restructured because of its problems between Police and Civil Guard and to profesionalize Ertzaintza.

Recently some councillors of The Basque Country said that they have perceived a decrease of the pro-ETA menace because of the current important role of the Ertzaintza against terrorism.


Ertzaña was a Basque neologism from the Biscayne forms erri ("people") and zañ ("guard").The generic Basque word for "police" is polizia.Following the standardization of Basque in the 1960s, the name of the restored force became "Ertzaintza" from the respelled herri and zain (compare with artzain, "shepherd" from ardi + zain), with the suffix -tza.However to maintain a link to the past, the silent H was not included.The Basque pop group Hertzainak chose their name prior to the re-establishment of the corps and applied the modern spelling rules.


  1. Ertzaina 1936, Museo Policia Vasca
  2. Los defensores de la legalidad han sido los que de forma más brutal han sufrido estos ataques terroristas. Todos los cuerpos tienen asesinados entre los suyos: la Ertzaintza, la Guardia Civil y la Policía Nacional. Pero quiero también hoy hacer una referencia especial a los diferentes Policías Municipales de Euskadi; porque una treintena de asesinados vestían sus uniformes; la de la policía más humilde y, seguramente, la más desprotegida también. Pero me van a permitir que hoy tengamos un recuerdo especial con los ertzainas. Voy a citar de forma individual sus nombres para que la inquina del tiempo no convierta en inútil su sacrificio personal. En euskera hay un dicho conocido: "Izena duena da" Todo lo que tiene nombre existe. Yo los nombro uno a uno porque siguen existiendo en la memoria de los vascos y vascas que amamos la libertad: 'Ana Isabel Arostegi, Javier Mijangos, Mikel Uribe, Iñaki Totorika, José María Aguirre, Ramón Doral, Iñaki Mendiluce, José Luis González, Joseba Goicoechea, Alfonso Menchaca, Luís Hortelano, Juan José Pacheco, Carlos Díaz Arcocha, Genaro García de Andoain. Todos ellos, junto con otras victimas, forman el empedrado de nuestras plazas abiertas y libres que vamos recuperando poco a poco., Homenaje a los Ertzainas víctimas del terrorismo, 14 June 2009
  3. Dos ertzainas denuncian que había 'órdenes para no actuar contra ETA y su entorno, El Mundo , 12 June 2009
  4. Tres heridos en un tiroteo entre Guardia Civil y Ertzaintza, El País, 1 March 1997
  5. Detectado un complot de mandos de la Ertzaintza contra Patxi López, El Mundo , 17 May 2009
  6. Concejales vascos del PP perciben un descenso de la amenaza proetarra, El Mundo , 30 Aug 2009
  7. Los concejales vascos del PP perciben un descenso de la amenaza proetarra, El Economista , 30 Aug 2009
  8. Concejales vascos perciben un descenso de la amenaza proetarra , Catalunya Press , 30 Aug 2009

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