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José Antonio Aguirre y Lecube (6 March, 1904 Bilbaomarker22 March, 1960 Parismarker) was a political figure of the Basque Nationalism .

He assumed the position of first lehendakari or president of Euskadimarker (the Basque lands of Spainmarker) during the Spanish Civil War. He was determined to create a Basque Army to fight on the side of the Republic.

Aguirre was a native of Bilbao, a former player in the Athletic Bilbao football team, a student at University of Deusto and member of the EAJ-PNV party. Before becoming Basque president, he was mayor of the Biscayne locality of Getxomarker.

Spanish Civil War

Aguirre was loyal to the Second Spanish Republic, knowing that the future of Euskadi was dependent on a Republican victory. In Euskadi, he formed a government and an army comprising nationalists, republicans, Socialists, Communists and others.

Badly armed and barely trained, the Basque Army, the Eusko Gudarostea, managed to mobilize 100,000 soldiers. One of the most pressing deficiencies, that unbalanced the odds, was the absence of heavy artillery and aviation. Famous are the desperate calls of Aguirre to his allies Prieto and Azaña to send equipment to Euskadi. Historians agree that this action was nonviable due to the difficulty in breaking the siege that Biscay was put under.

In June 1937, the nationalists broke through the Iron Belt of Bilbao and entered the Basque capital thanks to the defection of the engineer Goicoechea, who had designed the fortifications. Aguirre transferred his Government to Trucíos before maintaining course to Santander later to march to Catalonia, where he arranged to continue fighting with his men for the Republic.

In the meantime, the nationalist leader Juan de Ajuriaguerra agreed to a surrender in Santoñamarker (province of Cantabriamarker) to the Italians. Franco did not respect this Santoña Agreement, all behind the back of Aguirre, who was in favor of continuing the conflict.

But events superseded the efforts of the first lehendakari in history, who fled to France after the war, being pursued for years by pro-Franco agents, leading to an incredible exile that took him to Paris, Berlin, and New York. In June 1940, the Breton Yann Fouéré gave him documents that allowed him to escape France, which was invaded by the Nazis, allies of Franco.

In Exile during World War II

Aguirre went first to Francemarker, where organized the camps and services with him heading it personally. He was in Belgiummarker when Hitler occupied that country and so he started a long travel to Berlinmarker under a false identity.

Under the protection of a Panamanian ambassador, he reached Sweden and, dodging SSmarker German intelligence, he arrived in Brazil on the ship Vasaholm to the port of Rio de Janeiromarker on 27 August, 1941, the Brazilian customs authorities registered that Panamanian Dr. José Álvarez Lastra and Venezuelan María de Arrigorriaga, the last accompanied by their children, José and Gloria, entered the country.

They didn't suspect that they were José Antonio Aguirre, his wife María Zabala and their sons Aintzane and Joseba, escaping the long arms of the Nazis. But in spite of the intense efforts made by Manuel de Ynchausti in the United States, the difficulties remonstrated by the English consul Ralph Stevenson around the impossibility of entering with a name and leaving with another, it seemed far from being solved. While after a month his true personality was in danger of being discovered.

He wrote then to Ramón María de Aldasoro, former Counseler of Intendency and Commerce of the Basque government, who led the Euzkadi Delegation in Buenos Airesmarker. This representation, begun by Isaac López Mendizabal, Santiago Cunchillos and Pablo Artzanko, had arrived to America on November 1938. But the efforts made by Aldasoro didn't succeed because Argentine authorities sympathized with the European "New Order".

Seeing it, Aguirre went to Uruguay and there asked to a reduced group of Basque patriots what Argentina denied. The Uruguayan president general Alfredo Baldomir not only was willing to do it but to receive him with the honors corresponding to his high dignity. Six men mobilized the political personalities there not only to get safety but to awaken the consciences of the diaspora, dormant because of Francoist propaganda.

Culminated the arrangements, the public announcement of the arrival of the president would be made on 8 October, when the Montevidean newspapers informed widely about his arrival and his biographical whereabouts. A little delegation integrated by congressional representatives Julio Iturbide and Juan Domingo Uriarte went to the Brazilian state of Río Grande do Sul accompanied by its Uruguayan consul, to accompany him in his last stage of his travel.

In Exile after World War II

His personality was reinstated and given visa to New York, where he established under the protection of American-Basques as teacher of Columbia University. When the United Statesmarker decided to back Franco in 1952 he went to France anew where the Basque Government in exile was established. Also there he encountered that the pro-Nazi French government of Vichy confiscated the Basque Government building and De Gaulle maintained it under the Franco government possession, building that today is the Instituto Cervantes premises.

The president of the government in exile was always a PNV member and even the Spanish sole representative in the United Nations was the Basque appointee, Jesús de Galíndez, until his murder in an obscure episode in the time of the Spanish entry in the United Nations. He also decided to put the big Basque exilees network at the service of the Allied side and collaborated with the US Secretary of State and the CIA along the Cold War to fight Communism in Latin America.

Aguirre died in Parismarker on 22 March, 1960 of a heart attack, aged 56. His body was shipped from Paris to Saint-Jean-de-Luzmarker in the French Basque Country where it spent a night in the Monzón house. He was buried on 28 March after a funeral mass at the Saint Jean parish church.


Aguirre, José Antonio. Escape Via Berlin: Eluding Franco in Hitler's Europe. New York, 1942


His life was the subject of a Soule folk play (pastoral), Aguirre presidenta ("The president Aguirre").

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